Tuesday, 24 May 2016
The Girl-less, Cuss-less Telephone
A hundred and four years ago this month, the small town of Epsom in Surrey in the United Kingdom made history as the first place in the UK to use an automatic telephone exchange.
Luckily for Epsom, this was a free trial or the cost would have been astronomical. As it was, three hundred and fifty homeowners signed up for the privilege of dialling direct the numbers they wanted to reach, rather than having to wait for the operator to connect them.
The equipment had been patented by an American inventor, Almon Strowger who opened his first exchange in Indiana with seventy-five subscribers. He advertised it as "the girl-less, cuss-less, out-of-order-less, wait-less telephone" because you no longer had to wait to be connected by the operators (almost invariably women) at the central hub.
Epsom was chosen as it was considered to be a typical suburban neighbourhood. The system was finally adopted as standard in 1922. It changed the way we communicated forever, and in its day was probably as much of a revelation to people using it as the mobile is to us.