Roxbury Historic Trust Celebrates Telephone Technology

By Jane Primerano

Teens who seem surgically attached to their cell phones may have a hard time believing it, but once, telephones had to be dialed.
And, before that, calls were connected through an operator.
In 1965, high tech meant the first reliable, all-transistor electronic switching system. The first place to use this system was Succasunna. Items from the system are on display in the Louise King House on Main Street, Ledgewood. Roxbury Historic Trust president Miriam Morris conducted a tour on Tues., Aug. 9.
The King Story and Louise King House serve as historic museums for the township. They are administered by the Trust. Much of the renovation work was done by member of the Roxbury Rotary Club. The Silas Riggs Salt Box House which was moved from the east side of Route 10 is located next to the store.
Electronic switching enabled touch-tone dialing which is much faster than rotary dialing. It was such a big deal, the elementary school took children on a field trip to the switching station on Route 10 to learn how to use it, recalled Brian Morrell of Roxbury who went on the trip.
The new system was dedicated on May 27, 1965, and service began on May 30.
The better, faster switching was enabled by the transistor, invented at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill. Prior to the transistor, telephones were connected with electromechanical relays. The dials on phones could not move faster than the relays or the call could not go through.
Bell engineer Devlin Gualtieri wrote an article for “The Drakesville Times,” the newsletter of the Trust in 2015.
Gualtieri explained early telephone switching was an extension of the telegraph with microphones and earphones replacing keys and sounders. It was designed to allow for connections to multiple houses, rather than running lines from station to station. That was accomplished by switching.
The electronic switching, called 1 ESS, didn’t remain state-of-the art for long as even more innovations made for more speed and convenience. The museum has several models of switches as well as examples of hand-wired components on loan from Alcatel-Lucent. The creation of ESS was very labor-intensive with tiny wires soldered to a board by hand. However, its predecessor was labor-intensive because operators had to connect calls by hand.
The museum has an example of an old switchboard, too.
A poster on one wall shows a woman calling the King store to place an order. She’s using a wooden wall telephone with a side crank. The poster is not dated but it indicates Theodore King was still running the store and he died in 1929, Morris said.
A telephone history reprinted by the Trust points out many innovations were debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, such as called forwarding and three-way calling.
Another exhibit harks back to the 1970s when “Ma Bell” was seeing serious competition for the first time. Gone were the days when a utilitarian black phone was all anyone needed or wanted.
Among the “design line” phones from the 1970s are a pink Princess phone, a Mickey Mouse phone and an ornate European-styled phone that would be at home in a James Bond movie hotel room. Another model is nearly circular. In a cabinet on the opposite wall are examples of candlestick phones from the 19th and earth 20th centuries, both with and without dials.
Morris said the exhibit will remain through the end of the year. Tours may be arranged by emailing the trust at or by calling 973-927-7603 or 973-584-7903.

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