You Can’t Cheat the Undertaker

Today in History, March 10: 1891:

Almon Brown Strowger, a Topeka, Kansas undertaker, felt that he was being cheated. His competitor’s wife happened to be the operator for the town’s telephone exchange; Almon suspected that each time someone rang the operator and asked for “the undertaker”, that she would route the calls to her husband, cheating Almon out of much needed business.

So, with several relatives, he strove to put her out of business by inventing the Strowger stepping switch, which made automated telephone exchanges feasible.

On today’s date he received a patent for his invention, and installed the first Exchange in La Porte, Indiana. In 1896 Strowger sold his patents for a pittance of $1,800 and eventually returned to undertaking. In 1916 his patents would be resold for $2.5 million.

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