TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH MILESTONES
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The first trans-Atlantic cable was successfully laid in
1866, enabling American telegraphers to communicate with
England, and vice-versa.
The telephone was invented in 1876, demonstrated for the
first time that June at the Philadelphia Centennial by
Alexander Graham Bell. One of the first telephones installed
in the Midwest was hooked up in June 1877 between
Minneapolis City Hall and telegrapher R.H. Hankinson.
Hankinson later built the first switchboards in Minneapolis,
and on December 10, 1878, organized the Northwestern
Telephone Exchange Co. of Minneapolis. It started up
operation, with 53 subscribers (presumably businesses), in
February 1879, and a line was strung to St. Paul in April
In 1903, there were about 50 telephone subscribers in neighboring Hopkins. In 1905, only 8 percent of homes in the U.S. had telephones.
In 1908, telephone service was established between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In 1911, Northwestern Telephone Exchange Co. and rival Tri State Telephone Co. began putting in poles and installing phones (presumably in residences). In the beginning, the companies apparently installed poles willy-nilly, with the Village Council occasionally forced to make them remove or move them. The two companies competed with each other head to head, with some households having two phones until the companies merged in 1920. A directory dated March 1920 provides listings for both Northwestern and Tri State, and a separate listing for Lake Minnetonka. It would take 35 years for a quarter of the nation’s population to have a telephone. Cell phones took a mere 13 years.
The Minneapolis Journal reported that after the June 23, 1914 tornado, “all the Tri State telephones in St. Louis Park were put out of commission and a line of poles three quarters of a mile long from Goodrich to Excelsior Avenues carrying trunk lines leading into southern Minnesota was snapped into a string of shattered lumber and tangled wires.”
In 1916, the Village Council voted to investigate the placing of a Tri State phone in the Fire Chief’s residence or the Monitor Engine Room. Marie Hartmann reported that Fire Chief Joe Williams had lines from both companies in his house, in addition to a third, direct line to Monitor Drill.
In December 1918, the Commercial Club protested a proposed raise in telephone rates.
A local business directory from 1928 lists four different telegraph companies in Minneapolis, each located in the lobby of a downtown office building:
American District Telegraph Co. North American Telegraph Co. Postal Telegraph Cable Co. Western Union Telegraph Co.
In 1942, ads asked citizens to turn down the lights and
not use the phone over the Christmas holidays. Northwestern
Bell cited the lack of copper as the reason for inadequate
phone lines for the growing demand.
In 1947 the Village Council wrote to the State Railroad and Warehouse Commission to protest the increase in Northwestern Bell’s phone rates.
A 1950 statistic indicates that three fourths of all phone service in the United States was by party line. Although 92 percent of establishments had phone service in 1952, the nation had many more phones than lines, creating problems for people with party lines. One solution that the State legislature briefly considered in 1953 was a seven-minute limit on calls.
In August 1950, people were up in arms over the practice by Northwestern Bell of assigning St. Louis Park residences and businesses to a Hopkins exchange.
In March 1951, citizens requested that four temporary pay phone stations be placed west of Texas between 33rd and 36th. Providing phone service to this new neighborhood was slow because of the scarcity of lead-covered cable.
In March 1952, Flash Radio Sales and service sold the village Kellogg Select-O-Phone Automatic Telephone equipment for Village Hall and the Fire Department building.
January 1956 saw the Park’s first fax machine, called an “automatic telegram sending and receiving machine.” It was located at the office of Granberg Brokerage, Miracle Mile. The machine was owned by Western Union. Such machines had been used for several years in Minneapolis. One of its features was that a bell rang when a message came in.
August 18, 1957 inaugurated Direct Distance Dialing – Parkites no longer had to go through an operator to make a long distance call.
Northwestern Bell introduced the new Princess phone in 1960: “It’s Little! It’s Lovely! It Lights!”
In 1965, phone numbers in the local director reflected a change from exchange names to all numbers.
The Wide Area Telephone Service, or WATS line was available for use on November 1, 1966. It had first been available only on an outgoing basis, but could now be set up so that the receiving company would pay for incoming calls.
In 1974, new Centrex phone systems were being installed at local businesses such as Honeywell, requiring some numbers to change.
In 1979, an electronic switching system replaced an
electro-mechanical system. This move allowed for custom
calling for the first time: call forwarding, three-way
dialing, speed dialing, call waiting, and touch tone.
This information comes from a variety of sources: newspapers, books, yearbooks, phone directories, interviews, etc. Given the varied sources, we cannot guarantee that all of this information is correct, and welcome any additions and corrections. Please contact us with your contributions and comments.