Popular Science Monthly/Volume 69/December 1906/Notes on the Development of Telephone Service II
|NOTES ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF TELEPHONE SERVICE. II.|
By FRED De LAND
IV. Exploiting The Telephone
IN the fall of 1876, Gardiner Greene Hubbard began to systematically exploit the electric-speaking telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell. In the vicinity of Boston a number of private telephone lines were strung, some of which were two or three miles in length, to connect mills and offices or offices and residences. In some instances, where private telegraph lines already existed, the telegraph instruments were replaced with a pair of telephones.
On October 9, 1876, a telephone was attached to each end of a telegraph circuit owned and operated by "The Walworth Manufacturing Company, extending from their office in Boston to their factory in Cambridge, a distance of about two miles. The company's telegraph battery consisting of nine Daniell's cells, were removed from the circuit, and another of ten carbon elements was substituted." It is recorded that "articulate transmission then took place through the wire. The sounds, at first faint and indistinct, became suddently quite loud and intelligible." Another instance of the early practical use of the telephone was in connecting the water works with the central office of the water commissioners, of Cambridge, Mass. On April 4, 1877, a telephone circuit was strung to connect the factory of Charles Williams, Jr., in Court Street, Boston, with his residence in Somerville. This is said to be the first telephone circuit constructed in the United States, the earlier ones being transformed telegraph lines. A number of other private telephone lines were built in and about Boston early in 1877. In fact a number of small contractors found it profitable to string private lines, and strove to secure orders for this class of work. For they would run the circuits on the poles of the telegraph companies without permission, or bracket them to house-tops, to trees, to any place that a bracket or a porcelain knob could be attached, paying no attention to property rights.
In the winter of 1876-77, experimental toll service over telegraph circuits was successful for distances of several hundred miles, even from Boston to New York. In November, 1876, Graham Bell found no difficulty in carrying on conversation over telegraph circuits between New York and Boston, using only a pair of box magneto-telephones, so long as the parallel wires were not in service. "When this happened," he said, "the vocal sounds were very much diminished, but still audible. It seemed, indeed, like talking in a storm. Conversation, though audible, could be carried on with difficulty."
On February 12, 1877, Graham Bell delivered a lecture on the telephone at Salem, Mass., eighteen miles from Boston. At 10:55 p. m., a reporter of the Boston Globe turned in his report by telephone and this was the first newspaper report sent by telephone. Previous to the lecture a wire was strung from the lecture hall to a telegraph circuit connected with the editorial rooms. Then a single telephone was placed on each end of the line.
The telephones used in these pioneer lines were of the box magneto type and intended to rest on shelf, table or desk. Several modifications of this form were made. An interior view of the form sent out in April, 1877, is shown in Fig. 4. Then came the wooden hand telephone (Fig. 5) in May, 1877. Owing to its resemblance to a well known kitchen utensil, it was promptly called 'the butter-stamp telephone.' It was such a decided improvement in shape and convenience over the box telephone that it won its way from the start. Then came the first of the electric-speaking telephone circulars. Three pages contained endorsements by the press and scientists, while the first page contained the following statements that appear unique in the light of later knowledge:
The telephone should be set in a quiet place, where there is no noise which would interrupt ordinary conversations.
The advantages of the telephone over the telegraph for local business are
1. That no skilled operator is required, but direct communication may be had by speech without the intervention of a third person.
2. That the communication is much more rapid, the average number of words transmitted a minute by Morse sounder being from fifteen to twenty, by telephone from one to two hundred.
3. That no expense is required either for its operation, maintenance, or repair. It needs no battery, and has no complicated machinery. It is unsurpassed for economy and simplicity.The terms for leasing two telephones for social purposes connecting a dwelling-house with any other building will be $20 a year, for business purposes
Several telephones can be placed on the same line at an additional rental of $10 for each instrument; but the use of more than two on the same line where privacy is required is not advised. Any person within ordinary hearing distance can hear the voice calling through the telephone. If a louder call is required one can be furnished for $5.
