History of Telecom 101; The Strowger Switch

Posted: March 14, 2011 in Uncategorized
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The year was 1888, the place, Kansas City, MO. If you wanted to make a call, local or long distance, you’d lift your handset and give the telephone a crank, just like Andy Griffith did in Mayberry. That would signal the operator to plug in her cord to your socket. You could now tell the operator to whom you wished to speak. This worked great unless the operator was related to your competition.

Almon Strowger was an undertaker. The local telephone operator happened to be the wife of his competitor. When someone asked to be connected to “the undertaker”, Almon was never called. You can imagine his reaction. Almon believed that the subscribers, not the operator, should choose who should be called. In 1891 he patented the step-by-step switch.

It was initially constructed from a round collar box and straight pins. The company he founded, Automatic Electric, further enhanced this design such that the “Stowger Switch” was an electromechanical marvel of banks of contacts rising on shafts propelled by pulses from an electromagnet. The introduction of the rotary dial telephone was directly related to his invention.

The step by step switch was the telephone company’s equipment of choice until the late 1930’s when the cross bar switch came into fashion. From his first commercial installation in La Porte, IN on November 3, 1892 to the oldest stepper switch still in commercial service at Camp Shoula for Boys in Lackawaxen, PA., Anton Stowger will be remembered as a telecom pioneer who turned an adverse situation into a multimillion dollar idea.

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