- such a bright & clean museum
- such a vast display of artifacts
- such a warm & welcoming gallery
I get it though. I'm a big nerd and I love checking out all kinds of museums and, sure, some of them are dark, musty and located in someone's garage, so when folks show up to The New Hampshire Telephone Museum, they're just not sure what to expect. Well....
One of the stories that we enjoying sharing is the history behind the stepswitch. Now, for those who may not know what a stepswitch is, let me simply say that it is the invention that allowed us to make a direct call. No more middleman, or Operator, as it were. So when I placed a call to my mom, for example, my mom would pick up the line. This technology, by the way, was revolutionary! So who were the brains behind this apparatus? A gentleman named Almon Brown Strowger (1839 – May 26, 1902) and he was the inventor of the Strowger Step-by-Step Switch.
Almon B. Strowger was born in Penfield, near Rochester, New York. There doesn't appear to be much information about his early life. He is understood to have been an American Civil War veteran. It is also believed that he fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia.
After the Civil War, it appears became a school teacher before becoming an undertaker. How he made that career transition, I'm not certain. He supposedly lived in El Dorado KS, or Topeka KS, and finally Kansas City, MO. It is not clear where his idea of an automatic telephone exchange was originally conceived, but his patent application identifies him as being a resident of Kansas City, Missouri on March 10, 1891. [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almon_Brown_Strowger]
Strowger apparently wanted to invent an automatic telephone exchange after experiencing difficulties with the local telephone operators. He was convinced that the local manual telephone exchange operators were sending calls to his competitor rather than to his business. He also suspected that the telephone operators were influencing the choice of undertaker when his business was requested. Now, whether this all transpired or not, again, I cannot say for certain. History has a way of becoming cloudy the more time that passes. What i can tell you, is that Mr. Strowger was a bit of an odd-duck. Some historians have called him "irascible", while others have labeled him "eccentric". There is no denying that Mr. Strowger was a brilliant fella, but yeah, I think it was a tad cantankerous and would have preferred to avoid interacting with switchboard operators at all cost.
Convinced that subscribers should choose who was called, rather than the operator, he first conceived his invention in 1888, and patented the automatic telephone exchange in 1891. It is reported that he initially constructed a model of his invention from a round collar box and some straight pins, but I tend to mention that part quickly in my tour for fear that someone will ask me to explain. Science, folks, was never my strong subject ;)
His invention was considered revolutionary in that the patent consisted of:
1. A device for use by customer - this creates trains of on-off current pulses corresponding to the digits 0-9 (this evolved into the rotary dial telephone).
2. A 2 motion stepping switch at telephone exchange. Rotating arm steps over, in a semi-circular fashion, 10 possible contact points. The stepping motion was controlled by the current pulses coming from the originating customer's dialing device.
3. Cascading enabled connection among more than 10 customers. Switching devices can also be positioned in the vertical direction as well as horizontal direction, also increasing the switching capacity.
The addition of a line finder selector to reduce the number of switches needed, and circuits to detect busy connections were made in later designs. But these were minor enhancements to the fundamental concept.
Like others throughout the history of the telephone, Almon Strowger, lived a fascinating life. As I mentioned earlier, he was, at one point, a teacher, as was Alexander Graham Bell, he fought for his country and was a financially successful businessman.
He died at the aged of 62, of an aneurism.
Graham Gifford, Program Coordinator and self-proclaimed nerd