Telephones from a long time ago!
My earliest memories of telephones go back to something that most people today would regard as a prehistoric relic. Today’s young people would think of dial telephones, as opposed to push-button ones, as belonging to the dark ages, but the phone I grew up with was even older than that!
Until I was well into my teens – possibly even out the other side – our telephone at home had no dial. What you did was pick up the receiver and wait until a voice from the telephone exchange said: ‘Number please’. You then spoke the number you wanted and waited until you were connected.
If it was a local number this did not take long, but for a long-distance ‘trunk’ call you were connected in a series of ‘hops’ from one exchange to another. We lived on the south coast of England but had cousins on the Isle of Skye off the northwest coast of Scotland – you could listen as the call was passed up the country and the accents of the operators changed from southern English to Midlands, then to northern English and finally Scottish!
I remember making a visit with my family to the local telephone exchange, which was very similar to the one in the photo. This would have been in the late 1960s when manual exchanges like this were already becoming outdated.
Many years later I worked for a telecoms equipment company and learned about ‘Strowger’ exchanges, which were already common in much of the country while we were still in ‘Number please’ territory.
Almon Strowger was an American undertaker who (so the story goes, but it may possibly count as an urban myth) was annoyed to discover that he was losing business because the wife of a rival undertaker was a telephone operator who was diverting calls to her husband that should have gone to Strowger. He then invented an electromechanical system for telephone exchanges that removed the human element. These exchanges have, of course, long been superseded by electronic switching.
Strowger’s patent was granted in 1891, but more than 70 years later we were still not automated in Poole!
Dial telephones only had a relatively short duration where I lived, although cities such as London and Birmingham had been using them since the 1930s. It did not seem to be very long before the dials gave way to buttons.
However, the old telephone numbers did not vanish completely. The original numbers were based on when the subscribers joined up, so the first local number was ‘Poole 1’ – assigned to a large hardware store on the High Street. Ours was 1908 – we were clearly late starters! My mother has kept the original subscription going and, although it has been changed with the automation of the system, it still ends with the numbers 908.
(For the attention of LoudMan )
Image Credit » Seattle Municipal Archives. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.