Strowger, Almon Brown (1839-1902)
Almon Strowger was an undertaker who created the first automatic telephone switching machine.
Strowger was an irritable and eccentric man who moved to Kansas from New York State. He was very embittered after the death of many of his fellow soldiers in the Civil War and was left to bring up two small children when his wife died.
He wasn't a natural scientist nor was he immediately interested by telephones. What really spurred him on was when he imagined that his undertaking business was missing out because the lady at the phone exchange was connecting callers to a rival funeral business.
Having been helped by several technicians (whom it is alleged he later swindled), in 1891 Strowger patented his automatic switching system, which cut out the need for a human operator.
Customers didn't immediately take to the system, and Strowger soon tired of it himself, selling his stake for a modest sum to buy a hotel. His system was later sold for $2.5 million and installed in exchanges worldwide until the 1960s.