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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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The Telephone

The Telephone

GRHC - December 30th, 2009

Grand Rapids Historical Commission and the Community Media Center present the local history radio project, "Glance at the Past". Today, the telephone makes a house call to Grand Rapids.



During the early development of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell gave two samples to his friend, J. W. Converse, who brought them to Grand Rapids as an experimental venture. Converse held considerable real estate here and was the owner of extensive plaster quarries.

The first pair of telephones was connected by a telegraph line from the plaster company's office on Monroe to the plaster mill on the west side. On the evening of October 30th, 1877, when the new instruments were tested, there was great excitement. There were doubters among those gathered at each end of that first telephone line in West Michigan. Few had heard of the telephone; fewer believed it was possible to talk any distance over a piece of solid wire.

Grand Rapids was progressive and quickly saw the practical value of the telephone. The first exchange opened in 1879, but only day service was provided until 1884, when night service was added.

In 1896 the Citizens Telephone Company began competing with the Bell system. Citizens introduced the dial telephone to the state. The use of automatic dial equipment, first used in January of 1904, made the company a formidable competitor. Grand Rapids was the first large city in the country to have dial service, and for some time it boasted the largest automatic exchange in the world.

Customers of one phone company could only place calls or receive them from someone who used the same service. Businesses needed service from Citizens and Bell to accommodate all their customers. In 1923 when the Michigan State Telephone Company assumed control of Citizen's, customers could finally call anyone in the city.




Full Details

TitleThe Telephone
KeywordsGlance at the Past, streets, telephone, phone, Bell, radio, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission
Pubdate StringDecember 30th, 2009

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