This Week in History – A Not-So-Smooth Operator


Wouldn’t it be great just to pick up your phone, speak a name into it, and be automatically connected to that person?

IMG_0328Oh, wait. Our smartphones do that now. Sort of. Of course, if you want Grace’s Tea Parlor, you might get connected to Ace’s Tattoo Parlor.

But what we think is new and innovative is rather old school. In the early days of the telephone, no one had a phone number. You just gave the name to an operator and she would automatically connect you. The human touch meant no one mistook Bob’s Tax Office with Bob’s Taxidermy. (Thanks, Siri.)

But while the human element was a nice touch, it also added human nature.

Strowger

Almon Strowger

Poor Almon Strowger. He had a pretty decent business running a funeral home in Kansas City in the 1880s. Then his business suddenly died. (Sorry. Bad pun.) When a friend died and he was not contacted by the family, Strowger became suspicious. He discovered that the telephone operator was married to the rival undertaker. So when people called for Strowger’s funeral home, she just connected them to the rival business.

While some might file a complaint or seek revenge or restitution, Strowger sought to find a way around the meddlesome operator. And he found it. Using a round collar box and straight pins, he conceived the idea of an automatic switching machine. If every phone was assigned a unique number, his “Strowger switch” would allow a person to call directly without the involvement of an operator.

1905 Strowger Dial CandleWhat seems so commonplace to us was first tried on November 3, 1892, when the first commercial exchange was set up in Peoria, Illinois. If you’ve ever used a rotary dial phone, you can thank Almon Strowger—and his concept still drives how we connect to people.

I wonder if Mrs. Rival-Funeral-Home-Director eventually lost her job as a telephone operator because her services were no longer needed.

Some people call that the best revenge, but I see a guy who faced a roadblock and found a practical way around it. He could have fussed and fumed, but instead, he did something positive. And it benefited all of us.

“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess. 5:15).

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One thought on “This Week in History – A Not-So-Smooth Operator

  1. Pingback: This Week in History – The First Phone Call | Lynn Pryor

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