Sunday, October 25, 2009

October 23, 1909 - Rensselaer Home Telephones

100 Years Ago: From The Rensselaer Eagle [NY 41 Rensselaer 93-32173].


More Than 200 Telephones Have Been Installed Thus Far and More Will Be Connected Up as Fast as Men Can Do The Work

The first 200 Home telephones have been installed in the city and today are being connected so that by Monday of next week they will be in good working order. ... The advent of the new telephone system has been awaited with no little interest by a number of business men of the city who believe that the new company will give good service at a low cost.

Rensselaer has hundreds of railroad men who are usually called on the telephone. They will be enabled to install the new independent 'phone at a small cost per month and are assured of being called when needed.

The cable that was recently strung across the river is the largest submarine construction of its kind in this section of the country. It carries 300 pairs of wires which will be more than sufficient to handle the increased business of the company for a long time to come.
One end of the big switch board in the central office in Albany has been reserved for the use of the Rensselaer business. ... When you pick up your receiver in this city and ask for a party in Albany you will get a much quicker response than if you were first obliged to ask for the number from a local operator and she in turn transmits it to Albany to another operator.

The telephones in use are of the well known Dean make which are manufactured at Elyria, O. ... The company proposes to have a Rensselaer directory of its own and to give Rensselaer a place on the telephone map.
There are some clues to the technology in this article, but not enough. Telephone systems in 1909 could either be "magneto" or "common battery", and Dean Electric Co. of Elyria, OH (one of the largest manufacturers) made equipment for both. I can't determine which system Albany had, to know which equipment was installed in Rensselaer.

Magneto systems were rung by turning a crank on the phone, generating a voltage to ring the switchboard operator (and all the other phones on that circuit of the party line). A big battery on each customer's phone provided power for transmitting the voice. (See April 1913, Popular Mechanics, "Practical Telephony - Part I"). You can see a Dean Electric 1908 mageneto wall phone at

Common Battery systems were more modern, easier to install and cheaper to maintain. (Albany Home Telephone's central exchange may have pre-dated adoption of the common battery systems.) The customer's set didn't need a bulky magneto generator to ring, or a big battery to talk, since the power was supplied from the central office. This allowed for smaller wall phone cabinets and slim "candlestick" desk sets like these.

In 1905, Dean Electric filed a patent for a Party Line Telephone System (Patent 842,772) with selective signaling, an innovation which would ring only the intended party's phone. This must have made listening in on your neighbors' conversations a bit more challenging...
On the party line, 1917
Billy Murray (Vocalist), Jack Mahoney (lyricist), Percy Wenrich (composer)
Listen | Download MP3 (#3246) | Download Sheet Music PDF

When a girl says "Bill, I love you so," And your wife's voice says "Is that you, Joe?" Then it's fifty fifty, boy, you know,
When you're talking on the party line.

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