Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, March 11, 2012, pg. 6
Back before dial telephone service was instituted in 1949, all of Albion's telephone calls were handled manually by operators at switchboards in the Michigan Bell Telephone Company office on the 2nd floor at 112½ S. Superior St. Chief switchboard operator from 1917 until 1949 was Marion (Eckmyre) Beer (1897-1981), who was in charge of the crew of operators. When dial service was instituted in 1949, Marian continued with the company as operator-service representative at its new office at 210 S. Clinton St.
There were several switchboard stations at the telephone office. Back then, telephone numbers were either two or three digits. For example, in the 1923 Albion City Directory, the number for Moore's Music Co. was 24, while the number for J. J. Fisher the undertaker was 692. The operators would manually connect one call to another in town with the wire and plug, by inserting it into the appropriate slot as you told them what number you wanted. You could also tell them who you wanted and could connect you that way. If an emergency call came in, the operator would turn on a switch which would activate a flashing red light system in downtown Albion to alert the Albion police which patrolled on foot. That was Albion's "red light" district. Here are a few excerpts from the entries of Marion Beer in the company daily operator log our readers may find interesting. These show the important role the operator had in those days. Numbers given are specific phone line numbers. Notice the trouble the Albion office had in connecting with the telephone office in Jackson.
March 7, 1917: "Call from 112 to Perrine Wollse in Jackson. J. B. said that she did not call them but Parma did. Called Parma and she refused to ring them as she is not supposed to ring anyone that is a subscriber of Jackson. Took it up with Company and she gave me number at Jackson which was 711-F12."
April 28, 1917: "Carl Pretzel hurt in accident on Hotel Albion corner. Called from 98 for Dr. Chauncey also Dr. Hafford; neither one was in. Called Dr. Parmeter and got him right away." June 6, 1917: "Cyclone in Springport did considerable trouble. Some telephones, about 15, out of order here. Long distance calls tied, all circuits from Jackson out." June 23, 1917: "Rang Jackson from 6:45 to 8:30 before she answered. Wrote letter to Mr. Saunders in regard to poor service." September 24, 1917: "Sent Ida Stark and Margaret Finnigan to Marshall to help during who week of cutover to No. 9 board."
September 30, 1917: "Cannot get the Jackson operator without ringing 10 to 30 minutes." October 11, 1917: "Miss Gould visited office and held conference. Still cannot get the Jackson operator to answer for 10 to 30 minutes." From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photo of the Albion telephone operators sitting at their switchboards while the rest of the staff looks on. That's chief operator Marion Beer in the left corner wearing a flowery dress. Marion was with Michigan Bell for over 47 years before she retired. She married Edwin W. Beer in 1915. Special thanks to Gail (Nester) Smith for this week's information and photo.
Marion Beer and the Albion Telephone Operators, before 1949
All text copyright, 2013 © all rights reserved Frank Passic