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Telephone System

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Joined: 17 Mar 2009
Posts: 411
Location: Liverpool, NY

PostPosted: Sun Jan 17, 2010 6:14 pm    Post subject: Telephone System Reply with quote

Mobile cellphones (particularly smartphones and texting), wireless phones in the home, and even touchtone dialing were not envisioned when I was growing up in Concordia. The Dick Tracy wristwatch phone was a dream back then. Dial phones were not yet available in the local phone system. We read about them, saw them in movies (Dial M for Murder), heard about them in songs (Pennsylvania 6-5000), and saw them when we visited the big city. But we were still using antiquated wall-mounted crank phones to ring up the Central operator in order to place a call. Concordia finally got its dial-up system in 1959, the year after I graduated from college and left the area.

The central switchboard system did have some advantages. You did not have to know the telephone number of the person you were calling. Just tell the operator whom you wanted and she would either know the number or find it for you. The operator was expected to be a source of information, like who had died when one heard the church bell toll. And then there were the line calls. Someone could pay to have a notice or advertising broadcast to all of the phones. Cousin LaVerne should have some good stories from her time as an operator during her high school years.

Phone numbers in the immediate area of Concordia were one, two, or three digit numbers. Our home phone was 121 while the creamery was 34. Uncle Bill Klingenberg had the telephone #1 at his station and ice house. You may have noticed that I made the opening clip in the ‘Scenes around town’ segment of Dad’s old movies that of Uncle Bill driving off in his truck with Telephone 1 painted on the rear side board. He was quite proud of that number.

People in the countryside with party lines had four digit numbers. One would know if the call was for them by the number of shorts and longs in the ring. Of course, anyone on the same line could and did listen in on the calls. It was like an open bulletin board and provided many of the farmer’s wives with a source of news. One could not discuss anything very private on their phone. Some of the women would openly comment on how they heard about something by listening on the party line. When you called someone and waited for the person to answer, you would hear a series of clicks as others picked up their phone receivers. John Schnakenberg used to tap on or blow into the microphone to annoy those evesdroppers.

I understand that there was a fair amount of opposition to the new phone system that was installed in 1959. Was it because they lost their line call service or was it because they lost their source of news and gossip?
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