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Copyright 1996-2014, Spybusters, LLC (140209)

October 17, 1914
Listening to what the neighbors say over the party wire will no longer be a popular amusement when the device recently invented by A.G. Howard of Nebraska, is attached to telephone-instruments generally.

Mr. Howard’s invention, we are informed by Frank G. Moorhead, in an article contributed to The Technical World Magazine (Chicago, October), sounds a warning when a third party breaks in on the wire, and also identifies the culprit to both the legitimate users of the telephone.

As there are about nine million party-line telephones in the United States, the device seems destined to affect a great many people and to check a firmly established customer.

Mr. Moorhead says that the accompanying reproduction of a photograph showing a farmer’s wife at work at her sewing machine, with the receiver of the telephone firmly bound to her ear, is bona fide and no fake. The good woman’s object, of course, is not to miss a single word of the conversation of her neighbors throughout the entire day!

He goes on to explain: "Howard’s device has been tried out on a number of party lines and has proved practical! It is the result of eleven years’ experimentation.

One of the questions most frequently asked of me by new subscribers, says Howard who himself is in the telephone business, is this: ‘Does every one on the line have an opportunity to hear what I say when I am talking to another party?’ I am forced to acknowledge that such is the case. One farmer’s wife asked me that question eleven years ago. When I replied, she asked if there was not in existence a telephone that would give private service on a party line. When I told her that I had never heard of such an instrument, she said some bright telephone man had better get busy and invent one; it would make his fortune. I took the tip, got busy, and believe I have solved the problem."

Mr. Howard’s device can be readily attached to any telephone. The user operates his telephone in the old manner, except that he turns a little switch just as soon as he begins to talk. This switch starts a mechanism which is timed by a small clock. An indicator points out the time the conversation continues and the telephone connection is automatically cut off at the end of four minutes. If during the conversation, some other subscriber on the line picks up his receiver, the removal of the instrument from the hook produces a musical sound which not only notifies the users, but identifies the one who is listening.

The identifying sound is produced by means of a disk carrying toothed projections on its extremity, which come in contact with a pair of key-note tongues.
A.G. Howard's eavesdropping prevention invention
A woman eavesdropping on a party-line telephone all day. (humorous)

Such are the benefits which the inventor of the new device expects to confer upon the talking world. But not everybody is to be made happier. In fact, Mr. Moorhead thinks it is "very doubtful if most country subscribers will take kindly to the device which will cut off some of their keenest pleasures, for there is no doubt that many farmers’ wives meet and talk in company on the rural lines in a way which should be regarded as perfectly legitimate. At such times a frantic call for a doctor is always regarded, and under ordinary circumstances there is very little business need of the telephone at the hours when it is used for neighborly talk. But business methods are moving into the country along with scientific improvements."

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Eavesdropping History

These tongues produce the musical signal, which is of a high or a low note, to represent the long or the short ring used to call the different subscribers on the party line.

Inasmuch as most party lines have from four to twenty users, there are the corresponding number of different signals or musical sounds by means of which the location of the receiver just removed is learned.

The device thus has the twofold effect of measuring the length of a conversation and identifying the eavesdropper. The inventor believes that cutting down unnecessary conversations by automatically shutting off the connection as the end of four minutes, will effect a saving of 50 percent or more on batteries and that it will eventually result in reduced telephone rates.
A.G. Howard - An inventor who tried to end eavesdropping.
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