Date: c. 1940s
Description: This small bench on wheels was used by a machinist at the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company, probably around the 1940s. Telephones of course revolutionized American society, and soon after its invention in 1876 it became one of the most indispensable and widely used appliances in American homes, businesses, and government institutions. But in the texting and app-using world of today, the essential function that originally made the telephone revolutionary can be difficult to grasp. The telephone was originally designed to transmit the human voice into electronic signals that could be transferred across long distances to another user. Today radio signals accomplish this task, but in the 20th century wires, cables and switchboards were necessary.
All of the items necessary for telephone operation were managed and repaired by telephone companies like Northwestern Bell, which served Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and the Dakotas throughout the 20th century. Switchboards and operators are a common image of mid-20th century telephone companies, but behind the scenes and away from the boards were telephone machinists, who repaired and maintained the wiring and mechanical parts of telephones, switchboards, and other varieties of telephone equipment. When telephone companies like Northwestern Bell came to Sioux City, telephone machinist was one of the many different varieties of jobs and trades that the city’s diverse population practiced.
Donor: Telephone Pioneers of America