Eleven years go in this Digest we were given a copy of an old 1926
internal telco magazine published by Southwestern Bell Telephone
Company. As we now approach a new year, I thought this reprint from
our archives might make very interesting reading. It was sent to us by
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 1993 14:19:29 -0500
From: TELECOM Moderator <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: email@example.com (Jim Haynes)
Subject: Telephony in 1926, Part 1 of ???
Date: 18 Aug 1993 06:19:46 GMT
Organization: University of California, Santa Cruz
I was recently given a copy of the Southwestern Bell employee magazine
"Southwestern Telephone News", issue of October 1926, which was Volume
13, No. 10 and hence must have started publication about 1913. This
article will be a summary of the contents; perhaps I'll type in or
review particular articles later.
The front cover shows a cable splicer hanging from a strand as he
splices an underground cable to an aerial cable in Dallas.
Repeated several times througout the issue is, "New Long Distance
rates and practices went into effect on October 1st. Pamphlets giving
full information on these changes are available for all employees.
Study the rates carefully so that you can answer the questions of
subscribers." I remember this attitude, that all employees should be
prepared to represent the company to the public, was later embodied in
a slogan, "To the public _you_ are the telephone company," that was
constantly presented to employees.
On page 2 is a photograph of sheep with their heads in the grass, and
an amusig caption: "Sheep (Eating) In July, our explanation that the
folks in the frontspiece were stacking wheat brought a protest from
Kansas that they were not stacking but were shocking wheat. This time
we take no chances. Grazing, as we remember, is the right term, but
we are not sheepherders. (Texas panhandle, please note.)"
The first article is a bio of Charles P. Cooper, former president of
Ohio Bell who was just elected vice-president of AT&T.
Next there are five pages with pictures reporting on a Telephone
Pioneers meeting in New York City. Among other activities they
visited AT&T headquarters, Bell Labs, and New York Telephone
headquarters and were greeted by executives of those companies. The
highlight was an address by Thomas A. Watson, who told of his
experiences as a colleague of Alexander Graham Bell. This was
followed by a demonstration of talking movies, including one depicting
the invention of the telephone and narrated by Watson.
Then there is an article "Efficient and Courteous" by an anonymous
"counterman". He tells of receiving a letter of commendation from a
customer. Even though he had had to turn down the customer's request
for service he had fully explained why there was a shortage of
facilities in the customer's area, and the problems of the company in
extending its lines.
Then the medical director of AT&T writes to those who have just
returned from vacations, urging them to use their spare time during
the week as a "vacation all year." He suggests they get out of doors,
do the essential chores, of course, but do something recreational.
"...forget as far as possible that you ever worked for the
The telephone exhibit at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition
is described, with a reminder that the telephone was first exhibited
at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia 50 years earlier.
The 1926 exhibit includes a showing of motion pictures, two of which
are talking. One of these features Thomas A. Watson [and is presumably
the same film that was shown to the Pioneers]; and the other "contrasts
the noisy operating room and crude apparatus of the eighties, when
boys were operators, with the central office of the present."
I guess in those days AT&T stock was marketed through telephone offices,
as there is an article about how an AT&T rights offering was handled.
There are accounts of company employees persuading the public to buy
stock, and also of people who threw away the rights documents, not
realizing they had monetary value.
There's a sort item about telephone operators assisting when there
was an explosion at a high school, and another showing the first
installation of a P.A. system in a school, with switching so that
music or voice can be had in any combination of rooms.
Then there is the second part of an article reprinted from _Telephony_
by an operator, Manta J. Elder, about her experiences. There were
annual floods when the Marais-des-Cygnes overran its banks near
Ottawa, Kansas. Many operators lived across the river from the
telephone office and had to cross the river in canoes and stay at the
office so they would be available. Also severe winters when the
streets were impassable to vehicles and the company sent horses to the
residence of each operator to bring them to work. Sleet storms in
February took lines down, so things were very quiet at the switchboard
until service was restored; and then everybody wanted to use the
telephone. She tells of working the last day at an old switchboard
before cutover to a new one in a new office. "The next day i went by
the old office, and my feet naturally led me up the old stairway. If
I had known that I should see the salvaging force at their work, I
would never had have the courage to enter the old room. The board was
already sadly wrecked. It seemed to me that I was looking upon
something almost human, which was being made to suffer after years of
patient and loving service to a public which now gives it no thought.
