Archive-O-Rama: Switchboard Blues

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New York Mirror Magazine, 1947

Drawings by Michael Berry

OF ALL THE PEOPLE who make daily use of Alexander Graham Bell’s remarkable invention–the telephone–none are screwier than those who call up newspapers. Take it from a newspaper’s chief operator.

One reported her woes to the Telephone Order of Personality and Smiles (TOPS) at a meeting in Bridgeport, Conn.

Talk about foolish questions! Can you imagine asking, “What was the maiden name of Gargantua, the gorilla?” Or, “My canary just laid an egg. What do I do? Separate the parents?”

Folks frequently phone at 2 in the morning to ask where they can get married. then there are executives, who, to show they’re big shots, have four assistants call before they deign to get on the wire … and the girl whose business is so secret she won’t even tell the operator whom she wants to talk to.

Anyway, our cartoonist Michael Berry, using the same deft fingers with which he dials our number to tell us his drawings will be late, depicts some of the situations poor operators are up against.

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Remind Editor’s note: Until the mid-1960s, switchboard telephone operators manually connected calls by inserting a pair of phone plugs into appropriate jacks. Eventually came operator distance customer direct dial calling.  Into the 1980s, companies often used receptionists to screen and funnel incoming calls. Automatic phone systems eventually took over, forever separating callers from live bodies on the other end of the line.

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Filed under From the archives, Retro High Tech

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