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Government Connections: 1959

Government Connections: 1959

January 27, 1959. Washington, D.C. "Women working at the U.S. Capitol switchboard. An average of 50,000 calls are placed through the board daily." Photo by Marion Trikosko for U.S. News & World Report. View full size.


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Equipment that was in that "football sized room"

@ LaviathanRider and 19thCenturyGirl...

Since you were former telephone employees you inspired me to log in and post this link to a video I shot this year (2013).

While I can't reveal the location, it is located at a private residence here in the US. Everything in this personal CO is operable, interconnected, and works as it did when it was removed from service.

For others who may not know, this is known as a step switch. Switches like these went out in the mid-1980's here in the US.



Male operators

As in most professions the telephone operators were men in the beginning but women got these jobs because of the war.
By 1973 women had been operators for so long that it was a novelty when the phone company began hiring men again to serve as operators. For us young guys, being an operator was a good paying entrance job. I remember $80 paychecks!
Another benefit was 4 new female operators hired every two weeks! If you didnt see any appealing girls in this batch, just wait 2 weeks. Some women didnt work long, telling us they could make $80 in a single night, dancing in the bars. Our Chief Operator didnt like men in her crew.
One time I got a call from a woman who said she didnt feel good and would I call her husband. This was against the rules but I asked what is the phone number? She said, "I cant remember."
me: Where does he work?
I got the number from directory assistance. This was against the rules.
I connected her to the local number. This was also against the rules.
I made the call 'person to person' This was also against the rules.
I stayed on the line until the husband came on, then filled out the required card for an "emergency call" but forgot to put my operator number as required.
Two weeks later the chief operator came over and threw the emergency call card down in front of me and demanded, "Is this your card?"
Yes, definitely my hand writing. I'm in trouble for omitting my operator number.
She gave me a letter and stalked off.

The letter was from the husband. He said it took him 15 minutes to get home, 15 minutes to get his wife to the hospital and she lived for 15 minutes after that.
He was grateful for those last few minutes with her.

New Dial System

Washington Post, December 29, 1957.

Telephone Dial System Is Installed in Capitol

A brand new dial telephone system went into action this weekend in the Capitol, but it's not going to change things much for the Congressmen. They'll be able to retain their old, comfortable and stately ways. Though each one has a dial phone, he also has an old-fashioned manual phone, so the operator still can do all the work.

The old way was to pick up the phone and ask the operator to connect you, and that's the new way, too, for Congressmen. Everybody else will dial.

The dial system connects all offices served by the Capitol switchboard and other Governmental units which have inter-office dial service. Operators will still handle all incoming calls and whatever calls the statesmen make on their manual phones, but the switchboard jam is expected to let up.

A count one day disclosed 63,000 calls handled by the 72 operators on the Capitol switchboard. Things were getting so hectic that Congressmen sometimes had to wait for the operators to answer.

There are new phone books, separate ones for the House and Senate. They contain all the Congressmen's office numbers and all other Government numbers too.

Elizabeth Cole, assistant chief operator, said the system worked well yesterday. Fortunately, the inauguration of the service came on a between-holidays Saturday.

Grandma Bell

My grandmother was a supervisor for Bell Telephone in the 1920's. She traveled around by streetcar to six exchanges. She would carry a stopwatch and time the girls for answering calls and make sure they would use rising inflection on the last number when repeating the phone number that the caller had asked for.

Hows about that!

Pocket book holders on the back of each stool!

The Fates

What a wonderful picture. Those three supervisors with their skeins of wire and air of superhuman authority put me in mind of the ancient Greek Moirai, the Fates: the three implacable female spirits who controlled the metaphorical threads of life.

Boy Scout Visit

We visited such a switchboard in the 50s as a boy scout troop.

Who says number please when you pick up the phone?

We boys found out the answer.

We thought it was cool when all our numbers switched from Short Hills 7 to Drexel 9 and there was a nifty rotary dial, a few years later.

Second careers

When they retired from telecommunications, many supervisors (shown seated behind the switchboard operators) found employment as tennis umpires.


As someone who used to install these behemoths many moons ago, I can attest that soldered to pins at the back of each and every jack you see are six 22 guage gauge cotton jacket wires, all of which must be the exact same length, bundled, and neatly tied into a wiring harness with waxed lacing twine.

Cables from the back of the switchboard run to a football sized room full of noisy switching equipment, clicking and clacking away.

These installations were a unique works of art, which in some cases took weeks to months for several men to complete.

The operator's room would smell of fresh cedar wood for months.

Today this of course could all be done by a wireless device the size of a toaster.

One Ringy Dingy

Being a telephone operator was my first real job in 1977. The switchboards were exactly like these and just as long. Although we had supervisors monitoring us at random, they did not sit directly behind us. It was an interesting job, you never knew what you would encounter with customers. I could work 2 positions at one time. I really liked these old switchboards, but when they went to all computer consoles, it was very boring and I quit. Worst mistake I ever made, too young to realize my error as I would have been retired long ago with a great pension.

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