The early days of telephone communications: The work of the first switchboard operators

August 19
Social sector

The first telephone station in Moscow opened on Kuznetsky Most Street in 1882.

In the beginning of the 20th century, it employed women, and female switchboard operators became the symbol of this new kind of communication. The Moscow Main Archive Directorate has preserved the rules for the operators of that time.

The rules were strict and the work was hard, but telephone companies never lacked women who wanted jobs there.

In the early 1900s, the Moscow City Telephone Network, founded by the International Bell Telephone Company, passed into the hands of the Swedish-Danish-Russian Joint-Stock Company, which sought to improve Moscow’s telephone network. Work conditions for the operators changed for the better. The new owner paid each operator 13 kopecks for one hour of work in the first year and 16 kopecks starting the second year. The working hours came to some 200 hours per month, but operators had to work overtime if needed. The average monthly salary of a switchboard operator was 30-46 roubles. For reference, a metal worker received between 25 and 35 roubles per month.

According to the internal rules, if an operator was late by 3-5 minutes, she was fined 13 kopecks, or her hourly wage. In addition, it was prohibited to have personal conversations and make noise because it could distract the other workers. It was also against the rules to bring in people. Operators could not leave their desk unless another worker was there to take over.

With clients, operators had to speak calmly and politely, enunciate and never raise their voice. It was prohibited to have long conversations with them or eavesdrop on their calls.

If an operator did not have work at the moment, she had to help not only her two closest neighbours, but everybody else if possible.

Social support was provided to telephone station workers. Two roubles per month was deposited into the account of each operator who had worked for over a year. If she quit the job, she had to give the company a month’s notice and then she would receive this money. If she was let go because of a contract violation, this sum went to other workers in the case of illness. They retained their average monthly salary and were offered free medical treatment by a doctor who worked for the Swedish-Danish-Russian Joint-Stock Company. After two years of work, operators received a paid two-week vacation, with their average salary retained. Thus, despite the hard work and strict rules, many women were eager to have the job of switchboard operator.


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