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The Telephone on P. E. I. - Automatic Electric Telephones!

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Phillips Electrical Works/Automatic Electric Telephones

Many who use the Island Register know that I am a "C.F.A." In P.E.I. usage, this means that I was born off the Island or have "Come from away". Though my ancestry was here on the Island, I will never be considered a true Islander. The way I look at it is I may have been born off Island, but I am an "I.B.C." or "Islander by choice".

The reason I mention this, is that I was born in Brockville, Ontario, a small city located on the St. Lawrence River between Ottawa and Kingston. Brockville was a telephone town - the home of Phillips Electrical Works, and later the home of GTE Automatic Electric.

From 1935 and until the mid 50's, Strowger/AE phones were manufactured by the Eugene F. Phillips Electrical Works owned by the Automatic Electric Company (a subsidiary of the Theodore Gary and Company), which was located to the north of St. Lawrence Park on King St. West on the southwestern edge of the city.

The former Phillips plant had been sold to British Calender Cables Ltd. the previous year, becoming known as Phillips Wire and Cable following the move. AE retained 80% of its ownership in the plant.

This original plant, as Phillips Wire and Cable shut down in 1998. This photo is from a 1949 Phillips plant calendar, while the plant was still producing AE phones.

This plant was demolished in late June/early July 2008. The last portion of the plant to be demolished was its huge smoke stack, and end to an era.

In 1953, a new 1.5 million dollar 124,000 square foot Automatic Electric factory was built at 100 Strowger Boulevard on Schofield Hill, by the Theodore Gary Company and it officially opened on Sept. 22, 1954. The telephone manufacturing operations were then transferred to the new plant from the old Phillips plant. Two years later, the new Brockville plant served as the model for the huge plant built in Northlake, Illinois by the parent company. In 1955, the Gary organization merged with the General Telephone Company (later known as the General Telephone & Electronics Corp. [GTE] ). The Brockville plant became known as GTE Automatic Electric.

100 Strowger Blvd., Brockville, Ont.

This photo of the plant during its GTE/AE days was provided by Roger Reid via Clarence Marshall. This is the way I remember the plant in the "Good Olde Days".
I have found this later arial shot of the 100 Strowger Blvd. plant taken prior to the end of GTE/AE Ownership.

In February, 1979, the British Columbia Telephone Company (BC Tel) announced its plan to purchase AE's holdings, along with GTE Lenkurt Electric (Canada) Ltd. pending the approval of the CRTC. On September 29, 1979, the merger was completed, and the plant became known as AEL Microtel. Shortly thereafter, due to problems registering the name it became known as Microtel. When Microtel wound up operations, the Brockville plant then was sold on January 24, 1990 to Nortel then becoming known as Brock Telecom. Brock Telecom took over support for the GTD-5 digital switches in Canada.

On August 30, 1999, the plant was sold to Sanmina SCI Systems, Inc. which operated it as a circuit board manufacturing plant for two years until it shut its doors finally in November 2002 putting 850 people out of work.

GTE Automatic Electric/Microtel and Phillips were two of the major employers in Brockville - both major employers until they shut down some 50 years later. Thanks to Terry Biddlecombe, Mike Magnus, Bruce Denny, and Roger Conklin for helping me fill in the changes of ownership and dates thereof in the years following my leaving Brockville. Photo to left taken by Suzanne Frankcom in 2001.

Automatic Electric also owned a plant in Lethbridge, Alberta, built in 1959 where they produced, no doubt in addition to other items, the successor to the AE80, the AE80e telephone. This plant closed down in 1983 and sold to NovaTel. A third plant was located in Richmond, BC., according to a GTE Automatic Electric booklet commemorating 25 years in Brockville. More information on this plant will be added as it becomes available.

Right: 1950's AE Brockville Advertising Matchbook Cover
While no date can be confirmed for the use of this cover, it most likely pre-dated the 1955 GTE merger, as there is no mention of GTE ownership of the company. Additionally, the two tone AE 80 shown is typical for this era..

As a child, I had a fair collection of AE and Phillips phones. When I left home, this collection went by the wayside until years later I got back into collecting phones, first concentrating on Western and Northern Electric phones, then most recently Phillips/Automatic Electric.

