Journal-News Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006
(This is the fourth in a five-part series on telephone service in Hamilton.)
By Jim Blount
For more than 60 years, telephone service in Hamilton relied on the skill and patience of local operators who handled every call. "An operator is expected to answer 150 calls an hour, and during the busy hour, many times the calls exceed 300 or more," explained a 1920 article in the Hamilton Daily News.
"She must ever be on the alert," the writer said. "There is not a second to lose; she must keep both hands busy, and they are busy constantly, for every second she is expected to answer anything that a philosopher might be asked."
"No matter how bright and cheerful an operator might be when she reports for duty, it is not 10 minutes until her nerves are at the highest pitch," a Hamilton operator told a reporter.
In 1878 -- two years after Alexander Graham Bell's successful demonstration of the telephone -- the switchboard was introduced in New Haven, Conn. A switchboard permitted many phones to be connected through a single exchange.
The first operators were young men, but they were soon replaced by young women who became known as "Hello Girls." The males were relieved of the jobs because they tended to be impatient and rude in their contact with customers.
"There is no time for frivolity while the telephone girl is on duty," said a 1916 article that explained the operation of a switchboard in Cincinnati Bell's Hamilton office at the northeast corner of S. Second and Ludlow streets.
"The 'Hello Girls' in the subscribers' operating room answer all local calls. When the calling party removes the telephone receiver from the hook, instantly a small electric lamp, associated with the line, lights in front of an operator.
"She is comfortably seated, at all times facing the switchboard, with plug in hand waiting for a call, and sees the lamp light and instantly inserts the plug in a spring jack or receptacle associated with the lamp. This action extinguishes it. The operator opens a switch connected with this plug, which immediately puts her in communication with the calling party. She asks, 'Number?'
"Ascertaining the number wanted, the next operation is to complete the connection, one half of which is made when the calling party is answered. The operator now takes another plug called the 'calling plug,' that is associated with the cord and plug used to answer the calling party, and touches the tip of this plug to the jack of the number called," the description said.
"If the number called is in use, the operator will get a decided click in her telephone known as the 'busy signal,' and she so notifies the calling party. If she gets no busy signal, she proceeds to complete the connection by inserting the plug in the jack; then finally operates a ringing key that is also in circuit with the calling cord and plug.
"The answering and calling cords each have a small lamp attached for supervising purposes to indicate to the operator when the called party answers, also to signal when the conversation ends and telephone receivers are replaced on the hook, so that she can disconnect the lines."
The switchboard technique was the easy part of the job, according to operator comments to the Daily News in 1920. "So many [customers] are discourteous, inconsiderate, chronic complainers" and "their society manners are forgotten when using the telephone."
Operators were expected to "be able to catch a number no matter how indistinctly it is given or what language is spoken, or [by] a child that has not yet learned to talk plainly," an operator noted.
When callers believed an operator had been slow to respond, the usual accusations for the delay ranged from sleeping, eating, gossiping and reading to eavesdropping on other calls.
"The public has forgotten the operator is a human," said a Hamilton employee. "It is a very few that stops to think that good service depends greatly on the cooperation of the public."
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Journal-News Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006
(This is the last in a five-part series on telephone service in Hamilton.)
By Jim Blount
The switch to a dial system came Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1947, after the installation of $1.75 million in new equipment in the Hamilton office of the Cincinnati and Suburban Bell Telephone Co. The change was about five years late. The delay wasn't the fault of the company or its Hamilton employees. Modernization of the Hamilton operation -- scheduled for 1942 -- was postponed because of the impact of another Dec. 7, a Sunday six years earlier.
An addition to the Hamilton office -- designed for dial service -- had been completed before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. But World War II sapped experienced communications technicians and telephone equipment.
By 1943, about midway through the war, the Bell system nationwide had about 600,000 unfilled orders for phones. The shortage was two million units when the war ended in 1945. During the war, Cincinnati Bell reused about 8,000 outdated upright phones that had been retired, but it wasn't enough to meet the demand for more units.
The Hamilton office at the northeast corner of S. Second and Ludlow streets was enlarged again after World War II to accommodate more customers and the dial system. When the dial cutover was made in 1947, local officials reported about 1,100 applicants waiting for telephone service.
