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Early switchboards in large cities usually were mounted floor to ceiling in order to allow the operators to reach all the lines in the exchange. The operators were boys who would use a ladder to connect to the higher jacks. Late in the 1890s this measure failed to keep up with the increasing number of lines, and Milo G. Kellogg devised the Divided Multiple Switchboard for operators to work together, with a team on the “A board” and another on the “B”. These operators were almost always women until the early 1970s, when men were once again hired. Cord switchboards were often referred to as “cordboards” by telephone company personnel.

Conversion to Panel switch and other automated switching systems first eliminated the “B” operator and then, usually years later, the “A”. Rural and suburban switchboards for the most part remained small and simple. In many cases, customers came to know their operator by name.

As telephone exchanges converted to automatic (dial) service, switchboards continued to serve specialized purposes. Before the advent of direct-dialed long distance calls, a subscriber would need to contact the long-distance operator in order to place a toll call. In large cities, there was often a special number, such as 112, which would ring the long-distance operator directly. Elsewhere, the subscriber would ask the local operator to ring the long-distance operator.

The long distance operator would record the name and city of the person to be called, and the operator would advise the calling party to hang up and wait for the call to be completed. Each toll center had only a limited number of trunks to distant cities, and if those circuits were busy, the operator would try alternate routings through intermediate cities. The operator would plug into a trunk for the destination city, and the inward operator would answer. The inward operator would obtain the number from the local information operator, and ring the call. Once the called party answered, the originating operator would advise him or her to stand by for the calling party, whom she’d then ring back, and record the starting time, once the conversation began.

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