Today in 1878, Emma Mills Nutt (1860–1915) became the world’s first female telephone operator on when she started working for the Boston Telephone Dispatch company in Boston, Massachusetts.
Wikipedia: In January 1878 the Boston Telephone Dispatch company had started hiring boys as telephone operators, starting with George Willard Croy. Boys (including reportedly Emma’s husband) had been very successful as telegraphy operators, but their attitude (lack of patience) and behavior (pranks and cursing) was unacceptable for live phone contact, so the company began hiring women operators instead. Thus, on September 1, 1878, Emma was hired, starting a career that lasted between 33 and 37 years, retiring between 1911 and 1915.
Automated telephone switching, patented in 1891, eventually replaced telephone operators. In yet another example of the debates regarding Man Vs. Machine (in this case, distinctly of the female persuasion), a labor organizer testified in 1940 that “Electromechanical switching … … was ‘inanimate,’ ‘unresponsive,’ and ‘stupid,’ and did ‘none of the things which machinery is supposed to do in industry’–making it a ‘perfect example of a wasteful, expensive, inefficient, clumsy, anti-social device.’”
“Computers will never rob man of his initiative or replace the need for his creative thinking. By freeing man from the more menial or repetitive forms of thinking, computers will actually increase the opportunities for the full use of human reason. Only human beings can think imaginatively and creatively in the fullest sense of these words”–Thomas Watson Jr., CEO, IBM, April 25, 1960 (quoted in John E. Kelly III and Steve Hamm, Smart Machines, 2013).
“They can’t build a machine to do our job; there are too many cross-references in this place”–the head librarian (Katharine Hepburn) to her anxious colleagues in the research department when a “methods engineer” (Spencer Tracy) is hired to “improve workman-hour relationship” in a large corporation; by the end of the film, Desk Set (released in 1957 and sponsored by IBM), she proves her point by winning, not only the engineer’s heart, but also a contest with the ominous looking “Electronic Brain” (aka computer).
From the incredible London Sound Survey:
THERE ARE NO BBC radio recordings surviving from before 1931, so the job of representing the 1920s falls to this curiosity from the Columbia Graphophone Company. It’s a 12” 78rpm disc made in 1928 in association with the Daily Mail newspaper. It seems likely that the disc was somehow tied in with a Daily Mail campaign over urban traffic noise. The commentator on both sides of the disc is a man named Commander Daniel and he doesn’t approve of everything he hears in the city streets. The recordings were made from single, static locations in Leicester Square and Beauchamp Place on Tuesday 11th and Thursday 20th September respectively. Columbia probably used a recording van equipped with a disc-cutter.
The Leicester Square recording features hammering sounds from a building site, the repeated cry of Post! from a newspaper boy, the honking of car horns and the passing of horse-drawn and motor vehicles…
Commander Daniel warms to his task of identifying noise nuisances: “That was a large lorry with building materials, very noisy. There’s a motor bicycle without a proper silencer!”
Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic on why no soundscapes recordings before the 1920s:
It wasn’t until the 1920s, Barton said, that microphones were developed. They could electronically amplify sounds and enabled the recording of soundscapes. From the very first, film could be used as a documentary device, easily recording ambient scenes. Sound recording, on the other hand, required performance for its first 50 years.
This timeline, when you match it up with other technological changes, has some very important consequences.
There will always be a large gap between our visual and audio historical records. Decades when we can see our places, but not hear them. We will never know what New York, Los Angeles, or any other city sounded like before the automobile hit the streets and electricity was commonplace.
Some things, like what it sounded like for a million Americans to live together without internal combustion engines on wheels, can be lost forever.
HT: Brian Dooley
“It was only by a quirk of fate, however, coupled by lack of management foresight, that Boston failed to become the major semiconductor center San Francisco is today.” Don Hoefler, “Silicon Valley, USA,” Electronic News, January 11, 1971
Source: Computer History Museum