When C&SBT's Second Street office opened Oct. 10, 1906, it served 1,272 customers with 28 operators from a manual switchboard capable of handling 4,800 lines. The local office had employed as many as 145 operators. It had about 80 operators serving 14,000 subscribers when direct dialing started.
The switch was accomplished in 22 seconds at 4:55 a.m., "swiftly and efficiently," according to the Journal-News. The change came five minutes early when two calls on the old system were complete.
Customers were anxious to try the dial system that greeted them with a tone instead of an operator asking, "Number, please." Between 7 a.m. and midnight Dec. 7, 1947, "curiosity traffic" boosted local calls to 98,774. Totals for recent high-use Sundays had been 40,000 and 49,000 over 24-hour periods.
The 1947 event was reported as "one of the first conversions from manual to dial operation of a complete central office anywhere in the United States since the end of the war" and the largest completed by Cincinnati Bell at that time. It wasn't until 1952 that the entire Cincinnati Bell service area, covering parts of three states, had dial service -- a 23-year project that cost the company about $30 million.
The 1947 local switch required new phone numbers with five digits. Hamilton phones had a rotary dial, requiring users to dial each number with a finger. Until the mid 1960s, the majority of homes had only one phone, and only one person could talk at a time. The telephone was plugged into a wall outlet, or attached directly to the wall.
A portable unit in 1947 was one that had an extra long cord. Cordless phones weren't introduced until the 1970s.
The touch tone system, introduced at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, later became a local option. Wireless and cellular technology, developed in the 1940s, wouldn't reach the consumer until decades later. For about eight years -- until 1962 -- Hamilton phone numbers had letter prefixes. Phone industry leaders had assumed customers could remember two letters and five numbers, but not seven numbers. To make the two letters easier to remember, they were the first two letters in a word.
All Hamilton phones were in the Twinbrook exchange. The two letters were TW. The numbers under those letters were 8 and 9. Dialing TW 3-2121 was the same as dialing 893-2121.
Bell began phasing out letter prefixes in 1958. ANC -- or All Number Calling, using seven digits -- started here in 1962.
Another phone improvement -- the 911 emergency calling system -- started in Hamilton Aug. 17, 1988. That was 21 years after the safety idea had been part of a 1967 report by President Lyndon Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice.
Detailing changes in the telephone and communications industries -- and user options -- during the last decade would require many times the space consumed by this column.
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Journal-News Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006
By Jim Blount
"Do you remember when barber shops remained open until midnight on Saturday nights and until 1 o'clock on Sunday afternoons, and that several of Hamilton's barber shops were about the only place in town where a tub bath could be taken?"
That recollection was part of a series published under the headline "Do You remember?" on the editorial pages of a Hamilton newspaper in the 1920s and early 1930s. Each item highlighted memories of social customs, business practices, personal habits and community events that had changed or vanished by that era.
Most were one-sentence statements. Dates and other details were seldom included. Many raise questions, such as the bath tubs in barber shops memory published in 1928. How much privacy was afforded bathers? Was the water changed after each user? What was the price of a bath?
In previous years, this column has reprised some of the anonymous tidbits. Here are more examples of "Do You Remember" when . . .
Nothing but drugs were sold in Hamilton drug stores?
Druggists had night bells in order to respond to night calls for medication? In many instances, someone slept in the drug store at night to answer those calls.
Most Hamilton drug stores were heated with anthracite coal stoves?
Carbonated water in the soda fountain of a Hamilton drug store poured down over a figure of cupid?
The first letter carriers in Hamilton announced their coming by blowing a whistle and the people rushed to the front gate or front door to await him to see whether or not there was any mail for them?
The curfew law went into effect and the fire bells gave three taps and the whistle at the electric station blew one long blast to remind the youngsters it was 9 p.m. and time for them to be off the streets?
One of the amusements of Hamilton boys and girls, especially girls, was hoop rolling?
Farm wives of Butler County made their own soap and hominy?
Chief gifts to every Hamilton bride were a soup ladle, a pickle caster, a butter dish and a fruit dish?
Hamilton couples would take wedding trips to Trenton or Middletown by horse and buggy and use hot bricks to keep their feet warm?