Telegraph lines will be constructed by the proprietors if desired. The price will vary from $100 to $150 a mile; any good mechanic can construct a line; No. 9 wire costs 8£ cents a pound, 320 pounds to the mile; 34 insulators at 25 cents each; the price of poles and setting varies in every locality; stringing wire $5 per mile; sundries $10 per mile.Parties leasing the telephone incur no expense beyond the annual rental and the repair of the line wire. On the following pages are extracts from the press and other sources relating to the telephone.
|Gardiner G. Hubbard.|
|Cambridge, Mass., May, 1877.|
|For further information and orders adress|
|Thomas A. Watson, 109 Court St., Boston.|
The work of supplying to customers the hand telephones, referred to in the foregoing circular, was entrusted to Graham Bell's assistant, Mr. Thomas A. Watson, who had entered the employ of the proprietors of the telephone about April 1, 1876. He occupied a small amount of desk room and much bench room in the small factory of Charles Williams, at 109 Court Street, Boston. Here Mr. Watson made up and assembled the parts, as the telephones were called for. Naturally, improvements were the order of the day, and soon a smaller and more attractive mahogany handle magneto-telephone was adopted.
How rapidly 'Bell's toy* began to win its way into public favor is indicated by the statement that on July 31, 1877, or less than four months from the day the first circular was sent out by Mr. Hubbard, 778 telephones had been leased, while in all probability an equal number of experimental telephones had been made by mechanics and scientists who thought that it would be an easy matter to improve upon Bell's method. When the year 1877 closed, there were 5,491 Bell telephones in use.
Naturally this good demand for so serviceable an instrument encouraged 'the proprietors' of the Bell patents to branch out on a little broader basis. As Graham Bell had transferred all right, title and interest to Mr. Hubbard on July 9, 1877, thus placing the control in the batter's hands, on August 1, 1877, Mr. Hubbard organized the Bell Telephone Association, of Boston, without capital stock and served as trustee, while Mr. Sanders acted as treasurer.
Then the development of the exchange business and the assignment of territorial rights began in earnest, and Mr. Hubbard visited all the larger cities seeking to interest men of prominence. But though he journeyed hither and thither, striving to influence capital to favorably consider the telephone as a desirable investment, yet the task of interesting investors in the development of local exchanges proved difficult, and progress was made slowly in the United States.
In Europe some progress was made through elaborate experiments carried on by foreign governments to practically demonstrate the utility of the telephone. On November 28, 1877, it was officially promulgated that 'the introduction of the telephone in the practical telegraph service of the German Empire has been formally accomplished; and the passing of the telephone into practical use may be regarded as satisfactorily completed.' This conclusion was based largely on the excellent results secured on a toll circuit two hundred and thirty miles long, established between Berlin and Prince Bismarck's country residence at Varzin, in Pomerania, early in October, 1877. Probably that was the first official recognition of the practical value of the telephone on the part of a foreign nation. Yet, early in 1877, Mr. Preece, the head of England's telegraph department, had notified his government that Alexander Graham Bell "has rendered it possible to reproduce the human voice with all its modulations at distant points. I have spoken with a person at various distances up to thirty-two miles." In November, 1877, conversation was excellently maintained for two hours between Dover and Calais, a distance of twenty-two miles, by using a telegraph circuit in a submarine cable. Then, in December, 1877, Mr. Preece officially reported having successfully carried on a long conversation through a submarine telegraph cable sixty-seven miles in length, extending from Dublin to Holyhead, by means of hand telephones.
In the United States the first lease for territorial rights was executed on October 2-1, 1877, with the Telephone and Telegraph Construction Company, of Detroit, Michigan; yet eleven months passed before a telephone exchange was opened in that city.
The second lease was assigned to the District Telephone Company of New Haven, Connecticut, and included the counties of New Haven and Middlesex. The former county was rapidly developed and has the honor of having established within its limits the first two commercial telephone exchanges (at New Haven and at Meriden), the first mutual telephone exchange (Bridgeport), the first private branch exchange system (Ansonia), and the first telephone toll lines regularly connected to operating commercial telephone exchanges.
