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Interview with Kathryn Speidal

Speidal, Kathryn
Sides, Beth
Date of Interview: 
Telephone; New York Telephone Company
Ms. Speidal gives a hisory of the New York Telephone Company and how the early phone interchanges worked. She also tells about the working conditions and the number of calls handled in a day.
Interview Setting: 
Interview as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
BS (Beth Sides): Testing 1, 2, 3. This is Beth Sides interviewing Kathryn Speidel who worked with the New York Telephone Company. And this is the 23rd of October 1979. And could you tell us a little bit about when you were working for the telephone company.
KS (Kathryn Speidal): Well, I guess maybe I ought to give you a little bit of history about the telephone company because when I began to work at sixteen, I worked on a manual board on the local exchange. Then from the local exchange, I went to work for my sister who had the office in Angola, and it was a drop system board.
BS: Could you explain to me what a manual board is, a local exchange, and the drop system is.
KS: A manual board was where you had the lights come in on the board, you plugged in with the back cord and said, "Operator, number please." In the first days. Then you would put your number up in a multiple, what they called, a multiple bank above you. Little jacks above you, and ring with the ringing key why I got the flat thumbs. [laughter] And then your call would be completed. If they answered, the lights would go out. There was two lights that matched your two cords. The lights would go out and the call would be they would be talking. Then the drop system board was like they had the old telephones in the country when they'd ring one long one and three short rings. Or four long rings or four short rings. And the little drop, they would be able to call each other, their neighbors, on the lines. Then the old drops would come down, they would go, "brrr br br br br." [laughter] And you would have to plug in the same way on the board and ask number please.
BS: Okay could you tell me about what year this was when you started?
KS: 1924 to '27. This was when I worked in that area. Then I got married, didn't go to work until my daughter was twelve years old. Then I went back to the Telephone Company, and it was in this period, sometime in this period that the Buffalo office went to direct dialing. Key pulsing they call it. And it went in after midnight, I was working nights at the time, and I had the first call from Buffalo, New York to Hawaii and--.
BS: Do you remember the year that this took place?
KS: No, I'm sorry I don't remember the year, but you can believe that it was an absolutely thrilling experience because it just went right straight through just as soon as I got through pressing the keys. Same buttons that you have on your private telephone today. So, this is what I had to say and believe me I do want to say that I thank God for everyday of my life for the wonderful era that I have lived in. Because it has been from crystal sets to radio to television to the moon. It has been a glorious, glorious life.
BS: Could, could you describe a little bit what some of the first phones were like that you worked with? And then describe what they were like when you finally quit the telephone company?
KS: They had the, the long telephone. The desk phones were long telephones with the, well you've seen them, you know what I mean, that had the hook that you'd hang the receiver on.
BS: And--?
KS: And they went into the dialing phone, and then they went into the princess phone, which was one of the first phones, in fact I have a little princess phone that was on display in the main office. I have that little telephone now sitting in my table in my bedroom. So this is about it.
BS: Well, can I ask you a little bit like when you were first working what were your wages starting out then because what were you, did you say sixteen when you started? About how much did you earn like--?
KS: I was getting about fifteen dollars a week.
BS: Fifteen dollars a week. What were you able to do with that?
KS: New York Telephone Company was really a good paying company, and always have been. And they always paid overtime, and we always had all the benefits. It was really a good company and still is a good company to work for. A hundred percent for a telephone company. Whether it's New York, whether it's Southern Bell. Wherever it is in this country.
BS: And could you explain a little bit the hours you worked?
KS: I used to work nine to five split hours, and also we used to have to go in on regimentation. We used to go into the set room, got our sets, put them on. On the first bell, we had to have our sets all adjusted, all ready to go. On the second bell, we had to get in line, and on the third bell we walked into our positions. We plugged in and before the other girl could pull her plug out, and she would swing around in her chair and leave. So this was the way it was done in those days. Can you imagine the kids today doing this? No way. [laughter]
BS: Could you describe the volume of calls like did you have, was it like going all the time or did you have quiet times?
KS: There, it was going most of the time, most of the time. Once in a while, it would slack down. But--.
BS: Is there any way you could estimate how many calls a day or how many calls per your shift you handled?
KS: [pause] No--.
BS: Hundreds, thousands?
KS: Oh yes.
BS: Thousands?
KS: Yes, yes. At least four or five hundred a day. You plugged from the time you sat down 'til you got up. You know. You really did.
BS: Okay, thank you very much. .