There were $5 round trips to Niagara Falls run out of Hamilton by the railroads?
People went traveling and returned with souvenir spoons from the town in which they had enjoyed their vacation?
Many Hamilton stores had bells on the tops of their doors to ring when a customer entered?
Canal boatmen, operating boats on the old Miami-Erie Canal, would call 'low bridge,' whenever their boat was to pass under one of the many bridges that then spanned the canal along its course through Butler County?
Women wore bustles and hoop skirts and also red flannel underwear?
Men carried their own gold teeth picks?
Lawyers and ministers wore stovepipe hats?
Tailors used charcoal irons with which to press clothes?
Celery was served in tall vases instead of flat dishes?
A tinkling bell announced the presence of a scissors grinder in the neighborhood, especially in the spring of the year?
Dr. F. M. Barden was the first Hamilton physician to use an automobile in visiting his patients?
The Butler Guards gave a grand military and civic ball in Beckett's Hall, northeast corner of Second and High streets, on Christmas Eve?
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Journal-News Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006
By Jim Blount
"Do you remember the early days when beer was sold by the pound instead by liquid measure and the saloon keeper would first weigh the bucket and then its beer content?"
That memory -- obviously from pre-Prohibition days, 1919-1933 -- was part of the "Do You Remember?" series published on the editorial pages of a Hamilton newspaper in the 1920s and early 1930s. The entries recalled social customs, business practices, personal habits and community events of earlier decades. As noted in previous columns, most items were one-sentence statements without dates and other details.
Beer priced by the pound recalls the era when Hamilton residents preferred draft beer to bottled brew. It was common for customers to take a bucket to a saloon, have it filled with draft beer and return home to consume it. Because buckets varied in size, saloon keepers sold beer by weight instead of having a standard price per container.
Here are more examples of "Do You Remember?" from the 1920s and 1930s:
The two Hamilton breweries, the Cincinnati and Martin Mason, had 'spenders' who would visit various saloons to promote trade by liberal spending?
Two-bladed fans operated by clockwork kept the flies off the free lunch in some Hamilton saloons?
Many Hamilton grocers closed their stores in the afternoon from 1 to 3 or 4 o'clock?
Spotters were employed on Hamilton streetcars and traction cars to make sure that the conductors were not declaring private dividends from the receipts?
All the neighbors helped the firemen pull the fire engine to fires (before motorization of the first department)?
Henry Traber conducted a dry goods, hardware and queen's ware store on the north side of Main Street and took all kinds of farm produce in exchange for his goods?
There was a railway station at Millville Avenue and the Baltimore & Ohio tracks? It was known as Edgewood.
People who attended the theater in Cincinnati had to catch a theater train on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad at 11:30 or wait for the newspaper trains at 3 a.m.?
William (Bill) Perry, owner of a dog, monkey and bird show, had his quarters at North C Street and Wayne Avenue, making this location the center of attraction for the boys of the West Side during the time Perry's show was not on the road?
Mother and father read the newspapers and the children studied their lessons by candle light?
The center table in the parlors of many homes were covered with friendship cups and saucers?
Newspapers cut into strips and attached to a wooden handle were used as flychasers?
Sohngen's hill, Franklin Street from South D Street to the river, was the chief coasting place in Hamilton and the fire department often aided the sport by sprinkling the hill with water during freezing weather?
Bicycle races were a feature of the Butler County fair?
Hotel desks in Hamilton had potatoes on them to be used to stick the pen in after registering?
There were stone arched bridges over the hydraulic at Front, Second, Third and Fourth streets?
Youngsters caught crawfish in the hydraulic which occupied the center of Market Street from Fourth Street to the river?
School hours in Hamilton were from 9 to 12 and 1:30 to 4:30 with a 15-minute recess each morning from 10:45 to 11 and 2:45 to 3 in the afternoon?
The wooden Indian that for many years stood in front of the Dilg cigar store where the bus terminal is now located on High Street? (The terminal building, 1931-2000, was just west of Lentil Park on the north side of High Street.)
Political meetings were preceded by torchlight parades . . . and there was a great rivalry among the clubs organized in the several wards in presidential election years?
The centennial parade was held in Hamilton July 4, 1876, with the thermometer ranging around 104?