20 August 2015

Central Telephone Exchange

  • View showing the intersection of Stout and Featherston Streets, Wellington [circa 1935]. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Telephone exchange, Wellington [circa 1920s]. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Central Telephone Exchange, 2014. IPENZ.

Wellington’s Central Telephone Exchange stands on a site used for this function since 1887, although this current building (completed in 1972) is significantly larger than its predecessors.

A law passed in 1880 gave the New Zealand's Government control of telephone communication systems and over the next few years all the major centres, including the capital, Wellington, had public telephone exchanges installed. At the time the government’s early adoption of this novel technology was hailed as being most useful to businesses, saving “a large amount of epistolary correspondence, memorandum writing, running about, waiting for personal interviews, breaking of appointments, loss of time, inconvenience and annoyance generally” (Southland Times, 25 November 1880, 3).

Wellington’s first central exchange was located within the Central Post Office building, but a fire in 1887 resulted in the construction of a separate exchange building. In the late 19th century this was New Zealand’s busiest exchange with approximately a thousand calls per hour in 1897. Nationally, telephone use continued to grow and in 1925 a new central Wellington exchange building was constructed coinciding with the installation of an automatic exchange. As demand required and technology progressed the equipment was upgraded.

By the 1960s New Zealand had one of the largest telephone networks in the world for its population size. Because demand kept growing, bigger and better facilities were needed in the capital city. In 1969 work began constructing the current Central Telephone Exchange. Designed by the Ministry of Works and Development the building cost NZ$1.4 million, while the local tandem exchange and toll exchange equipment inside cost double that amount. The new building was initially beside its 1925 predecessor until it was demolished in the early 1980s to make room for the second stage of the Central Telephone Exchange.


More information

Location

70 Featherston Street and corner of Whitmore and Stout Streets, Wellington.

Access

This building is not open to the public but can be viewed from the street.

Further reading

Telephone Exchange’, in Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District] (Wellington: Cyclopedia Company Limited, 1897), 338.

Howard Robinson, A History of the Post Office in New Zealand (Wellington: Government Printer, 1964), 161-62.

A. C. Wilson, ‘Telecommunications - Telephones, 1877–1914,’ in Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. updated 13 July 2012.

A. C. Wilson, Wire and Wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand, 1860-1987 (Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1994).

Additional image gallery details

View showing the intersection of Stout and Featherston Streets, Wellington [circa 1935]. Original photographic prints and postcards from file print collection, Box 11. Ref: PAColl-6304-08. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 

Telephone exchange, Wellington [circa 1920s]. Burt, Gordon Onslow Hilbury, 1893-1968: Negatives. Ref: 1/1-015585-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of these images.