The Murphy Call Box

Jeremiah “Jerry” Murphy, previously employed by the Cleveland Telephone Company, was hired as a lineman in 1887 for the Cleveland Police Department.  He invented a small communication system named after him, The Murphey Call Box.  This compact system combined the signal alarm, the telegraph and the telephone system into one unit. Each box was numbered and wired to a corresponding Gamewell alarm in the Central Station house.  Each patrol officer was required to “ring-in” at predetermined times.  This was accomplished by pulling the lever inside the box which set in operation a wheel that sent a coded message via telegraph to the precinct house.  One pull was the signal that the officer was on post and all right.  Two pulls meant that the officer was requesting a patrol wagon to transport an arrested person.

In 1928, the year before radio communication was introduced into the CPD, there were 640 call boxes and 900 fire alarm boxes in use.  The Police Call Boxes were all painted blue and the Fire Boxes were all painted red.  The Murphy Call Box was the first of its kind in the United States and was copied by a number of other cities.


(as published in the 1898 History of the Cleveland Police Department)

Police Exchange Room at Central Police Headquarters on Champlain Street circa 1890s

One of the most interesting, efficient and useful features of the Department is the Police Patrol and Exchange System.  It is in charge of Superintendent Jerry Murphy and was inaugurated June 1, 1887. 

          At first this department was more of an experiment than anything else and consisted of fifty patrol boxes; two patrol wagons; one stationed at the Central and the other at the Eighth Precinct; twenty-one instruments and twenty-one miles of wire.  The experiment proved successful and the following year additions were made to the system, making it more efficient, and at this time, ten years after its inauguration, can be counted one of the best, if not the best of any department in the United States.

          At present the system includes a very complete operating room at the Central Station, one complete operating switchboard at the Sixth and Tenth Precincts, six patrol wagons, five patrol stations, four horses at each station, ninety-six instruments, 375 miles of wire, twenty-five miles of underground cable and two Cleveland Telephone wires.  The system requires the attention of a Superintendent, three operators, two linemen and thirty Patrolmen, not to mention a corps of hostlers and other stable employees.  The three operators and one of the two linemen are Patrolmen. 

          Jerry Murphy, Superintendent of the system, was appointed to the department shortly before the system became a reality, and it is mainly through his efforts that the system has been brought to its present perfect condition.

          The men on duty at the Police Exchange are L.J. Pillars, appointed to the force July 16, 1892; Henry Kramer, December 24, 1883; and E. H. McLean, August 1, 1883.  These men have become very efficient through long service at their duties and contribute largely to the value of the system.

The Exchange Room at Central Police Headquarters at 2001 Payne Avenue circa 1930s. The Gamewell equipment punched a sequence of holes in the paper rolls. The operator was able to identify the location of the Call Box based upon the number of holes in each sequence.

Each Police Officer was issued a Badge, Wreath for the front of their cap, Call Box Key and Revolver. Each piece of equipment was stamped with the corresponding “badge number.” When an Officer left the Department they turned in their issued equipment and it was then reissued to their replacement.

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