Today in 1891, an undertaker from Kansas named Almon Strowger, patented a device which led to the automation of telephone dialing. Now WE know em

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Almon Strowger was born Feb 11, 1839 in Penfield, near Rochester, New York. Little information is available about his early life.

Strowger taught school in Penfield for a time, and served in the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry during the American Civil War.

It is believed that he fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia.

After the Civil War, it appears Strowger first became a country school teacher before he became an undertaker.

He is variously attributed as living in El Dorado, Kansas or Topeka, Kansas, and finally Kansas City, Missouri.

 

Rotary dialing

In 1888, Strowger’s undertaking business began losing clients when the wife of a competitor took a job as a telephone operator. She intercepted and redirected anyone who called Strowger to her husbands business.

Strowger decided that it should be the caller, rather than the operator, who chose who was called.

He began to work on an idea that became the automatic telephone exchange.

It was reported that Strowger initially constructed a model of his invention from a round collar box and some straight pins.

While Strowger may have come up with the idea, he was not alone in his endeavors and sought the assistance of his nephew William and a few friends with knowledge of electricity and money to help realize his concepts.

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Then on March 10, 1891, Strowger was awarded his patent for the Strowger switch.

 

 Automatic telephone exchange

With his patent, Strowger moved to Indiana and formed the Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange Company.

He installed and opened the first commercial telephone exchange in La Porte, Indiana on November 3, 1892, with about 75 subscribers and the capacity for 99.

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Strowger sold his patents to associates in 1896 for $1,800 and sold his share in the Automatic Electric Company for $10,000 in 1898.

His patents subsequently sold to Bell Systems for $2.5 million in 1916.

Bell Telephone engineers continued development of Strowger’s designs and submitted several patents in the names of its employees.

Strowger himself seems to have not taken part in this further development.

He subsequently moved to St. Petersburg, Florida and appears to have returned to being an undertaker, as H.P. Bussey Funeral Home records report an unidentified body being moved “for Mr. Strowger” in December 1899.

Almon B. Strowger died May 26, 1902, of an aneurysm after suffering from anemia.

The same funeral home subsequently buried Strowger.

Strowger was buried in Greenwood Cemetery the next day.

His grave is marked with the traditional white headstone with an inscription that reads: “Lieut. A.B. Strowger, Co. A, 8 NY Cav.”

Legacy

A bronze plaque, to commemorate his invention, was placed on his grave in 1945 by telephone company officials.

Strowger was admitted to the hall of fame of the U.S. Independent Telephone Association (now called the USTA) in 1965.

In 2003, the Verizon Foundation awarded $4500 to Pinellas Heritage, Inc. and the Pinellas Genealogy Society in Strowger’s memory.

The funds were used to develop a website to impart the history of the cemetery where Strowger is buried, and to restore two Civil War memorials.

 Now WE know em

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