The Company

Strowger and his business partners created a company called the Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange in La Porte, Indiana, in 1891. La Porte did not have a telephone system at that time. A business that had been providing it, in competition with the Bell company, had been ordered by a federal court to shut down its operations because it had been infringing on patents held by Bell. The lack of any operating telephone service made La Porte an attractive location for Strowger and his associates to test their new product.

In April of 1892, Strowger wrote a letter to his brother, Charles, discussing his desire to put his new system to work.

“I am anxious to get into a town and give it a practical test,”

Strowger wrote.

“As we go along I feel more and more confident that we are going to make a success of it. I may be terribly out of the way, but from what I have been enabled to see in constructing the machine, I cannot see a failure.”

In the same letter, he wrote about practical difficulties with the system.

“The method of wiring peculiar to this system is so different from any switchboard heretofore used that my workman makes rather a bungling mess of it.”

Despite these setbacks, the first automatic telephone exchange was installed successfully in La Porte, and it debuted on Nov. 3, 1892. The system’s public demonstration was greeted with much fanfare, including a brass band and a special train run from Chicago. Guests included power company executives, journalists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and two representatives of the Russian csar. Strowger called his system “girl-less, cuss-less, out-of-order-less, and wait-less.” According to the book “The Worldwide History of Telecommunications” by Anton A. Huurdeman, the Chicago Herald reported at the time that the Strowger system was “the first telephone exchange without a single petticoat.”

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