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Dr. Ralph R. Chase West Texas Collection

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Progress and Change, 1920-1930

Number Please - How may I connect your call?

“Hello Girl” Switchboard OperatorArtie Priddy was a switchboard operator in the 1920s. She worked six days a week, nine hours a day and every other Sunday and made 75 cents an hour. Each morning she would call her “wake up” list. The list was made up of subscribers who had called in the night before and told her what time they wanted to be called the next morning. Priddy was their personal alarm clock! Priddy and her fellow operators were often called “Hello Girls”. Operators were required to dress as ladies. Heels, hose, high necklines and low hemlines constituted modest dress. Employees were sent home for improper attire, too much makeup or exotic hairdos.

The switchboard was marked with numbers and jacks on a party line were marked with paints of different colors.

  • Red paint = Disconnect
  • Yellow paint = Change
  • Green paint = A new number
  • No paint = Straight-line number, not a party line.

Party lines also had a number. On a four-party line, all four parties would have a different letter. Each party line also had a different ring. “Hello Girls” had to keep all of this straight.

New Milestones Reached

1920s Construction Gang“Old Cap” was the first known line truck built to set telephone poles. The vehicle was designed and built by a group from the San Angelo Telephone company, but people from Austin, Lubbock, and Fort Worth came to see it. Its main feature was a derrick that could be raised and lowered from the driver’s seat. Other vehicles in use at the time were operated by hand. “Old Cap” helped to set poles and pull underground cable in San Angelo, Ozona, and Sonora.

John Rust began to prepare for a growing community in 1928 by laying underground cable to accommodate a city of one hundred thousand people. Underground cable was not widely used until the 1920s.

In 1927 commercial transatlantic telephone service to London, England began with a two-way radio. These calls cost $75 for five minutes.

Phone Location in the Home: During the 1920s companies began to locate a telephone inside a house anywhere the customer requested. The kitchen or master bedroom became common choices for the location of the telephone instead of the noisy, open central hall that had been used for years.

How the switchboard Works

Kellogg One Position Magneto or Local Battery SwitchboardOperators provided telephone service for the subscribers and were information centers in small exchanges. In cases of emergency, the operator provided a great community service for the fire department, hospitals, and ambulance service.

How it works: When a customer turned the crank on a magneto telephone, a drop, showing the caller’s line number, fell down just above the caller’s line. The operator took any black cord, plugged it into the caller’s line, pushed back the front key which was in line with the cord, and said, “number please.” She then took the cord which was directly in front of the back cord, plugged it into the called number, and pulled the back key toward her to ring the party’s telephone. When the party answered the connection was complete, and the operator closed the talk key, not listening in - if she was honest. 

Phones of the Period

Automatic Electric Magneto One-Unit Desk TelephoneAutomatic Electric Magneto One-Unit Desk Telephone (1925 and later)

Automatic Electric Type 2 Desk Dial TelephoneAutomatic Electric Type 2 Desk Dial Telephone (1920 and later)

Dial telephones began to appear in the larger Texas towns by 1921. Three Dallas central offices converted their technology to dial switching.

American Electric MonophoneAmerican Electric Monophone (1920)

Two-piece desk set used in magneto or common battery exchanges

Kellogg Bell Box used with Desk Stand TelephonesKellogg Bell Box used with Desk Stand Telephones (about 1920 and later)

Automatic Electric Wall Type Dial TelephoneAutomatic Electric Wall Type Dial Telephone (about 1922 and later)

Western Electric Common Battery Wall TelephoneWestern Electric Common Battery Wall Telephone (1921 and after)

Western Electric and Gray Common Battery Wall PaystationWestern Electric and Gray Common Battery Wall Paystation (1921 and after)

Gray Telephone Type 75 Dial PaystationGray Telephone Type 75 Dial Paystation (about 1925 and later)

The three coin slot telephone remained a fixture until the 1960s.


This device was used to time long distance calls.

How it works: To start timing, the right lever was pushed back, then pulled forward. The left lever was pulled forward to mark call completion time.

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