On February 12, 1878, territory was assigned to the New England Telephone Company, of Boston. On March 8, 1878, a license was granted to the American District Telegraph Company, of St. Louis, and on July 3, 1878, a license was granted for New York City and including a radius of thirty-three miles.
This activity created quite a demand for telephones, and by. the end of July, 1878, over 12,000 had been placed. Thus it was deemed wiser to organize a larger and more flexible corporation. So, on July 30, 3 878, Mr. Hubbard organized the Bell Telephone Company, of Boston, under the laws of Massachusetts, to manufacture, sell and use telephones outside of New England, and capitalized it at $150,000. Mr. Hubbard was trustee, Mr. Sanders, treasurer, Dr. Bell, electrician, and Thomas A. Watson, superintendent. This company acquired all the patents, property and rights of its predecessor, the Bell Telephone Association, and its headquarters remained at the Williams factory at 109 Court Street.
This second parent company entered into nine formal agreements granting exclusive rights to use Bell telephones in certain specified territory, and did such excellent work in developing the opening of exchanges, that some 22,000 telephones were in service when, on March 13, 1879, it was deemed the wiser plan to organize a new parent company having sufficient financial backing combined with the personal and commercial influence that would enable the business to be handled on the large scale that ripening conditions demanded. So the National Bell Telephone Company was chartered under the laws of the state of Massachusetts, and the company capitalized at $850,000. The executive offices of this parent company were moved to New York, in August, 1878, and located at 66 and 68 Reade Street. A year later the company moved back to Boston and secured offices at 95 Milk Street.
The officials and directors of the National Company were:
|W. H. Forbes, President.||Alexander Graham Bell, Electrician.|
|G. L. Bradley, V.-Pres. and Treasurer.||Francis Blake, Jr., Electrician.|
|T. N. Vail, General Manager.||O. E. Madden, Supt. of Agencies.|
|Thomas A. Watson, General Inspector.|
|William H. Forbes,||Francis Blake, Jr.,||Charles Eustis Hubbard,|
|Charles S. Bradley,||Richard S. Fay,||Alexander Cochrane,|
|Gardiner G. Hubbard,||George Z. Silsbee,||George L. Bradley.|
|Thomas Sanders,||William G. Saltonstall,|
|W. H. Forbes,||Gardiner G. Hubbard,||Francis Blake, Jr.|
|R. S. Fay,||Thomas Sanders,|
Now to turn back a year. Before the close of 1878, men successful in other lines of industry perceived that if the crude and limited facilities offered by these early exchanges afforded a service esteemed by the public as a desirable convenience, then the manifold advantages that might be derived from a telephone exchange system embracing all the probable users of telephone service in a town or city, would be in direct ratio to the growth and expansion of that system. Hence, as it appeared evident that this new industry had come to stay, and was quite likely to prove a good revenue producer, capitalists began to look favorably upon 'Bell's toy,' to wonder whether it might not turn out to be an exceedingly valuable invention, and whether it was safe to infringe the Bell patents. Thus it came about that before the close of 1878, a number of promoters who had formerly scoffed at the inventor and his telephone were offering large sums in cash for exclusive rights to operate in given territory, in several cases paying a good premium for the same rights offered for a nominal payment a year previous.
These sudden conversions to implicit belief in the tangible value of the telephone appear the more remarkable when we recall the fact that throughout the United States commercial and financial affairs remained in a depressed condition during the entire year of 1878, and it was an exceedingly difficult matter to get capital interested in any new enterprise. Nevertheless, nearly seventy Bell exchanges were in process of being planned, or were under construction, or were in operation when the year closed. In the following named cities Bell exchanges were in operation at the close of 1878, and, while the number of telephones shown in service is comparatively small, the records show that several of these exchanges had secured from two to four times that number of contracts, and were connecting new subscribers as rapidly as possible.
Then exchanges were in process of construction in Washington, Louisville, New Orleans, Nashville, Cleveland, Springfield, Hartford, Providence and other places.
A very different condition of affairs prevailed in financial and commercial circles a year later, when, in the autumn of 1879, the resumption of specie payment caused a feeling of elation to pervade all branches of industry, and started a remarkable boom in railway construction and in stock speculation that spread throughout the country. Thus it was not surprising that many investors appeared eager to identify themselves with the telephone industry, nor was it so remarkable that as one of the results of this frenzied activity, there were several hundred operating Bell companies when the year of 1879 closed.
