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.


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 the following:

La Grange,

When these towns were initially converted to dial service, there was only a single central office. Later on, additional offices were built in Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah.

In the late 1950s, all offices were upgraded to 7 digit dialing. As in Atlanta, office names were used for the first 2 digits. For Example, the Gainesville office was given the name Lenox. It was the usual practice to make the first 2 digits optional. So for a Gainesville number, like LEnox 2-1234, customers could just dial 2-1234. The first two digits were “absorbed” and not actually used. Customers needed to give out the full 7 digit number to people outside of the area.

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

Some of the medium sized towns probably remained manual until around 1965 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 and could have Touch Tone dialing sooner than the towns with Step-by-Step equipment.

No. 5 Crossbar in these towns did not permit dropping of the first 2 digits like the Step-by-Step equipment did. So customers had to dial all 7 digits.

The following towns were converted from manual service to No. 5 Crossbar equipment sometime between 1955 and 1965:


Additional No. 5 Crossbar central offices were installed to provide for growth in Columbus, Macon, Savannah and probably Augusta. These were new buildings serving specific parts of each town.

In Athens, a No. 5 Crossbar machine was installed in the main central office building with the existing Step-by-Step. This was used to provide Centrex service to the University of Georgia.

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.

Toll Centers

The long distance network was made up of toll centers in a hierarchy with Regional Centers at the top (Class 1) and regular Toll Centers at the bottom (Class 4). In Georgia, the Rockdale Regional Center was located near Conyers and served the entire southeastern U.S. Class 2 Sectional Centers were Atlanta and Macon. In the 1960s through most of the 1970s, there were two Class 3 Primary Centers in Waycross and Thomasville. The remainder of the large and medium sized towns mentioned above were Class 4 Toll Centers.

Each Class 4 Toll Center was associated with a higher level office. In North Georgia, most of them were homed on Atlanta. In South Georgia, the Class 4 Toll Centers were homed on Waycross or Thomasville Primary centers or on Macon.

In the 1960s, the Rockdale and Atlanta toll centers used the 4A Crossbar Toll switching system. Macon used the Crossbar Tandem system. All of the other toll offices used the Step-by-Step or No. 5 Crossbar equipment that also served their local customers.

By 1975, the Macon toll center was upgraded to a 4A Crossbar and another 4A was installed in Columbus.

Up until 1980, all of the long distance operators outside of Atlanta were still using cord switchboards. Then in the early 1980s, all of the Step-by-Step toll centers and larger local offices were replaced with No. 1 ESS Equipment and the switchboards were replaced with the Traffic Service Position System (TSPS). No. 5 Crossbar toll offices were replaced later on in the 1980s. For most of these, the operator services were routed to a larger town at that time and the toll switchboards in the smaller towns were eliminated.

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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