When telephones were first invented, each and every call had to be processed through an operator. Simply said, you couldn’t just pick up the phone and directly call whomever you wanted. The phone call had to be answered by an operator assist who would then manually connect the caller to the person he or she wanted to speak to.
This was the case until the early 1890s when automatic telephone exchange was invented. The story behind its invention though, is quite bizarre to say the least.
Born in 1839 in New York, Almon Strowger fought in the Civil War and then settled in El Dorado, Kansas. In the late 1880s, he was working as an undertaker and, being the only one in town, he was operating a rather profitable business. But suddenly, he started noticing that his work was significantly declining as people seemed to prefer a new undertaker who opened recently in the area. Curious as to why this was happening, Strowger started investigating things and found out that the wife of this new undertaker was in fact a telephone operator. Whenever a customer was calling for Stowger’s business, she would instead connect them to her husband. (the article continues after the ad)
Upset by this incident Strowger started working on an invention that would allow callers to directly call one another in order for him not to lose customers. In just a few months, he was able to create a working model which he patented in 1891. Understanding the significance of what he had developed, he left his undertaking career to focus on the mass-production of his recent invention.
In 1892, his company, Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange Company, installed the first system in La porte, Indiana and the rest is history. His revolutionary invention would have been the common system used by telephone companies for years to come.
By the way, after a few years, Strowger sold the shares of his company and returned to Kansas so he could again, practice his favourite occupation of undertaking.