WAY WE WERE: Telephones come to town

These days everybody has a phone. Usually within quick reach.

 

It is hard for us to imagine that there was once a time when instant communication was not so easy.

But it was a summer day in 1879 that all that changed.

Seventy-seven subscribers had signed up for Augusta’s first telephone service.

Telephones were so novel in July 1879 that The Chronicle reported a list of everyone who owned one — almost all were businesses.

(The no-call list probably arrived soon after.)

That summer 138 years ago, the American Speaking Telephone Co. opened in the Western Union Telegraph office, then at 617 Broad S.

The Chronicle was one of the first customers to embrace the new technology.

“The development of the system has barely commenced and it seems impossible to foresee any limit to its extensions,” the newspaper wrote.

The local phone company, which soon became known as the Augusta Telephone and Telegraph Co., grew – by 1900, it had 901 customers.

One of the new phone service’s milestones took place Feb. 19, 1895, when Augusta and Aiken were connected. A member of The Chronicle’s staff made the first call to the South Carolina city 20 miles away.

Southern Bell took over Augusta Telephone in 1905, also taking over its 2,297-phone system.

Expansion took off, and by 1910 there were 4,215 telephones in town. By 1960 there were 57,000.

Today? Who knows?

Telephones are not only communication devices, but also cameras, compilers, computers and companions.

Welcome to the information age.

Reach Bill Kirby at bill.kirby@augustachronicle.com

 

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