When the Senate installed its first telephone switchboard in its Reception Room on December 2, 1887, young male pages were assigned as the first switchboard operators. In July 1898 the House of Representatives received a similar exchange switchboard. By then the experiment of using adolescents as operators had proved a failure and its first operators were more mature women. By 1901 the Senate and House had merged their services into a single Capitol switchboard to serve both bodies.
By the time the Senate entered the 21st Century, technology had evolved to meet the expanding communications needs of the Senate. Moving from switchboards to computers, Capitol operators continued to field incoming calls ranging from the White House to agitated constituents. Operators helped to set up weekly teleconferences between senators’ staff in Washington and their home states. They also handled members’ telephone press conferences and town meetings. They coped with organized “call-ins” by protestors, and helped track down employees to take calls from their children. They also dealt with the extreme demands on the communications system on September 11, 2001.
In order to capture the development of congressional communications technology, the Senate Historical Office convened these two roundtable interviews with Capitol operators and information technology managers, each with long experience on Capitol Hill.