132 years ago today, in 1878, the first telephone exchange in the world began operations in New Haven Connecticut. “Big deal” you say? Well, it was. It was a step in the march of telecommunication changes that transformed the way we communicate with one another today.
George Coy, who built the switchboard, was inspired by a lecture he attended given by Alexander Graham Bell. “The switchboard built by Coy was, according to one source, constructed of “carriage bolts, handles from teapot lids and bustle wire.” According to the company records, all the furnishings of the office, including the switchboard, were worth less than forty dollars. While the switchboard could connect as many as sixty-four customers, only two conversations could be handled simultaneously and six connections had to be made for each call.”(Source: National Park Service, National Historic Landmarks Program)
This small enterprise grew as telephones became widely accepted and used. In 1882 it became the Southern New England Telephone Company. (SNET to many of us who grew up in Connecticut.) SNET eventually became AT+T Connecticut but its name and logo still can be seen occasionally on old equipment if one looks carefully.
The building that housed the first telephone exchange stood in New Haven until 1973 when it was torn down in the name of “progress” and a parking lot was built on the site. The building is gone, but the memory of what started there in 1878 lives on each time we make a call.