The Inventor

Almon Strowger – Inventor of something new

While Strowger’s invention could not prevent signs from falling into telephone lines, it could prevent the problem of operators misdirecting calls and listening in on phone conversations. Strowger pursued his idea by creating a model prototype out of a circular cardboard box, hat pins and a pencil. He placed the pins through the top of the box in 10 rows of 10 pins each, for 100 pins total. Each pin represented a telephone line terminal. He placed the pencil through the box, with an arm (or “wiper”) near the pencil’s tip. The idea was that one could manipulate the wiper on the pencil’s end vertically or horizontally to come into contact with any of the 100 pins. Strowger did not have a working model of his device when Patent No. 447,918 was issued on March 10, 1891, but the idea eventually became a system in which a telephone user could push buttons on a phone to connect with other phone lines without the need for an operator.

Once the patent was awarded, Strowger’s nephew, Walter Strowger, enlisted the aid of Chicago traveling salesman Joseph Harris to get the invention made. Walter Strowger and Harris attempted to have a model of the device made by a jeweler, but the device did not work when it was finished. Still, Harris began writing to Almon Strowger, saying he wanted to form a company to produce and market the device. Strowger refused Harris’ repeated invitations to come to Chicago to pursue the idea. Eventually, he relented. Creating a working model of the device proved to be much more costly than Strowger and Harris had expected. They offered a model maker $80 to create the device, but the cost escalated to $4,000 before the project was finished.

Did Strowger Achieve Success? >>