Hotel Switchboard

1940 Switchboard

Hotel Switchboard

Switchboards like these were used by hotels and businesses that had multiple extensions to rooms or offices in the early 1900s to 1960s.

In the summer of 1957 as a 16-year-old, I was looking for a summer job and had no experience or skills.  There was a school in Boston that taught people how to use switchboards such as this one.  So, for the first 3 weeks of my summer vacation I went to the Florence Utt Switchboard school in downtown Boston to learn how to be a ‘switchboard operator’.  Upon graduation, I was able to find work with the American Telephone and Telegraph Company as a temporary switchboard operator.  

Companies that had this type of switchboard would request operators to come in  when their operator was on vacation.  I worked for AT&T that first summer and then worked for Kelly Girls the next summer, for about 7 companies each summer.

I wore a headset and when I saw a light blinking I would plug one cord in front of the light into the hole below it, answer, for example, “Good Morning (or afternoon) Algonquin Gas Transmission”.  When the caller identified the person they wanted to talk to, I would take the other cord in front of the light into the appropriate hole in the switchboard.

Modern switchboards with electronics have replaced this type of switchboard, and as you know today, the need for ‘switchboard operators’ is minimal because of the recordings on hotel and company telephones where you can access departments and people by pressing keys on your phone.  

In the 1980s Lily Tomlin ‘brought back’ the image of the switchboard operator on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In as Ernestine the telephone operator at General Motors”.

When I went to college, I had a part-time job as a switchboard operator.  When I graduated college I went to work in a bank.  A year later, in 1963 the bank purchased its first computer and I was asked to be a systems analyst in the ‘computer’ department.  

Lois Lopatin