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Notes from the Paynesville Historical Society. . .

Phone service in Paynesville
dates back to at least 1906

By Dolores Hislop

Our world is based on communication with e-mail and cell phones in almost every home. People who lived in Paynesville in earlier years relied on the mail service or the telegraph to relay messages until the phone service began.

In 1875, Alexander Graham Bell, who was a student of electricity and its application, was working with strips of clock springs. He built a transmitter and a receiver and called it the "harmonic telegraph." While experimenting with this invention, he discovered the way to make a speaking telephone.

Within 40 years, phone service stretched across the nation. There were telephone poles and wires in towns and in the countryside. Residents were happy to have phones installed. Tens of thousands of miles of these trunk lines interconnected various central offices.

For every conversation, two telephones must be connected. Operators made the connections for you through a switchboard. A small electric bulb lit up on the switchboard whenever the phone receiver was taken off the hook. In front of the operator were several short cords of paired wire. The telephone cord was shaped at each end like a plug to fit into the holes on the switchboard, called jacks.

The operator wore a head set which left her hands free to handle the cords and the switches in front of her. Her own head set connected with all of the cords but it is also shut off from each cord by a separate switch. The switch is also called "a listening key."

When a receiver was taken off the hook, a signal light came on the switchboard. The operator picked up the cord and plugged the cord into the jack on the switchboard. She then opened the circuit connecting her to your phone. You then told the operator who you wished to speak to. Each phone line was numbered and the switchboard was arranged in numerical order on the panel in front of her. She would take the proper cord and plug it into the switchboard which would connect you to the requested party and she would then activate the ringer of the phone. A signal light close to the cord the operator was using would light up and stay lit until the person would take the receiver off the hook. She then knew the phone was answered.

The operator also had to be careful not to interrupt a phone conversation. She would tip the plug toward the jack and if the line was busy, a little clicking sound was heard in her head set. If she didn't hear this, she pushed the plug all the way into the jack and then would place the call.

If one called to another city, the operator found an open trunk line and inserted the plug into the switchboard. She would speak to the distant operator to give the number needed and the distant operator connected the trunk line to your party. Timing devices were also used by the operators to keep track of the length of the conversation.

The Paynesville area had phone service by 1906 when 91 phones were in Paynesville. The phone office was located over the Security State Bank on James Street. It was later moved in 1949 to the new building on the corner of Washburne Avenue and Hoffman Street (Hwy. 23).

The wall telephone was about 30 inches long by 12 inches wide and used batteries which were replaced as needed. Some people used a wind generator to recharge the batteries.

We invite you to come to the museum to see the many items in the telephone exhibit. You can see the "crank-style" phone, a wind generator, and many types of phones used in Paynesville.

The museum guides for the summer are Mark Braun and Dolores Hislop. The museum is now open for the summer or you may call the museum at 320-243-7547, if you desire any information. We look forward to your visit.

(Some information for this article was taken from "The Magic of Communi-cation" by John Mills and "Paynesville, Year 125" by the Paynesville Historical Society.)