The Advent of the First Telephone Used in Macon
By Merlyn Amidei
Mr. Jim Bolin gave me this article taken from Macon Daily Chronicle - September 16, 1914. It was also printed in the Macon Republican September 18, 1914 - titled The First Telephone (1876) Page 1.
E. B. Dabney our local jeweler tells us that he made the first telephone ever used in Macon County. At the time - in the 1870's - he was a chum of Professor J.A. Cook, the Macon astronomer. Professor Cook was then night operator for the Burlington at Macon. They had a friend at Brookfield who was night operator there and the telephone was connected to the telegraph wires between the two towns. They had no way of calling or ringing and at night when the wires were quiet they would call their friends with the telegraph instrument and would then talk over the telephone. The instrument was similar to the receivers on the modern telephone and had no transmitter - that is, you talked and listened through the same instrument. At that time the telephone was in the experimental stage and what few existed were private lines and mostly confined to the last. When the Bell Company patented their phone and entered the County the fun was all over with the young experimenters. - Atlanta Express
When the above was shown to Mr. Cook Wednesday morning he smiled with pleasure at the recollection.
"I remember that very well indeed," said Mr. Cook. "It was in the year 1875, I am pretty sure. I was night operator at the Wabash depot then Tom Beeler was the day man. R.W. Caswell, postmaster, was also interested in the enterprise.
"There had been some talk about the wonderful new instruments, which they called telephone and we decided to send for some and connect them with our telegraph wires. I think we got about ten phones. We called them phones but they were only receivers, rather rough ones at that, compared with the sort in use today. We would talk and listen through the same instrument. The parts were assembled here. At that time there were no phones in operation nearer than Hannibal. They had one in the general offices of the Hannibal and St. Joseph railroad there.
"We hitched our phones to the telegraph wires and when they were not busy we would talk over by power.
"Our little homemade plant worked about as well as the regular telephone system does now. We had no regular system of calling, however.
"Brookfield became interested in our enterprise and at the request of the people over there we sent them five of our phones. I remember one night we had a party down at the depot and an organ. There was some music for the edification of the people at Brookfield. They also had a large party over there listening at the end of the wire.
"By and by our singers began to go home and I was left alone at the office, but still the calls from Brookfield kept coming. The railroad men who were going out on their night runs would go to the phones and call up Macon and ask to hear a singer, so I went out and found George Brown, then a young man connected with the railroad, and he came in and sang for them until he got so hoarse he couldn't sing anymore. I had talked and talked and talked until I couldn't speak above a whisper.
"George is now running between Cameron and Kansas City as baggage man. Whenever I see him he speaks about the time when the Brookfielders made him sing himself half to death.
"There were some controversies among the people here as to whether the telephone would ever be an article of practical utility. The telegraphers were confident it would never put them out of business. It was quite a while after that before telephone service was installed here. It seemed such a simple thing that the wonder is after its invention its use did not become almost general right at the time."
For more information on the telephone and Macon, please click here to read these related stories - Theodore Gary and Telephone Growth: The Real Story and Chariton Telephone.