Joseph Harris, as a salesman in 1890 looking for display items for the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair, discovered A.B. Strowger (elected to Hall of Fame 1965), who had an automatic switch and drawings. Harris realized the possibilities for development and commercial use, so he brought Strowger to Chicago and with the help from a model maker, produced operative switches. He obtained three telephone instruments from Bell and with switches and keys; a successful automatic demonstration was achieved.
Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange was formed in 1891 and the first public system was installed at LaPorte, Indiana. It worked and Bell threatened legal action against the company and the 99 subscribers. Harris settled the proposed litigation. By 1897, the company was in dire financial condition and to survive, considerable manipulation was necessary.
Automatic Electric Company was organized in 1901 and paid royalties for the Strowger system. Harris became vice president and operating head of Automatic and surrounded himself with extremely capable personnel. Under his leadership, the company made fantastic guarantees to customers and fought continuous law suits and competition from manual equipment promoters. He served as president from 1907 to 1919, when Theodore Gary and Co. purchased Automatic, and as chairman in 1919 to his retirement in 1923. He was honored by a publication of the Chicago Historical Society in 1912, and by Forbes Magazine in 1921. He died in 1936.