1. Manual Telephone Exchanges

Manual Telephone Switching

In the mid-1870's Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone; a wired system for two way voice communication between remote locations. You spoke into a unit at one location and you voice was heard at the other location, immediately. This system was somewhat limited in that it only allowed communication with one fixed location, so it was an obvious advance to have lines going to other locations. Initially, this is what happened - each telephone had lines going to many other telephones, which meant a lot of wires and there were practical limitations as to the number of phones one could connect to.

Soon, the idea of central switching was developed. Each telephone connected to a central hub (the exchange) and from there, the operator would connect your call to another subscriber. Thus switchboards were developed where upon lifting your receiver, an operator was alerted and you would tell her who you wished to speak to (telephone operators were almost exclusively women in the early days). The operator would then take a wire from your socket on her switchboard and plug you into the other persons socket. When you completed the call, you would hang up your receiver and the operator would remove the plug from the called party's socket.

As you might imagine, this was very labour intensive and as the polularity of the telephone grew, the number of operators employed by the Post Office grew; large switching centres (exchanges) could have many tens of operators, each with their own switchboard. Note that in the early days, each telephone user was known as the 'subscriber' and that term is still used today.

Long distance Calling

If you wished to make a call to someone outside your own local exchange, say to the next exchange, your operator would call an operator at the adjacent exchange and then ask her to connect through to the desired subscriber. If you wanted to call someone much further away, then the call would have to be set up with a whole chain of operators, each one calling the next. As such, although long distance calls were possible, it was a very complicated process involving a lot of operators.

Section 2 : Automatic Switching

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