Chinese Telephone Exchange

sights / Architecture

Chinese Telephone Exchange information

San Francisco , USA
743 Washington St
Getting there
Tram: California St, Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason
Bus: 1, 30, 45
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California's earliest adopters of advanced technology weren't Silicon Valley programmers but Chinatown switchboard operators. This triple-decker tiled pagoda revolutionized communication in 1894. To connect callers, switchboard operators spoke fluent English and five Chinese dialects and memorized at least 1500 Chinatown residents by name, residence and occupation. Managers lived onsite and kept the switchboard operating 365 days a year. The exchange operated until 1949 and the landmark was bought and restored by Bank of Canton in 1960.

Since anyone born in China was prohibited by US law from visiting San Francisco throughout the 1882–1943 Chinese Exclusion era, this switchboard was the main means of contact with family and business partners in China for 60 years.