First public telephone exchange in Germany

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First public telephone exchange in Germany

Postby ilham » July 18th, 2011, 1:02 am

The first telephone exchange in Berlin with the switchboards supplied by Siemens, 1881

At the end of October 1877, Werner von Siemens writes to his brother Carl in London: “We’re in the middle of a tremendous telephone commotion here! […] Stephan wants to put a telephone at the disposal of every citizen in Berlin!” But the citizens of Berlin are initially skeptical. At the end of the 19th century, letters are the most common form of communication, and urgent messages are transmitted via telegram. What’s more, a telephone connection costs 200 marks a year provided it is within two kilometers of the telephone exchange. Every additional kilometer of telephone line costs 50 marks extra. It’s no wonder that companies and private citizens are hesitant when called upon by the General Postal Director to register as subscribers for the Berlin telephone network.

Telephone exchange II on Körnerstraße in Berlin, 1906

In mid-January 1881, the first public telephone exchange in Germany begins trial operation on Französische Strasse in Berlin. Calls from only eight subscribers are manually switched using Siemens & Halske switchboards. In addition to the actual telephones, the electrical company also supplies the technical infrastructure necessary to make telephone calls. In April 1881, the first “urban telephone system” officially starts operation; the number of connections has risen to 48. Since calls are switched manually, no calls can be made between the hours of 9:00 pm and 8:00 am since no one works at the telephone exchange during those hours. At first men are the only ones entrusted with switching calls. It is not until 1890 that the postal administration authorizes cheaper female employees between the ages of 18 and 30 to operate the switchboards under the strict supervision of male civil servants. Thus is born the “Fräulein vom Amt” (the lady at the exchange).

The first official telephone directory appears in Berlin on July 14, 1881. This “Directory of Participants in the Telephone Installation” lists a total of 400 numbers, of which only half are assigned upon publication. Over a third of the connections are used by Berlin financial institutions; the Berlin Stock Exchange alone has nine numbers. The Siemens & Halske Telegraph Construction Company, located at the time at Markgrafenstraße 94, has the telephone number 378.

View of the automatic exchange in Munich-Schwabing, 1909

At the end of 1881, 458 subscribers are connected to the local Berlin network, and by May 1889, the ten thousandth subscriber is registered. By the turn of the millennium, the number of Berlin telephone customers has grown to 130,000. In light of this growth in Berlin and in other cities in Germany, manual call switching has reached the limits of its capacity. As a result, the switching of local calls is automated. In 1909, Siemens leads the way by putting the first telephone exchange for a large German city into operation in Munich-Schwabing using a direct dial system for 2,500 connections. And in 1923, Siemens implements the first fully automatic branch exchange in the world in Weilheim, located in Upper Bavaria.

Sabine Dittler

Further reading

1881 Berlins erstes Telefonbuch, mit Anmerkungen (1881 Berlin’s First Telephone Directory, with annotations) by Gerhild H. M. Komander, Berlin 2006

Fräulein vom Amt (The Lady from the Exchange) by Helmut Gold and Annette Koch [Catalog for the exhibition by the same name at the German Postal Museum], Munich 1993

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Re: First public telephone exchange in Germany

Postby adhyzip » July 18th, 2011, 9:38 am

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