"As I walked on toward my home, I fell to thinking of the many
and varied messages that had been carried through that old
public servant. The first news of special interest to all people
handled through its channels was the news of Admiral Dewey's
victory at Manila Bay, which occurred about three weeks after
the installation of the board.
"Service began on this old switchboard June 13, 1898, and
except for one hour during President McKinley's funeral, until
December, 1915, it was a living part of the community it so
She goes on to tell of the World War, and of the influenza epidemic.
Says that in earlier times the telephone operators often complained
that they were not appreciated by the public, but at the time of
writing most people are truly appreciative of their services. A
little of the history of the company, which was originally the Kansas
City Telephone company, called the "Home" Company; at the time of
abandonment of the old switchboard the "Home" and "Bell" companies
were consolidated under the name of "The Kansas Telephone Company", in
the spring of 1915. On January 1, 1926, the company was transferred
to Southwestern Bell.
Then there are three pages of managerial personnel changes, with some
portraits. Then an article about formation of the Charles S. Gleed
chapter of Telephone Pioneers in Kansas City, and an article about the
switchboard in St. Louis being extremely busy in the aftermath of the
St. Louis Cardinals winning the National League pennant.
A page of short items: Clemenceau quoted on the need for technical
experts to be aware of matters outside the scope of their expertise; a
comment on the article by "a counterman"; an article about the recent
AT&T stock issue; and a repeat of the item about new long distance
rates and practices.
Four pages with pictures about Bell Telephone Laboratores, and some
unrelated pictures of employees enjoying their summer vacations.
Two pages about Texas beginning a new billing method: instead of
billing all customers on the same day of the month they will spread
the billing dates throughout the month to smooth out the workload.
Two pages about handling mail in the headquarters mail room, the need
for good addresses, and the problem of customers sending cash in the
mail when paying their bills; an average of $15 a day is found in the
mail room when the supervisor has to open inadequately addressed mail.
Then a rather technical article, with schematic diagram, of a circuit
to simplify cutting phantom transpositions. (When a phantom circuit is
added to two existing circuits it is necessary to alter the way the
wires are transposed on the poles. This must be done without
interrupting service on the exiting circuits any longer than
Two pages of service records, including portraits of seven men who
have worked a total of 185 years.
One page about the "first annual" Watermelon Festival in Hope, AR.
An article about keeping score on collection work; teams get points
for minimizing the need to communicate with subscribers to get them to
pay their bills.
Photographs of the new Norman, OK office, and an open house for
visitors. Suggestions for Halloween costumes (illustrations) and two
pages of illustrations of ladies' fashion suggestions. A page of
cartoons by "Stack", with a Halloween theme.
Three pages telling where every construction crew is working and what
jobs they are working on. Some photos, including a cable splicer and
his helper with what appears to be a push cart containing their tools
and supplies. A page with a map of the company's territory, showing
the locations of all lost-time accidents for the year. Four pages of
social news: parties, retirements, contests won, other activities.
"Anyone at St. Louis Toll who wants a thrill, should let Miss Hogan
take them riding in her Ford. She misses other cars by a fender."
A page "What I Did Today" containing stories by operators of how they
assisted the public. A page of poetry written by telephone people.
Inside back cover, a list of the principal management officers of the
company and their titles. Back cover, an AT&T advertisement. This
one shows operators being delivered to their office in a truck in a
howling blizzard; and the text tells how people take the telephone for
granted, how different life would be without it, and how 300,000
telephone people work to maintain dependable service.
"Ya can talk all ya wanna, but it's dif'rent than it was!"
"No it aint! But ya gotta know the territory!"
Meredith Willson: "The Music Man"