Leich History

Leich phones originated as the Eureka Electric Company, McCordsville, Ind. and moved to Chicago in 1898.  In 1902 they absorbed the Advance Electric Company and the year following, the company moved to Genoa, Ill.   With manufacturing in Genoa, Leich became a pioneer in telephone instruments, dial central-office equipment and switchboards. A half-century later, Leich would become part of the Automatic Electric family. In 1907 Leich was sold and reorganized as the Cracraft-Leich Electric Co.  The name was changed to the Leich Electric Co. in 1917.   "GTE"/Automatic Electric, purchased Leich in the mid 1950's.   The Leich name was used until the early 1960's as a subsidiary of GTE.


Magneto Phones to Dial Phones

Strowger received a patent for his invention of an automatic telephone switch on March 10, 1891. The concept of the Strowger switch would be used until the emergence of digital technologies 70 years later.

The undertaker's invention came to the attention of Joseph B. Harris, a traveling salesman who persuaded Strowger to set up a business in Chicago. Strowger, Harris and a friend, Moses A. Meyer, incorporated the new company as the "Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange" on Oct. 30, 1891.
The first installation of a Strowger system was a 99-line switch in LaPorte, Ind., in 1892. The automatic exchange became a tremendous and much publicized success.

After Strowger's retirement, Harris interested a group of investors in financing the continued growth of the company. They organized in 1901 under the name Automatic Electric Co., often called "AE." AE purchased the rights to sell Strowger equipment, and the two companies consolidated in 1908. Strowger produced a more sophisticated working model of a telephone switch in 1888, with the help of his nephew Walter S. Strowger. This step-by-step, up-and-around switch moved the shaft by pawls and electromagnets responding to short pulses of electricity.   

Theodore Gary and Co. Bought Automatic Electric Co.in 1919.  Theodore aimed to cash in on the accelerating trend of replacing manual labor with machinery, and saw great potential in the Bell System market. Gary formed a syndicate that secured an option on the majority of Automatic Electric Co. (AE) common stock. In 1919, he exercised his option to purchase the company.

By the mid-1920s, AE was licensing about 80 percent of the automatic telephone equipment in the world. It became the second largest telecommunications manufacturer in the United States after Western Electric. The list of firsts and inventions filled volumes in the industry history during the rest of the 1900s, including product introductions, worldwide installations and consumer success stories. More pages are devoted to numerous subsidiaries, mergers and name changes.



This is a story about a working magneto telephone system that's still in use today. It's at the Oregon Caves National Monument. It's quite a large complex consisting of a 5-story lodge with about 50 rooms. Many of the rooms have a magneto telephone in them ranging from Leich desk sets to Western Electric single box sets.

There is a Kellogg 20 line desk mounted switchboard in the lobby. There are also magneto telephones in the park ranger station, the maintenance building, the kitchen, the gift shop, the cave tour ticket sales office and various other places. There is even a separate magneto system with four stations in the cave itself with additional lines going out to the ticket office and ranger station.

 The magneto system inside the cave finally had to be worked on because the original cloth wires (installed in 1920) were constantly shorting out due to rotting cloth resulting from the dampness. The entire system was replaced with 4,500 feet of state of the art six pair "armored" buried drop line, and four newfangled Stromberg Carlson intercom sets. It was quite a job. The cave is nearly 1 mile long and is full of twisting crawl holes. They didn't want any wire showing, so they had to pioneer a "new route" to pull the wire through the cave. It took 10 people to be in strategic places to accomplish this.