The Strowger Switch
March 10, 1891 - The patent for a stepping switch that would enable automatic phone exchanges was filed on this date by Almon Brown Strowger.
Strowger was an undertaker in Kansas City and his business was dwindling. His competitor's wife was a telephone operator and apparently she was re-routing Strowger's calls to her husband. Strowger saw an opportunity for a new invention.
The first commercial use of his switching system started in 1892 in LaPorte, Indiana. By 1896 Strowger sold his stake for $1,800. 20 years later Bell Systems paid $2.5 million for the patent.
After cashing in his chips on the switch that still bears his name, Strowger went back to the undertaking business and died in 1902.