Michael Hathaway reports that "[My] parents owned the Bryant Pond Telephone Company in Bryant Pond, Maine, the last hand-crank magneto company to go dial. It was in our living room and the last call was made October 11, 1983." Hand crank magneto switchboards evolved around the turn of the century. Their arrangement was not common battery, where the exchange or central office powers their equipment and supplies electricity to customer's phones. Rather, as we saw earlier in this series, a crank at the switchboard operators position was turned to signal a customer. Turn the crank and you caused a dial at a customer's telephone to ring, a magneto in the crank generating the ringing current. To place a call a customer signaled the operator with a similiar crank on their telephone. A big battery in the base of the customer's telephone supplied the talking power when a call got connected. This system is called local battery, where the customer's phone supplies the power. Here's an example of a magneto switchboard below, a 1914 Western Electric Type 1200, known as a "Bull's Eye." This board is at the Roseville Telephone Company Museum and it still works for demonstrations. Click here or on the image below to see the large version.
So, you had many people on non-dial, candlestick or box telephones, as nearly a hundred years before. My father, incidentally, worked a magneto powered switchboard in his youth, near Davidson, Michigan. Mike goes on to say that,
"My father and mother Elden & Barbara Hathaway sold the Bryant Pond Telephone Company in 1981 but it took two years to convert. They did have about 400 customers ( probably 200 lines - two switchboards full). When they bought the company there were only 100 customers. The Oxford County Telephone Company, which bought it, retained ownership of the last operating switchboards, and they are currently deciding what they would like to do with them. The options include giving them to the town of Bryant Pond, and I have heard there is interest from the Smithsonian. My mother, who is 83, thinks that's quite exciting.
A lot of the family memorabilia has been donated to the Fryeburg Fair (Maine) Farm Museum, which although is only open during the 8 day fair, is visited by many thousands each year. It is hoped to have within a year or so a working magneto switchboard there where someone can call from an old pay phone to anywhere. My mother has a lot of telephone parts left over which we are slowly marketing for her as memorabilia from the last old hand-crank magneto company. I've actually written a book about the Bryant Pond Telephone Company called 'Everything Happened Around The Switchboard.' It's (obviously) a story of family life around the switchboard and is light reading with hopefully humor and nostalgia. I have lots of copies left and sell it directly. The address is Mike Hathaway, PO Box 705, Conway, NH 03818. But it is also available from Phonecoinc.com, and several bookstores."
This site has a great list of ending dates in telephonic history: http://www.sigtel.com/tel_hist_lasts.html
To sum up, although some manual switchboards may have remained in the PSTN, those being small office switches, or PBXs, the Bryant Pond board was the last central office manual exchange in America. On this happy and nostalgic note of technology passing away, so at the same time was the world's greatest telephone company coming to an end.
Although they had pioneered much of telecom, many people though the information age was growing faster than the Bell System could keep up. Many thought AT&T now stood in the way of development,