Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. in Baltimore

[Trade Journal]

Publication: The Electrical Engineer

New York, NY, United States
vol. 26, no. 532, p. 29-31, col. 2,1-2,1

The Chesapeake and Potomac

Telephone Company, Baltimore, Md.




TWO companies are in the telephone business in Baltimore. The Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company handles the bulk of the business, however, and were first in this field, the original company having been organized in 1878, to operate under the Bell patents. The Bell solid back instruments are used, and the lines are metallic and of hard-drawn copper wire. The territory covered by this company embraces all of the State of Maryland and District of Columbia, and part of West Virginia. The superintendent, Mr. Archibald Wilson, has been with the company since its organization, and was the first to introduce telephones in Baltimore, having early in 1878 established between his home and that of some of his neighbors what he now calls a play line, a large box telephone with magnets having been employed.

There are two main Baltimore exchanges located on the fifth and seventh floors of the building, which the company owns, on St. Paul street. The number of local subscribers is about 3,600. Eleven branch exchanges are located in different parts of the territory, and there are several private exchanges for the accommodation of railroad companies and other corporations that do a large private business. There are four copper metallic circuits between Baltimore and Washington, a distance of 40 miles, so that subscribers can get communication between the two cities with great facility. For ten years past the company has had connection with the long distance system of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., the main line of which passes through Tuxedo, six or seven miles from the Baltimore exchange, where they now have an office exclusively for long distance business. By this means any local subscriber can talk directly with a person as far west as Omaha, east to Portland, Me. A metallic circuit is provided in all cases for long distance service. The subway lines occupy conduits of vitrified clay, and commodious and well built manholes are located at the street corners. The conduits also contain a return wire, put in by the telephone company to take care of the stray currents from the trolley lines, and thus prevent electrolytic action on the cable sheaths.

The demand for instruments is increasing rapidly, due to the inauguration of a message rate service, which has been recently adopted, and the system of regular and thorough inspection. This includes calling up each subscriber in the morning to see if the line is in working order, besides having each instrument inspected every 30 days by an expert, at which time the subscribers sign a statement that it is in good order. Batteries are renewed periodically. All complaints are turned over to the trouble department, are promptly investigated, and necessary repairs made, so that a subscriber is sure of getting a satisfactory service.

The schedule of rates has been adopted on the message basis, so that the subscriber pays in proportion to the number of calls he makes, and whether he is on a two, three or four party circuit. This is done to meet the requirements of small merchants, marketmen and others whose business will not warrant the payment of a regular yearly rate. The party lines are so arranged that the operator can call any instrument on the circuit without disturbing the other, by simply pressing a button. The price schedule for message rates is according to the accompanying table. No charge is made for incoming calls, and the rates apply to business places within one mile radius of the exchange, and to residences within two miles. An extra charge for each quarter of a mile beyond the limit is made of $10 per annum for a special circuit; $6 for a two party circuit; and $5 for a three party circuit.


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As noted above the Baltimore exchanges occupy a building owned by the company, with suitable offices for superintendent, contract department, electrical and operating departments, while the fifth and seventh floors are occupied as operating rooms, in which 43 operators are employed, with a chief and two assistants, and a monitor operator. These rooms are in charge of Mr. Frank Boyd, chief operator, who has shown great skill in selecting, organizing and managing the force, thus securing an exceptionally fine and reliable class of operators. The switchboards are located on the sides of the rooms, and are designed for 38 operators.

The switchboard is composed of ten sections, and each section has three positions. In each section there are 2,700 jacks, representing 2,700 circuits. These are arranged in groups of 100 (5 strips of 20 each), and these hundreds are placed in four rows of six groups each and one row of three groups. The first group is known as 0, meaning all circuits from 0 to 99 are contained in this group. The next is the 100 group, and contains all lines numbered from 100 to 199; the next 200, and so on. On each section there are 300 annunciators, 100 to each position, and at each position sits an operator. All lines enter the switchboard at the first section, where a jack is looped into the circuit. It then passes to section 2, where another jack is looped in, and then in succession to the rest of the sections, on each of which the jack is introduced, and returns to an annunciator somewhere in the system.

The new board on the top floor has an addition in the form of a miniature lamp, which is lighted and extinguished by the movement of the annunciator. Whenever a call is registered by the drop opening, the lamp circuit is closed and the lamp burns. The moment the operator restores the annunciator to its normal position the circuit is broken and the lamp goes out. The lamp is on a level with the operator's eyes and is intended to warn her that someone is calling.

