Britain Leads the World in Emergency Phone Service

The long agony of Léon Blum’s Front Populaire government came to an end when the Senate refused it drastic powers to tackle France’s near-permanent financial crisis. The determined opposition of France’s great political veteran Joseph Caillaux was the main force behind the defeat but in reality Blum was caught between ever-more distant and treacherous support from the Communists and his far from radical allies of the Radical Party. Blum was replaced as prime minister by Camille Chautemps of the Radicals, still under the Front Populaire banner but essentially centrist. After threatening the abandonment of a fixed Franc parity to gold, his new finance minister Georges Bonnet won approval for a package of revenue raising measures after epic struggles both within the collation and in parliament. The Chautemps government did not look any more secure than its predecessor.

Just as worker support for the prolonged and bitter strike in the US steel industry appeared to be softening, militants on the workers’ side committed a spectacular act of sabotage. The water supply to the Johnstown Mill was dynamited forcing the mill which had just reopened to shut again leaving 6,000 workers idle. The attack prompted President Roosevelt to declare publicly “a plague on both your houses” but this was taken as a criticism on the unions rather than the employers.

The spread of automatic telephone exchanges in London brought a lasting innovation in the telephone service. After extensive experiments the Post Office introduced the 999 number as a way of accessing the emergency services immediately. The call would still pass through the normal manned telephone exchange but the human operator would be instantly alerted that it required urgent attention. When this was announced in the House of Commons one MP provoked great merriment by suggesting that a lady trapped in a house with a burglar might be hard put to remember this number. The standardized, national emergency number was only introduced decades later elsewhere in the world.


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