This article appeared in the Journal Herald on February 25, 1940
From Seven to Thousands
Telephone First Used In Dayton 62 Years Ago This Wednesday
Come Wednesday, February 28, and it will be exactly 62 years since a telephone bell tinkled for the first time in Dayton and the first citizen, lifting the receiver with fear and trembling, said “Hello” and heard an answering voice over the wire.
Only two years before that Alexander Graham Bell had invented the new gadget, which was viewed with such misgivings that the Western Telephone company could prevail upon only seven business men to have a telephone installed. Of these seven, four names are known, the old Phillips house, the Beckel house, Kiefaber brothers and the Western Union Telegraph office.
Wiring Completed in 1878
On the morning of February 28, 1878, it is recorded in files of The Dayton Journal, workmen completed the wiring between the Western Union and the Beckel house, and before noon the instruments were adjusted and the telephones were ready for service.
The “exhibition” was to take place in the afternoon and long before the appointed hour the offices of the first two subscribers were packed with unbelieving citizens.
Then the little bell jingled and each man took his turn at listening with childish delight to the voices of somebody two blocks away.
The report of the day’s event was treated just about as briefly as in later years the first flight of the Wright brothers was given to the world, not any too much confidence lurking in the account given in The Journal of March 1, reading as follows:
“A telephone was worked with remarkable success yesterday between the Western Union telegraph office and the Beckel hotel. The instruments are still adjusted and anyone can see an exhibition of them by calling at either of the above places.”
Phillips First to Telephone
George L. Phillips, who afterwards became president of the old Central Union Telephone company, was the first man who brought the telephone to Dayton. As a young man he became deeply interested in the new invention by reading of it in the newspapers. He finally went to Boston and there contracted for instruments for the first Dayton exchange. Establishment of the initial company was the result of intensive efforts on his part to interest citizens in stock buying.
His company was known as the Dayton Bell Telephone company, with Phillips as president; Mrs. Phillips as vice president; A. A. Thomas as attorney; H. N. L. Bernard as general superintendent and W. H. Bussard as secretary and treasurer. The original company finally sold out to the Central Union Telephone company, predecessors of the Ohio Bell.
In August of 1879 the papers announced that arrangements for opening the Bell telephone exchange on East Third street had been completed and that erection of poles and wires would begin at once. The same papers announced that the first circuits of the Edison Telephone company would be in operation in a few days.
Issues First Directory
The Bell Telephone company won the race in issuing a first directory which contained but 10 names, as follows; Kiefaber and brothers, George L. Phillips, American Express, Beckel House, George F. Rohr, J. E. McIntire, William Sanders, Charles A. Phillips, J. W. Johnston and T. A. Phillips and Sons. The directory hung in the telephone company’s office for 34 years, but was stolen from Harry E. Allen’s office during the reconstruction period following the 1913 flood.
First mention of telephone lines out of the city was in the papers of September 2, 1879, when they said that “a movement was under way to build lines to Harrisburg, Covington, Bloomington and Versailles.”
An interesting item is that relating to a so-called music board, installed in October of 1879. It was used when a number of persons desired to be connected with some point where music was being played and when several persons wanted to converse on matters of mutual interest. This was found to be impracticable, however, and was soon discontinued.
Another high spot in local telephone history occurred during the summer of 1915 when the local officials shared in the privilege of a demonstration over transcontinental lines between the Panama-Pacific exposition in San Francisco and Dayton. The gathering in the Algonquin, now the Gibbons hotel, was the largest since the reception given the Wright brothers on their return from Europe. Included in the demonstration also were the roaring of the waves at far Rockaway N. Y., and a roll call of various cities, who answered by telephone.
The telephone has come a long way from the day when the instructions read, “to call the central office turn the crank on the bell strongly, at the same time pressing upwards on the knob at the bottom,” and “when you have finished, hang the telephone on the designated hook, turn the switch to the left and ring the bell once for central to disconnect the wires.”
What was another miracle of science hardly more than half a century ago is today a thing taken as matter-of-fact, serving for next to instantaneous connection with all parts of the world.