Bank of Canton (formerly Chinese Telephone Exchange)
USINFO | 2013-12-19 13:55

This building in San Francisco Chinatown was the Chinese Telephone Exchange. In 1891, the first public telephone pay station was installed in Chinatown. In 1894, a small switchboard was set up to serve subscribers to the telephone system.

Interior Chinese Telephone Exchange

Since people were often asked for by name rather than by number, telephone operators memorized and knew each subscriber by name. This made telephone numbers unnecessary. The Chinatown community felt it was rude to refer to people by numbers. Operators also knew the address and occupations of subscribers so they could distinguish between two people with the same name. In addition, they had to speak five Chinese dialects and English.

Although the offices of the exchange were destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, they were rebuilt afterwards, and remained in operation until 1949. The exchange was closed in 1949, when technology changed from switchboard-operator system to rotary-dial telephones. The Bank of Canton bought and restored the building in 1960.

You can still see some older telephone booths in Chinatown.
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