Two previous articles to this one have been tracing how our kinfolk might have communicated with each other here in the U.S. after
1860. We started with the Pony Express, watched its rapid replacement by the telegraph and now we have a look at about when the telephone enters the picture.
This gadget has a much more involved history than those past two forms of 19th century communication and unlike the Pony Express, the telegraph enjoyed a pretty long run before a replacement would come along and render it less useful. There is much written on this topic, for our purposes I just want to share an overview. My only interest in this topic is in having an understanding of how my ancestors might have been able to share family news with each other in their time. This kind of information just rounds out their stories as I try to construct them using various records and family lore gathered over time.
Around 1875 Alexander Graham Bell was gaining traction in experimenting with telegraph lines to communicate the human voice. He got funding from investors, some of them associated with the telegraph industry. Ironically, the telegraph industry was eager to see Bell’s experiments evolve, they were interested in generating more telegraph messages across existing telegraph lines to meet the growing demand for their services.
Amusing is the fact that Bell offered all rights to the patent for the telephone to Western Union in 1876 or thereabouts for a mere
$100,000 and they declined! Western Union’ president said the telephone was nothing but a toy. Just two years later the president of Western Union lamented if he could get that same patent for $25 million he would count it as a bargain. By then, Bell didn’t want to sell it and in 1877 the Bell Telephone Company opened for business.
By 1886 over 150,000 people in the U.S. had a telephone. If you do some exploring you can find a lot of detailed history on AT&T’s website and in hundreds of places all over the web.