Switchboards – Western Electric

#phoneoftheday #westernelectric #operator #switchboard

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I don’t know my switchboards from heart, but this is a small console that looks like it can support up to 12 calls at one time. Taken at the NH Telephone Museum. I was there off hours and didn’t play with that one or that many. I was there last night for a discussion on 9-1-1 relevant to my state.  It’s rather interesting and disturbing at the same time. If you go to any PSAP elsewhere, you’d be jealous. It’s so underrated the Fletchs of the world don’t even talk about it!

I’ll have a full report next week and an ongoing awareness on Enhanced 9-1-1 next week!

Election Day!

Not only did I vote today, but voted earlier back in September to the NH Telephone Museum.  Given the timing of meaning to post this picture and it being a big election day, I’d thought I’d share it.

The place is closed for the season now, but prior to the end of October, visitors could vote for who invented the telephone, via dropping a dime or quarter, or what. The candidates were Alexander Graham Bell, Elisha Grey, Charles Bourseul, Antonio Meucci and Phillipp Reis.

Because I am an American, I have the right to vote in secrecy, so I won’t tell you where I dropped my quarter.


May the best win!


Underground Tag – Warner, NH


This tag indicates underground telephone wiring and telling customers to contact the Merrimack County Telephone company before digging. This is outdated now with 8-1-1 or Dig Safe by calling 1-888-DIG-SAFE.

This was taken across the street near the NH Telephone Museum

As you have read in the other posts related, the company was sold and now it is TDS Telecom. This is no surprise, many telephone poles may even have tags dating back from the Bell System.

Self Wearing a Retro Operator’s Headset


Like I stated in the other post on the Plantronics headset, I’m glad there is a Plantronics! In a recent visit to the NH Telephone Museum, I tested out this headset, and boy is it so bulky, and the feeling of the hard wire headband – yoiee!

But these were common in the early days of switchboard telephony services and up till the the early 80s when Plantronics would take over the headset market.

Nowendays these sets are replaced with moth-sized Bluetooth connected earpieces that make you want to think of Star Trek when you see them.

NH Telephone Museum: Wooden Children’s Telephone


Children weren’t left out of the woods in the fad called the telephone back around the 1940s, a local resident donated this wooden toy telephone to the NH Telephone Museum. This small wonder would pave the way to the Fisher Price plastic telephone made about 20 years later (and should be in every phone collector’s collection!)

NH Telephone Museum – Test/Buttsets

Continuing on the theme from the NH Telephone Museum on a visit there last month, I’m posting pictures of test sets. Sometimes called buttsets, allegedly to “abut” a telephone line, but we aren’t that stupid, it often dangles on a technician’s rear end!

There are many different types, obviously the first generations were rotary dialing, then came touch tones, and then there was innovation like built in speakerphones, and other goodies. The ones I saw there had makes from Western Electric, GTE, Harris (you’ll see the red TS-21), the same model with an AT&T private label.

In a typical setup for a telephone company, a line man would come to the customer’s house, and start troubleshooting at the box outside their residence called the Demarcation point.  If s/he can’t get a dialtone, likely the next event would be the punchdown box near the local telephone pole, if that failed, the its likely something is wrong with that line. I don’t know if buttsets were used in the “last mile” black boxes or what, but these are critical.

In a PBX environment, first off you’d use one that would handle the digital signaling, as you could possibly damage the buttset, your PBX’s circuit boards or telephones. Essentially a telephone jack at the desk or work area would routed to a wiring closet, which depending on the depth of the building go to the satellite switch, a dumb PBX (if it was a large campus) or to the PBX directly in its respective room.

All butsetts typically use modified alligator clips to tack onto the “66 blocks” on the phone company world, and in some on site environments today (now many are moving over to the end to end RJ 45 patch panels known as 110 blocks.) There are adaptors or if you do need to use modular jack, you could take a cord, strip it and clip the positive and negative (tip and ring) and plug it into an RJ 11 or RJ 45 jack.

Video – NH Telephone Museum

Today’s post will be a video from a local access facility circa 2010 of the NH Telephone Museum. This was produced at the Londonderry, NH Access Center (LACTV.) Apologies for the scratchy audio.

A little known fact: I know the people (including the host) from this facility and I once lived in Londonderry at the time, I was going to go up to Warner with host but was unable due to scheduling. I’ve done some programming for them and I wouldn’t allow such audio quality to happen if I taped it.

