History of Telephone Workers, Part 6

Posted on October 14, 2020

by Mary Hedge

In 1920, there were 178,000 operators.  The number of operators reached its peak in the late 1940s when there were over 350,000 operators and 98% of them were women.  Because of increasing automation, in 1960 there were 250,000 operators who served both local and long-distance functions.  In the 1970s, telephone companies began hiring “boys” for operators and women for installation and repair technicians.   In 1984 there were 40,000 operators and this number was reduced to 8,000 by 1996, meaning 99% of calls were made without operators.  The operators were responsible for 650-700 calls a day, and most of them were problem calls.  In 2019, there were only 1,460.  Currently, besides 911 operators, live operators are used for international calls and large teleconferences.  Even today automated answering systems mainly use female voices that remind us of the switchboard operators.

Mary Hedge

Mary Hedge

Mary is a Public Services Librarian. She enjoys helping people find the information they need, including family and local history searches. Also, she serves as the director of READ La Porte County, Inc., plays the organ for a church, and enjoys traveling.
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