A caller in early 1900s Colorado could reach an operator by cranking a magneto
Horace and Augusta Tabor
Leadville Telephone Company Stock Certificate. Note that the certificate is
signed by Horace Tabor, and made out to his wife, Augusta.
Northeast Corner, 16th and
Frederick O. Vaille, owner of the Denver Dispatch Company
Mountain States construction crew in Alma, Colorado, 1902. On horses, left to
right: Joseph O'Laughlin, M.M. Steck, Billy MacCandless, Jim Byrne. Front row,
Left to right: "Yorky" Cameron, Bill Schulty.
Mountain States Telephone
& Telegraph Company was formed in 1911 to serve customers in a seven-state region
In the early 1900s, crews dug holes and raised poles by hand with help from
horses, levers, and spikes.
Colorado long distance service
Imagine calling your neighbor for the first time.
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. Soon cities and towns strung telephone wires between their buildings to help your thoughts fly to neighbors. Later companies strung telephone wires among nearby towns and eventually among nearby states. Your thoughts could fly faster and farther.
Some of the first phones in Colorado connected mining offices to the mines themselves.
Mining magnate Horace Tabor expanded his company system to include the public
in October 1879.
Colorado's first telephone system
The Denver Telephone Dispatch Company opened Colorado's first telephone system in February 1879. Soon after, the Western Union-owned Colorado Edison Telephone Company began competitive operations. On Nov. 10, 1879, the American Bell Company won a patent infringement suit with Western Union. Denver Dispatch, a Bell company, then absorbed the Western Union facilities.
The Denver market had no more competition until 1997, although it continued in smaller Colorado towns and rural areas. If your town had several companies, you could call only people who were served by your company.
What was different from today?
- You could call only a few nearby people.
- Because only a few people could afford telephones, you couldn't call everyone.
- Most phones were in businesses.
- If your home had phone service, your family shared a single phone set. It was fastened to a wire in your house so you couldn't carry it with you.
- If no one answered, you tried later because no one had an answering machine or voice mail.
- You sent slow, expensive telegraph messages to people far away.
- Computers, television and the internet hadn't been invented.
Long-distance calls costly in 1900
In 1900 a 5-minute call from Denver to Leadville cost $1. In today's dollars, the cost would have been $26.40.
Local Phone Systems
"Why do we say 'Hello' when we answer a ringing phone?"