Thursday, September 24, 2015


A book published by the Indiana Telephone Association is stashed somewhere next to one about Dillinger, old-time trains and the history of Indiana University's music department.

It's one of those books you pick up, flip through for a couple of seconds and ... wait! What?

Bell, younger years
Then you stop at a photo of Alexander Graham Bell and you're thinking ... this guy doesn't look like a geek inventor.

Meanwhile, "Hoosier Connections" (Stephen Shearer, 1992) starts churning out tidbit after tidbit about the history of the telephone in Indiana and, you're hooked. Put everything else on hold ... listen to the Thousand Violins do the Beatles.

"On September 21, 1877, an advertisement appeared in the Indianapolis News announcing that the general public was welcome to come and witness the wonder of the telephone and see firsthand the marvelous ability of this new contraption to carry human speech across a wire."

Press "2" if you want to read more.


The amazing new device was being demonstrated at the Engle & Drew Coal Company. For three weeks, the public was being lured in. The telephone had become an integral part of the future of Indiana.

Indeed, the entire nation.

Press "3" if you want to learn what happened next.


By 1880, telephone exchanges were being set up in larger communities, places where businesses and industries were beginning to thrive as the result of the expansion of the railroad, as well as the natural gas boom BLOG ITEM that was turning central Indiana into a bustling core of trade.

The book reveals that a telephone exchange had been set up as early as 1878 in Shelbyville. "The annual cost for the hand telephones and magneto bells totaled 30 dollars. The original 'lease of telephones' was found in some old papers ... in 1923."

In that first lease, the papers reveal, was for two telephone sets and two magneto bells for use on a line from the office of the Shelbyville Gas & Light Company and another firm.

At the time, nobody much cared who did what with the telephone. Stick up a pole, get some equipment and do your own telemarketing.

Press '4' to hear more about marketing opportunities.


By 1885, the state legislature began to regulate telephone rates despite strong opposition from the Bell Telephone Company and Western Union Telegraph Company. The legislation came from state Rep. Samuel W. Williams, aka "Telephone Sam."

Williams, from Knox County, evidently had a somewhat colorful history as a criminal defense lawyer but his life is anecdotal to this blog entry. I will include a link to him at the end of this piece.

Press '5' to learn more about how to save on local and long-distance calling.

Um ... '5'

A maximum of $3 a month for local service with toll charges capped at a dime ... and the telephone company said that was less than it needed to keep its investments practical.

The thrust of the legislation inevitably meant less competition for telephone service, which brings us back around to modern-day business. Call it the party-line effect. The phone company had opposed the very legislation that finally allowed it to become a monopoly, which led to legislation that ended its role as a monopoly.

And as business is peculiar, the demand for telephones served to enhance the appetite of those who were willing to invest in it. By 1895, "Hoosier Connections" reveals, there were "newly formed independent companies in Knightstown, Rochester, Tipton, Indianapolis and Valparaiso."

Later, a second wave of new exchanges were set up, one of them in Brookville, formed under management of Ray Goudie.

It had been only 20 years after A.G. Bell had beckoned Mister Watson to his room to discuss the need for new area codes.

Press '6' to repeat the menu options or stay on the line to speak to a customer service representative.

By the end of the 19th century, the overload was obvious ... dozens of independent telephone exchanges had been set up and there was no end in sight.

Telephone usage grew at a phenomenal rate. In 1895, about 5,000 phones existed in Indiana. By 1905, the number had increased to 104,000. Another 25,000 were added the following year.

By 1907, the complexities of the battle for wire time would begin to show up in basic economics, the book says. "Good business judgment and regulation by the state gradually eliminated the duplication of service in most communities."

The creation of a state Public Service Commission in Indiana in 1913 paved the way for a sensible approach to telephone service, one that would finally give Bell almost unchallenged authority for nearly 50 years.

Indiana Bell itself had been formally founded in around 1920, a merger of five stronger companies.

"The last dual service was abolished in the state during the late 1950s when General Telephone acquired both local exchanges which served the community in and around Clay City."

And so it went.

Press '7' to hear some juicy gossip.

' 7 7 7 7 7 7 7'

The book reveals that in 1917, "the length of telephone conversations became an issue, as evidenced by proceedings filed before the Public Service Commission of Indiana:"

Thank you for holding. Our customer service representatives are all busy serving other customers.

"The Whiteland Telephone Company had rural lines and connections with other companies. Some of its party lines were eight-party. The manager of the company filed a complaint that the unending gossip was detrimental to business and he asked permission to make a small charge for each call.

"When the commission took up the hearing, the whole countryside turned out. Many subscribers testified that they had no objection to the women talking at any length they wished so the commission ruled it could do nothing. Women could gossip over the telephone line as long as they liked and they could not be penalized by an extra service charge."

Para Espanol, marque el nueve.

By 1910, telephone service had become a reliable form of communication for thousands of Hoosiers. When service was out during storms or floods, the impact was noticeable. A sleet storm in 1937 tore out telephone communication ahead of the devastating flood on the Whitewater and Ohio rivers.

High water flooded many telephone exchanges. "Water destroyed any property that could not be moved to avoid it. Fresh water and electricity became rare commodities in cities where water was 20 and sometimes 30 feet above flood stage.

"Many towns were completely engulfed by the high water, and some exchanges were submerged entirely. Industrious telephone employees improvised in many different ways to maintain the service that the public desperately needed during that crisis."

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MA BELL (Wikipedia)

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