Telephone Service--Saving Centuries Every Year


Colby Phonograph   15 June 1905

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.


What It Means to Telephone Users When “Central” Cuts Off a Few Seconds in Answering a Call---Telephone Officials and Operators Engaged in a Never Ending Race Against Time.


New York, June 11.  In these hustling modern days the constant endeavor is to do everything quicker than it has ever been done before.  Fast railroad trains used to make one thousand miles in twenty-four hours, and the record was thought wonderful.  Then the run was made in twenty hours; and now there is talk of trains that will do it in even less time.  Steamships are continually clipping hours off the ocean record; pneumatic tubes expedite the delivery of letters by shooting them with wonderful velocity from one end of a city to the other; dwellers in crowded towns travel high above the streets, and underground in subways and in tunnels, all to save time.


Time is gained in many ways which attract less attention, but which mean much in the aggregate.  The men who manage the telephone system have recently made improvements which save centuries of time every year,--a statement that is not an Irish man’s bull, either.


During the last few years the Bell companies have reduced the time of done by answering telephone calls by about four seconds.  What this reduction means might not be manifest at first; but a calculation will show its importance.  The Bell companies handled last year 3,589,998,000 calls.  Four seconds saved on each call is a savings of 14,359,992,000 seconds.  There are 31,536,000 seconds in a year.  Consequently, the total savings, in round numbers, amounts to 445 years of time in every one year of operation.


Four hundred and fifty five years; subtract them from 1905 and you are taken back to the year 1450, or 42 years before the discovery of America.  The Dark Ages are not ended—printing is still an unknown art and ignorance reigns generally.  The wars of the roses are desolating England; and France is distracted by factional quarrels.  The Spaniards are still fighting the Moors and the Turks have not yet taken Constantinople.  It will be a long time before Shakespeare is born, and a longer one before the right of self-government is arrested from the hands of the obstinate Stuarts.  The whole period covered by the best of Greece’s artistic and political activity was not nearly 55 years; and the Roman Empire continued in unimpaired strength much less than half that time.


Speed and Accuracy of Telephone Operator Main Factors in Reducing "The Drag of the Call."


The saving of the time of the telephone user has been effected by daily and hourly watchfulness and care.  The Bell companies have established a regular system of inspection all over the country, conducted both in their central offices and by outside inspectors who do nothing but supervise and test the service. 


A telephone inspector’s business is to find out what is wrong for the purpose of making it right—especially to discover faults in operation and correct them.  The 90 per cent of things which are done properly do not interest the management as do the 10 per cent of things which are done improperly or too slowly.  Besides bringing to light imperfections in the service, telephone inspection furnishes valuable information derived from every cause of emergency that may arise.  By continual study these men who devote their whole time and attention to this work show the companies how to make improvements which shall be for the benefit of subscribers.


In inspection work outside the telephone offices, an official visits some subscriber and arranges for a trial of the service by having a call made and then noting all the time elements as they come up.  When the subscriber makes the call, the inspector supervises operations by attaching an instrument called a “test set” to the telephone.  This test set is contained in a little box which goes into his pocket.  The inspector is then “on the line,” and times the various processes of operation with a stop watch down to the fraction of a second from the time the call starts until the conversation is finished.  He notes the speed of the operator’s answer, then the speed of manner of handling it,--that is to say, whether the operator is courteous, besides being accurate, and whether she takes pains to give the subscriber exactly what he wants in the way of connection.  He observes, also, how long it is before “busy” is reported, if the line is not free, and likewise the intervals during which the operator waits before ringing again.  If any fault is found, it is noted in the inspector’s report, which is exceedingly minute and comprehensive, going into details that can be understood only by experts.


These reports are made up into summaries, each covering some group of offices.  It is seen that the average time of the operator’s answer is almost four seconds, while several years ago the average time for the whole country was twice that length of time.  By this means, standards are established; and if an office is not up to these standards in any particular, however small, the fault is corrected by instructing and coaching the operators upon the point in question.


Inspectors in territory outside of the large cities have definite districts.  They are shifted about from time to time, in order that they may have a variety of experience and the central department may get the benefit of their different observations.  The inspectors are a superior class of men, nearly all of whom are graduates of colleges or technical schools—many are from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—and they are on the way to filling administrative positions, as office managers and the like.  The preference is generally given to college men for inspectors’ positions, not that any bright young man with a high school education might not be selected, but that experience has proven that,  four years more of learning how to use one’s brains gives college graduates, a superiority over those who have not had this advantage.  When anything goes wrong a man must reason about it to discover the source of the trouble; and, naturally, a trained student accustomed to reasoning can do this better than others without his preparation, especially when the careful course of instruction given to inspectors is considered.


The system of inspection inside the telephone offices is a permanent one essentially the same as that followed by the outside inspectors.  Every large office has on his chief operator’s desk a testing apparatus by which any particular operator can be called up just as she would be by a subscriber and the results observed in the same way as previously described.  This is done for a certain number of operators every day and results summarized.  The operators are interested in this constant race against time and often ask to see the results of the test for the week or month.


Tests like this are being made all the time wherever Bell companies are operating.




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