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Alexander Graham Bell's wonderful invention is now still less than 75 years old, although it has reached to the far corners of the world.
It was also unknown at the time of the founding of the company which later brought phone communications to the Valley - an oddly named company known as "The Central District and Printing Telegraph Company" - a name which will probably be remembered by many of the older residents.
This company was founded in the spring of 1874, in Pittsburgh, by Captain Thomas B. A. David, who for many years had been superintendent of Western Union Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh and who had served as head of the Military Telegraphs in West Virginia during the Civil War.
Captain David was aided in his endeavor by the Western Union Telegraph Company. The new company was founded for the purpose of providing Pittsburgh with a local communication system so that the various businessmen might be able to communicate with one another. The telephone, of course, was not available for this purpose and Captain David used what is known as the Printing Telegraph.
This interesting device enabled a businessman to type a message on its alphabetical keyboard and a reproduction would appear at the distant machine on a paper tape. This represented a considerable improvement over the use of the Morse Code since it could be operated without a trained telegrapher.
The company, which first brought the telephone to Beaver Valley, continued to use its original name until 1913, when it changed to the Central District Telephone Company. In 1918, it became a part of the present Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania.
The earliest record concerning the telephone in Southwest Pennsylvania is at Washington, Pa., on May 13, 1877.
"The Reporter," a local newspaper in its issue of May 14, 1877, tells of an experimental call between Washington and Wheeling, W. Va. The call was made over the wires of the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company.
In June of the year 1877, Gardiner C. Hubbard, Bell's father-in-law, came to Pittsburgh to promote interest in the telephone. The natural place to introduce this new means of communication was in the many local or district telegraph companies then in existence in the larger cities. One of these was the Central District and Printing Telegraph Company.
Hubbard left a set of his telephones with Captain David, who had them installed between his residence at 232 Shade Avenue, Pittsburgh, and a small building at the rear of this property.
The first telephone exchange in Southwest Pennsylvania was opened at Pittsburgh in the Fall of 1878.
The businessmen of the Beaver Valley were not far behind those of Pittsburgh in sensing the value of this new means of communication.
It is said that the Cutlery Works in Beaver Falls had the first telephone in 1879, and that Romulus Reeves operated the company's private telephone system. There is no substantiation of this claim in telephone company records.
On August 22, 1879, however, records disclose that telephones were installed at Beaver Falls and New Brighton for the Pittsburgh Hinge Company.
The Central District and Printing Telegraph Company having no lines of their own radiating from Pittsburgh used wires leased from the Western Union Company to serve these subscribers. This Western Union line followed the Ohio River from Pittsburgh and was subject to frequent damage from flood waters.
In March, 1880, John Wilson and Frank Anderson went to the Beaver Valley to install a telephone line for J. J. Shallenberger from New Brighton to Beaver Falls. This, of course, was a private line. Reference to the vouchers covering the cost of constructing this line lends an interesting light on the times. These men were paid ".75 for V2 day's labor" and they were able to secure eight meals and two lodgings for a total cost of $3.30.
In 1881 the C. D. & P. T. Company commenced the construction of its own lines down to Beaver Falls from Pittsburgh under the supervision of Warren D. Paynter.
The first telephone exchange or central office established in the Beaver Valley was at Beaver Falls.
The pole line from Pittsburgh, which had been placed in 1881, was found inadequate for the growing telephone needs of the Valley and in 1883 it was replaced.
Rumors were rife at the time for fear that each of the towns in the Valley was to be directly connected to Pittsburgh and not inter-connected as they are today. On October 25,1883, the "Beaver Valley News" said, "There is a rumor current that the direct telephone connections between Rochester, Beaver Falls, New Brighton, Beaver, New Castle, etc., is to be destroyed and separate wires given to them. This seems to be a foolish move on the part of the telephone company, in the face of the fact that our businessmen want direct communication with all the towns in the Valley, no matter how Pittsburgh is reached. We hope for the sake of the businessmen that the intended change will be abandoned."
Their fears were soon put at rest by another article in the "Beaver Valley News" of November 15, 1883. It said, "The changes in the telephone connections in the Valley are as follows: Beaver, on wire of Rochester and Pittsburgh; Beaver Falls and New Brighton on the line with New Castle. However, by calling up Beaver Falls, which acts as a central office, connections can be made with any of the points mentioned. This new arrangement is meeting with general approval."
Thus there was a through line from Pittsburgh to Beaver and Rochester and another through line from Pittsburgh to New Castle by way of New Brighton and Beaver Falls.
On January 1, 1884, Henry Metzger,general manager of the Central District and Printing Telegraph Company at Pittsburgh, put to work at the newly opened Beaver Falls exchange, the first telephone operator in the Beaver Valley, Miss Jennie Ramsey. No record of the early days of telephone would be complete without her story. Miss Ramsey retired from the telephone service in 1915 after an eventful career.
