Strowger automatic telephone, c 1905.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
It is said that Almon B Strowger, a Kansas City undertaker, got the idea for an automatic telephone exchange in 1889, when he discovered a rival undertaker getting busines unfairly through a relationship with a local telephone operator. Strowger vowed to invent a telephone system immune to human foibles, but it was another 13 years before dial telephones like this began to be used. Even then the system had not reached the final, simple form in which it was eventually used worldwide for over 100 years.