In 1971, a young hacker named John Draper discovered that the toy whistles found in Captain Crunch cereal boxes were capable of mimicking the tones used by phone companies, allowing him to make free phone calls.

Captain Crunch and his Toy Whistle

One fateful day in 1971, a young hacker named John Draper opened a box of Captain Crunch cereal. It is hard to imagine how this led to a major event in the history of anything, but the detail is that the box came with a toy whistle. Draper didn’t take long to realize he could use this toy whistle to simulate the exact tones required to make free calls. This stunt earned him the nick name Cap’n Crunch, and it also led him to create something called the blue box. The blue box was a device designed to mimic the tones used by phone companies to make free calls anywhere. Draper may sound like a good for nothing phone phreak, but he was also out to explore the complex system behind phones of his time.

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12 thoughts on “In 1971, a young hacker named John Draper discovered that the toy whistles found in Captain Crunch cereal boxes were capable of mimicking the tones used by phone companies, allowing him to make free phone calls.”

  1. JealousSnake

    I wonder what he’s doing now? He helped Jobs and Wozniak build a blue box and the rest is history, for them, at least. Hope they helped him along his way as well

  2. 7GatesOfHello

    2,600Hz is no longer magic to the phone system but it is still magic in the minds of some of us. Thank you, Cap’n, you made my childhood awesome.

  3. go_kartmozart

    I used to be able to phreak a pay phone just by whistling those 3 tones. A anyone with a good ear and the whistling ability could do it.

    Another obsolete talent. I have many of those, as an old fart.

  4. mostlygray

    My favorite trick from the days of phreaking was on the old pay phones that let you make the call before you put your change in. Idea being that, if they didn’t answer, you didn’t have to pay.

    What you do is you take a paperclip, press it through the center of the microphone until it contacts the magnet, then press the other end to the armored cable. That closes the ground and you can make a free call to anywhere. The last pay phone I saw like that was in about ’92.

    The other thing you could do was make a code for dialing to say where you’re at. Three calls in a row means come get me at X, 2 calls in a row means Y, one call means all is well. All is well is also a collect call with the name “Kayfabe”. It just means checking in, still alive.

    I miss always checking the coin return at every payphone. A free quarter is always nice. When the cost went to 35 cents, I stopped using payphones. I just switched to begging the gas station to make a call.

  5. wintermute93

    Highly recommend everyone read “Ghost in the Wires” by Kevin Mitnick.

  6. imyyuuuu

    this was the 1st step towards the captain crunch “boxes”.
    i know there were multiple boxes, but can’t remember most details.

    1 was aimed at payphones. it imitated the sounds of coins being inserted, to bypass actually paying.

    another did something to cause the charges to be ignored by the serving switch, so the call was free.

    lots of my fellow telecom workers had had some sort of contact with the boxes, and one of them had actually used one for a while.

    god. this is making me feel ancient.

  7. Henson3812

    Ready Player One included this factoid, very cool

  8. 1BannedAgain

    This person is a **legend** for those of you that are unaware

  9. Count2Zero

    The whistle was tuned to 2600 Hz.

    Back in the early days of the internet, alt.2600 was a popular hacker forum.

  10. PoinDexter90

    So a scene from the movie The Core was based from this?

  11. MadameBlueJay

    That would make him a *phone phreaker*

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