Telephone operation was among the most common jobs for young American women in the early 1900s. Between 1920 and 1940, AT&T adopted mechanical switching technology in over half of the U.S. telephone network, replacing manual operation. Although automation eliminated most of these jobs, it did not aﬀect future cohorts’ overall employment: the decline in operators was counteracted by reinstating demand in middle-skill clerical jobs and lower-skill service jobs. Using a new genealogy-based census-linking method, we show that incumbent telephone operators were most impacted, and a decade later more likely to be in lower-paying occupations or have left the labor force.
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