A technical expert who conducted research into electricity and telegraphy became Director of the ITU Bureau in 1890: Timotheus Rothen. He was born in 1830 in Basel, Switzerland, the son of a private teacher. Not wealthy enough to attend university after leaving school, Rothen became a science teacher in the town of Trogen in the canton of Appenzell.
In his spare time, however, Rothen enjoyed studying the newly emerging technology of electricity and its applications. In 1864, he abandoned his teaching career to join a factory making telegraphic equipment in Neuchatel. It was operated by the important German inventor Matthäus Hipp, who had been technical director of Switzerland’s telegraph administration. In 1872, Rothen himself became deputy technical director, having joined the Swiss service some five years earlier.
Rothen had the arduous task of planning the construction of telegraphic centres and urban systems. As a pioneer in Swiss telecommunications, he predicted that a telephone would become as essential in every home as a water supply. In a major contribution to that aim, he designed the first federal telephone systems, and by the end of 1890, networks had been installed in all large and medium-sized communities across the country. Links between towns were also in service.
His work in telephony was recognized by the Swiss Federal Council in 1885. In 1886, the University of Berne awarded Rothen an honorary doctorate “in recognition of his eminent service in the domain of electricity.” It reflected, too, his practical inventions such as a machine for controlling the mechanical characteristics of telegraph wire, and a switch that allowed telegraph messages to be sent without interfering with others on the same line. Rothen was also the author of several books and articles, including Instructions for Swiss Telegraphists (1875) and Telephony in Switzerland (1883).
In 1890, the Swiss government promoted Rothen to be national director of telegraphs. He left the post after about six months when the government nominated him as Director of the ITU Bureau following the death of August Frey.
The 1896 International Telegraph Conference in Budapest was attended by Rothen as Director of the ITU Bureau. He died a few months later at the age of sixty-six.