Each of these companies operated under its own management, was governed by its own policy, and supplied its service at such rates as each thought best adapted to meet the views of local patrons. There was little or no uniformity in these rates, for the majority had been established not only without regard to the brief but costly experience with low rates that the companies established in 1878 had passed through, but adversely to the sensible suggestions of the parent company to make the service so good that business houses would pay at least a dollar a week for local telephone service. Again, not only were rates established without a due regard for the amount of cash investment that would be required per subscriber, but in entire forgetfulness of two essential factors in determining cost of production and supply:
(1) Decrease in plant valuation due to improvements in the art, and
(2) the destructive action of the elements.
In some states there was, in 1879, a Bell license for each county, and as each licensee was wholly independent of any and all other licensees, there naturally came to be a great diversity of opinions regarding proper methods of construction and operation, equitable interchange of toll-line traffic, profitable rates and the legal protection that the parent company should insure to its licensees. Furthermore, the broader-minded licensees began to perceive that the telephone business, instead of being merely a local issue, was not only interurban and interstate in character, but continental in scope, and that the healthy growth and ultimate success of these operating companies were largely dependent on the scope and the character of the service supplied, rather than on patent protection. In 1879, it was also foreseen that an amount of capital many times larger than the original estimate called for would have to be invested to place the business on a permanent foundation. Thus the wisdom of consolidating these small county licensees into large state or interstate companies was perceived, and large operating companies controlling exchanges in many counties were in existence before the close of 1879.
Incidentally it is worth while to recall that while some of the pioneers were men to whom too much credit can not be given for the intelligent and persistent manner in which improvements in and extensions to the service were introduced, there were other pioneers whose grasp of the problems they were facing was exceedingly slight, though these latter gentlemen had no hesitation in branding as heretical all views opposed to their own, or in combatting the progressive suggestions of the parent company. Even the technical press was pessimistic in belief concerning the future of the telephone. In 1882, the editor of The Operator wrote: "The telephone is almost entirely a local convenience, nearly as much so as gas lighting and horse cars; its monopoly, which is not an oppressive one, rests upon the possession of patents, and must expire with the patents."
That some among the principal Bell licensees had much to learn concerning telephone problems is well illustrated by the published statement of the president of one of the most prominent companies. In 1883, he was quoted concerning the need of long-distance service, as follows:
Yet within a year from the publication of that statement a number of toll lines, each more than a hundred miles in length, were in operation, notably one from Denver to Pueblo, in Colorado, one hundred and eleven miles long. This line was built with only 2,619 poles, and cost only about $13,000. Under present methods of construction a line of corresponding length and built in that section of country would probably include 4,900 poles and would cost about $90,000, including a heavy copper circuit.
Another apt illustration is found in the interview given in 1883, by the president of two large Bell companies, and who was called 'the leading practical expert of the country.'
To talk over the 1,200 miles between Chicago and New York there must be used either a compound wire or an iron one several times as heavy—an impracticable size. The copper wire would require about 36 poles to the mile, and I have roughly estimated its cost at $400,000. Only one wire could be used upon one set of poles, for even at the extreme ends of long cross arms, at such a distance what was said to one wire would be heard on the other and vice versa, owing to induction. In fact we find it impracticable for this reason to put more than one wire on one set of poles for distances greater than three miles—four miles being the very limit, even if far apart.
