Sinclair line selector step-by-step sending instrument, 1880-1890

1880-1890 in United Kingdom

Sinclair line selector step-by-step sending instrument, patented by David Sinclair, probably made by the National Telephone Company, British, 1880-1890.

This was the first attempt at an automatic telephone exchange in Great Britain. It was invented by Dane Sinclair, an engineer at the National Telephone Company in Scotland, and was used in one of their exchanges installed at Coatbridge, near Glasgow, in 1886, six years before the first automatic exchange was set up in the USA in 1892. The exchange had up to six subscribers, and the automatic switchboard removed the need for an operator at the branch level exchange (the exchange to connect the six subscriber lines to each other). Connections at the central exchange (to other branch networks) still required an operator. It functioned using electro-magnets and clockwork mechanisms.

On display

Science Museum: Information Age Gallery: Exchange

If you are visiting to see this object, please contact us in advance to make sure that it will be on display.


Object Number:
brass (copper, zinc alloy), copper (alloy, ivory, steel (metal) and wood (unidentified)
electric switch
  • component - object
Donated by the General Post Office

Cite this page


We encourage the use and reuse of our collection data.

Data in the title, made, maker and details fields are released under Creative Commons Zero

Descriptions and all other text content are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence

Using our data


Download catalogue entry as json

View manifest in IIIF viewer

Add to Animal Crossing Art Generator

Download manifest IIIF

Our records are constantly being enhanced and improved, but please note that we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information shown on this website.