Friday, November 05, 2010

The Measles and the Telephone

I'm pleased with my opinion piece for itNews on the ACMA's review of numbering. An interesting part for me in this is experiencing sub-editing from the writer's view.

Today's piece includes the paragraph;

In some ways it's a return to the earliest methods of telephony. You asked the local switchboard operator for the person by name. It was only the advent of automatic switching that introduced the use of numbers for different exchanges.

This is all correct but jumped over the quirky but not necessarily newsworthy story of the introduction of numbers within exchanges. For those into the quirky insert the following two sentences after the first;

Numbers were introduced, according to ATandT as a consequence of a doctor’s plan to “de-skill” switchboard operators during an outbreak of measles.
In the manual days the requested switchboard was still asked for by name.

The story was that in 1879 in Lowell, Massachusetts a measles epidemic struck. A local physician, Dr Moses Greeley Parker said that if the ailment struck all four switchboard operators at the same time that inexperienced substitutes would have so much trouble learning which name went with each of the two hundred jacks on the switchboard that service would be paralyzed. He therefore recommended that numbers be used instead.

As I said, the sub-editing was entirely appropriate. I only include this in the blog for its amusement value.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est


Scallywag said...

HI David: For amusement value, you could have inlcuded this: "Strowger's undertaking business was losing clients to a competitor whose telephone-operator wife was intercepting and redirecting everyone who called Strowger - he first conceived his invention in 1888, and patented the automatic telephone exchange in 1891. It is reported that he initially constructed a model of his invention from a round collar box and some straight pins."
Stuart C

David Havyatt said...


Thanks for the comment. I am familiar with the Strowger story which has much more prominence than the Parker story I quoted. While I referenced AT&T in the post the actual link was to John Brooks book "Telephone: The first hundred years" which includes the Strowger career but not the use of a dog collar as a cylinder.