Georgia Telephone History

Outside of Atlanta, less historical information has been found about telephone service. It is known that the same patterns of development generally occurred throughout the United States. Southern Bell Telephone had territory throughout the state as well as 6 other states during this time. There were also a number of small, independent telephone companies operating in the state. Practices in the Bell System companies were fairly well established and standardized. Independent company practices were similar.

The First Telephone Service

Most towns started to get manual switchboards in the 1880s or 1890s. These would have been the magneto type with batteries and cranks in the subscriber telephone sets.

In 1896, one of the first dial systems was installed in Augusta. This was an early design of the Strowger Step-by-Step system, made by The Automatic Electric Company. The machine had a capacity of 1,000 lines. It is likely that this was a proof of concept and that the equipment was later replaced with a more advanced production version of Step-by-Step. It is also possible that the town was converted back to manual service. Since Augusta ended up being served by Southern Bell, this is highly likely.

The small communities would have had a single position switchboard, sometimes located in a small store or even in someone's home. The larger towns, like Gainesville and Macon eventually had large switchboards with many operator positions, like the Atlanta manual central offices.

The larger towns also had Long Distance operators. These operators would have had positions at one end of the long local switchboard. These operators handled incoming and outgoing long distance traffic for the local subscribers and also for nearby smaller towns that did not have long distance operators.

For example, Long Distance operators in Gainesville handled calls for 12 other towns and communities in North Georgia in addition to Gainesville itself.

Long Distance facilities were mostly owned and operated by AT&T, although there were a few independent companies that had their own toll switchboards.

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looking for an old map (1960-1977) of independent telephone companies in Georgia

Dial Service in Areas Served by Southern Bell

Around 1930, Southern Bell started to install step-by-step dial offices in smaller communities with less than 1000 telephone lines. These were called Community Dial Offices (CDOs). These were prepackaged switching machines, such as the No. 355 or 360. The CDOs did not require a full time maintenance staff and could run unattended. These customers would have been able to dial within their own community only. All other calls would have gone to an operator at the long distance switchboard in a nearby larger town.

Conversion of the smallest offices was economical because it was too costly to hire operators to attend such a small switchboard on a 24 hour basis.

Starting in the late 1940s, some of the larger towns were converted from manual service to dial, using No. 1 Step-by-Step. This is the same type of equipment that was installed in Atlanta offices. One of the factors that drove the conversion was the growth of the office beyond 8,000 or 10,000 customers. This was the capacity of a single manual switchboard. Expansion would have required the build-out of a second switchboard with trunking between the two and names to distinguish them, like Dearborne and Evergreen in Decatur. Rather than doing this or adding a dial office to the town with the complexity of calling between manual and dial customers, it was decided to convert the town to dial service. The dial office could have 5 digit numbers and allow for more than 10,000 customers.

The larger towns that followed this pattern included Gainesville, Athens, Columbus, Rome, La Grange, Macon, Savannah, Albany and Americus. At first, all service was out of a single central office in each town.

In the late 1950s, these were mostly converted to 7 digit dialing, giving each town an office name, as in Atlanta. for Example, Gainesville had the name Lenox. Phone numbers would have been like LEnox 2-1234 (532-1234). The usual practice was to make the first two digits optional. So customers could just dial 2-1234. The first two digits were “absorbed” and not actually used. The full 7 digit number needed to be given out to people in other towns since it was required for long distance. This continued to work until the 1980s when the step-by-step equipment was replaced.

By 1960, the smallest and largest towns had dial service. Some of the medium sized towns still had manual service.

The medium sized towns probably remained manual until around 1964 when they received No. 5 Crossbar equipment to replace their manual service. Most of these were in the southern part of the state. You could say that they were rewarded for their patience by receiving more modern equipment. This meant they could have Touch Tone dialing in the late 60s, long before the customers with step-by-step were able to get it.

The one “down side” of No. 5 Crossbar in these towns was that it was set up to require 7 digit dialing. So even if the town was small enough that 5 digit dialing would have worked, there was no abbreviated dialing of local numbers.

The following towns had No. 5 Crossbar in the 1960s:
Cartersville
Griffin
Covington
Dublin
Millen
Metter
Brunswick
Waycross
Valdosta
Tifton
Thomasville
Bainbridge

Athens was unusual in that it started dial service with Step-by-Step, probably in the 1940s and later received a No. 5 Crossbar in the 1960s as an addition to the main office. This was primarily done to provide Centrex for the University of Georgia.

Macon, Savannah and Augusta also later had No. 5 Crossbar equipment installed as new central offices, splitting the local areas.

Dial Service with Independent Telephone Companies

Independent telephone companies in the U.S. tended to favor dial service earlier than the Bell System. So, many places served by these companies probably had dial service sooner than places served by Southern Bell.

Southern Bell, being part of the Bell System, purchased all of their switching equipment from the Western Electric Company. Independent companies, at least in Georgia, did not buy equipment from Western Electric.

Several manufacturers made step-by-step equipment that was almost identical to Western Electric. In fact, the Automatic Electric Company held the original patent on this equipment and Western Electric licensed it from them in the 1920s.

There was another type of equipment that worked exactly like step-by-step but was mechanically completely different. It was made by Stromberg Carlson Company and was called X-Y. The X-Y system was very popular in small community dial offices owned by the independent telephone companies.

Aside from step-by-step and X-Y, there were some crossbar and “All Relay” systems made by North Electric Company. The crossbar systems were NX-1 and NX-2. All Relay systems were CX-100 and CX-1000.

Like the Bell switching systems, the crossbar systems were capable of more sophisticated routing and charging of calls than the step-by-step and All Relay systems.

In some places, an add-on system of register-senders was added to step-by-step offices to give them the more routing capabilities. These were needed more in places where there was a large local calling area. In Georgia, there weren’t any independent telephone companies in large local calling areas that required this capability.

Additions to be made to this page

Sounds, especially things like the Stromberg X-Y and NX-1 sounds
Map of the state with the toll centers (classes 1-4)
The toll center hierarchy with the equipment types


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