Telephone History in New Hampshire
Copyright 2011 by Ronald B. Standler
Table of Contents
- Connections to customers
- Business history
- My Photographs of old telephone company buildings
near Concord, NH.
- list of independent local telephone operating
companies in New Hampshire
- Museums of Telephone Equipment
- links to history of telephones in the USA
This webpage discusses some of the history of telephone system in the USA,
with emphasis on the system in the state of New Hampshire.
In the early 1900s, telephone wires ran between each customer and a local
"Central Office", which was staffed by a human operator.
To make a call, one would would remove
the handset from the hook, crank the generator to ring the bell at the Central
Office. The operator would respond, and the customer would tell the operator
the telephone number (or name of the called party). The operator would
say "I will connect you." and connect a patch cable between the calling party
and the called party. That completed the connection.
In the 1920s to 1970s, telephones came with a rotary dial, and the user could
dial the sequence of digits in the called party's number, and equipment
at the Central Office would automatically connect the calling party to the
called party. For long-distance calls, the caller would dial "0" for
operator, and have a human operator make the connection. For non-Bell
operating companies in rural locations, human operators for local calls
persisted into the 1950s in some places.
In the year 1963, Western Electric introduced push-button telephones
that emitted tone(s) to identify the number, instead of a series of clicks
from mechanical switches on a rotary dial.
Two developments changed the design of Central Offices.
First, automatic switching had eliminated human operators in the Central Office.
Second, cold-war concerns about reliable communications during and
after a nuclear war. Beginning in the late 1950s, the
Central Office buildings were reinforced, electro-magnetically shielded,
Today few people, except the engineers involved in the design and construction,
remember these improvements to Central Office buildings.
Beginning in the 1960s, a person in the USA could directly dial anyone in the USA
without needing to speak with a human operator.
Initially, each town had their own telephone company. In some places in the USA
(e.g., Rochester, NY and Cincinnati, Ohio)
this old practice of having a local telephone company
still persists. In most of the USA, local telephone companies were absorbed by
a state or regional company (e.g., New England Telephone served most of Massachusetts,
Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine).
Long-distance voice service was provided exclusively by American Telephone
& Telegraph (AT&T). Telephones used by customers of the Bell System
were manufactured in the USA by Western Electric,
a subsidiary of the Bell Telephone System.
Because copper wire was expensive and labor-intensive to string on poles,
it was natural for telephone service to be a monopoly, in the same way
as water mains or electric power.
The long-distance network of long cables on poles had a repeater
(i.e., amplifier) every 5 to 15 miles. Each repeater was contained in
a small, windowless shack near a telephone pole.
By the 1970s, much of the long-distance telephone network was carried
by microwave radio transmissions between tall towers. It was easier
for companies to erect competing microwave networks, compared with
the prohibitive cost of erecting a competing long-distance network of
cables with copper wires. Beginning in the year 1961,
long-distance service was also carried by communications satellites in orbit
around the Earth. More recently, communications have been carried
on fiber-optic cables, which have more bandwidth than copper wire.
Government regulators adopted a policy of "universal access" to telephone
service, which meant that local telephone service was inexpensive, to encourage
everyone to have a telephone. In contrast, long-distance calls were
very expensive. I can remember in the early 1960s, when a long-distance
telephone call to a home was something special (e.g., a Christmas greeting,
an announcement that a relative was hospitalized in serious condition,
or someone had died).
This organization worked well until 1984, when Judge Harold Greene
declared the Bell Telephone System to be a monopoly, and he deregulated the
telephone system. The deregulation had several major effects:
- Seven regional corporations were created to take over local service from the
former companies in the Bell System. Local service in most of New York
state plus most of New England was then provided by the newly created NYNEX.
- Each customer could choose his/her own long-distance
provider (AT&T, MCI, Sprint, as well as companies that leased service from
a larger company like AT&T).
- Companies like NYNEX were no longer required to purchase their telephone
equipment from Western Electric. As a result, consumers began
purchasing cheap telephones made in Asia. Operating companies began
purchasing equipment from Alcatel in France, Nortel in Canada, and other companies.
- After the breakup of the Bell System, local service became more expensive,
and long-distance service became much less expensive.
- The world-famous Bell Telephone Laboratories (e.g., where the transistor
was invented) was supported by profits from the Bell System. After the
breakup of the Bell System, businessmen in the regional operating companies
no longer saw the value in scientific research, and the Bell Laboratories
In 1997, NYNEX merged with Bell Atlantic, which after the merger
was still called Bell Atlantic.
