“The Numbers Guy” by Vincent Valentine

Recently I met Vincent Valentine, the founder of The Telephone Museum. Not surprisingly, we were soon talking about Lowell and its role in the development of the telephone. I invited him to share some telephone stories with our readers here on richardhowe.com:

“The Numbers Guy”

How We Got Telephone Numbers

By Vincent Valentine of The Telephone Museum

The year was 1879 and Lowell, MA was the home of The Lowell Telephone Exchange, the first commercial switchboard in Massachusetts as well as the fourth in the World after Connecticut, San Francisco, and Albany. Switchboard technology was burgeoning and these telephone exchanges switched telephone calls by name or location, not with numbers, and were operated by boys.

During that year, Lowell went under siege from a measles epidemic. Dr. Moses Greeley Parker was the physician and became concerned that switchboard operation would be compromised. The Lowell Telephone Exchange was operated by four boys, and if any of them succumbed to the virus, vital telephone communications would halt and it would be difficult to train replacements. So, necessity being the mother of invention, Dr. Parker thought of using numbers instead of names to identify each telephone line. He brought his idea to friend and business associate, Alexander Graham Bell. A numbering system was devised, deployed, and still used today, and that is why Dr. Moses Greeley Parker is “The Numbers Guy”.

Below is one of the first switchboards from 1879 – AT&T Archives

early switchboard

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