TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: An Excellent Telephone Museum

An Excellent Telephone Museum

Al Gillis (
Wed, 18 Apr 2007 13:15:44 -0700

Yesterday I drove to Seattle, Washington and spent several hours
visiting the Museum of Communications . What an excellent museum it
is! If you're interested in the history of the telephone or if you're
a former Bell System employee (especially those involved in inside or
outside plant equipment) this place is a "must see" for you!

The first sign you're near some older telephone equipment is the
characteristic odor of warm relay windings! I'll bet you remember
that smell!

Want to see what is likely the only operating Panel central office
switch left in the world? It's here! Want to see a #1 Crossbar?
They've got it! Also, a small Strowger stepper, a #5 Crossbar, an all
relay PBX, test boards for local, toll, and Teletype service. Most
all this stuff works, too! And if it doesn't work, there is a team of
retired Bell System people restoring it. During my visit a retired
Western Electric installer was working on the #5 Crossbar machine,
making the major alarm system work (Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!).

A DC power board furnishes the -48 volts to make all this work and
they've got the rotary generators for the various tones and ringing as
well as the motor driven interrupters that provide the correct
cadences for those signals. Overhead projection meters for test board
positions -- they've got a couple! Control Center frames for both
network radio and television are there. We've all heard of "T-1" but
they've got an actual T-Carrier system in operation, running between
the second and third floor of their building. Toll Ticketing?
They've got one of those machines that punched small holes in wide,
toilet paper-like paper tape!

BSPs and other documentation? They've got a couple bookcases with
BSPs -- 20 feet long and six or eight feet high! Of course, that's
probably just a fraction of the volumes Bell produced. If you're
interested in figuring out how a Strowger Line Finder works they've
got schematics of this, that and some other circuits. Even more
documentation in the form of "aperture cards", from back in the heyday
of punch cards.

The docents are fully equipped with stories of telephoning in the
'40s, '50s and later. Stories about the Northern Transcontinental
system, stories of storms that caused serious damage, stories about
how one crew got the best of some other crew and how the reputations
of some people grew and carried across the company! Some funny, some
not so funny but all interesting!

Old Western Electric equipment is well represented, of course. To be
sure, there's lots of Western telephone stuff. But have you ever seen
a Western Electric clothes washing machine? Or how about a nice
Western Electric vacuum sweeper to help mom keep the house clean? A
little more technical is a W.E. commercial AM radio transmitter -- I
can't remember the Call Sign of the station that used it years ago but
it's a 1 kilowatt transmitter housed in two cabinets, each about four
feet wide, seven feet tall and a foot or so deep. It's even got a
water cooled final!

Telephones? Oh yeah! Tons of the common stuff, of course. But how
about an early 2500 set with a 10 button TouchTone dial? (No Star or
Pound keys on this one!) Or colored 302-type telephones? How about a
working Type 50 Key Telephone system (I'd never even heard of this
thing!). Coin phones, candlestick phones, telephones designed for
paralyzed users (that worked by puffs of breath blown down a flexible
plastic tube). Specialized telephones like explosion-proof telephones.

Cord boards for Toll positions and local manual services are
available. So are the odd looking positions used for Repair Service
and "Information" (later known as Directory Assistance of course).
The repair board came complete with the line record cards on which
clerks noted troubles and passed to Test Board Men.

Much Outside plant is represented and "installed" to show how open
wire distribution worked, how cable was spliced, including coaxial and
twin-ax cables and how various cable terminal boxes were used. Lots
of examples of the myriads of cable the Bell System used; aerial,
buried and submarine.

Well, that's about enough of trying to whet your appetite for a
telephone museum. Just go look at it -- you won't be disappointed!
(And thanks for tolerating my long, long note!)

(My connection to the Museum of Communications? Just an impressed

Post Followup Article Use your browser's quoting feature to quote article into reply
Go to Next message: communicationsdirect: "CommunicationsDirect News Daily Update"
Go to Previous message: BubbaGump: "Comcast High-Speed Internet Bandwidth Usage Warning"
TELECOM Digest: Home Page