The first telephone system an easy process

The oldest telecommunications used an operator sitting at a switchboard. You would lift the ear piece off the hook on your phone and then turn a crank. The crank was connected to a magneto and it generated a current in the phone line that lit a light on the switchboard. The operator would plug into a jack under the light and talk to you. You would tell her who or where you wanted to call and she would connect you to the number you wanted. If you were calling long distance; she would connect you to the long distance operator or take your information and hang up. She would get the call setup through any number of switchboards, then call you back. She would handle time and charges so you were billed for the long distance charges. And you were probably sharing your telephone line with several other families. That was called a party line and typically you would share it with 3 other homes. There were single lines(private lines) but usually only the richer people could afford them and then it depended on if there actually a line available. I have heard of up to 16 parties on a single line, but that was very rare. Each party had it’s own ring pattern. One party might be two short rings, another two long rings, still another a long and a short and etc. You had to listen to the rings to know if the call was for you or some else. Ease dropping on the line was considered rude and nosy, but it did happen. So no it was not a very easy process. A far cry from a cell phone.

Please dont spam!
Please dont spam!

Spam Bastard.

I would like to hook his balls up to the Magneto.

Actually, the first telephone operators were men.

How many of you out there remember the “plug and cord” switchboard? Not seeing pictures of them, but actually touching and operating one?


When I first got started in the phone biz I worked in special services for GTE out of the Sweetwater office in the late 70’s.

We had a customer, an answering service that still had cord boards, L55’s if memory serves me. I enjoyed repairing them.

That TAS owned a paging and mobile telephone company (IMTS and SMART) I ended up working for them and that’s how I got my big break in communications. Before I went to work for Motorola I was Director of Engineering for a regional wireless carrier (PCS/CDMA - Lucent Autoplex).

This is a larger cord board. Peachtree St. in Atlanta (one of the first Electronic Offices and the largest cross bar in the world) had several floors of cord boards left over from the toll operator days.

The term ticket actually originated from the operator completing manual billing tickets.

In high school (the mid '60’s) I worked part time at a Hospital that used one of these. It was set up for operation by a blind person.

Instead of the normal single tone buzzer, there was a different buzzer tone for each bank of jacks. There was also a probe the operator would scan across the lights. It had a photocell in it and caused a beep to be heard over the headset when it passed over a lighted lamp. Many of the blind operators didn’t use the probe, though, as they could feel the heat emitted from the lamp as they passed their fingers over them.

The clear plastic strips covering the typed extension numbers were embossed with the Braille representations of the extension numbers.

The hospital had a rehab center for the blind.

I was taught how to operate the switchboad by a blind person!