The opening of an automatic telephone exchange in Murcia in 1929. / sur

30 December 1927: Automatic telephone exchange launched with a blessing

The telephone first reached Spain in 1877 and Barcelona was the first city to demonstrate the wonders of this new communication system

ALEKK M SAANDERS

On 30 December 1927 an automatic telephone exchange was inaugurated in Zaragoza, allowing connections between banks, businesses and other important institutions, without having to first go through a manual switchboard. While this was not the first of its kind in Spain - others had previously been installed in San Sebastián and Jerez de la Frontera, among other cities - this switch-on was a big affair. The blessing of the automatic equipment was given by the Bishop of Huesca and the Civil Governor of Zaragoza pressed the button that put the rotary system into operation.

The telephone itself had first reached Spain in 1877. Barcelona was the first city in Spain to show the wonders of this new communication system that the Madrid telegraph office had discovered in Havana, after Alexander Graham Bell's first demonstration in October 1877. On 16 December 1877, with two Bell system devices, the first urban connection was established in the Catalan capital. Ten days later, the first real long-distance call between Barcelona and Gerona was made by Catalan company Dalmau e Hijo. Later, on 2 January 1878, telephone communication tests began in Madrid, extending to other towns further away from the capital such as Aranjuez, Alcázar de San Juan and Tembleque. The first mention of a telephone in Malaga dates back to 1881 when it is believed that journalist and politician Julio Vizcarrondo offered to link the town hall with the civil government.

The first attempts to introduce the telephone service in Spain, however, were not very successful; the demand for this system was scarce and private initiatives had few resources. Since its inception, the service was supplied by private individuals as well as small French and Spanish companies holding government concessions. Successive royal decrees from 1882 onwards failed to bring order out of the chaos created by so many concession holders.

During that period, Zaragoza, Madrid and Barcelona had become Spain's three main telecommunications centres and in 1896, a telephone line was installed to connect these three cities. Little by little, the service started operating across the country.

In 1926, new manual exchanges were built in 48 cities, and in 37 other cities (including Malaga) existing exchanges were refurbished. Malaga got its own automatic service in 1928, the same year as the first telephone service between Spain and the United States.