Throughout the 20th century, telephone switchboards were devices used to connect circuits of telephones to establish telephone calls between users or other switchboards. The switchboard was an essential component of a manual telephone exchange, and was operated by switchboard operators who used electrical cords or switches to establish the connections.
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The electromechanical automatic telephone exchange, invented by Almon Strowger in 1888, gradually replaced manual switchboards in central telephone exchanges around the world. In 1919, the Bell System in Canada also adopted automatic switching as its future technology, after years of reliance on manual systems.
Nevertheless, many manual branch exchanges remained operational into the second half of the 20th century in many enterprises. Later electronic devices and computer technology gave the operator access to an abundance of features. A private branch exchange (PBX) in a business usually has an attendant console, or an auto-attendant function, which bypasses the operator.