Video: Norwesco Telephone Museum

Morrie, who is dialing the phone, told me the short version of Almon Strowger, the man who invented the dial telephone system while keeping his day job as an undertaker!

The longer version begins that Strowger went to his office one morning, hung his Prince Albert coat on the wall, secured the Kansas City morning paper, sat down in his chair, placed his feet upon his desk, and began to read. Suddenly his attention was attracted to an item of news, which told him that a friend had died. To his astonishment and amazement, he read that the burial was to be handled by a competitor. When he saw this, he jumped to the conclusion that his friends had tried to reach him by telephone, but the operator had undoubtedly given the call to his competitor. As a result, he had lost the business.

Immediately, so it is told, he flew into a rage. His eye fell upon the telephone on the wall a few feet distant; he crossed over to the instrument, rang the bell impatiently, and when the operator answered spoke to her angrily. The operator’s protestation that she was entirely innocent did not satisfy him and slamming the receiver back onto the hook, he impatiently walked the floor.

Suddenly the thought came to him; why not build a telephone system that will not require an operator. “Surely,” he must have reasoned, “just so long as there are human operators with their human frailties, there will be human mistakes.” He began to ponder over this, and the more he thought about it the more he resolved that he could and would build such a telephone system. . . .

Download a word doc to get the whole fascinating story of the Strowger Switch.


Snohomish resident Morrie Sachsenmaier founded the telephone museum now located in the new museum of the Marysville Historical Society. Morrie’s on duty at the Marysville Museum on Tuesdays, 10a to 4p–you won’t be disappointed.

One Reply to “Video: Norwesco Telephone Museum”

  1. Mr. Sachsenmaier,

    Your web page brings back great memories. Is the telephone exhibit open in this off season?
    While employed in telephone only six months or so (Whitehall exchange Olympia), telephone technology played a major role in my life.
    During my tween and teen years surplus stores remained active in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bremerton. These stores plus mail order supplied my hobby bench with F2 (I think) carbon microphones, telephone relays and dials. Young hobbyists prized the carbon microphones because they require one less amplifier stage (tube or transistor) than the affordable alternatives. Hobbyists’ house-to-garage telephones, intercoms, bull-horns and home broadcasters employed carbon microphones.
    Telephone relays contained large electromagnet coils. Therefore, small currents could energize them. Buzzers and room alarms employed telephone relays. When a relay could not be energized by early transistors, the hobbyist stretched the relay spring a little. Then a transistor could serve as the relay driver. However, the less forceful operation allowed contaminate accumulation on the contacts. Hobbyists removed the contamination with fingernail files. After a few cleanings, contact plating had also been removed. At that point contact resistance increased. We learned far more from relays than we’d thought was in them to learn.
    The dials held little interest until the mid 1960s. Although railroad block controls, traffic signal controls, pinball machines, telephone exchanges and more had been digital since their origin, digital attracted little notice until computer engineers wrote popular articles on computer logic systems. Even then the terms “Boolean algebra,” “computer logic,” “digital logic,” and “binary systems” sometimes made one discipline sound like many. Eventually, we realized these terms had more to do with application than with the underlying technology which remained the same from application to application.
    In my circle the starting point was a binary counter driven from a telephone dial. We could reset the counter, followed by dialing one digit. The digit converted to binary appeared in the counters lights. After dialing a second digit, the sum of the two digits appeared in the counter’s lights. Some magazine articles took the concept further — thereby creating counters that could add, subtract, multiply and divide. My circle took the different track of building “half adders.” Much part selection, board layout, etching and soldering fell to me.
    About the time y friend Kirby Lee Snograss and I started assembling logic circuits, we read that faster switching produced “inductive kickback” (substantial voltages) when relays de-energized. The early transistor relay drivers had in turn been driven by slow heat and light sensors and slow potentiometers. These slow devices kept inductive kickback small. Fortunately, cures called “snubbers,” “anti-arching devices” and “anti-kickback diodes” fell within out allowances.
    With such a background, I couldn’t avoid employment in electronics. At first I worked at KTVW Channel-13, Tacoma (which has experienced call-letter, owner, and location chances since). A relay system operated the film and slide “chain” — a set of solenoids, mirrors and, sometimes, smoke directing images form two movie projectors and one slide projector into a single camera. On the then cutting-edge side, a few boards containing integrated RTL (resistor-transistor logic) generated and distributed the station’s synchronizing pulses. Sound from remote pickups entered the station via a Bell System protected twisted pair and a telephone repeating coil (an audio transformer).
    In the mid 1970s I moved to Seattle and found employment at the Pacific Science Center. At that time PSC displays included animated models left over from the Century-21 World’s Fair plus Atomic Energy Commission, Bell-System, IBM and NASA exhibits that had toured the state-fair circuits. These agencies had contracted the exhibits to display houses that built the animated model controllers from pin-ball style stepping relays and telephone style conventional relays. Instead of dials, tones on magnetic tape advanced the stepping relays (after being amplified and rectified).
    Around 1979 the wind blew me to Fluke and instrumentation. While relays selected input sources and directed signals to the proper prepossessing, semiconductors played the major roles. Dials, microphones and relays played a very minor part in my employment that that time on.
    Best regards,
    Steven S. Coles

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