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Telephone Operator Switchboard Exhibit

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ



Operators in 1938 were an absolutely essential part of the telephone communications network. Usually young women (in 1900 they had to be unmarried and between the ages of 17 and 26), they were avidly recruited in high school, and every 10 years or so the Bell System would make a new film to try to draw in more young women to the profession.

As of 1938, the system had not yet converted to the dial system - that wouldn't happen for another few decades - so every single call was manually connected by an operator. (The first dial telephones were installed in 1919, but the system wasn't fully converted until 1978). Switchboards started to be replaced by TSPS (Traffic Service Position System), starting in 1969. Voicemail trees, also called Interactive Voice Response, also replaced operators. In 2000, there were fewer than 300,000 operators working in the U.S., most at the switchboards of large companies or hotels. That number continues to drop by the thousands every year.

Operators were one of the most popular and acceptable professions for young women, and were often portrayed in popular culture of the period like the 1941 film Tom, Dick and Harry with Ginger Rogers as a nosy telephone operator, or the 1938 thriller The Telephone Operator.

Information courtesy of: AT&T Archives and History Center

Other Interesting Items

For more interesting information about the West Virginia State Museum, check out our Education Department's Teacher's Resources page.

The West Virginia State Museum Heritage newsletter highlights various activities, artifacts, culture and history that demonstrate West Virginia's deep cultural roots.


Museum Hours of Operation

Operating Hours:

Tuesday through Saturday

9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

***Closed Sundays and Mondays***

Closed all National Holidays except Memorial Day weekend

Admission is free

For more information call: (304) 558-0220