Now a tinkle of a bell in the White House or Kremlin -- at either end of the emergency communications system -- may signal the next world crisis.
But it may also keep nervous fingers from pressing the buttons that would launch nuclear war.
Completion of the circuits, made possible by a U.S. Soviet agreement to create machinery for forestalling war, was announced laconically Friday night by the Pentagon.
"The direct communications link between Washington and Moscow is now operational," said a one-sentence announcement.
The land-line and radio system is, under the terms of the agreement signed in Geneva last June 20, "for use in time of emergency."
It would be used when the two chiefs of state needed to confer directly and quickly because of an incident, accidental or authorized, which otherwise would bring on nuclear war.
In urging adoption of the system, President Kennedy cited dangerous delays in communications between Russia and the United States during the anxious days of the Cuban crisis.
Administration officials said the line will not be used for ordinary communications between Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev or between the foreign offices of the two nations. Those communications will continue to use normal embassy channels.
The ringing of the bell, part of an elaborate system of sounding and receiving Teletype machines, is the alert that a message is coming.
The telegraphic tickers will stand ready from now on, day and night.
Attendants, all carefully selected and screened for security, watch and listen. At least one of the attendants on duty at any time will be bilingual, able to read and wrote both Russian and English.
-- The Associated Press
The photo is from the National Cryptologic Museum (links: @ and @). The caption reads in part: "The original Washington-to-Moscow Hotline was a one-time tape/teletype system for which the Soviets and Americans exchanged compatible equipment. This East German teletypewriter, made by Gerdlewerk, Karl-Marx-Stadt, was donated to the MCM by a former U.S. Army officer who had been in charge of the Pentagon end of the link."
* "Memorandum of Understanding Between The United States of America and The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Link" (from U.S. Department of State): @
* " 'Hot Line' Opened by U.S. and Soviet to Cut Attack Risk" (New York Times, August 31, 1963): @
* "The Washington-Moscow Hotline: A Compilation of Extracts" (website by Jerry Proc): @