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More Phone History

May 7, 2017

A friend of the BAB, Stephen, is a phone historian and a neighbor. We first learned of his expertise soon after we bought the BAB when a large manila envelope full of information was left on our doorstep. This is how we learned about the publication, Monument to Communications, and others. We’ve enjoyed the history and information about phones that he has shared, since. For instance, he let us know that the telephone building that I stumbled across recently is the still in use EVergreen Exchange.

He recently shared something new with us. The building that predates the BAB still exists as a house in the neighborhood- a much smaller building that fits in with the area houses. Maybe Bell wasn’t convinced that the telephone would catch on, so built something that could return to regular residential use. Or perhaps they were sure they would quickly outgrow the initial building so they planned to relocate soon. It could be that the community required that the building’s architecture be in keeping with the residential character of the neighborhood. Either way, it is another example of a era when the telephone company invested for the long term.

From Stephen:

Southside Exchange

Isn’t it such a handsome little house!

Here is a pic of the South Office (active 1898-1915 according to the records SW Bell sent you) at 6817 Minnesota, right behind the south side parking lot of the Carondelet Library.


Bell Manhole Cover

Also, the manhole cover directly behind the house, in the alley, is where the conduits must have run to the house.

A few tips on telephone nomenclature/jargon:

“Central Office” vs. “Exchange”: Central Office is usually a reference to the building, whereas Exchange can refer either to the building, or the phone number, or to both (i.e. The HUdson exchange is located in the FLanders Central Office; or sometimes “FLanders/HUdson C.O.”, though usually the name of the original exchange is used.)

“Party” is a the term where “subscriber” would be more apropos; subscriber is an individual’s phone/house/business (i.e.: a subscriber may have a party-line phone number, or be on a party-line, or a “party line subscriber”; a 4 party line can have 4 subscribers. Although “subscriber” and “party” are also used interchangeably: “subscriber” is usually more of a phone company/sales term, whereas “party” is more often used in conversation and by operators, as in Ernestine’s “Is this the party to whom I am speaking?”   ;{)}}}  (And then there is also the old distinction between “station-to-station” vs more expensive “person-to-person” long-distance calls. “pay-station” is also the phone company more technical/official name for a payphone.)

Before dial was introduced, exchanges are written normally, “Riverside”; after dial “RIverside” in case one was calling from a dial phone, even though in the end it would still be an operator connecting you at the “manual” Riverside C.O. building.

Also, with regards to dial phones/Central Offices: in the early years of dial service, Bell preferred to use the term “machine switching service”, instead of “automatic” to avoid using a word in their rival “Automatic Electric Telephone Company” manufacturer of phone and switching equipment. Automatic Electric invented dial phone “step-by-step” rotary switch systems c. 1900, whereas Bell refused to consider using machine switching over “manual” (live operators) until after the c. 1919 operator strikes, and didn’t really start to get machine switching conversion started until about 1925.

Kinloch actually installed an AE dial exchange serving Clayton as early as 1905 or 06!

And Bell originally designed it’s own “panel” switching equipment instead of using AE’s step-by-step technology, probably more an attempt to claim their system superior to AE. Later on, Bell did start purchasing and using AE’s step-by-step rotary switches (they had easier maintenance than panel, especially for smaller exchanges) and the two companies eventually developed a very symbiotic rather than rival relationship.

Thanks Stephen! My uncle worked for Bell for most of his life. He’d be happy that we are being properly educated.

Any errors are my own.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Deboah Richie permalink
    May 8, 2017 6:55 am

    I’ve passed this little house many times and had no idea!

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