Introduction by George Kupczak of the AT&T Archives and History Center
Switchboards, Old and New traces the development of voice switching methods from the first system that utilized the wires of a burglar alarm unit in Boston in 1877, to the "latest type" of switching in central offices, circa 1932.
Along the way, we get the evolution of the Operator as well. Originally teenage boys were hired as operators, but it was quickly noted that they were not ideal due to being rambunctious and prone to pranks. Emma and her sister Stella Nutt were the first female operators, hired in 1878. They started a tradition that continued to the 1970s, when equal hiring practices made it possible for men to become operators as well, again.
Switchboards started to be replaced by TSPS (Traffic Service Position System), starting in 1969. Voicemail trees, also called Interactive Voice Response, also replaced operators.
In 2000, there were fewer than 300,000 operators working in the U.S., most at the switchboards of large companies or hotels. That number continues to drop by the thousands every year.
Produced by Loucks and Norling Studios
Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