In 1919, NYC had 3+ million telephone calls daily — more than the system could handle. “The strain at times is tremendous, and we hear many complaints of the inadequacy of the service, the slowness of operators in responding, and the tardiness of making connections.”
In an era where calls required an operator to connect the two parties, the rise in calls was outstripping the rise in operators.
As a matter of engineering record it now takes about ten seconds on the average to get the echo of “Number, please,” and from twenty-five to thirty seconds on the average to get a connection. The operators are far less numerous than they should be; it takes a year to train one so that she will have “poise on the board,” or, in other words, so that she will not lose her head in emergencies, and equipment lacking on account of the war embargoes is just being got in. In the halcyon days Central used to answer on an average in three seconds, but then the burden on the switchboards was not so heavy.
Indeed, 82 years later, the same issue still existed to an extent. There were numerous reports of NYC residents unable to get their phone calls through on 9/11, because the system was jammed.
Business Before Pleasure on the Wire: Effect of ‘Phone Philandering on the Call Frequency Curve of the City and Some Suggested Mitigations
Published: Sunday, September 28, 1919