Today in 1892 a phone system that made automated calls – no switchboard operator needed – began operating in Laporte, Indiana.

It was the first automatic dial network.

And it all happened because of a business dispute between two undertakers.


One of those undertakers was Almon Brown Strowger of Kansas City.

The story goes that one day he realized business had slowed to a crawl.

After asking around, he found out he had a new competitor with a big advantage: this new guy’s wife worked at the local telephone exchange.

Any time someone called up for an undertaker, she could put them through to her husband’s shop.

Even when they asked for Strowger by name, she routed the calls the other way!

Facing ruin, Strowger decided to develop a way to make phone connections that human operators couldn’t re-route against your wishes.

He used hat pins and electromagnets to develop the automated phone exchange, and he came up with the rotary dial.

It was, to put it mildly, a hugely influential invention.

Automatic dialing has become the standard for phone calls to this day.

And yet, Strowger only stayed in the phone business for a few more years, before returning to the undertaker for the rest of his life.

I guess if you go to that much trouble to protect your business, you don’t want to just up and switch careers.

Today in 1882 was the birthday of John Baxter Taylor, Jr, the first Black American to win an Olympic gold medal.

He had been a track standout in college, and won his medal as part of Team USA’s victory in the 1600-meter relay.

He finished his leg of the race 15 meters ahead of the competition!

Almon B. Strowger: The undertaker who revolutionized telephone technology (Spark Museum of Electrical Invention)

First African American Olympic gold medalist was a Penn grad (University of Pennsylvania)

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Photo by Dan Buczynski via Flickr/Creative Commons