The day she first operated the switchboard must have been an exciting one, for it represented her first use of the telephone. People had not acquired the habit of calling by number and Miss Ramsey completed the calls by name. Her task was not easy, for it consisted not only in operating the small magneto switchboard, but involved also the collection of bills and an occasional repair job on a subscriber's telephone.
Records at present are not clear as to just how many subscribers were served from this new office on its opening day. However, in 1885, one year later, there were 10 subscribers.
The telephone was rapidly taking its place in the business and social life of Beaver Falls and the demand was growing for the "common battery" service and in 1907 the C. D. and P. T. Company completed the erection of its own building to house the new equipment. The new building was erected on the site of the Ramsey home at 616 Fourth Street.
In December 1907 the new office was placed in service and at the same time the office at New Brighton was discontinued and the subscribers transferred to the Beaver Falls exchange.
Many additions have been made to the equipment and today this busy office is much in contrast to that little oneposition switchboard operated by Miss Ramsey in 1884.
The growth of the Beaver Falls office is best illustrated in the following table:
1885 - 10 telephones; 1890 - 77 telephones; 1895 - 97 telephones; 1900 - 283 telephones; 1910 - 1,366; 1920 - 3,184; 1930 - 7,027; 1940 - 6,374; 1950 - 13,954.
At the present time, the Beaver Falls office has working positions for 36 operators at its switchboards. A total of 110 operators are employed under the direction of Mrs. Gladys Temke, chief operator. The next office in the Beaver Valley was opened in New Brighton on May 24, 1888. It was located above A. D. Gilliland's Dry Goods Store in the Opera House Building at 106 Broadway.
The first telephone operator in New Brighton was Miss Flora Townsend, who was employed on May 24,1888.
Sometime later, the office was moved to the second floor at Eleventh Street, and Third Avenue, over the offices of the Bridgewater Gas Company. The office remained at this location until 1907, when it was abandoned and the New Brighton subscribers connected to the new Beaver Falls exchange. At this time, there were 538 telephones connected to the New Brighton exchange.
In 1893, Miss Jean F. Boyd, who had been the first telephone operator at Rochester, came over to the New Brighton office.
The first telephone installed in Rochester was a public telephone or toll station in Hartford P. Brown's Wholesale and Retail Tobacco Store at New York Avenue and Railroad Street in the early eighties.
The central office in Rochester was opened on January 30, 1890, on the second floor of the N. F. Hurst building at 221 Brighton Avenue. Martin Metzger was attempting to secure new subscribers for the exchange. S. A. Reno and Son furnished the table and chairs; R. D. Fleming installed the coal stove, and John Wallace made the plumbing and gas light arrangements.
There were 31 subscribers connected to the original central office:
Olive Stove Works, Miller Planing Mill, William Shallenberger, Dr. A. P. Shallenberger, Dr. W. AL Shallenberger, Dr. J. J. Wickham, N. F. Hurst, Conway's Bank, Hartzel Bros., W. A. Hartzel, George Schlelein, Major James P. Leaf, Louis Snyder, H. H. Newkirk, August Haller, J. J. Hoffman.
William Miller Brick Works, H. C. Fry, Freedom Oil Works, Freedom Casket Co., Thompson's Drug Store, Rochester Tumbler Works, Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Station, Pennsylvania Railroad Ticket Office, Phoenix Glass Co., Adams Cigar Store, J. F. Reed, J. M. Buchannon, Joseph M. Eakin, First National Bank, Butler and Jackson.
The growth of the Rochester exchange is best illustrated in the following:
1890,31 subscribers; 1895,44; 1900, 134; 1905, 422; 1910,1,608; 1920, 2,855; 1930, 5,708; 1940, 5,702; 1950, 12,729.
Later, the Rochester exchange was moved to the Charles P. Brobeck building at 146 Brighton Avenue, where it remained until May 26, 1907, when the new building, at 411 Delaware Avenue was first occupied. The Beaver central office was abandoned at this time and the subscribers transferred to the new Rochester central office.
From its opening in 1890 until the new office was opened on May 26,1907, the Rochester office was of the magneto type. In 1907, common battery service was installed.
The Aliquippa exchange was established October 20, 1903. In 1905 there were ten stations and by 1910 the number had grown to 100 stations. The name Aliquippa was changed to Woodlawn April 20,1911, and changed back to Aliquippa June 21, 1928.
The Ambridge exchange was founded in May 1905, with 82 telephones.
The first central office in Beaver was opened in October, 1895.
The first telephone operator in Beaver was Miss Marie Bradley and the night operator was Miss Belle Bradley.
Another recent office in the Valley was at Midland. This office was cut over on November 12,1912, when the Crucible Steel Company began its growth. The exchange was on Beaver Avenue between Sixth and Eighth Streets. In 1939, the magneto office was abandoned and a new dial central office in a copany-owned building on the northwest side of Seventh Street was placed in service. Growth data is as follows:
1913,22; 1920,282; 1930,757; 1940, 807; 1950, 2,050.
The Ohioview dial office was established on June 1, 1940, with 82 subscribers, who were formerly served from Midland. It now serves 360 telephones.