Why Do We Call It a Telephone 'Jack'?

Why do we call the place where you plug in a telephone a 'jack'? It's kind of strange when you think about it. It doesn't look like a person or the thing you use to prop up a car while you change a tire. It's just a specifically shaped hole. So, how'd it get that name?

I stumbled across the answer to this question in James Gleick's spectacular book, The Information. Here's Gleick's capsule history:

George W. Coy, a telegraph man in New Haven, Connecticut, built the first "switch-board" there, complete with "switch-pins" and "switch-plugs" made from carriage bolts and wire from discarded bustles. He patented it and served as the world's first telephone "operator." With all the making and breaking of connections, switch-pins wore out quickly. An early improvement was a hinged two-inch plate resembling a jackknife: the "jack-knife switch," or as it was soon called, the "jack."

The patent is now available online. It begins, "Be it known that I, George W. Coy, of New Haven, in the county of New Haven and state of Connecticut, have invented a new Improvement in Electric Switches." But the jack-knife switch itself was not invented by Coy. That honor goes to Charles Scribner of the Western Electric Company.

scribner.jpg

We love our tech etymology.


Presented by

The Best 71-Second Animation You'll Watch Today

A rock monster tries to save a village from destruction.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Best 71-Second Animation You'll Watch Today

A rock monster tries to save a village from destruction.

Video

The Case for Napping at Work

Most Americans don't get enough sleep. More and more employers are trying to help address that.

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

Video

Stunning GoPro Footage of a Wildfire

In the field with America’s elite Native American firefighting crew

More in Technology

Just In