3 May 2018

The Strowger Automatic Telephone System

All this looking up, looking down, looking around me means I am forever spotting 'new' old things.
Last Spring I spotted a small cover plate that had some lovely Art Nouveau-esque letters on it set within a circle. I wondered what ATE or TEA could be. A utility of some kind? I just took a snap and walked on. A few days later I mis-labelled it as Caledonian Road. Which is why it ended up in this collection here.
A few months later I noticed what I thought was another one outside The Marlborough Building on Holloway Road – turns out I was looking at the same one. Intrigued by this, I decided to keep my eyes open for more. I even asked my MP Jezza if he had any ideas. He looked confused and said he hadn't a clue. I wondered if it was something to do with trams seeing as it was positioned where I knew a tram/bus stop used to be.
Then, earlier this year, I happened on two similar ones near the clocktower in Crouch End, but these had an M instead of an E. Ooooh, I thought; what are they? MAT? ATM? It just had to be the latter.
A bit of googling and I have found that ATM = The Automatic Telephone Manufacturing Company and ATE = The Automatic Telephone and Electric Company, an earlier company dating from 1892. 
The concept of a telephone switching mechanism goes back to the 1890s – the brainchild of a Mr Almon B. Strowger of Kansas City, USA who very quickly sold his patent for lots of money and was later passed on to the Bell company for $millions. 
A Crouch End pavement, top left, followed by a close up of the marvellous ATM logo and then my original ATE find. The information plate is from the back of a late 1930s telephone (model L11561).
Some of the ATM cover plates I have spotted in Holloway, Finsbury Park and Crouch End

This article gives the full story.
It appears that ATM opened for business in 1912 but I am becoming quite confused as to when the plates in my pics below date from. Especially the ATE one. The article says that the first automatic director exchange in London opened in November 1927: this was HOLborn, supplied and installed by ATM. I can see no mention of when NORth London was included. 
In 1936 the company changed its name to Automatic Telephone and Electric Company (AT&E) but retained the old logo device with the letters ATM in a circle was retained as it was so familiar and had been applied to so many castings and pressings. For a while the new name was frequently shortened to Automatic Electric in advertisements. 
Old logo device? Old? Oh I am confused. Where does the ATE logo fit into this timeline ?  
I have also found this about the Strowger ATM timeline
But I am addled now. I confess that am now completely confused re ATE vs AT&E. If anyone out there would like to delve further and get the timeline correct, then please be my guest, but do copy me in with updates.
What I do know is that I am now spotting these plates everywhere. For instance, there are lots in the Old Street and City Road area.


  1. Interesting reading, I know of an ATM cover, on the outer part of Solihull town centre.

    1. Trust me, you will start seeing these all over the place from now on... Since writing this I have spotted lots more all over London, and beyond


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