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Early Days

of

Telephone Service

by Jane Peterson Bouley

 

            Branford had an early involvement in the development of telephone service in the region and with the founding of Southern New England Telephone. The first telephone call in Branford was made in 1879 by Thorvald hammer from the railroad station to Thomas Kennedy at the Branford Locks Works. The two men later recalled that they both tried to talk at the same time. Previous to telephone service, errand boys were paid 20 cents to deliver messages. Shortly after the Civil War a telephone was constructed by Sylvester pond out of 40 feet of twine, two small boxes and some chamois skin. This archaic device was successfully connected from several houses to B.W. Calkinís Store on Rogers street.

            There was a small Branford telephone office in 1888 located on Rogers Street and the first Branford switchboard was installed in 1895 serving 77 telephones which included nine in Stony Creek and two in North Branford. Dr. Charles W. Gaylord had telephone #9 and the Malleable Iron Fittings Company #22. A toll call to New Haven cost 10 cents. By 1910 there were 513 telephones in town an 1948 over 73,000. SNET built a home at 17 Wilford Avenue in 1902 for Branfordís telephone operator Emma Auger. The Auger family occupied the home which included a switchboard on the first floor. The fire department alarm was hooked into the telephone system and it was Emma who alerted the firemen.

            SNET moved the Branford operation to 896 Main Street in 1913 and the downstairs was rented as a shop. The switchboard was located upstairs, and employed 10 to 23 Branford women depending on the season. Marguerite Monroe served as Branfordís chief operator for over 35 years. When Branford was converted to dial in 1949 the entire switchboard operation was moved to New Haven. In 1947 SNET purchased the site of the former Center School at the corner of Main Street and Harrison Avenue. This SNET office building is still in operation today.

            Of particular importance to the history of early telephony was Thomas B. Doolittle, who owned Thimble Farms in Pine Orchard. He began his telephone career in 1877 and started the Bridgeport exchange. He joined AT&T in 1880 becoming the first vice president. He designed the first switchboard ever manufactured and held many telephone patents including the use of hard drawn copper wire for underground cable. The first transcontinental telephone call was made by him in San Francisco to his family in Pine Orchard through the Branford switchboard in 1915. His son Charles B. Doolittle was one of the founders of SNET and served as its secretary and treasurer for over 50 years.

 

 

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