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Phoning it in

May 9, 2012
By Ted Rowe , Marshall Independent

If I remember correctly, when I first moved to Marshall in the late 1960s, to call other folks on the telephone within the city, you only had to dial the last five digits. The only exchanges were either 532 or 537. And the phones were truly dialed not punched.

The vast change that has occurred with digital technology was exemplified in a story I heard the other day where a teenager was confronted with a dial phone only to have to ask how you could call someone when there were no buttons to push. Of course these days, the more sophisticated phone users may have phones programmed to understand voice commands so that you don't even have to push the buttons.

When they first came out, my brother-in-law programmed his phone so that he just had to say his son's name and the phone would automatically place the call.

Prior to the seven digit code needed to use the phone, our home had just a six digit (or letter) code and the letters were the exchange. Our code was Madison (MA) followed by the four numerical digits. It was almost traumatic when our exchange became Clearwater (CL) and then Clearwater 2 before the last four numerical digits.

And yes, we were on a party line. I believe there were four phones (different residences) on our line. Our code for answering was two short rings. Of course if it was a long and then a short it was for one of the other parties on the line and though it was not for us, it was possible to lift the receiver and listen in on someone else's conversation. Now of course we would not ever think of really doing that! At least not when my parents were around!

When parents were away there were always the practical jokes one could play with the phone. One of the more often used ones was to call a number randomly and ask, "Is your refrigerator running?" The hoped for response was. "yes." That then allowed the hilarious questioner to say, "Well you'd better chase after it." To a 7 year old, that was lol funny. Now did I really just use that modern abbreviation lol (laughing out loud)? Another one of those questions was to call a drug store and ask if they had Sir Walter Raleigh in a can? The response being that if they did have it, they should let him out before he suffocated. I am not sure whether they even sell Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco in a can anymore.

I was fascinated in using the phone when visiting one of my cousins in the small town of Ironton, Ohio, back in the 1940s. The fascination was because their phone had no dial and no buttons. You merely picked up the receiver and hit the bar under the receiver a couple of times. An operator answered and if you were calling someone in town you just gave the name and the operator connected you. If you were calling outside of town, the operator did the dialing and connecting for you.

I am way behind the times these days. We have only had a cell phone for about a year or so and I never leave it on and hardly ever carry it with me. It is used only infrequently. One of these days I might have to get with the modern age. I understand that you can even take pictures with a phone. Oh, Fiddlesticks!


Alexander Graham Bell is usually considered the guy who invented the telephone. Most of us probably also remember Bell's assistant Thomas Watson who was on the receiver end of the first message transmitted by a phone device, "Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you."

Bell was able to gain a U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876, at the age of 29. But his interest in the phone had come about because of encouragement of his parents and other relatives including a brother and a grandfather.

Though Bell was born in Scotland, with his parents, he immigrated to Canada after both an older and younger brother had died of tuberculosis. The move was prompted by those deaths and by Alexander's own poor health. He did some of his research in Canada, but also did a lot in the U.S. where he sought the patent for his ideas for the telephone.

His interest in the deaf was spurred by his mother's growing deafness and also by the deafness of a close friend who later became his wife.

His work on elocution led Alexander to write a treatise on elocution and the use of tuning forks and resonance which was read by the philologist Alexander Ellis who was a colleague of Alexander Graham Bell's father and the inspiration for Henry Higgins in the play Pygmalion, hence also for the Henry Higgins of the musical My Fair Lady.

By 1886, there were more than 150,000 telephones. In the late 1870s Western Union with its successful telegraph operation was asked if they would be interested in the telephone patent for $100,000. They declined but by the mid-1880s they could not have bought it for anything short of several million.

In 1915, Bell and Watson had the first transcontinental telephone conversation connecting the North American Continent from New York City to San Francisco.

Just one last bit before I close. In the modern day we have pre-nuptial agreements to protect assets of individuals getting married. Alexander, on the other hand, was devoted to his bride and signed over to her 1,487 shares of his stock in Bell Telephone, keeping just a token 10 shares for himself. True love.

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!



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