The Telephone Goes To War, 1930-1950
Clumbsum, Grunts, and Squeaks
Joe Jackson worked on construction crews throughout Texas during the 1930s and 40s. Jackson and his men helped establish telephone service to booming oil towns in West Texas and New Mexico. Jackson and other work crews had to move from town to town quickly and sometimes that wasn´t easy. Jackson rode horseback from Lubbock, Texas to Carlsbad, New Mexico on a job because there were no paved roads between towns.
Setting poles and stringing line was hard work. Digging pole holes was backbreaking, most diggers aspired to become climbers. That promotion usually happened after 3 to 6 months. The new climber received a few pointers about the hooks, along with their straps and pads. He was told how to set his feet at the proper angle to the pole and place the weight on his feet. If it was done properly, the climber´s arms would be straight and he could guide himself to the top with his hands around the backside of the pole. It took a wagonload of poles to lay a mile of phone line.
Joe Jackson worked for the company for 42 years, with 21 immediate supervisors, under seven different company presidents. He held 14 different job titles.
Power of Insulators
Insulators came in every size and shape imaginable. Over 2,200 patents have been granted for insulators. They were used by telephone, telegraph, power and railroad companies. The first insulators had no threads to screw them down on the pole pins. They were mounted by pressing them down on a square of burlap on top of the pins. When the burlap was worn, the repairmen rode the lines by horseback, replacing the worn burlap with new pieces.
Added later were bubbles to the bottoms and skirts to the inside of the insulators. The bubbles helped water drip off faster, cutting down on rust. Skirts kept dust from the pins. Both dust and rust interfered with clear transmission and kept the customers from hearing well.
The Telephone and World War II
Franklin D. Roosevelt learned about Germany´s invasion of Poland and the start of World War II early in the morning over the phone. At twenty minutes to three on the morning of September 1, 1939, a buzzer sounded at the White House switchboard. The sleepy night operator plugged in her line. A voice came, “Paris calling,” and then another voice, strangely sharp and harsh, “May I speak to the President?” … The operator sounded the bell in the President’s bedroom, and the President roused himself quickly and picked up the telephone by his bed. Bill Bullitt called to tell the President that German divisions were deep in Polish territory.
What was striking was the immediacy and informality of talking over the telephone - the two traits which distinguish the telephone from any other form of communication, whether it was a call to a neighbor to trade gossip or call to a President to announce the outbreak of a war.
The War Production Board issued an order in 1942 to limit telephone installations throughout the country during the war. This limit placed the development of local telephone business behind but the telephone became increasingly important.
After the outbreak of WWII, long distance calls increased. Men waited in long lines at military camps to make calls home. Operators in major cities were instructed to ask customers to keep their calls short. The recommended time was five minutes.
Newspaper ads read: “You can give them a lift in more ways than one if you will go easy on Long Distance between 7 and 10 each night. That’s the time many servicemen in the camps are calling home and they’ll appreciate your help in leaving the line for them.”
After World War II the telephone became a necessity for Americans rather than a luxury. As a result, 97,000 telephones were installed in 1947 and 123,000 unfilled orders remained at year-end.
Phones During the Depression
During the Great Depression, many small companies were sold or went out of business. In 1924 there were about 8,000 independent phone companies in the country. By 1934, that total had dropped to only 6,000. Phone companies learned that telephone service was something people could do without in a real pinch. Many companies accepted other forms of payment. The telephone agent in Thalia, Texas began accepting chicken, eggs, butter, and milk as payment for rental due on subscribers’ telephone instruments. Her idea became known as the “Produce Pool,” a method used by many businesses trying to survive the Depression.
Single men who worked for the telephone gave up their jobs so men with families could keep working. Those people with families were given only 3 days of work a week, and their pay slashed.
Throughout the Depression, women who worked for the telephone company were required to quit if their husbands also began working for the company. The company thought if only one member of the family worked, more people might have a chance to make a living for their families.
Phones of the Period
Automatic Electric Desk Type Dial Monophone (1934 and later)
The first of this type was manufactured in the 1930s. The type 35A actually predated the type 50. It did not have the vent openings on the side, only the bottom. Later models did have the vents on the sides so the customer could hear the bell better.
This phone was capable of picking up two lines with a separate hold button for each line. The small button on the right front side of the cradle was used to buzz another extension.
A two-point transposition bracket was used to rotate the wires so noise would not be created in the circuit.
These tools were used for twisting open wire lines utilized for toll and rural lines.
This machine was used to find shorts and grounds on cable pairs in lead covered cables.
Cable splicers and combination men used these to located cable faults (shorts, crosses, grounds and opens.) Two men - one to work the locator and the other to climb the pole, using a grunt box, locator coil, and headset - could identify the type of trouble and its location in the cable.