Siri-The Voice With a Smile?

telephone operator  illustration

Siri Speaks!

Exactly two years after Siri made her auspicious debut on October 4, 2011,  the mystery woman’s identity can now be revealed. Apple’s voice activated virtual assistant never quite took off in popularity the way Apple envisioned her, but the closely guarded identity of the oft time snarky Siri has been widely speculated.

According to CNN, she is an Atlanta based voice over actress named Susan Bennett.

Though Apple is being cagey and won’t confirm it, the sleuths at CNN found audio forensic experts to back up the actresses claim.

Would You Repeat That Again?

Staying connected with the assistance of a disconnected female voice is nothing new.

Once upon a time, the alert, courteous voice of the telephone operator was known to everyone who used the telephone. Siris’ snippy voice and quirky personality stands in contrast to the golden age of telephone operators who possessed the “voice with a smile.”

The Voice With a Smile

picture of vintage telephone operator 1940s

Vintage Bell Telephone As 1940s The familiar “Voice With a Smile’ telephone operator

Telephone operators were known for their courtesy. “It’s nice to pick up the telephone,”  ads would point out, “and hear an alert friendly voice come over the wire.”

“The voice with a smile” was the familiar AT&T slogan used from the 1930’s through the 1950’s . The ads visualized the cheerful sound of the company’s female operators painting a pretty face on the happy voice of the phone worker.

The speech of operators was firmly regulated through strict codes of appropriate responses enforced by supervisors listening unannounced on operators line.

“Operator May I help You?

telephone operator 1930s

She Says Please and Thank You- vintage Nell Telephone ad 1938
“The alert courteous voice of the telephone operator is known to all who use the telephone. To the little old lady in the shawl the man in the big house on the hill, or a tiny tot of 6, the words are the same,’Number please’ and ‘thank you.’ The Bell system appreciates your patronage and tries to deserve it.”

From the beginning,  the occupation of switchboard operators was almost exclusively female. Women were valued not only because of their gentle voice, and nimble fingers , but as an added bonus, they worked for lower wages.

According to Lana Rakow in “Women and the Telephone.” an article in The American Telephone Journal of 1902 explained why female operators were desirable: “The dulcet tones of the feminine voice seem to exercise a soothing and calming effect upon the masculine mind, subduing irritation and suggesting gentleness of speech and demeanor, thereby avoiding unnecessary friction”

Ma Bell

telephone Scan_Pic0113

From the 1930’s through the 1950’s AT&T recruited female employees through popular women’s magazines such as American Girl, Senior Prom and True Story, appearing next to ads for weight loss, feminine itch relief and bust creams.

Ads emphasized how important women were to the telephone industry. “170,000 women are employed by the Bell system,” one ad stated. “More than half of the 315,000 employees of the Bell System are women. They are your friends and neighbors- living in the same section of the country. They average length of service is about ten years.”

What Number Did You Want?

oictures of telephone operators

(L) Vintage Bell Telephone Ad 1951 (R) Vintage Bell Telephone ad 1946

Perhaps courtesy and manners have gone the way of the telephone, which itself is beginning to feel rather antiquated.

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2013.

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