Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/52

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



VI. First Commercial Telephone Exchange

THE first commercial telephone exchange system in the world was opened in New Haven, in January, 1878, and has been in continuous operation ever since. This pioneer exchange was organized by Mr. George W. Coy, who now resides in Milford, New Haven County, and who, during the twelve years ending with the year 1877, was managing the local offices of the Atlantic and Pacific and the Franklin Telegraph companies.

In July, 1877, the local papers in New Haven contained an advertisement of 'Bell's telephone' reading in part:

The proprietors keep the instrument in repair, without charge, and the user has no expense except the maintenance of the line. It needs only a wire between the two stations, though ten or twenty miles apart, with a telephone at each end.... The outside of the telephone is of mahogany finely polished and an ornament to any room or office. Telephones leased and lines constructed.

In September, 1877, Mr. Coy secured several Bell telephones and installed a few private lines in New Haven, and also displaced some district call-boxes with telephones in his local messenger service. Perceiving how useful the telephone was proving to business houses desiring his messenger service, Mr. Coy concluded that a central telephone exchange system would be a desirable thing for the community, provided a sufficient number of subscribers could be secured.

Now in the beginning of the evolution of telephone exchanges, there was neither experience nor knowledge to guide the investor or the manager. There were no known methods of operation or of maintenance to render uniform and no equipment to standardize, because the to-be equipment had yet to be evolved from needs then unknown. The Bell company had no factory and supplied only the hand telephones, which were made to order under contract. Thus each licensee was largely thrown on his own resources and compelled to devise much of his exchange equipment and to secure from several different sources such associated apparatus as was available. Then the installation was necessarily made and the lines run with the aid of the telegraphers of that day. For in 1877-8, the only 'electricians' were the men associated with the telegraph companies. The electric light and the trolley then had no commercial existence. Thus, through the needs of the telephone exchange, was evolved that now very essential person the