It’s been a long time since I reblogged anything from Jim Rada’s terrific “Time Will Tell” blog, and when I saw this post about how retro telephone systems worked back in the 20th century I was reminded of the article I did myself recently about the judge who broke up the Bell System monopoly in the early 1980s. There were a lot of moments in telephone history that counted as “the end of an era,” and Jim details one of them, the moment in the 1950s when manual phone switchboards were phased out by automation. Fascinating story, and it wasn’t so long ago!

Time Will Tell

Bakelite-telephone_395761a An old Bakerlite telephone. They were heavy, connected to the wall, and actually had to be dialed.

At 2 a.m. on January 5, 1958, the Fayetteville operator-assisted phone system went dead. The signal lights on the switchboards blinked out and would never again notify an operator of an incoming call. Paul Musselman, district manager for United Telephone, flipped a switch and a new system of circuits and lights sprang to life. Fayetteville had entered the modern communications age.

“We are sure our customers will like this new, faster and more versatile telephone service. It is easy to dial, and if customers follow the brief instructions which appear in the new telephone directory, they will enjoy fine results,” Musselman told the Public Opinion.

Residents could call directly between Fayetteville and Chambersburg, though long distance and information services still required operator assistance. The operators in the Fayetteville office of United Telephone…

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