Miss Lucy Tom, chief operator, looks on as telephone operators man their boards in the Chinatown Telephone Exchange which handles all of Chinatown’s incoming and outgoing calls. June 19, 1946.
For more than 50 years, the only Chinese telephone exchange outside of China itself was in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was manned by Chinese men and women who knew by heart the names, addresses and phone numbers of every one of the 2500 Chinatown subscribers. The operators, whose switchboards were flanked by two golden dragons, were fluent in English and several Chinese dialects and were even supposed to know their customers’ favorite hangouts in case they weren’t home when an urgent call came in.