Amidst the economical crisis in 1936 Max Kelley started a business that later helped to redefine the very premise on which the business industry of northwest America stood. Shortly after the Great Depression (of the 1930s) Max Kelley with the support of his wife Peggy started an answering service.
Seeing that the country was facing an economical disaster, Max could not afford to hire a team, subsequently he worked 24 hours each day, seven days every week and maximized each moment there within. He was the President of his company. He did his own advertising, book keeping (accounting), janitorial work and he was he first (and only) telephone operator at this time.
Even though Max faced serious hardship and intense criticism for starting a company when other companies where on the brink of bankruptcy, he knew eventually the economy would stabilize, regain momentum and encourage businesses to reopen their doors, which would increase the demand for secretaries and receptionists.
Max also noticed that the companies that were growing needed someone to answer their calls when they where out of the office. Until the early 1960s when the answering machine became popular in the US, the only way to manage after hours calls was to list in the telephone directory “if no answer call a different number.
Using this as his foundation along with his ambition and zeal, on October 10th, 1936 The Business Exchange (later renamed Kelley’s Telephone Answering Service) was born. Max began to solicit businesses to list his number as their ‘if no answer number’. This concept however did not impressed Max, he envisioned being able to call the same number to speak to a receptionist both during and after office hours.
Even before he started his telephone answering business, Max attempted to connect his office line to a neighboring office, so the secretary there could answer the phone while he was at lunch. Even though Max never perfected this, it would later be perfected and named call forwarding.
By December of 1936, the company’s income had reached $100. The telephone bill was $9.63, and the rent was negotiated down from $75 to $22.50 per month. The balance nearly covered living expenses, but more importantly, The Business Exchange was still in operation.
Two years after Max started his answering service company; The Business Exchange, the economy in Seattle started to stabilize. By 1936 the city was beginning to grow and expand rapidly, and so did Max’s telephone answering company. To help keep up with the growing population and to better handle the increase in call volume, Max installed a new multi-line system. The Business Exchange was the first business in the area to install this equipment for telephone answering purposes.
Soon after more space was desperately needed and expanding meant the systems would have to be moved. The telephone company quoted a $75 charge to move each line and an estimated time of about ninety days.
Instead of waiting on the company, Max and his brother Bill decided to do the job themselves, even though it was illegal. They completed the job in one night, cutting holes in the office walls and passing telephone lines through it.
In 1952, Max became actively involved in the campaign for Seattle’s new mayor. He also dedicated much of his time to the Kinship Foundation (a fund raising program for needy children). His involvement in these activities had him away from his telephone answering company for many months.
In the meantime, in order to ensure the continuity of The Business Exchange, he took in two partners who later combined their stock to give them the majority ownership and the right to fire Max Kelley, which they did in September of 1953. It was a stunning blow to Max, after putting seventeen years of his blood, sweat and tears into the business.
Enraged, Max solicited the help of his friends and on September 10th, 1953 he formulated a plan to fight back. Customers, friends and supporters made arrangements for Max to move into Room 101 of the Jones building in downtown Seattle. His new business was officially named Kelley’s Telephone Answering Service, Inc.
The telephone company was notified of Max’s company and location, and the orders were installed as soon as they were received. Wall-hang phones with a beehive lights above them, were used to answer calls.
The sales approach used by Max worked wonders: “I need your business.” By Thanksgiving Day of the same year, the former partner of Business Exchange called and suggested that if Max would pay the salaries of the remaining operators he would transfer the entire assets and property to him.
This was when Max negotiated his first loan, a $500 business loan from Seafirst Bank. Once Max had reclaimed his business he announced: “between telephone company friends, and a wonderful swarm of personal and business friends, we were successful in retrieving the company for which we had worked so hard”.
The foundation on which Kelley’s was built was courage and sheer determination. Max Kelley’s ambition propelled the Kelley’s Telephone Answering Service into an era of growth and success.
Today, Max Kelley’s Telephone Answering Service is still family owned and operated. Though the company was acquired and the Kelley’s brand has now evolved into Answering Service Care, the core values that were set forth by founder Max Kelley are still employed today.
Great to see these wonderful messages left by you ladies and my Grand father would be so proud. I still today….in 2016 am trying to continue the Kelley’s telecom legend. Thank you for the wonderful comments about my family. RIP Grandpa and Dad
I was first introduced to Max Kelley and his daughter, Jannie in 1974, as my mother, with 9 children needed employment, we started the journey in the University district of Seattle. I was hired at the age of 14 for the Ravenna office and worked and met Mr. Kelley on many occasions. At that time I was the youngest office manager in the companies existence at the Queen Anne office. I have often wondered what happened to the Kelley empire and glad to know that it still thrives. I have taken the experience that I learned through numerous classes that they held and have utilized this knowledge through the years.
Teresa! You may not remember me, Brooke Farr. I was An operator and then swing shift supervisor at the Ravenna Office, then did various things at the Eastlake Office, including my last position as Training Director after Mary T. left. Made me smile to see your name, even if your post was from a couple of years ago. Still one of my best employment experiences.
I also worked at Kelley’s and paid my way through the UW with that job! I started at the Eastlake office and ended up at the downtown office in the Seafirst building. I remember Max, Don, Janie, Bob Connors (technical guy) and I forget the other son’s name. It was a fun job and I met several life long friends there as well. Great memories on the switchboard!
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