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Crossbar switch

A crossbar switch is an electromechanical device for switching telephone calls. They were first widely installed in the 1950s in both the United States and England, and from there quickly spread to the rest of the world. They replaced most earlier designs like the Strowger switch in larger installations.

Crossbar switches use switching matrices made from a two dimensional array of contacts arranged in an x-y format. These switching matrices are operated by a series of bars arranged over the contacts. These bars can be rocked from side to side by electromagnets. A second set of bars is set at right angles to the first (hence the name, "crossbar") and also operated by electromagnets. One set of bars carries spring loaded wire fingers that operate the contacts beneath the bars. By operating the electromagnets that move the bars, it is possible to close the contacts beneath the point where two bars cross. This then makes the connection through the switch to connect the telephone call.

Although the crossbar was technically more advanced that the earlier systems it replaced, it was mechanically much simpler. The design criterion was to have two hours of "downtime" for service every forty years, which was a huge improvement. The crossbar was also smaller for any given number of lines, which is why it was primarily used in high-use areas in larger cities. For this reason they were also typically the first switches to be replaced with digital systems, which were even smaller and more reliable. There are probably no working crossbar exchanges left, except in museums like the Science Museum in London.