This is the History Corner, right? So, you may be wondering about the title…well, just sit back and see just what the title means. The word telecommunication is a compound of Greek and Latin with “tell” meaning distant and “communicare” meaning to share. Its written use goes back to 1904, yup 1904. Communication as a word was first used as an English word in the late 14th century!
As a word with today’s understanding, it’s the transmission of information by all types of technology, not exclusive to the 21st century. No indeed. It has its origin in the hope of humans to be able to communicate over a distance greater than their voice. However, many kids of my generation know that our mom could shout the longest distance possible to get you to come home when it was getting dark.
To get you thinking in the history of this article, let’s go out west, to the midwest, down south and surely into New England and watch the smoke rise into the air with special patterns. Communication across miles of land. How about ships at sea with flags moving in patterns, telling important information. For a moment think about the light houses that used to dot the eastern coast…communication.
Close your eyes for a minute and listen to the drums, the beat communicating information, horns blown in celebration and whistles…all of it letting us know what people want us to know…in a way we would have understood, so many centuries ago and in many countries, still used today. Homing pigeons have been used throughout history and little did they know they were communicating too.
The 20th century was led in by electrical and electromagnetic technology such as the telegraph, telephone, radio, optic fiber and, of course, communication satellites. The revolution of this wonderment began in 1909 with Guglielmo Marconi, winner of the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics, but he wasn’t alone. There were others who saw the future such as Samuel Morse with the telegraph and Alexander Graham Bell with the telephone. Although the first electrical telegraph was demonstrated by English inventor Sir William Fothergill Cooke, Samuel Morse introduced his telegraph a bit later in 1837 which was considered to be more effective in its transmission.
The conventional telephone, as we know history, was patented by Alexander Bell in 1876 but Elisha Gray also filed for it in 1876, but abandoned it so Bell’s patent was approved. Gray had the timing right, but Bell had written it down and the first to test his variable resistance telephone. The first commercial telephone services were set up by the Bell Telephone Company in 1878 and 1879 in London and…are you ready? New Haven. Yes, New Haven was the first town in the United States to have commercial telephone service.
The telegraph, as the folks out west experienced, was set by wires strung across the land, used by railroads and commercial business as well, but it was a wire-based system. If you watch old movies on television, you have seen the telegraphers, tapping away, making clicking sounds, which was a code of dots and dashes, communicating. Starting in 1894 our man Marconi began developing a wireless communication using radio waves and by 1902 he was able to transmit a signal across the Atlantic Ocean. This was the start of wireless telegraphy by radio. By 1904 a commercial service was established to transmit nightly news summaries to subscribing ships, which could then be incorporated into their on-board newspapers.
The saying goes that time flies…well it seems to have flown in telecommunications as seen by WW I with the development of radio for military communications and after the war, commercial radio, AM broadcasting which began in the 1920s for entertainment. With the onset of WW II, there was an explosion of international broadcasting propaganda. Countries and their government, insurgents and terrorists have all used telecommunication to promote propaganda. Seoul City Sue was North Korea’s answer to propaganda. She was not just a voice on episodes of M.A.S.H.
The Orange Historical Society is launching a telephone exhibit based on the history of S.N.E.T., a New Haven based telecommunication. In a telephone network, the caller is connected to the person they wish to talk to by switches at various telephone exchanges. On Orange Center Road, we have such an exchange where our landlines are connected in and out as we call and answer our landlines. The switches form an electric connection and dialing each number brings the caller closer to its destination. Once the connection is made the voice of the caller is transformed into an electoral signal using the microphone in the handset.
The signal then goes to the receiver of the handset of the person called…did you get all that? It’s not that simple, of course. The first communication system in our town was a telegraph line, privately owned and installed between the homes of Edward Clark and his brother Elias who lived just over the town line in Woodbridge. This line started in 1880 using the dots and dashes of the Morse Code system. In about 1895, the first telephone system was undertaken as a single, private, party line from the homes of Sylvester Colburn, Charles Clark and Arthur Clark extending to Scobie’s store, the grocery store with a switchboard. You know, the little white building across from the shopping center on Orange Center Road.
When the number of subscribers increased to forty-eight, the town system was taken over by the Southern New England Telephone Company (S.N.E.T.) on October 13, 1908 becoming known as the Orange Telephone Exchange. We have some wonderful photographs of the operators who worked out of a small part of a home on Orange Center Road, then owned by Alpheus Merwin. You can still see the small section on the right side of the home at 669.
By 1938, the Orange Exchange was incorporated with the New Haven Exchange with 288 telephones here in town. Soon the dial system was added, doing away with the central office and alas our operators who would say, “number please” were no longer needed. Our exhibit starts out with the telegraph and goes up to a 1994 Linx car phone with many examples Western Electric /Southern New England Telephone phones in between. If you watch a lineman working on a phone line with a bucket in the air, come see what the linemen used to wear to climb the poles to fix your phone. Did I say climb? We have a great selection of S.N.E.T. publicity photos, one of which shows a group of men being trained to climb a telephone pole and if they were successful, they would retrieve their check at the top.
We will be open soon so watch for the sign outside the Academy. With 2022, the Academy Museum will be open with historical displays every Saturday from 10-3 and you can see the phone exhibit as well as browse through the historical exhibits. See you soon.