First Steps and Early Phones, 1900-1910
John Y. Rust
John Y. Rust purchased the existing phone operation in San Angelo in 1899 for $5,000. He and his brothers formed the San Angelo Telephone Company. At the time of purchase, there were 260 subscribers who used cigar boxes with crude transmitters and receivers attached. Each phone had a separate line. The cost of telephone service was $3.00 for businesses and $1.50 for residential customers. Those prices did not change until 1919.
Rust and his brothers made many improvements. By 1907, San Angelo had changed from magneto to common battery, and the business grew 10-fold, numbering between 750 to 800 subscribers.
Whoop and Holler Systems - Pioneers of the Hollow Wire
In the late 1800’s telephone services were in demand for smaller towns, communities, and rural areas. Many farmers pooled their resources to purchase telephone equipment and frequently used existing barbed-wire fences for telephone lines. Because rain interfered with the flow of current on these uninsulated lines, such farm networks were frequently called “whoop and holler” telephone systems. Some 6,000 grassroots companies were established between 1894 and 1897, giving birth to the free-wheeling “independent” telephone industry.
Good Telephone Manners
Speak directly into the mouthpiece, do not fiddle with the mouthpiece or insert a foreign object into it. Speak slowly and lowly, thereby avoiding any unpleasant hissing, whistling or slurring. When finished with conversation, put earpiece down gently, without dropping and always, remember to treat another person’s ear as you would have that person treat yours. Early telephone directories were so small that they were often published in the newspaper.
Magneto vs Common Battery
Magneto: talking power was supplied by two dry-cell batteries on the customer’s end. Customers created signaling power by turning a hand crank on the telephone box. The operators were alerted to a call when a metal hook holding a drop in place retracted and released the drop. The buzzing sound signaled someone wanted to make a call.
Common battery: All power for the customer’s phone and the switchboard was located in the central office. When the customer took the receiver off the hook, a lamp would light up on the switchboard to signal the operator to make a connection.
Phones of the Period
This American version of the French-style telephone was considered quite fancy and very stylish. The transmitter and receiver were in one handset. The upright, or candlestick, was to accept the new continental handset. In 1904 the Bell System used a few “French” telephones for experimental reasons. In 1907, its new chief engineer, John J. Carty, recalled all the experimental desk sets because the French handsets cost somewhat more than other desk sets. Carty was under strict orders to cut expenses to the bone. The French style desk sets were not available again until 1927.
S.H. Couch Autophone was used to signal up to 50 stations, primarily on an intercom basis. The longer of the two levers was used similarly to a “finger-stop” on a dial telephone. To call station 19, the caller moved this lever to position 19 then turned the smaller lever to the right until it reached the longer lever, which prevented it from going any farther. When the caller let go of the smaller lever, it returned to its position at the top. The caller then buzzed the called station by pressing the small button to the right of the stem next to the letter A.
The Gray Telephone Pay Station Company made the backboard and the coin collector device. The various telephone operating companies mounted whatever type of ringer box they wanted as long as it was compatible with their system. It could be a magneto, like this one, or common battery whereby all you had to do to get the operator was lift the receiver. The different coins made different sounds when deposited, letting the operator know what each coin was. Quarters made a gong noise, a dime was two chimes and a nickel was one chime.
Called the cathedral top and picture-frame type because of the shape of the top and the rectangular groove in front of the box. The small black cylinder at the center of the top was a lightning arrestor. When the line was struck by lightning, this would divert the high voltage to a wire connected to the ground, protecting other wires and coils in the telephone from being burned by the excessive current.
A loud ringing gong provided telephone service in a noisy location. Kellogg Magneto Wall Telephone
Kellogg Magneto Wall Telephone (1908 and later)
Frequently referred to as a “hotel phone” although this phone was found in many homes and businesses.
The telephone hung from the ceiling and the batteries and wires were placed in the ceiling. When the customer pressed the hook-switch in the handpiece and pulled the cord over the pulley, enough power was created to cause a shutter to drop on the operator’s switchboard. She placed the call. As long as the switch was pressed, parties could talk. Ring-back was required to signal call completion.
This European telephone was capable of making and answering calls on two different lines by turning the metal handle below the handset to the left or to the right. One set of bells was connected to one of the lines and the other set to the other line.
The round windmill-looking device a the top was used to determine resistance on the lines. When the crank was turned, the “windmill blades” would turn about 30 degrees to the right, exposing a white surface underneath, which indicated resistance on the line. If the blades did not turn, there was no resistance on the line, indicating that there was a break in the line very near the location of the telephone.
Known as the shield, this distinctive piece of equipment served as the coin collector and was used primarily in conjunction with magneto telephones. It was believed that this colorful piece of equipment had promotional and advertising value.
This phone was used for coin telephone communications.
This phone was used for coin-operated telephone communications.