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Posted on November 10, 2020 at 2:59 PM by Ken Kocher
The telephone system was a focus of Madison’s people in 1938. The Kiwanis Club “had a hand in getting a new telephone exchange for Madison” – presumably this was new equipment because the Exchange remained at its upstairs location in the Vason Building where it had been since 1901. The bigger story was that Madison was to get a new, up-to-date, common battery system. Subscribers were polled as to their support for this a new system and an application was made to the Public Service Commission for the change. So what was this change?
Remember in the old-time movies when folks would turn a crank on the side of the phone to get the operator at the exchange? That was a magneto system where two dry-cell batteries on the customer’s end supplied talking power and signaling power was created by turning that crank to alert the operator at the exchange. With a common battery system all power for the customer’s phone and the switchboard was located in the central office. When the customer took the receiver off the hook, a lamp would light up on the switchboard to signal the operator to make a connection.
However, those plans, as well as the plans for a new common battery system, were thrown into disarray. In the very edition that reported the fire, the Madisonian asked what had become of the promised new system noting that now there was agitation for a dial system. This went on several months. The Mayor and Council passed a resolution requesting that Southern Bell install the common battery manual system at once. The newspaper reported, “Some want common battery and others want dial – and there you are.” Then one June day, Manager Sealy stopped by the Madisonian offices to report that a new exchange would be built next to the Ford dealership. It was to be a residence type building that would house the exchange, offices, and a new common battery system.
The Public Affairs Committee of the Kiwanis Club comprised of W. C. Hemperley, M. A. McDowell, and Ben S. Thompson sponsored the new exchange. That sponsorship was primarily in the form of Mr. Thompson having the exchange built. Mr. E. T. Chase, from the Atlanta contracting firm of Jirond Jones & Company (also reported as Giroud Jones), was the superintendent of the construction crew that began work in August. By October the building was ready for a walkthrough by the Madisonian who deemed it to be of excellent construction. An article described the layout and finishes in detail as well as a combination garage and supply room behind the building. This outbuilding can now be found behind the Variety Works event center housing a shoe repair shop.
The Southern Bell Telephone Exchange was ready for the “Cut Over” on November 25, 1939. Representatives of Southern Bell, the Kiwanis Club, and the City of Madison were present to witness the transfer of service from the old magneto system located in the post-fire, somewhat temporary site on Jefferson Street to the new common battery system at the exchange on Main Street. The cut over occurred with no gap in service. A week later, at a Kiwanis meeting, Bell Company officials expressed appreciation for the support of the project by the club. The company held an open house for the community the following January where visitors could experience the Voice Mirror and Voice Inverter a machine that gave visitors a chance to hear how their voices sounded to others. One year and a fire later, Madisonians finally had their new exchange and phone system.
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