Capitol Hill's Telephonic Revolution

Representatives Florence Kahn and Edith Nourse Rogers (featured with a telephone) meet in the Ladies’ Cloakroom in 1927./tiles/non-collection/e/ex_tech_telephone_kahn_rogers_lc.xml Image courtesy of Library of Congress Representatives Florence Kahn and Edith Nourse Rogers (featured with a telephone) meet in the Ladies’ Cloakroom in 1927.
During the American Industrial Revolution, Alexander Graham Bell invented the first functional telephone in 1876. Shortly thereafter, major cities across the United States and Europe began to install the revolutionary telephone system. Service expanded to Washington, D.C., in 1879, and slowly transformed the information system throughout the Nation's Capital.

An early Member office in the Cannon House Office Building/tiles/non-collection/e/ex_tech_telephone_cannon_lc.xml Image courtesy of Library of Congress An early Member office in the Cannon House Office Building
The first telephone was installed in the U.S. Capitol Building in 1880. Situated in the lobby of the House of Representatives, the telephone was placed under the supervision of the House Doorkeeper, Walter Brownlow. Within two years the telephone became so popular that Brownlow petitioned the House to permit him to hire an additional Page to work the telephone. By the early 1890s telephones became standard equipment, appearing in a variety of Capitol offices, including the Speaker's Office, the Office of the Clerk, and the Appropriations Committee. In the early 1890s, the first telephone was installed in the Press Gallery. The invention increased the speed and accuracy that a reporter could get the latest congressional story to press. By 1897 the expanding telephone system required a larger switchboard and a fulltime operator. The telephone continued to grow in use and popularity within Congress and across the country, diminishing, but not completely eliminating the use of the telegraph. Over time, the number of calls handled by Capitol Hill operators shrank, aided, in part, by the use of e-mail beginning in the 1990s and the addition of cellular phone technologies. Nevertheless, the telephone remains a popular method for constituents to contact their Representative. Since the installation of the first telephone in the Capitol, the Capitol switchboard has handled an average of more than a million calls per year.

Date Event
1879 Washington's first telephone service was installed by the National Telephone Exchange in 1879.
1880 A resolution was approved to install one telephone for the House of Representatives lobby, provided the expenses were covered by the National Telephone Exchange Company. The Doorkeeper was assigned to oversee the installation and use of the telephone.
1882 The Doorkeeper of the House received authorization to hire one additional Page to take charge of the telephone in the House lobby.
1883 The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company assumed control of the telephone lines in 1883. Telephone lines were installed between the Capitol and the Office of Public Grounds. Lines connected the Capitol to the Departments of War, Navy, State Department, and the White House.
1889 The Speaker's room, the Clerk's Office, and the Appropriations Committee were among the first offices to have telephone's installed.
1896 Telephone lines were installed from the House Folding Room to a new annex at the junction of Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Street.
1897 Telephone lines from the Capitol to the new Library of Congress Building are run as well as internal lines for the Library of Congress Building.
1898 As an operator for Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, Mrs. Harriott Daley became the first switchboard operator for the Capitol. She was the head switchboard operator at the Capitol for 47 years.
1908 The Capitol switchboard was moved from the basement of the Capitol to the Senate annex (B Street, Maltby Building). There were four operators for the 11 am to 4:30 pm shift and two operators for the other hours. The operators serviced 350 telephones. Once the new Senate and House Office Buildings (Russell and Cannon) were completed, the office was moved to Cannon.
1926 Mrs. Harriott Daley supervised 15 telephone operators. Roughly 30,000 calls a day came through the Capitol Switchboard. There were 114 trunk lines and 1,603 stations. The service ran 24 hours a day. The 15 female switchboard operators ran the telephones in various capacities from 8 am to 10 pm. From 10 pm to midnight, two men ran the telephones. From midnight to 8 am, one man ran the telephones. The office was located in the Cannon House Office Building on the 5th floor.
1957 With 75 operators, the Capitol telephone exchange moved from the Longworth House Office Building to the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The modern luxury of direct phone dialing was introduced to the Capitol Complex. The exchange averaged more than 55,000 calls per day.
1983 Capitol operators received more than 22,000 calls a day. The office operated with a staff of 28 operators and four supervisors.
1993 President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole of Kansas urged the public to call their Representatives and Senators to complain about the budget. The Capitol received more than two million calls between August 4th and 5th.
2005 The Capitol switchboard received more than 45,000 calls per week and employed 34 individuals. The switchboard was manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.