Telephone Exchanges

The invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 was a giant leap in communication. After the initial stringing of telephone wires in the East, telephone technology came to Michigan … and to Hillsdale.

The early telephones were large, clumsy affairs. A call to someone required the services of an operator and her switchboard. Alerted by a crank on the telephone of the caller, she replied, "Operator." The caller told her whom he was calling, and the operator then turned to her switchboard and connected the designated sockets of the caller and the person called.

In Hillsdale, at the Hillsdale Telephone Company switchboard on the second floor of the building on the southwest corner of Bacon and Howell streets, Doris and Jennae Hukill worked as operators in 1918. Advances in communication technology continued, and rotary phones and automatic switchboards took the place of operators. Eventually no one even had to share a "party line" (with its rich possibilities for listening in on others' conversations). By 1954 Hillsdale finally used only dial phones.

The humble origin of today's cell phone reminds us of the startling possibilities of the creative human mind.


JoAnne P. Miller