Historically speaking

Telephone comes to Negaunee

Negaunee telephone operators are, from left, Mae Curtis, Rosemary Anderson, Alyce Muck, Frances Reichel, Gwendolyn Swanson, Olga Marta and Grace Kutcher. (Photo courtesy of Negaunee Historical Society)




Historical Society

NEGAUNEE — The introduction to this article first comes from an old Ishpeming newspaper.

It was January 3,1878, when the telephone first invaded the peace and quiet of this area. Mr. W.S. Dalliba, the general agent with the officers of the Cleveland Iron Mining Company removed the batteries from the telegraph service in the offices of the company in Ishpeming and Marquette and attached a telephone to the wire.

Experiments proved the efficiency of the instrument to those who were interested. The circuit is transversed 13 miles and conversation can be carried on between this city and Marquette with as much ease as though the persons were in the same room.

The sounds are so distinct that even the voice of an acquaintance can be recognized and the conversation regulated so that it can’t be heard by anyone, except the one to whom it is addressed. As an experiment, the individual in Marquette, feeling hilarious, whistled, “Yankee Doodle” and the melodious strains wafted into the office in Ishpeming.

It is a grand success; it’s unfailing accuracy in all kinds of weather and perfect for all kinds of business. When orders have to be issued from the mouth, the ease with which it can be operated, even by a child, will no doubt bring the telephone into extensive use in the mining district, and will eventually succeed the electric telegraph as a means of cheap and rapid communication.

That was 1878, and the following article was in the Negaunee Iron Herald. In the spring of 1881, just 16 years after Negaunee was officially founded as a village, a private line was extended from The Marquette Mining Journal, which was then a weekly paper to the Excelsior Mine.

The paper’s representative used the telephone to report happenings in the Negaunee- Ishpeming area. Regarded as toy, and a luxury of doubtful commercial use, the phone was used nevertheless by others at the discretion of the newspaper’s editors. Interest in the telephone was spurred that same year by the construction of a railroad line from St. Ignace to Marquette County’s iron mines.

A long distance line was built beside the railroad. In February 1882, James R. Dee of Houghton, regarded as the “father of the telephone” in the Upper Peninsula, became the official representative of the telephone interests in Iron County. Dee persuaded W.A. Jackson, general manager of the Telephone and Telegraph Company in Detroit to come to the U.P. to establish local telephone exchanges.

The firm was Michigan’s first telephone company, Michigan State Telephone. Theywer granted an operating license from Alexander Graham Bell. Jackson and Dee interviewed citizens of Negaunee,Ishpeming, Marquette and Houghton and steps were taken to establish exchanges at these points on April 1,1882.

At that time, only the Mining Journal and J.W.Spear, a merchant who had four grocery stores, had phone service. Both wer private lines. Spear’s’ line was connected to his house and his stores. In May of 1882, A.D. Ayers, superintendent for the Telephone and Telegraph Construction Company came to Marquette County to oversee the work and start local exchanges. Poles were purchased and equipment was shipped to the U.P. from Detroit.

Negaunee and Ishpeming each had 20 subscribers and Marquette had 37. Negaunee and ishpeming residents who could get to a phone heard a concert in Marquette and this spurred the growth of subscribers.

The Marquette Telephone Company ended in 1912 when they sold their interests to the Bell Company. In 1900 the long distance circuits wre placed into service to Menominee and St. Ignace. James Gannon, a telegrapher for Western Union obtained permission to have a switchboard in the railway station and Mrs. Gannon was the first operator.

In 1886, Negaunee had 35 subscribers. The switchboard moved to the Elfbrandt Drug Store. Other moves included being located in the Cleveland Cliffs Land Office and 319 Iron Street.

In January 1912, the telephone office was destroyed by fire. The Marquette county Company installed new equipment to restore service. The telephone switchboard was located upstairs of the Levine Brother’s Clothing store.

On April 1, 1938, the hand crank telephone ended when Bertil Agnoli pressed a button to place a new central office system in operation

User’s of Negaunee’s more than 600 telephones only had to lift the receiver to place a call. An operator completed the call for them. Dial phones came to Negaunee on Jan. 23, 1955. Mayor Fred Harris made the first call, dialing his brother at the fire department.

At that time Negaunee’s 2,450 telephones had numbers beginning with the prefix GR…..GR 590, the GR standing for granite. The phone has made many changes from a hand crank on the wall to a desk phone requiring an operator, to a dial phone on the wall, what we know as a landline.

This has given way to a hand held cell phone. They call them smart phones.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today