Wells Family Genealogy

The study of my Family Tree

31 Mar 2012 – Almon Brown Strowger, forgotten inventor March 31, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — jgeoghan @ 6:59 am

Yesterday I found some interesting info on Almon Brown Strowger.  Almon is a descendant of Mary Ann Wells whose family line I have been working on.  Almon is the son of Samuel Strowger and Jane Clark.  Jane is the daughter of Timothy Clark and Margaret Gilmore.  Timothy is the son of Capt Oliver Clark and Mary Ann Wells.  Mary Ann is the daughter of Edward Wells and Elizabeth Randall.  Turns out Almon was quite the inventor, read the article and find out.

Fairport Herald Mail,Fairport,NY, December 22, 1949, Page 1

Telephone Industry Pays Tribute to Dial System Inventor, Penfield Native

Mrs. Dewey Foster of Cazenovia recently sent this newspaper a clipping from theTampa(Fla.) Tribune of Oct. 23, 1949, which told of a tribute paid by the telephone industry to Almon Brown Strowger, who is credited with having invented the automatic dialing system.

Following is the complete story, by Mike Morgan, Tribune staff writer:

Every time you pick up a telephone and use the dial system your action is possible because an undertaker inTopeka, Ka., became angry sometime in the late 1880’s when he learned that a close friend ha died and was to buried by a competitor.

Last week the telephone industry honored the long forgotten undertaker-turned-inventor, who is buried inSt. Petersburg, (Fla.) and who never received the recognition due him for his tremendous contribution to the telephone industry.

On Wednesday, Oct. 19, officials of the Peninsular Telephone Co., and others, placed a plaque on the grave of Almon Brown Strowger, which date was the 110th anniversary of his birth.  He died in 1902.

For years the grave had been neglected and forgotten.  In fact it had took a search to discover the weed-covered burial plot in theGreenwoodCemetery.  But at long last Strowger was given belated tribute . . . a man whose inventions should have brought him equal fame withBelland Edison, leaders in the telephone world remark.

Strowger was born inPenfield,N.Y., on Oct. 19, 1839.  As a young man he taught school but later moved toTopeka,Kan., where he bought an undertaking establishment.

How Strowger conceived the idea of an automatic dialing system to replace switchboard operators – when the telephone itself was little more than 10 years old – is a striking illustration of how events of everyday living can prompt great scientific discoveries.

The story accepted by telephone historians is that Strowger went to his office one morning, hung hisPrince Albertcoat on the wall picked up theKansas Citymorning paper, sat down in his chair and began to read.   Suddenly his attention was attracted to a news item concerning the death of a friend.  To his astonishment he read that the burial was to be handled by a competitor.  After reading this, Strowger jumped to the conclusion that his friends had tried to reach him by telephone, but the operator had erred and given the call to a competitor.   Strowger, an acknowledged high tempered individual, flew into a rage.  His eyes fell upon the telephone on the wall.  He crossed over to the instrument, rang the bell impatiently, and when the operator answered he angrily blamed her for the happening.  The surprised operator protested her innocence, but Strowger was not satisfied.

So for months Strowger haunted the local telephone exchange and harried the operators with questions about their work.  He saw there were 10 rows of subscribers lines with 10 to a row in front of the operator.  To establish a connection with number 75, she would lift the plug to the seventh row of jacks and plug into the fifth hole of the row.  Thus she would connected with 75.  One day sitting at his desk and musing the problem, he pulled open a drawer and took out a round cardboard box that contained collars.  He empties it and it’s contents and picked up a paper of pins.  One by one he stuck the pins from the outside of the box toward the center until he had 10 rows.  These 100 pins represented 100 subscribers lines.  Then he took a lead pencil and held it out to the center of the box in front of the pins.  The aspiring inventor reasoned that if he could get an electrician to introduce magnets and other equipment the could automatically connect number 75 by lifting the pencil to the seventh row, and moving it to the fifth pin point, he would connect number 75 and solve the problem.

Strowger applied himself even harder and realization of his vision.  And on March 12, 1889, he filed an application with the U.S. Patent Office for an “automatic telephone exchange”.  This was only 13 or 14 years afterBellhad successfully introduced the telephone.

Patent Number 447,918 was granted two years later.  This is the 60th anniversary of the filing of the basic patent which was the initial step underlying all of the mechanical switching and dial telephone development that had taken place since that time.

Then Strowger met the same heart-breaking problem that had facedBell.  Everyone scoffed at his automatic telephone.  He talked to all who would listen, but with little effect.  However, one day he met a man, Joseph Harris, who was convinced that the school teacher-turned undertaker-turned inventor had something that would revolutionize the telephone industry.  He agreed to assist in organizing, financing and developing the automatic system.

In 1892, in La Porte, Inc., the first automatic telephone system was put into operation.  The originalLa Porteinstallation was a “five wire” system, with five wires form the exchange to each phone.  To call number 75, the subscriber had to push a button representing “10’s” seven times and the button representing the “units” five times – a total of 12 operations of the buttons.  Then by turning the generator, they could ring the called party.  Strowger followed with many other patents pertaining to automatic telephones.  He also held valuable patents on telephone switches, fire alarms and telegraph signals.

But like many other inventors, Strowger apparently did not reap a great harvest from his patents.  Although one report claims that he was paid a million dollars for his patent, more reliable sources indicate he received between 10 or 20 thousand dollars.  Certainly later life and activities were not those of a millionaire.  His health began to fail in the late 90’s and in 1897 or 98’ he moved to the smallFloridatown ofSt. Petersburg. The retired inventor became quickly enthused about the future of the struggling little town and became active in all political and civic affairs.  He died in May 1902.  The plaque dedicated last week reads.

Here Rest the Remains of Almon Brown Strowger 1839-1902 Inventor and Pioneer Whose dream of a better telephone service inspired him to invent in 1889, the first practical automatic telephone system.  This plaque placed here in his honor on the 110th anniversary of his birth, by grateful members of the telephone industry.

Included with the story was a picture of Strowger, also a picture of his first model of an automatic telephone switch.  Pictured also is the second automatic exchange that was installed inFort Sheridan,Ind., and a modern version of the automatic exchange.

Here is a picture of Almon and his grave in Greenwood Cemetery that I found on findagrave.com

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