21 Days of Chicago Lightning – Teasers, Tidbits, Trivia (Day 20 – Hello? Who’s calling?) by Kaye Spencer #roaringtwenties #romanticsuspense #prohibitionera

Chicago Lightning is a romantic suspense novel that begins with the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago on February 14, 1929 and ends around midnight two days later in Five Points, New York City.

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Like the radio, the telephone was a new technology in the 1920s that was slow to catch on, but once it did, it was Katie bar the door!

In Chicago Lightning, Ceara and Hagen are under pressure to make a phone call, but they come up against barriers that we no longer deal with in our telephone-using lives.

100-plus years ago, pay phones weren’t common; party lines were evolving; all calls went through operators/switchboards; and your call wasn’t private.


The dreaded party line.

Clipping – Newspapers.com

I remember dealing with both a four-party line and an eight-party line, when I was growing up.

A party line was a “local loop” telephone circuit shared by the households on that particular loop. In the early days, the calls all went through a switchboard. As telephone service evolved and improved, you were able to make your own local calls without operator assistance, but long-distance still required an operator.

I lived in the country and party lines were better than no phone, but did we ever feel like we’d moved ‘up town’ when we were upgraded from the eight- to four-party system.

In the early eight-party line system, each household had a unique identifying ring. All rings were heard in every household on that party line loop. You were only supposed to answer your assigned ring, but you could always hear when some Nosy Rosy picked up or hung up, while you were talking.

You couldn’t make a call when someone on the party loop was using the phone, and that was the typical source of not-so-neighborly feuds when someone monopolized the phone.

Once the eight-party dropped to four-party, each household only heard their own phone ring.

Party lines still exist, mostly in rural areas where it isn’t economically feasible to put in private lines in a sparsely populated area.

Examples of phones

Images: 1, 2 – Public Domain; 3 – screen capture movie: St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, 1967












Operator/Switchboard/Long Distance

c. 1943 – U.S. National Archives, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

A bit of phone trivia via Wikipedia:

  • Emma Nut was the first female telephone operator (9/1/1878) for the Boston Telephone Dispatch.
  • Harriot Daley was the first telephone switchboard operator at the U.S. Capitol in 1898.
  • An American bilingual female switchboard group called the Women of the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit served during WWI. They were nicknamed the ‘Hello Girls”.

This website, Vintage Everyday, has a wonderful collection of images of telephone switchboards and operators.

c. 1900 – Richardson Public Library local history – Public Domain

Here is an audio clip from the vintage program “Dragnet”. You hear Sgt. Joe Friday making a long distance call via an operator.


Just for laughs and a trip down television memory lane, here is Lily Tomlin on Rowan and Martin’s variety show, Laugh-In, in her recurring role as Ernestine, the obnoxious telephone operator. Note the switchboard.


Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Look for Kaye here—


Day 1 – Jan. 25th – Chicago Lightning – book video
Day 2 – Jan. 26th – Micro Excerpt #1
Day 3 – Jan. 27th – Notable Events of the 1920s – 1920 through 1924
Day 4 – Jan. 28th – Notable Events of the 1920s – 1925 through 1929
Day 5 – Jan. 29th – Chapter 1 Micro Excerpt
Day 6 – Jan. 30th – Slang – 1920s era
Day 7 – Jan. 31st – Pre-order
Day 8 – Feb. 1st – 1920s Kitchen
Day 9 – Feb. 2nd – ‘Roaring 20s’
Day 10 – Feb. 3rd – Chapter 2 – Micro Excerpt #2
Day 11 – Feb. 4th – 4 Roaring Twenties Movies
Day 12 – Feb. 5th – 1928 Phantom 1 Rolls-Royce
Day 13 – Feb. 6th – Speakeasy
Day 14 – Feb. 7th – Chapter 2 – Micro Excerpt #3
Day 15 – Feb. 8th – Pre-FBI – brief history
Day 16 – Feb. 9th – 1920s radio
Day 17 – Feb. 10th – Release Day, Micro Excerpt #4, and bullet resistant clothing
Day 18 – Feb. 11th – “The Hedge”
Day 19 – Feb. 12th – What did it cost? 1925-1929
Day 20 – Feb. 13th – Hello? Who’s calling?
Day 21 – Feb. 14th – 1920s reference books and book video





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