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Today's trivia (August 27)

Thank Kansan Almon Strowger the next time you pick up a phone to call your best friend or favorite store.

Strowger invented the automatic telephone exchange.

Before Strowger, people had to go through an operator to make a call.

But Strowger, a Kansas City businessman, feared he was losing calls to his competition and, in 1888, set out to eliminate the person in the middle. The automatic exchange routed calls directly to him.

His invention changed phones from big, bulky, hand-cranked wall sets to desk sets that could dial combinations of numbers. His design became the basis for modern dial switching devices.

Strowger's invention was popular at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, where it was featured.

Strowger was born in Penfield, N.Y., in 1839. During the Civil War, he fought on the Union side. He was lieutenant in the New York Cavalry and participated in the Second Battle of Bull Run.

After the war, Strowger moved to Kansas and lived in El Dorado, Topeka and Kansas City.

Some historical sources claim Strowger may have been a bit paranoid about losing business through telephone operators. It seems Strowger sometimes would go days without having a phone call.

Fearing that the wife of one of his competitors was a Southwestern Bell operator and wasn't routing calls to his business, Strowger began thinking of ways to go around telephone operators.

He also complained strongly to Southwestern Bell.

Telephone repairmen discovered that when the wind blew, it often moved a metal sign hanging near his telephone wire and shorted out the phone.

Once the sign was removed, his phone worked properly.

Even so, the incident proved to be an inspiration.

In 1891, Strowger was granted patent number 449,918. Question: What was Strowger’s line of work that made him so competitive that he feared others were taking business away from him?

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Answer to Friday’s question: At the end of each newscast, John Cameron Swayze would sign off with: "Glad we could get together."

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