With that aside this 18 minute segment features the NH Telephone Museum, featuring an interview of the president of the museum, and demos of exhibits, some changed since the recording and the first time I ever went on March 7th.

Below features one exhibit the morse code system

Sidenote: If you listen to WTIC radio in Connecticut, they use the Morse Code V for the top of the hour alert (if you were one of those people who set clocks to a radio time. I once did before the age of cell phones, digital cable, broadband internet syncing to time servers often) V stood for Victory, such tone was used after World War II, for that station.

If you happen to see the switchboard post from earlier on, this video featured the demo of how a switchboard worked.

In the end of this segment featured their Step By Step switch functioning. Since this airing, and when I visited earlier this month, the switch was malfunctioning. The switch locked up and couldn’t place a call to the other phone featured. Now it can be fixed, as many step by steps were replaced ultimately by Electronic Switching Systems such Nortel’s DMS or AT&T’s ESS or other switches by the 80s (some markets, yes some of them were still using this technology as late as the early 1990s), so likely there are retired techs that are out there in theory who could fix such thing.

Remember that was just one switch. SXS switches were essentially motorized and automated switchboards. To handle a community, there were in some places hundreds of these switches, and it would be very noisy. From what I’ve gathered from viewing other YouTube videos was the SXS switches were electromechanical, and even in the modern world of ESS (and now IP based switching) that the smell of the switches still exists in many central offices.

I’d recommend this place if you are in the area, it’s got something for everyone and you can literally get lost for hours if you’re a telecom pro, someone who worked for the industry, or just the hobbyist. More stills from my visit will follow over time. Thanks to Erin and LACTV for giving me the copy.

Pay To Call: NH Telephone Museum

Kids, you might not know what a “pay phone” or a “phone booth” is. I suggest you go onto Google and use that as a search term until I find the time to put those phrases into the Glossary.

The NH Telephone Museum has a few classic phone booths in their collection, and these bad boys actually work (except for the phones.) When you close the door, a light will come on, a sensor triggers this to work. This is ideal for low light rooms, since these were used indoors. Outdoors were built with metal.

DSC_0604as you can see, your humble curator is behind this tight phonebooth with a Superman doll…



I do not know the specifics of what payphone is in this booth, I did feel very cramped when just doing that photo op.



Most telephone booths had the local directory. The phone book typically three hole punched, to a poly 1″ to 2″ binder would also be hung mount to the booth. This NYNEX directory is special because it was published in 1987, since I’m a 1987 baby (and my birthday was near), I had to take it!


NH Telephone Museum; Modern Electronic Telephones

Continuing from a recent trip to the New Hampshire Telephone Museum, these sets today feature telephones made after the mid 20th Century featuring proprietary and business sets.



to the left is an NEC telephone, likely used in their KSU offerings. To the right is a TIE telephone (used in Key environments.) My local school district actually used that version, the name of the system escapes me because I think its used in NEC’s current offerings. Nitsuko (late 80s/early 90s) bought TIE and NEC in turn bought their Japanese competitor.






This is a Nortel/Aastra (now Mitel) 9000 series analog telephone. This was branded Meridan telephone and a similar set is used in the office area. The signature Nortel rings can be heard in the museum when a call comes in.



This is a Siemens PBX switchboard. This isn’t the cord boards like in the earlier post. This was used for an electronic PBX. The details, I’m not sure, it looks like it came directly from Germany because of the handset style. Siemens was in the US market for a while for phones, but after buying ROLM from IBM, Siemens just slapped their name on newer phones and switches and sets – like these – were probably not marketed to the US after.





you Cisco fanboys would enjoy this, a Cisco 7962 is featured here. This is a Java based, gigabit Ethernet desk phone still widely used.


Here are some old fashioned phones, they might be clones. It is important to note that Western Electric did sell parts to competing companies and companies like Kellogg (not the cereal company), ITT and Stromberg Carlson made clones of the Western Electric sets. Some sets looked different, but could easily be mistaken as a AT&T set.


this is a multi line 1A2 Key telephone. On the back it features a 50 pair Amphenol connector. Each line was hardwired into this set. This set appears to not have a switch hook, so accessing a line would require hitting a button. (I wished I got my hands on this set when I was there, since this area allows the public to touch and feel it. I’m surprised I just looked and took a pic.)

this set is one of the clones. To the bottom left, shows a little switch. I believe this was to enable a headset (with a two prong connector in the back.) And yes, its the same connector similar to those corded switchboards.

More will be added as time goes on.