Thursday, April 23, 2015

T is for Telephone Switching System: Inventions by Women A-Z

Erna Schneider Hoover (New Jersey, 1926-)
 We can thank Erna Schneider Hoover for adding some sanity to the complicated telephone switching system in the 1960s with her patent for a computerized telephone switching system in 1971. Telephone call centers, if flooded with too many calls at once, could freeze up. Frustrated customers had to endure the operator's lament, "I'm sorry sir/mam, the circuits are busy." I know....I was a telephone operator in 1969. When a switch froze up or was down, the customer wasn't happy. 

A typical switchboard in 1960s. It looks identical to the one I worked at for Pacific Northwest Bell in Tacoma, WA. Note the plaid skirt on the left. Very popular then!
A typical electronic Telephone Switching System in 1960s. When the switch went down (in the basement below us), we knew the guys were hard at work! (Think of a switch as the device that connects one telephone line with another telephone line; it enables conversation)


Erna Schneider Hoover is considered a pioneer in computer technology. Her patent was one of the first software patents issued. It is interesting her first degrees were in medieval philosophy and history (Wellesley College), and she had a Ph.d (Yale) in philosophy and mathematics. She later said after being hired by Bell Laboratories, that her training was equivalent to earning a master's in computer science. Bell Labs was eager to replace their older electronic relay circuitry, and computer technology appeared to be the solution. 

Erna got right to work, but in the process found herself flat on her back in the hospital . . . about to give birth to one of her three daughters! With pad in hand she persevered and designed a new switching system for Bell Labs. While on maternity leave, the patent papers were hand delivered for her to sign. She had solved the company's problem, and the principles of her design are still in use today. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2008.




Source:
http://meaganpollock.com/women-in-stem-erna-schneider-hoover/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erna_Schneider_Hoover
http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blhoover.htm
https://randia.wordpress.com/culture-site-intro/culture-intro/
http://www.telephonetribute.com/switches.html

Copyright 2015 © Sharon Marie Himsl

24 comments:

  1. That's awesome - I always love to hear about women at the cutting edge of computers because they are so often overlooked in favour of their male counterparts.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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    1. Was glad to include a software inventor! She had a nice a career with Bell.

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  2. There seems to be no limits as to what we women can do. Another clever woman
    Well done on an excellent post.
    Yvonne.

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  3. My aunt retired from the telephone company after working her way up the ladder from operator to manager of a telephone store in those early days when we were given the option of buying a phone rather than renting. I like the part of the story when Erna was in the hospital yet still at work.

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    1. It was so different back then. We actually rented telephones. One of my later jobs was renting phones and phone repair!

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  4. She found the solution while in the hospital after giving birth? Now that is incredible!

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    1. I like this about her....she really loved her job!

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  5. I love your personal connection to this one. It looks like sitting in front of that board all day long would be monotonous and exhausting.

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    1. I do remember feeling stiff. Breaks were important, but sometimes we worked split shifts and those were cool. You could have 3 hours or more off in between to do something.

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  6. This sparked a memory for me, because I grew up in rural Iowa so modernity took a little longer to get there. I remember going on a school field trip to the telephone company and they showed us how the switchboard worked. I thought it was cool, but it wasn't long after that that they got the computerized system. Thanks for the memory!

    Hi from Nagzilla bloghopping A to Z

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    1. Hi! I loved my job, and had several positions with the phone company. Things changed a lot over the years and it makes me proud to have been part of that history.

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  7. I have seen this in so many movies and that they could listen in to the conversations too. (Thinking about Lily Tomlin right now). I had no idea that it would freeze up. She deserves so much more than whatever she has received when one thinks how much the phone has been used and that we rely on

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    1. Ha-ha....funny about Lily Tomlin. I looked for her 'one ringy dingy' u-tube but couldn't find the one I remembered. Operators were closely supervised, so listening in wasn't as easy as you would think. Usually, we were too busy to even consider it. Occasionally we did interrupt a conversation for an emergency....and those calls were scary for those hearing the operator's voice.
      Erna did receive awards, including induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame....forgot to mention that!

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  8. Wow...look all the wires in that room. This all makes me wonder how many women these days try to invent something.

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    1. Oh my goodness....there are tons more. I could only highlight 26 for the a-z. I wish more people knew.

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  9. Ya gots ta have the ladies to work out these problems!

    Aren't you glad we are past party lines, Sharon?

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    1. Party lines were a real pain for those living in rural areas. They were the last to receive private lines. And oh...the squabbles members on those lines sometimes had. Complaints were common. In town we could choose private or party....I always chose private.

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  10. The first photograph reminds me of the series 'Mad Men' set in the 60's. How far we've come. I remember party lines vaguely - hold on hold on, the lines are busy ... Now, our cell phone calls get dropped sometimes ..
    What a woman! Thanks Sharon!

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  11. It seems so long ago now that sometimes I wonder if it really was that way? But it was, it really was. Cell phones are super convenient, and there is no turning back, but they have yet to top the sound quality of a land line. It's probably why we talked hours on the phone back then. Ha-ha. Now we do the same thing online!

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  12. Hi Sharon .. so I should think that she was inducted into the Hall of Fame .. honestly amazing how women were instrumental in so many inventions ... brilliant to read about .. cheers Hilary

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    1. Totally agree....quite an eyeopener researching these ladies!

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