In 2000, Bell Atlantic merged with General Telephone and Electric (GTE) to form
Verizon. In my opinion, that merger was the beginning of the deterioration
in telephone service.
In 2008, Verizon abandoned land-line service (i.e., copper wire from a Central
Office to each customer) in New Hampshire and
thereafter Verizon provided only cellular telephone service.
Fair Point Communications acquired Verizon's land-line telephone network
in New Hampshire.
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In order to preserve the fidelity of the data,
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software. Most of my photographs have the date in day/month/year format
stamped by the camera.
Central Office at 12 South Street in Concord, NH.
Note the microwave tower at the rear of the building, on the right side.
The tower is now probably mostly used for cellular telephones.
I have a dim recollection that behind the current "Fair Point" sign on
the building is the original name "New England Telephone" engraved in concrete.
Central office at 20 Charles Street in Penacook, NH.
Central Office at intersection of Pleasant Street and Appleton Street in Suncook, NH.
View from Pleasant St.
Central Office of Dunbarton Telephone, located at 2 Stark Highway South (NH13)
in Dunbarton, NH. This is one of the few remaining independent telephone companies
in New Hampshire, see the links below.
11 Kearsage Ave. in Contoocook, NH. The big building with windows was
the headquarters of the former Merrimack County Telephone Company, now part
of TDS. The small, windowless building is the central office for Contoocook.
Central office at 6 Western Ave. in Henniker, NH.
Was part of Merrimack County Telephone Company, now part of TDS.
Photo was cropped to remove sky and bank building on right.
Independent Local Telephone Operating Companies
Most of New Hampshire currently has land-line telephone service from
Fair Point Communications.
A few small towns in New Hampshire continue to have
their own independent telephone operating company:
in New Hampshire
There is almost no information on the Internet about the history of these
local operating companies in New Hampshire. There are two books that
I can recommend:
- Bretton Woods Telephone (website requires
password for access) located at 34 Hannah Loop, Bretton Woods, NH.
- Dixville Telephone has no website.
Located on Route 26 in Dixville Notch, NH.
May have another office in Colebrook, NH.
Telephone, located at 2 Stark Highway South in Dunbarton, NH.
- Granite State Telephone is result of
- Chester and Derry Telegraph Company (established 1877),
- Sandown Telephone Company,
- Triangle Telephone Company in Hillsboro Upper Village, NH, and
- Weare Telephone (established 1904), located at
600 South Stark Highway in Weare.
- TDS Telecom is a large
national corporation. TDS absorbed:
- Hollis Telephone Company,
- Kearsage Telephone Company, located at 173 Main Street in New London, NH,
- Merrimack County Telephone Company, located at 11 Kearsarge Ave.
in Contoocook, NH (Merrimack County Tele. Co. is the amalgamation
of Contoocook Valley Tel. Co. (founded 1890),
Hopkinton Tel. Co. (founded 1897), and
West Hopkinton Tel. Co. (founded 1903).)
- Wilton Telephone Company,
- Union Telephone
located at 13 Central Street in Farmington, NH.
Union Tel. was absorbed by TDS in the year 2010.
- Alderic O. Violette, Merrimack County Telephone Company, (1997).
- Eleanor Haskin, Independent Telephony in New England, (1976).
New Hampshire Telephone Museum
at 22 East Main Street in Warner, NH. Established by Dick and Paul Violette,
Chairman and President/CEO of the Merrimack County Telephone Company
in Contoocook, NH.
Telephone Museum in Ellsworth, Maine.
Other websites about telephone history in the USA
Antique Telephone Archive
Photographs of the old New England Telephone headquarters building in downtown
This building was designed in 1939 and constructed in 1947.
Photographs of telephone
central office buildings in the USA. A similar
History of the blue Bell System logo, website by
Telephone Collectors International,
website with technical data on old telephones.
Telephony Document Repository
by Remco Enthoven.
Bell System Memorial Website
by David Massey, includes Western Electric.
David Massey has more historical information.
History of Bell Labs.
Website about AT&T microwave
towers in Utah, by Daryl R. Gibson.
- Kellogg (1897-1990)
- Stromberg-Carlson in Rochester, NY and Chicago, IL
- Western Electric (1872-1995), manufacturing division of the Bell System,
is now defunct. History of
Electric by David Massey.
- International Telephone and Telegraph
My webpage about telephones for
has some remarks on sources of telephones in the USA.
this document is at http://www.rbs2.com/nhtele.htm
first posted 28 July 2011
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