The Hacker That Used A Cereal Box Whistle To Make Free Calls

Samuel Reason - October 23rd, 2019

There was once a little toy whistle that inspired the development of some of the most famous Apple devices. The strange thing was that it was originally used by an early hacker to make free long-distance phone calls. The toy itself is the famous whistle from the 1960s that we found in Cap’n Crunch boxes.

The colorful cereal boxes provided plastic whistles that were designed to mimic the noise of a boatswain whistle that commanders used to signal mealtimes or commands on navy boats. And it became a super unlikely tale of a plastic whistle being used as one of the first hacking tools before they even realized they were what we call today hackers.

John Draper was a former U.S. Air Force electronics and technician, that was part of the underground culture that had been brewing in the electronic world of what is called phone phreaking. These were early hackers who that realized if you played certain tones down through their phone they could bypass the telephone system and play free long distance calls.

Now the cereal box whistle played the most perfect 2600 Hz tone that could take over a phone line, it allowed the caller to turn the line into operator mode. This made the whistles iconic, and Draper himself was nicknamed Captain Crunch. Later Draper made a little blue box device that would replicate the whistle tone and other useful hertz’s, you could think this was the first hacking device.

As college students, Jobs and Wozniak tracked down Draper to find out everything they could learn about early hacking, and also phone phreaking. In fact, their first business venture was trying to sell the blue devices Draper had invented and encourage the world of phreaking to become mainstream. Both of them claimed that this early and first business venture is largely what caused the success of Apple, which they formed in 1976.

Draper was eventually put in prison for toll fraud, though even behind bars he kept making innovation in the programming world and released the first-word processor in the 70s. Funny to think a plastic whistle made such breakthroughs in the technical world.

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