One month ago I posted a picture of this object and asked readers if anyone knew what it might be. We pulled this machine from the FM archives, and are considering putting it into our upcoming show, Opening the Vaults: Wonders from the 1893 World's Fair.
Out of all the very creative responses we got, the most likely answer seemed to come from one L.D. Bellard:
"It looks like a telephone ringing machine. The ringing machine provided
dial tone, busy, fast, busy, as well as party line ringing codes. There
were 4 ringing codes for up to 8 telephone on one line. The machine told
the caller that ringing voltage was being applied to the party line.
You can see gaps on the wheels. The first would correspond to 2 short
rings and the fourth would be 1 long, 1 short ring. An 8 party line only
need 4 codes since you could send the signals out both cable pairs."
We have been unable to reach the mysterious Ms. or Mr. Bellard to find out more. If anyone out there knows this person, please tell them to contact me at my Field Museum email address:
L. D.: if you're out there, give a shout! Without your help we may not be able to exhibit this object...