V. The First Mutual Telephone Exchange
On Friday evening, April 27, 1877, twenty-nine years ago, Alexander Graham Bell delivered a lecture on his electric-speaking telephone at the opera house in New Haven, Connecticut, and also addressed audiences in Hartford and in Middletown, with the aid of telephones connected to a telegraph circuit loaned by the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company. Mr. Frederick Gower delivered the lecture in Hartford, and Mr. Thomas A. Watson was in charge in Middletown. After giving a number of interesting illustrations of the serviceability of the telephone, and the ease with which conversation could be carried on over considerable distances, Dr. Bell claimed that the time was coming when a telephone in every house would be considered indispensable, that the telephone would displace the telegraph in many business transactions, and that a man of business would have no more difficulty in talking with his agent a hundred miles away than in directing his servant through the speaking-tube. And he further stated that the telephone wires would yet be laid underground, as gas and water pipes are now laid. In Hartford, Mr. Gower explained the telephone and the many ways in which it could be utilized, and said:
And Smith will have a wire to the central office in Hartford, while his correspondent or branch house in Boston or New York will be similarly connected there. Smith will say to the hole in the wall: Switch me upon 500 State street, Boston. Whereupon the central officer will turn the little lever, and Smith may talk with his friend all day.
Back to that lecture in April, 1877, more than twenty-eight years ago, dates the conception of the movement that resulted in the establishment of the modern telephone exchange. For the earliest among all telephone exchanges were established in Connecticut, Bridgeport claiming the honor of the first mutual telephone exchange system, and Hartford the second; Ansonia, the first private exchange system in which a regular switching system and operator were employed; to New Haven rightfully belongs the honor of having the first commercial telephone exchange ever opened, while to Meriden is credited the second of the commercial exchanges. And the manner in which the telephone was introduced for public use in each place is indicative of the way in which it was first established in many other cities.
During the past twenty years Mr. Thomas B. Doolittle has been one of the most widely-known, capable and companionable telephone men in the country, and has planned a greater mileage of telephone pole lines than any other man. In 1887 Mr. E. J. Hall said: "The first really practical success in talking over long distances was the copper metallic circuit constructed between New York and Boston by Mr. T. B. Doolittle, for the American Bell Telephone Company, in 1883. The distance was about 300 miles, and I call it the first practical success because it was the first circuit that worked at all times regardless of outside electrical disturbances."
In 1874 Mr. Doolittle was a well-known manufacturer of metal goods in Bridgeport, Connecticut. During that year he assisted in the establishment of a social telegraph system, in which some twenty or thirty users of the Morse code were connected by telegraph circuits that terminated in a special switchboard in the Bridgeport office of the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company, the necessary switching being performed by the local telegraph operator.
In June, 1877, the closing of the A. & P. telegraph office, through absorption by the Western Union, temporarily suspended this local service, and necessitated other arrangements. Having become a firm believer in the future of the telephone, Mr. Doolittle secured four pairs of Bell's wooden hand telephones, and placed one pair on each of four lines; then he installed a home-made switching device in his office, and for a signaling device employed a single-stroke bell operating on a gravity-battery current. Then he devised a method of preventing eavesdropping that in May, 1878, was declared 'a great improvement on any other telephone system now in use.' So satisfactory did these instruments prove that other lines were similarly equipped and soon a mutual telephone exchange system was in full operation, that later on formed the nucleus of the commercial exchange opened in Bridgeport by Mr. Doolittle in 1878.
In the fall of 1877 he planned and built a private telephone exchange system for the Ansonia Brass and Copper Company, of Ansonia, that, while in no sense a commercial exchange system, was indirectly of incalculable benefit to the growth and prosperity of the entire commercial telephone industry. For in planning this system Mr. Doolittle decided to use circuits of copper instead of iron, and, after many experiments, produced a hard drawn copper wire of his own adaptation, the drawing of which he supervised in the mills of that company.
Prior to that time it had been found impossible to use copper wire on pole line circuits, as its extreme ductility proved a source of continued elongation in all spans of any length and where the strain was constant. By the Doolittle process the tensile strength of the wire was greatly increased, its elongation reduced to about one per cent., and there was no appreciable change in its conductivity. Yet it required ten years of costly experience with iron wire circuits before the telephone interests fully comprehended the inestimable value of this improvement. In September, 1880, at a conference of telephone men, the representative of a very large wire-drawing mill stated that "copper wire has ceased to be discussed for telephone line use. It is too soft and elongates too readily under exposure. The suitable wire must be tough pure iron, well manipulated to secure flexibility and toughness."
