Throughout the world, right now, people want to bring power back into their hands. And that’s nothing new. Throughout history taking decisions away from ‘the man’ has been a priority of those who believe in all things free, transparent and liberated. Sometimes however, it may seem that these struggles are confined to the weighty and complex issues of government and politics but this isn’t always the case…
Towards the end of the 19th Century Almon B. Strowger was an undertaker in Kansas. He’d fought in the American Civil War and had settled into his new career, and his new life. But one day he noticed something odd: he was getting a lot less work. People hadn’t stopped expiring, so what else could be happening? He pointed to a new invention called the telephone.
At the time, all calls made on the telephone were directed through an operator. You picked up the handset and simply told them who you wanted to speak to. But this caused one, unforeseen issue: what if the operator had ulterior motives? In this case, the operator was married to the other undertaker in the vicinity and so, whenever anyone called up asking for ole Almon, they would instead be put through to his competitor. And given the circumstances, nobody was likely to argue, one undertaker is as good as the next, no?
Not if undertaking is your business of course, and hence why Almon had to step in. He wanted to put the power for making a phone call with the individual and not a third party. So he invented, essentially, the automated telephone exchange that allowed people to dial a number and get straight to whoever they wanted to get to. It’s known as a Strowger Switch by those in the know.
(It’s worth noting that the first time I came across this story was on the island of Guernsey at their very lovely telephone museum.)