Most of the telephones shown on this page are manufactured by the two Brockville factories. The older ones were made at the Phillips plant, and the later ones, at the new GTE Automatic Electric plant. Some, such as the AE 40's and 50's were manufactured by both plants, manufacturing operations moving "up the hill" with the opening of the new factory.

Some, such as the AE payphone shown below, were manufactured at Automatic Electric facilities in the U.S. The majority of early Canadian AE's were manufactured in Brockville. I currently have a number of examples of these telephones, and as I get the time, I will be posting photos of AE phones in my collection. My thanks to Terry Biddecombe for encouraging me to include Automatic Electric phones in my collection again.


A subset produced at the Phillips Electrical Works plant prior to the opening of the Automatic Electric plant on Strowger Blvd. In Brockville. This would have been used in conjunction with desk stands like the AE1.


11 Digit Strowger

Strowger 11 digit wall phone from AE's Chicago works. It is in great shape and will make a wonderful display in the museum of the earliest dial phone in widespread use in North America. The 11th (first) digit was used for Long Distance, later found unnecessary and incorporated along with the Operator digit. The digits ran top to bottom, first the Long Distance digit, then O-1. These phones are becoming very rare. Some of these phones were sold to farmers to use as an intercom betweek their house and barn after they were removed from active service. This has preserved many of them in Western Canada. Despite this, they are considered quite rare.


AE L 652 Wall Phone

A very unusual Automatic Electric wall phone complete with circuitry to run on either Common or local battery exchanges with only a jumper change. This is the only example of this model we have been able to find. A Schematic drawing of this phone is available aesch.jpg



A common monophone built at the Phillips Electrical works in Brockville prior to 1950/ These were designed for use on magneto lines. I had several of these when I was young - that collection went by the wayside, and it took 40 years to find another! Phillips Model Z 5196-A5 complete with factory inspection tag.



AE8 - Desk Magneto monophone.



New!AE-1A Desk Phone



AE32-144A Chicago made PAX phone ca. 1935. This phone consists of an AE1 mounted on a round molded type 32 compact ringer box making a complete phone/ringer.



The AE 34 was the precursor to the AE-40. It was manufactured for 4 years from 1934 to 1938. AE 34s had a single hook switch button, mounted halfway between the handset support ears, and only a single cord entry/exit point halfway across the back as compared to the late AE40 which had a button on each ear, and two cord holes, one in each back corner. The AE 34 also has the heavy L-900 A-0 handset with the earlier transmitter in it that doesn't break when opened. Setting its receiver angle requires the use of a monophone tool.


AE40 and AE50:



This was a desk phone manufactured first by Phillips Electrical Works, then after 1954, by the Automatic Electric plant in Brockville. This particular phone was definitely manufactured in the Phillips plant dating it to before 1954 as is marked on its bottom sticker. These phones were manufactured from 1938 till the mid 50's. A new base rubber gasket (missing in the photo) has since been installed on the phone, and the dial center has been replaced with one bearing the number of the Automatic Electric plant, (DIamond 2-6621). Did I tell you, "I love these phones!"


This AE-50 wall phone also was first manufactured by Phillips Electrical Works, then after 1954 by the Automatic Electric plant in Brockville. The phone I have is one of the earlier ones. The AE-50 phone was often called a coffin or jukebox phone due to its unique shape. It utilized a single chrome hook switch on the handset cradle. These phones were manufactured from 1938 till the mid 50's. This phone still works like a charm just as it did during the late 40's/early 50's.

Both phones were found in British Columbia - many have been preserved there, as BC Tel exclusively used Automatic Electric phones, and in fact, later owned the company as mentioned in the history above. Could it have been a case of, "We liked them so much, we bought the company" perhaps? It may be argued that these were more interesting sets than the Northern and Western Electric's 302 and 354's of the same era.They were certainly a unique design. One notable difference between these and their WE/NE counterparts, is that the switchhooks on AE models were designed in a such a way that it was virtually impossible to hang them up improperly, leaving the phone line open. The hook design forced the handset to drop down, aided by gravity into the correct position, making for a positive hangup no matter how carelessly the handset was placed on the cradle. Aside from this, they also definately had a charm of their own!

AE80 and AE90:



Next generation desk phone manufactured by Automatic Electric in Brockville. These were vailable in many colours. These phones were manufactured from the mid 50's till the mid 70's.


