That's a switchboard, and one of those was a big part of my growing-up years. My mom and dad were the operators... "Central", as it was called then... for several small-town telephone companies in Iowa and Missouri. That switchboard in a corner of our living room was a fixture I almost came to accept as a member of the family.
If we went anyplace, a girl had to be hired to stay with the switchboard. Someone had to be available to answer it twenty-four hours a day. If anyone made a call in the middle of the night, Mama or Daddy (usually Mama) had to get out of bed and put the call through. My parents even had the privilege of listening to the conversation if they so desired, although I don't know if they did this or not; I do know they were occasionally accused of it, though.
If a house caught on fire, we were the first to know, and the information would be relayed to the proper people. In one town, the last one we lived in before moving to the city, my parents were responsible for turning on the town siren in our yard. Mother was usually the one to sit at the switchboard, although when she was gardening and canning in the summer, Daddy did his duty there.
Sometimes after a wind storm, Daddy would have to uncross lines. He had some sort of pole with a special attatchment on the end to do this; I believe when the lines were crossed, people could hear other people's conversations, which could be quite confusing. I recall riding along with him on his rounds, and watching him. It's really the only time I rode in the car with him driving, since Mother always drove when we went anyplace as a family. Daddy preferred it that way.
It was around 1955 that modern technology made the switchboard obsolete, and we came to Kansas City, where both parents had no problem finding a job.