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May 1st – First Telephone Exchange Opened in Budapest

Estevao Arato

Puskás Tivadar, a Hungarian inventor, was born in Pest, September 17th, 1844.  He was working on developing a telegraph exchange when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876.  Its disadvantage was that only one person could talk to another person on it.   

Bell’s invention made Puskás look at his own work from a new perspective.  He switched to devising a telephone exchange, and invented the multiple switch box, making it possible to connect and disconnect any number of phone users.  

By this time, Thomas A. Edison was also working on developing the telephone.  On his version, only 50 subscribers could be listening at the same time.  Therefore, Puskás’ invention of the telephone exchange gave a major boost to both Bell’s and Edison’s work.  In later years, Edison acknowledged that “Puskás was the first person to suggest the idea of a telephone exchange.” 

Puskás’ system had service centers in given geographic areas, providing the connection.  The system was set to switch electrical lines.  The operator sat in front of a vertical panel containing banks of jacks, each of which was the local terminus of a subscriber’s telephone line. 

In 1887, Puskás introduced the multiplex switchboard, a revolutionary step in the development of telephone exchanges.  He set up the first one in 1878.  (Sources differ on the location – many say it was in Boston, but there is also a source that indicates it was in New Haven, CT.)  The following year, he set one up in Paris, and began to set up telephone exchanges, with his brother Ferenc, throughout the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.  The one in Budapest opened on May 1st, 1881.

His next invention was the telephone news service (telefon hírmondó), the longest running telephone news service: it provided original programming from 1893 until 1925, and relayed radio station programming until 1944. 

Subscribers paid an annual fee and could listen to news, music (including live opera performances), lectures, sports and programming for children.  Below is the first story, an example of the children’s programs available at the time.


Mátyás’ Smart Wife

King Mátyás had a very smart wife, even smarter than the king himself, but she had a very bad habit:  When her husband was legislating, she was always meddling and often interfered in his business, irritating Mátyás. One day he ran out of patience and said:

“My dear love, if you get involved in my business once more, you’ll have to leave.  I’ll take you back to your mother.” 

The Queen became very scared, and obeyed for a while, not wanting to decide cases between opponents.  But what happened?  One day, King Mátyás was not home when two beggars came to ask the King to decide a case between them.  The Queen told them:

“My husband isn’t home.  I can’t make the decision.  God be with you.” 

But the two beggars shilly-shallied, saying they came from far away, that they’re in great difficulty, now what will happen?  They carried on so long that the Queen asked what matter they wanted to bother the king about? 

“Well,” one of them began, “I have a horse and my partner has a carriage.  Last night we slept by the roadside.  My horse foaled.  Somehow the colt rolled under the carriage.  My partner says the colt is his, his carriage foaled it.” 

The Queen had a good laugh, and sent the beggars packing, telling them to come back later when the King was home. 

She put to boil a pot of potatoes and cooked them.  When the potatoes cooled off, she put them into her apron, took a hoe and went to the garden where the two men were waiting.  The woman pretended to plant the potatoes, dug a hole with the hoe and placed a potato in it.  The men were watching what the Queen was doing.

The beggar said: “Excuse me, madam, but did you just plant a boiled potato in the soil?  Whoever heard of such a thing?”

“Well, if it is possible for a colt to be born to a carriage, it’s also possible for a boiled potato to grow!”

“See, my friend?  The colt is mine!” said the owner of the horse.  The men were not able to agree.

When the King came home, they went to ask him to decide the case.  King Mátyás said that the colt belonged to the carriage.  The Queen became annoyed over the King’s judgment.  She told the owner of the horse to get a net and pull it back and forth under their window, as if he were fishing.  When they would lean out of the window and ask, “What are you doing?” he should just answer that he was fishing.  She would take care of the rest.  So it happened.  The man held a very big net and dragged it in the dust.  The Queen leaned out of the window and called:

“Look at that, Majesty!  What is that man doing?”

The King also looked out of the window and asked: “Why are you dragging that net in the dust?”

“Only because I’m fishing”, replied the man.

“Come, come!  Whoever heard of someone wanting to catch fish in the dust?” questioned the King.

“Why not?  Whoever heard of a carriage giving birth to a colt?” the Queen snapped back.

Right away the King knew what was going on.  He became very angry: “Didn’t I tell you, wife, not to meddle in my business?  Pack immediately and go home to your mother!  You may take from the palace whatever is dearest to you, but you can no longer stay here.”

“I will leave if your Majesty won’t suffer me any more, but let’s have one more dinner together,” implored the Queen.

The King agreed.  Well, that’s all the Queen wanted!  She put a sleeping powder in the King’s wine, and the King fell so soundly asleep that he didn’t even know whether he was alive or dead!  The Queen had horses harnessed to a carriage and put the sleeping king in it with his sheet and featherbed.  The King did not even wake up when they arrived at the small house where the Queen’s mother lived.  The two women brought the King into the guest room and laid him in the bed.  The Queen slipped in next to him, and they slept until the morning.

The King woke up in the morning.  “Where am I?  Where am I?” he asked sleepily.

“We’re here with my dear mother, love of my heart,” said the Queen.  “You said to get out of the palace, and take only what was dearest to me.  There is nothing more dear to me in this wide world than you, that’s why I brought you with me.” 

“And where is the carriage?” asked King Mátyás, appeased.

“It’s in the barn,” said the Queen.

“Have the horses harnessed, wife, and let’s go home.  I see that I have no truer person than you in the world.  I won’t even mind if sometimes you will wear the hat,” laughed the King and kissed his smart wife. 

They returned home and lived happily until they died.  (This is the Hungarian equivalent of “they lived happily ever after”.)

Estevao Arato, son of Hungarian immigrant parents, was born in São Paolo, Brazil where he became a journalist.  He came to the US in 1996 and now works in the hospitality/restaurant business.  He attends the Hungarian School sponsored by Magyar Studies of America in Fairfield, CT.


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