Next generation wall phone manufactured by Automatic Electric in Brockville. These phones were manufactured from the mid 50's till the mid 70's.


Automatic Electric AE-80e

Automatic Electric's replacement for the AE-80 series. The A -80e was available in a number of colours. As shown:Left - Dial version, Right - Touch Tone. AE-80e's were manufactured in Canada from the mid 70's till mid 80's at the Lethbridge, Alberta plant.



Wall Telephone, Left, Dial and Right, Touch Tone versions. The dial phone on the left is outfitted with a volume control handset. These also, were available in a number of colours. These were designed for use on a wall mounted plug. I have several of these in different colours.

AE192 Dial, and TC

AE186 Phone:
New!AE 186 4 lines, plus Hold and Intercom
AE187 and AE 87 3 Line Phones:
AE-187 3-line Phone
AE 87 3 Line Phone

AE -187

3-Line Phone - Telephone with 3-line capability had 3 line and 3 hold buttons. Both this phone and the AE-87a shown to the right may be used as in intercom system, or with a commercial system, and a combination of both modes.


An older phone with 3 line capability. This phone also has 3 line, and 3 hold buttons. This one was made at the Northlake, Illinois facility. The 187 shown to the left was its replacement.


AE 982 Styleline:

AE 982 Styleline TC and Dial. competing with WE's Trimline phones.


AE182e Starlight and AE/GTE Linear Phone:
AE182e Late Model Starlite Phone


AE - 182e - Desk Telephone - Late Model Starlite phone (AE's version of the Princess Phone). These were available in both dial and touch-tone versions I have several of these in fidderent coulours, both early and late, and in both dial and touch-tone..

GTE Linear Telephone:

Manufactured at AE/GTE's Huntsville, Alabama plant, a linear phone - an experiment in design built on Apr 19, 1985. This phone was produced for about a year, but never caught on with the consumer, and to my knowledge it was never sold or produced in Canada. As a result, these phones are relatively scarce. This phone went AWOL during shpping, finally showing up a bit more than 3 mos. from the date it was shipped. It appears it was caught in a Customs backlog. Hmmmm, it doesn't look like any other phone they might have seen. Wonder what they thought it might have been?



The Spacemaker Series were popular phones. manufactured by Automatic Electric. Unlike their Western and Northern Electric counterpart the 211, they were complete phones including network and not simply a "stand". Only the ringer would be mounted externally.

The 183 is in the unusual AE turquoise colour. These phones could be wall mounted or mounted on the side of a desk out of the way, hence the name Spacemaker. The dial head could be set to angle in different directions. These phones were favorites in business establishments.

AE-183 Spacemaker

AE LPB82 3 Slot Payphone:

AE LPB 82  55



AE Microtel Enterphone:

Automatic Electric LPB82 Pre-pay payphone manufactured in Automatic's Northlake, Illinois facility. This phone was used by independant telephone companies throughout Canada and the United States during the 50's and 60's. This was a pre-pay type phone, and was self contained, including a built in network, but no bell. See "Home Use Conversion". This device is a Microtel Enterphone, manufactured in the Brockville plant in February, 1985. The Enterphone was designed for apartment entry control, and unlike other systems on the market which required an intercom in each apartment and separate wiring for the intercom system, the Enterphone placed a call to the tenant's regular telephone, saving considerable cost for the apartment owner.


20 Line Secretarial Answering Unit.

Used at a secretary's desk with her telephone to answer calls and to act as an office switchboard. I have several versions of this, including a ten line unit, and a more recent ten line unit in a plastic case.





Note: We have many more AE phones in the museum than are shown on this page. We have an AE Secretarial Answering Unit, both wall and desk and dial and TC versions of 182 and 192 Starlite phones, 183 Spacesavers, and 982 Stylelines. Please see the AE display on the "Physical Telephone Museum" page!

An Automatic Electric Serviceman's buttset or test phone is shown on the "C.O. Equipment" page. More AE phones to follow!

Colour charts for Western and Northern Electric phones are easy to find. One of the best kept mysteries are what colours AE phones were available. Wondering about AE Colours? See Terry Biddlecombe's "AE Telephone Colour" Page and Paul Fassbender's "AE Telephone Colour" Chart!

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Last Updated: 10/6/2015 9:54:52 AM
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