Biography of John Joseph Carty


John Joseph Carty was electrical engineer. He worked for Bell Telephone in Boston in 1879 and was in charge of the cable and switchboard departments at Western Electric from 1887–89. He joined American Telephone and Telegraph Co. in 1907, becoming vice-president in 1919, and retiring in 1930. He contributed to the development of telephone wires and technology.

John Joseph Carty was born at Cambridge, MA, 14 April 1861, son of Henry and Elizabeth (O’Malley) Carty. He was from an Irish family. His father had left Ireland as a boy in 1825. During the Civil War his father made guns in the city of Cambridge, where young John Joseph was born; and afterwards he made bells for church steeples. He was instinctively a mechanic and proud of his calling.

He could tell the weight of a bell from the sound of it. Moses G. Farmer, the electrical inventor, and Howe, the creator of the sewing-machine, were his friends. At five years of age, little John J. Carty was taken by his father to the shop where the bells were made, and he was profoundly impressed by the magical strength of a big magnet, that picked up heavy weights as though they were feathers.

John Joseph Carty received his early education in Cambridge. At the high school his favorite study was physics; and for a time he and another boy named Rolfe carried on electrical experiments of their own in the cellar of the Rolfe house. Here they had a “Tom Thumb” telegraph, a telephone which they had ventured to improve, and a hopeless tangle of wires.

Whenever they could afford to buy more wires and batteries, they went to a near-by store which supplied electrical apparatus to the professors and students of Harvard. This store, with its workshop in the rear, seemed to the two boys a veritable wonderland; and when Carty, a youth of eighteen, was compelled to leave school because of his bad eyesight, he ran at once and secured the glorious job of being boy-of-all-work in this store of wonders. So, when he became an operator in the Boston telephone exchange, a year later, he had already developed to a remarkable degree his natural genius for telephony.

Carty entered the service of the Bell Telephone Co. in 1879, when the telephone had just been invented. His first work was in Boston, MA. He received a job as operator in the Boston exchange, at five dollars a week. Carty had been one of Bell’s original operators, before women replaced the teenaged boys. However, soon he had shown such an aptitude for the work that he was soon made one of the captains.

The first telephone operators were teenaged boys.

In 1881, Carty had demonstrated the advantage of two-wire telephone circuits, and subsequently acquired two dozen telephone patents. He was a small, slim youth who was twenty-two years old and looked younger when under his direction was installed the first multiple switchboard in Boston, which was at that time the largest ever put into use. For the “express” telephone system, peculiar to that city, he designed and installed a switchboard which was the first metallic circuit multiple board to go into service.

Since then, Carty and the telephone business have grown up together, he always a little distance in advance. No other man has touched the apparatus of telephony at so many points. He fought down the flimsy, clumsy methods, which led from one snarl to another. He found out how to do with wires what Dickens did with words. “Let us do it right, boys, and then we won’t have any bad dreams”–this has been his motif. And, as the crown and climax of his work, he mapped out the profession of telephone engineering on the widest and most comprehensive lines.

In 1887 Carty took charge of the cable department of the Western Electric Co. in the East, with headquarters in New York City. In this position he studied cable manufacture and laying, and introduced a number of improvements, having charge of all of the important cable-laying projects which where carried on at that time in the East. One of Carty’s engineering developments resulted in cutting in half the cost of cable manufacture. He then took charge of the switchboard department of the Western Electric Co. for the East, and under his direction were installed most of the larger switchboards of that period.

Picture at left shows two women working as telephone switchboard operators at Central Union Telephone Company, 1888.

John Joseph Carty

In 1889 Carty entered the service of the Metropolitan Telephone and Telegraph Co. (then New York Telephone Co.), for the purpose of organizing all the technical departments, building up its technical staff, and reconstructing the entire plant of the company -converting it from grounded circuits, overhead and series switchboards to metallic circuits placed underground and to bridging switchboards. The telephone systemconstructed upon his plans and under his direction was one of the most advanced in the world at that time, in terms of efficiency and scope. At thirty years of age he became a central figure in the development of the art of telephony.

Carty made an exhaustive investigation into the nature of the disturbances to which telephone lines are subjected, and gave the first public account of his work in a paper entitled, “A New View of Telephone Induction,” read before the Electric Club of New York city on November 21, 1889. In this paper he showed the overwhelming preponderance of electrostatic induction as a factor in producing cross-talk.

The article gave directions for determining a silent or neutral point where no cross-talking may be heard, and described original experiments showing how to distinguish between electrostatic and electromagnetic induction in telephone lines. In March, 1891, Carty made additional contributions to the knowledge of this subject in a paper before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, entitled, “Inductive Disturbances in Telephone Circuits.” Prior to his work on the subject, the number of telephone stations which could be operated upon one line was greatly restricted because of the impediment offered to the voice currents by the presence of the signaling bells, and on account of the inductive disturbances which these bells caused.

These conditions made it impracticable to extend the telephone to the rural districts owing to the prohibitive expenses involved in providing each customer with a circuit of his own. In 1900 Carty installed loading coils, invented by Michael Pupin, to extend range and utilizes open wire transposition to reduce crosstalk an inductive pickup from ac transmission lines.

Carty devised a mechanism known as the “bridging bell” whereby any number of stations that might be required could be placed upon one line without in any way impairing the transmission of speech or introducing disturbing noises.

The simplicity and cheapness of the device and the extraordinary success which attended its working resulted in an immediate extension of the telephone into rural districts and the placing of the telephone in the homes of millions of farmers in America and abroad which had formerly been isolated. For this achievement the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia conferred upon him the Edward Longstreth Medal of Merit in 1902.

In 1909, on a visit to the West Coast, Mr. Carty made a promise: that transcontinental telephone service would be available in time for the opening of the Panama Canal, scheduled for 1914. Carty’s offer was neither an idle promise nor a simple task.

The day’s state-of-the-art in signal transmission technology, loading coils, had reached its limit, barely able to deliver a faint voice from New York to Denver. There were those who claimed only a miracle could fulfill Carty’s pledge. Others said it would just never happen. John Carty had set a mission for his Western Electric team straight into the unknown, depending on technology not yet invented.

A big breakthrough came in 1912, when Dr. Lee DeForest developed the Audion, a three-element vacuum tube that could amplify and send radio waves more effectively than existing devices. Western Electric’s Dr. Harold Arnold, who had training in electron physics DeForest lacked, knew how to turn Audion into a practical electrical amplifier, the technology Carty needed to build the coast-to-coast network.

As a result, Western Electric’s high-vacuum tube for amplifying sound in telephone cables was developed in 1913, along with AT&T’s purchase of the Audion patent from DeForest. Western Electric successfully completed the first transcontinental circuit by summer – ahead of schedule. To celebrate, John Carty proudly arranged for Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson to repeat their historic conversation from 1876 – this time between New York and San Francisco.

Carty obtained two dozen patents. He was a member of the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, the Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the New York Electrical Society, and the Society of Arts.

He received many honors throughout his life, among them the Franklin Medal (1916), the Edison Medal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (1917), and the John Fritz Medal (1928).

The Emperor of Japan decorated him with the Order of the Rising Sun in 1909, and with the Imperial Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1912, in recognition of his achievements as an engineer, and in view of the services he rendered to the Japanese government in connection with electrical engineering matters.

Carty was married on 8 August 1891, to Marion Mount Russell, and had one son, John Russell. He retired in 1930. John Joseph Carty died on 27 December 1932


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