The #5A Crossbar switcher, built by Western Electric at the Columbus Works, was a telephone switching machine that could handle either around 1000 lines, or up to 2000 with an extension upgrade. This made it ideal for smaller towns and communities, new large subdivisions, and larger companies. The crossbar switch itself took up 10 by 42 feet, and weighed 25 tons. The machine was pre-assembled in Ohio, and then trucked to its final installation site. This film shows the assembly and transportation, and further details about the crossbar switch's "plug and play" type of capabilities. The Museum of Communications in Seattle has one of these crossbar switches on display.
The Columbus Works were one of the Bell System's later plants, built specifically for switching equipment manufacture, and opened in the late 1950s. It eventually manufactured not just the crossbar switch but also the 4ESS digital switch. The last major manufacturing effort AT&T ran at the plant was its Airloop, which was a wireless system announced in 1995 that was a potential replacement for crossbar-type switching systems in hard-to-reach areas. It could bring quantities of new lines to the network wirelessly, without having to build in new trunk lines to a site.
At its peak, the Columbus Works employed around 12,000 workers, including 1,000 Bell Labs employees alone. In 1996 it became part of Lucent Technologies, which sold the plant in 2003. Today, the office building on the site is still occupied, but much of the manufacturing plant is empty.
Writer/director: Dick Martin
Music: Steve Covello
Footage Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