TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Bell System and GTE Telephone Operator?

Re: Bell System and GTE Telephone Operator?

Steven Lichter (
Sun, 31 Jul 2005 22:38:57 GMT wrote:

> Back in the 1960s, the Bell System employed a great many telephone
> operators in different roles. Some of the jobs looked very
> interesting, such as overseas or toll operator on a cord switchboard.
> Others looked extremely boring, such as directory assistance or ONI
> (caller's number entry). I was wondering how an operator got assigned
> to the different roles and if pay scales differed for the different
> roles.

> To me, Directory Assistance and Intercept seem awfully boring. It's
> just looking up numbers in the various phone books.

> The worst would be ONI. Before ANI (automatic number identification
> became common) an operator had to come on line and ask their caller
> for their number. She would key it into the system which would use it
> for AMA billing. Her console for that did nothing else.

> The most exciting, and available only in a few places, would be an
> overseas operator. The technical handling of different countries
> would be a challenge as well as speaking to overseas parties. Now
> it's no big deal but back then it was.

> The middle of the road would be toll and assistance on a cord
> switchboard. These operators would handle trouble with local calls,
> coin collection from all payphone calls, and operator handled toll
> calls (collect, time & charges, person-to-person, 3rd billing, etc.)
> While most toll calls were directly dialed and no big deal to set up,
> occassionally a call would have to be specially built-up the old
> fashioned way.

> As the 1960s went into the 1970s operator jobs were reduced. Bell
> charged for directory assistance and operator handled toll calls,
> reducing the volume. Computerized switchboards such as TSP/TSPS
> streamlined the function and "took the fun out of it".

> Our retired small town telephone operator started as a teenager during
> WW II. She enjoyed working the town's local manual switchboard and it
> was just like in the movies -- calls handled by name and keeping track of
> where the doctor and policeman were in town. When the town went dial
> in 1954, she was transferred to a nearby city where it was a completely
> different atmosphere -- very structured and disciplined. When I toured
> some Bell central offices in the 1970s the operator's areas didn't seem
> quite as 'tight' as the 1950s is described.

> The last manual boards in my area -- in suburban towns -- were retired
> around 1962. One area was fairly built up and would've had a lot of
> traffic, enough to justify the "A" and "B" boards (calls received by
> an "A" board, then passed to the appropriate "B" board for final
> connection). I wonder if those locations were disciplined.

I worked in the COs with GTE and many of the large ones had operators,
and yes they were ran like the Bells were as many of the managers were
former Bell people that left for one reason or another, that went for
the stockings and such, no pants until the late 70s.

As you said when TSPS systems came online things changed. I worked a
lot of the TSPS conversons, the directors had to be modified and
tested then we had to move 800 and payphone detection systems and
convert them for TSPS. As the changes were made fewer and fewer
offices Toll offices and a few remotes. I remeber one cut, it was and
the Redondo Beach, Co, which was in Hermosa Beach; right at the
boarder. As we cut offices into the TSPS offices, there were less
operators on shift and less for them to do, the last office to cut in
that area was Redondo and when we cut it all the boards went dark. I
remember some of the operators coing into the CO to see what we were
doing, they were either very young kids or older woman who had been
operators for years, they were transfere to other offices and jobs, it
was really said.

The same came as we converted our offices to EAX. The good old days.

Well I'm retired for the most part, I do some COEI contracting when I
feel like it, it is just not the same.

> I also wonder what city switchboards (not tiny towns) were like under
> General Telephone and other independent companies. Did their city
> switchboards have the same discipline as the Bell System have the same
> strictness? [In the computer world, IBM was very formal while its
> competitors were not.]

> Historically, there wasn't much of a career path for a telephone
> operator. Often young women took the job for a few years until they
> got married or had kids, and then they quit. Some returned after the
> kids were grown. A few would get promoted to be supervisors. Others
> would leave and get jobs as PBX operators -- almost all large PBX
> installations required an operator to be "Bell trained" and have Bell
> Telephone experience to get hired. As a PBX operator, one might have
> career advancement within the particular company depending on her
> skills and the attitude of the company (ie going from operator to
> office secretary).

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