by Charles F. Sullivan
In my early childhood, I was riding across the old Third Street river bridge with the rest of our large family, in the old carriage drawn by the old family horse, when one of my brothers said that he had read where a man in the east had a box upon the wall connected with another box, several miles away and that they could talk over it, to a man at the other end of it. The rest of us hooted at such an idea, and said that it could never be true, and wondered how anyone should believe such a wild story. Could you get any one at this time that would refuse to believe that people can talk over a wire?
The Williams directory of 1880 lists the “Dayton Telephone Co., office 118 East Third, third floor, George L. Phillips, President, H. N. L. Bernard, Manager.” I do not think they stayed there long for my first recollection is of them in the Phillips building, south west corner of Second and Main, with a large building upon the roof of it to take the wires from the exchange out to the poles on the street.
At first all wires were carried overhead upon poles, on glass insulators, lined up on cross arms fastened to the poles, making a heavy load on the poles. Nearly all business houses rented a phone, but very few residences could afford them, so their customers were all close to the exchange. The instrument used at that time consisted of two boxes on a board, the lower contained a battery while the upper did the telephoning, and it was a very crude affair, as compared with the present phone, also it was not satisfactory either. To put in a call, you would turn a crank ringing a bell and take the receiver off the hook and soon a lady’s voice would be heard saying “hello” and you would say that you wanted to talk to James Brown & Son and soon another voice would say “Hello” and you were then ready to talk. When through, you would give the crank a little turn and the girl would disconnect you.
This gave the occasion for the slang expression to “hang up” and “ring off”, when you want to tell some one to keep quiet.
Frequently, you could hear a voice over the wire, yet could not understand him nor he understand you, no matter how hard you would yell at him, for the phone was very crude at that time.
In the late 80’s I had an opportunity to see the inside of the exchange and at that time there was room for not over 500 phones for a city of 40,000 people and they were then planning an increase of 200 more. The wires used at that time were galvanized iron and they were all strung upon poles at the edge of the sidewalk, but nearly all the subscribers were in the center of the city.
The poles leading from the exchange carried a very heavy load especially after an ice storm, with wind following it, and it would frequently break some wires and I have known of poles going down under the load of ice. Once about a dozen poles along the Springboro road south of the river, went down and blocked traffic there.
The Home telephone company then was organized with their exchange at the north east corner of Fourth and Jefferson about the beginning of the century and it was automatic much like the present system of the Bell system, but as it required many wires to operate it, the Bell folks bought them out and discontinued that service completely.
The telephone company then built a building on North Ludlow Street just for their own use, and after moving in they offered a ten party service for a $1.00 per month and contracted a great many people for it. These lives were too heavily loaded and the company changed them to two and four party lines as fast as possible, and on account of this, this building was soon too crowded, to care for the business offered them. Also long distance calls became very popular, caused by the use of copper wires and better service in every way, and this building was too crowded.
To get more room a new building was erected on East Fifth Street near Allen Street and it was called the east exchange and was in use for many years until the present system was started in 1932.
Also another building was erected at Richmond and Delaware for the Fairview exchange using the original exchange as the Main one.
By this time the automatic system had been put through the experimental stage, and the main building was erected, housing the Adams, Hemlock and Fulton exchanges, another on Catalpa north of Fairview housing the Taylor and Randolph, another off of Linden on top of the hill, housing the Madison and Kenmore, and the Walnut is for Oakwood and Southern hills and all of these came into use at the same time without interruption of service in 1932.
In July 1940, Vandalia, West Carrollton and Centerville were cut into the Dayton exchange, at one time and without any delay in service. About the beginning of the century, the wires in the center of the city became so thick that it interfered with the fire department, for the two telegraph companies, Electric light, city police and fire department, street cars and telephone used lots of wires, so a demand was made to place all wires under ground, which covered all kind of wires except the trolley wires. This proved to be such a benefit to the service companies that they kept on placing the wires under ground, until now there are few wires upon poles even in the outskirts of the city.
Long distance calls have been made so quickly and satisfactorily that the business has been growing rapidly and requires quite a number of operators to care for the business. Except for interruptions by the present war, a call can be made to almost any city upon the globe in a very short time and the service is almost as good as if it were made in our own city.
Chas. F. Sullivan 12/20/41