Almon Brown Strowger (1839 – 1902) gave his name to the electromechanical telephone exchange technology that his invention and patent inspired.
Strowger was born in Penfield, near Rochester, New York. Little information is available about his early life, but it is known that he was the grandson of the second settler and first miller in Penfield. In her history of the Town of Penfield, Katherine Thompson reports that if his mother gave her children a task, he and his brothers would spend most of their time figuring out a machine that would do the task for them. He taught school in Penfield for a time, and served in the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry during the American Civil War. It is believed that he fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia.
After the Civil War, it appears he first became a country school teacher before he became an undertaker. He is variously attributed as living in El Dorado, Kansas or Topeka, Kansas, and finally Kansas City, Missouri. It is not clear where his idea of an automatic telephone exchange was originally conceived, but his patent application identifies him as being a resident of Kansas City, Missouri on March 10, 1891.
Invention of automatic telephone dialing system
Almon Strowger, inventor of the automatic telephone dialing system, is less familiar to most people than that of his predecessor in telephone technology, Alexander Graham Bell. Much less is known about Strowger than about Bell. But Strowger’s invention, which remained widely in use in different forms until the 1970s, transformed the telephone industry, changing not only the way the average person used the telephone, but also the structure of the business itself.
Strowger, described as cantankerous and irritable, made only a brief foray as an inventor, but in that time his work raised the ire of the dominant Bell Telephone Company but won the interest of investors and the public.
He died, aged 62, of an aneurysm after suffering from anemia, at St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, Florida and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery the next day. His grave is marked with the traditional white headstone with an inscription that reads: "Lieut. A.B. Strowger, Co. A, 8 NY Cav."