Each operator controls 100 circuits. 80 of which are classed in the unlimited service, and 20 in the limited. On a call coming from one of the latter, the operator is required to fill out a record ticket, noting the number of the instrument calling, the time in hours, minutes and seconds, and the number of the operator. These cards are collected each hour, and the tolls are charged up by a special clerk. Women operators are employed during the day, and until eight o'clock in the evening, when men come on for the night service, and remain until seven o'clock in the morning. The day operators are on duty nine and one-half hours with one-half hour for lunch, and fifteen minutes recess in forenoon and afternoon. The first shift comes on at seven o'clock in the morning, and others follow at half-past seven, at eight, half-past eight and ten o'clock. Thirteen men are employed on the night service, whose duty it is to watch both boards and answer such calls as may come in. The wages paid to the women operators range from $5.25 to $9 per week, depending upon individual skill and length of time they have been in the service of the company. The force is divided into five grades, known as A, B, C, D and E, and great care is exercised in selecting and training the applicants for their positions. Applicants have to come well recommended, and must be reasonably strong and steady of nerve. One-third of the applicants fail to meet the requirements, and never become what is known as skilled operators. This is due to several causes, such as defective eyesight or hearing, but chiefly to lack of that particular deftness which is required. Although the service is considered wearing, the nervous strain being very great, a few operators in this exchange have been in the company's employ for 18 years. In breaking in new operators, they are first stationed behind a regular operator, with ear receiver in position, so that they can hear all the calls, and watch the movements of the operator. Then, when business is slack, they are given a seat at the board, and the regular operator in turn watches and instructs them in their duty. Applicants receive no pay while under instructions, and not until they are turned in as substitutes. The switchboard is so arranged that the operator can stand up or sit down as she may choose, but the rules require that each one speak in a low tone. They are not allowed to communicate with each other, nor in any case to give information to a subscriber, not even their own names. Should a subscriber wish to make a complaint against an operator and ask for her name, she replies: "I have no name, but my number is so and so." Every precaution is exercised to prevent a subscriber from learning the name of any particular operator.

Once a month a record is made of the number of calls received in a day, when an average is ascertained for each operator per hour, and should it be found that some of them have an excess of calls the circuits are re-distributed to make the work as uniform as possible. The calls usually number about 10 per day for each subscriber, in which case, 3,200 subscribers, the number on the main board, the average number of calls answered per hour per operator would be 93 and the maximum 181.

A monitor operator is employed who is stationed at a separate board, which can be connected with any panel of the main switchboard. It is the duty of this monitor to record the work done by any particular operator. The record shows the time of the call in hours, minutes and seconds, the time the operator answers, the time when connection is secured, and when the circuit is rung off. By studying this record the managing operator is able to judge whether the girls are prompt in answering calls, or if they are indulging in irrelevant conversation with a subscriber.

Visitors are admitted to the operating room on a pass from the superintendent or other official, but in no case are they allowed to communicate with the employes, nor are the employes allowed to receive notes or mail matter at the exchange. In very urgent cases, when a message comes from the operator's home, the chief operator may allow her to receive it.

Each operating floor is provided with a comfortable dressing room for use by the employes, with toilet facilities, and there is a room set apart as a lunch room with tables, where the girls can meet and partake of their lunches. No provisions are provided by the company, but a messenger boy is employed who comes in just before the noon hour and takes such orders for lunches as may be given him, which are filled at a neighboring restaurant. The following are extracts from the code of rules, copies of which are posted in the dressing room, and will indicate how rigid and thorough is the matter of discipline. This is deemed necessary, not only for the protection of the company to secure efficient service, but also to protect the operators from officious attention from undesirable parties:


Operators must report punctually at the hours designated by the chief operator.

Operators must be courteous, under all circumstances, to subscribers and to each other.

Operators must not leave the switchboard without permission.

Operators are forbidden to sharpen pencils, manicure finger nails, to eat or read while at the switchboard.

Operators, before entering the operating room, must thoroughly brush their clothing and shoes.

Scarring or marking the switchboard will not be tolerated, and operators are cautioned against the habit.

Operators must enter and leave the operating room with the least commotion: every movement of the operator should be made so as to avoid as much noise as possible.

Operators must not notify each other that they are being called for over the wire: always inform the chief operator when an operator is asked for.

Operators are forbidden to give their names to the public; they must be known by number, never by name.

Operators must cultivate a low tone of voice. Answering calls in a loud voice will not be permitted.

Operators are forbidden to call out "Hello" or "Well." when answering calls; they must use the words. "What number."

Operators must not throw down the cams: they must be pushed down.

Operators must insert and remove the connecting cords by grasping the plug only; they must never push or pull on the cord.

Operators must leave the circuit as soon as the connection is fully established; listening to connections on the wire is strictly prohibited.

Operators must be careful not to call in on connections while the parties are talking; wait five seconds before calling in.

Signals must be rung out clearly and distinctly, making a distinct pause before repeating the signal. This is imperative.

An operator's sole duty is to answer calls and make connections as promptly as possible, and operators are forbidden to do aught else except by permission of chief operator.

Operators who fail to report for duty on time will lose the day.

When operators are unavoidably absent they must report the cause to chief operator before eight a. m.; failure to do so will be cause for suspension.

Operators who are off duty must report before one o'clock p. m. the day before they expect to return, otherwise their places will be filled.

Operators are forbidden to take messages for each other; all messages for operators must go through chief operator.

Operators must keep posted as to daily orders on bulletin board. Ignorance of orders will not be accepted as an excuse.

Operators will be held responsible for the condition oi lines, instruments and switchboard under their care; if they are not in good condition, report them to chief operator daily if necessary.

Operators are reminded that loud and boisterous conduct is not genteel, and they are, therefore, expected to preserve a proper decorum in all parts of the building.

All information to subscribers, etc., must be given from chief operator's desk. Operators must under no consideration give information to non-employes.

Operators will not be allowed to receive mail, visitors or packages while on duty.

No excuse will be accepted for failure to report for duty on Sundays or holidays. Violation of this rule is sufficient cause for suspension.

Conversations over our wires are inviolable. Operators, therefore, must under no circumstances listen on the wires. To repeat conversations that have been overheard is sufficient cause for dismissal.

Operators when on duty are not allowed to leave the building without permission from chief operator or his assistants.


Keywords:Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company : Need Image
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:June 8, 2011 by: Bob Stahr;