Automatic Telephone Exchange Co.
Automatic Telephone Exchange Co.
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Automatic Telephone Exchange Co.
April 29, 1898
Hahn Bro. Lith., Washington DC
11 1/4" (w) by 8 3/4" (h)
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Almon B. Strowger, a Kansas City undertaker, had, in 1889 or before, conceived the idea of a telephone system which would do away with delays and mistakes of manual operators. He had in mind some kind of electrical switch, driven by electro-magnets, which could be controlled by the subscriber so as to connect him with the desired telephone. With him was associated his nephew, Walter S. Strowger, while N. F. Frazier gave financial support. A model switch was made for them by a jeweller in Wichita, Kansas.
Joseph Harris, of Chicago, on a trip to Kansas, heard of the work and approached A. B. Strowger with a proposal to exploit the idea. Associated with Mr. Harris was M. A. Meyer, also of Chicago, and they urged Strowger to come to their city and develop his invention. The Strowger's did go to Chicago and they and Harris and Meyer signed a contract, the latter two at once starting to raise money.
A model was set up in the Rookery building where it was seen by Frank Lundquist of Kansas, a telephone lineman who was in Chicago on a visit. This had important results. The first switch was made by the Union Model Works, which had a shop on Clark street. Twenty machines were built at a cost of $60 each.
The first company was formed on Oct. 30, 1891, taking the name “Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange.” The first officers were: M. A. Meyer, president; A. B. Strowger, vice president; Joseph Harris, secretary. Early in the following year the Brush Electric Company sent one of it’s engineers, A. E. Keith, to investigate the new system. Keith was so impressed that he resigned from the Brush organization and joined the Strowger group. The twenty switches which had been built by the Union Model Works were exhibited in various parts of the country as part of the campaign to raise money for development. This same year, 1892, the exchange at La Porte, Indiana was built, the first automatic installation.
Meanwhile Frank Lundquist, the visiting lineman who had seen the Strowger model in Rookery, had returned to Lindsborg, Kansas. There he induced his friends, the Erickson brothers, to attempt to make a better automatic system than that of the Kansas City undertaker. John and Charles J. Erickson had been experimenters and inventors for some time. Lundquist obtained financial aid from John Gus Anderson, neighbours, and the Ericksons started working out a machine. Many of their tools were of their own making. It soon became apparent that better mechanical facilities were needed, as well as closer contact with patent attorneys. Chicago seemed to be the most likely place.
Thus, in 1893, Lundquist and the Ericksons moved their shop to Chicago, renting a store room on the south side.
It was shortly after this that the Andersons found they could no longer finance the scheme and contact was made with Masten and Son of Chicago, who agreed to supply funds if the Ericksons would build three switches that would work. The Ericksons did this but Masten and Son backed down. Then the invention was offered to the Western Electric Company, which declined to buy it. At last Lundquist approached the Strowger people. A. B. Strowger and A. E. Keith went see the Erickson apparatus. The result was that the Kansans were invited to become a part of the Strowger organization, which they did in December of 1893.
During the years immediately following, several exchanges were installed, such as Albuquerque, New Mexico, Trinidad, Colorado, and Amsterdam, New York. In the fall of 1896, A. B. Strowger retired from the organization.
In the early part of 1897 Col. T. W. Tyrer and others formed the Automatic Telephone Exchange Company, Ltd., of Washington, DC to commercialize the Strowger system by sub-licensing. The operating companies were to rent switches at $3 a year. A New England company was formed, as was the Pacific Automatic Exchange Company. In 1898 A. E. Keith went to Europe in connection with foreign royalties, taking switchboards and giving demonstrations in London and elsewhere.
The plan of national expansion did not work satisfactorily and in June of 1900 the Automatic Telephone Exchange Company Ltd., sold everything back to the Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange and went out of business.
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