Referring to this pioneer work, Mr. Doolittle wrote:
It was for producing in 1877 the five hundred pounds of No. 12 B. & S. gauge hard drawn copper wire used in stringing the aerial circuits in the Ansonia Brass and Copper Company's private telephone exchange system that the Franklin Institute awarded to Mr. Doolittle the Edward Longstreth medal of merit.
In connecting up the different offices and mills of the Ansonia Brass and Copper Company he built substantial pole lines, installed a home-made type of switchboard to which all circuits were attached and had a regular operator employed. A pole line was also built to the freight station of the Derby Railroad Company, and a telephone installed there and connected to the main switchboard, thus enabling any department to get in immediate communication with the freight station. This system was completed and in successful operation on December 4, 1877. Then, when the Connecticut Telephone Company came into possession of the territory by virtue of purchasing the rights of earlier Bell licensee systems, and thus possessed the sole right to operate telephone exchanges under the Bell patents, it claimed that this pioneer private exchange was a commercial exchange by reason of connections to outside interests, although calls were exchanged without thought of payment, and thus was infringing the rights of the Connecticut Company. So that exchange was closed. Later on a private branch exchange system was regularly installed for the Ansonia Brass and Copper Company, and now that company is the largest user of telephone equipment and service in Connecticut.
Probably Hartford can be credited with establishing the second mutual telephone exchange system. Three months after Dr. Bell's lecture, an agent for the Bell company called on the principal merchants in Hartford and tried to induce them to utilize the telephone as a business-bringer. On July 19, 1877, the local manager of the Western Union, Mr. G. B. Hubbell, secured the agency of the Bell telephone. On August 9, 1877, the Hartford Courant stated: "At the Capital Avenue drug store there is a telephone of simple construction connected with the residence of Dr. Campbell." On August 22 the Courant stated that "At the regular meeting of the allopath physicians on Monday evening, experiments were successfully tried with the telephone, and it is proposed to have a system of intercommunication between the doctors established by means of this new invention, so that by reporting to the central office at the Capital Avenue drug store, they can readily exchange views between office and office." In September, 1877, Isaac Smith, owner of the Capital Avenue drug store, had one and possibly two party-lines working in Hartford, and terminating in his store. On October 8, 1877, Smith advertised as follows: "Prof. Bell's Telephone. I am prepared to build and equip telephone lines at moderate rates. Telegraphic lines, with Morse or other instruments, built of the best material. Please call and examine our telephone lines in operation." In November, 1877, Dr. Crane, a dentist in Hartford, had a party-line on which were six physicians and six druggists, including Smith, and on November 15 Crane advertised: "Messages sent direct from my office to the following places by telephone." On January 24, 1878, the Courant announced that "When word came to Hartford of the accident on the Connecticut Western, information was dispatched to the central office from whence run wires to many physicians of this city. In a very short space of time and within a few minutes of each other, nearly a score of doctors and surgeons were at the depot."
As a rule, in the beginning the messages sent over these early telephone lines were not switched through, but received at one telephone by 'Central' and repeated to the subscriber through another telephone. For there was one telephone for each circuit terminating in the central office; if there were six subscriber-lines, then there were six hand telephones hanging on the wall of the central office. But this was not the case at Bridgeport, Ansonia, New Haven or Meriden.
In May, 1877, Mr. Edwin T. Holmes used Bell's hand telephone as an accessory to his central-office burglar-alarm system in Boston, one set of wires serving for both purposes. Five of these alarm wires were cut through a small brass telegraphic pin switchboard, enabling a hand telephone to be connected or plugged-in on any line. Mr. F. E. Kinsman, who was then in the employ of Mr. Holmes, said that (in August, 1877) the service was not given by connecting any two circuits together, but that "it was made by the operator taking the message and turning about and talking through the telephone to the party to whom the message was given." Three months later Mr. Holmes installed hand telephones in many of the wholesale and commission houses to enable these subscribers to the system to notify the Holmes central office to tell the express company to call for packages ready for shipment. Then a central switchboard system was installed and, in March, 1878, there were 256 hand telephones in use. The use of hand telephones only is said to have continued in this system for more than twelve years, although the number of subscribers finally exceeded 500.