Phone of the Day: Northern Telecom Attendant Console History

The central answering position, the place where all the calls come in to the building, is the nerve center of the telephone system. In the old days this was where the switchboard operator did the job of plugging cables into each slot of the desired extension. Starting in the 1950s these wires started disappearing and were replaced with switches and eventually buttons.

Lots of the old plug cables and wires make even the most primitive attendant consoles from the 1960s look modern. While there were various attendant consoles developed by Nortel for the large centrex and DMS 100 platforms, this posting is about the PBX versions.

The first picture is borrowed from a fellow phone enthusiasts website, beefandchicken.com. This is a photo of the large cabled attendant console on the first Nortel electronic PBX called the SG1. Notice the huge 150 pair cable coming into the phone, this is pre digital technology, where every line on the system had to come directly into the console. With digital technology the size of the incoming cable could be a lot smaller. This set was obviously still analog with some limited electronic computerized processing inside this unit. It barely resembles anything familiar to modern day Northern Telecom SL1 and Meridian equipment today.

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Next up is the Northern Telecom SL1 digital attendant console. This wedge shaped console taken quite a leap over the predecessor SG1 console above, and also has taken a dramatic technological turn with the addition of color coded buttons, and many additional buttons to add features like page, messaging and release. Notice the cable in the rear of the set is a lot smaller. More digital LED buttons are evident on this console. This console was developed around 1975 and introduced with the release of the world’s first digital PBX, the Northern Telecom SL1. With all the buttons and lights on this phone it seems as though you could control the entire world with it. I distinctly remember these QSU series SL one consoles at the Community Hospital in Munster Indiana. During the early 1990s I volunteered at the hospital and spent much time talking to the operators in in the telephone switchboard room. Unlike most hospitals at the time which had separate microphone systems for the paging announcements in the hospital, this hospital had everything built right into the Meridian system where all the operator had to do was press a button to make a page to the entire hospital.

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Finally we have the Nortel Meridian1 M2250 consoles. There was also another smaller console called an M1250 Console that looked identical. This console was developed around 1989 with the release of the Northern Telecom Meridian 1 platform. This telephone set introduced backlit green LED display, color-coded buttons similar to the Meridian button caps on the telephones themselves, and innovative sleek styling much different than its former predecessors. I operated one of these huge attendant consuls well attending Purdue University. I was the switchboard operator at the Union Club Hotel. There were so many buttons on this phone that I didn’t want to touch anything that might cause an emergency evacuation. The manual for this phone is over 1000 pages thick. That shows the amount of features that Nortel put into it. This console functions quite similar to the earlier wedge-shaped SL one console, but had more modern styling.

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