London’s Millionth Telephone

The article and pictures all come from "The Post Office Magazine" November 1936

London’s Millionth Telephone by J. A. Rugless

AT a meeting of officials of one of the telephone companies then in existence a man who was later to become well known to many still concerned with telephone service had the temerity to prophesy that there would come a day when there would be thirty thousand telephones in London. He was jeered at and the meeting solemnly resolved that the maximum number of telephones the Capital would ever have was ten thousand! That was in 1884. On October 16th, 1936, there were a million working telephones in the area covered by the London Telephone Service. No wonder we hear nothing these days about a “saturation point.” That that millionth instrument made history surely none will question, and who can think of the history of London without immediately calling to mind the great and ancient office of Lord Mayor? Where better, then, could there be as a home for the historic instrument than the Mansion House? So there, at 3 p.m. on Friday, October 16th, the Postmaster-General presented the “old gold“ instrument, suitably inscribed, to the Rt. Hon. the Lord Mayor of London (Sir Percy Vincent), who, from it, spoke to the Mayor of that other London in far-away Ontario. A far, far cry from the original telephone call, just sixty years ago, when Dr. Alexander Graham Bell speaking from one room was heard in the next.

Incidentally, during the previous week, London established another record - 21,667,898 originated calls in seven days.

It was fifty-seven years ago when London’s first exchange was opened, but since then the telephone has passed from a scientific novelty to the business necessity, from the luxury of the rich to the common-place of the middleclass home.

Perhaps the progress of the past ten years is of most interest, for it was as recently as July, 1926, that the 500,000th instrument was installed in the Press Gallery of the House of Commons.

Forty-seven years to get the first half-million and ten years to get the second! But that which now concerns us most is, how soon shall we get the third?

These last ten years, however, have been full of developments: automatisation has come and there are now 102 automatic exchanges in the areas; in 1926 Londoners made less than ten million calls a week, now they make twice that number; then there were 418 street kiosks, now there are 4,700; one can now talk to almost anywhere in the world as well as to many ships at sea, then only four other countries were within one’s reach. As to charges, these have been reduced in one way or another on ten occasions. So one could go On, but to those engaged in the London Telephone Service the occasion has another significance, a domestic significance, for it marks the end of an epoch. Within a few days of the Mansion House ceremony the Controller, Mr. W. H. U. Napier, C.B.E., retired. The London Telephone Service is giving way to the London Telecommunications Region. How better can the old organisation hand over to the new than by the achievement of that which was beyond the imagination of those early pioneers and for which modern enthusiasts have striven so long? However, it is but history now, for London’s telephones increase by more than two hundred daily. We are already on the way to that third half million.


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Last revised: December 27, 2010