Today, we take many past technological advances for granted. The women in this photo, however, would presumably have appreciated the “miracle” of the telephone. They were early telephone operators in Lansing, Michigan. When this photo was taken – in 1885 – Lansing had only had phone service for five years.
Lansing Telephone Service: In the Beginning…
Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone in 1876. In 1880, William A. Jackson, general manager of Detroit’s Telephone and Telegraph Construction, established phone service in Lansing (Telephone and Telegraph Construction established phone service in Detroit three years earlier.). At first, only sixty Lansing residents subscribed to the service. The next year, Lansing’s first telephone directory listed ninety-three names (but no telephone numbers). Lansing received a limited amount of long-distance service in early 1883, when a telephone reached to nearby Mason. Later that year, another line reached from Lansing to Detroit. By 1898, Lansing boasted 400 phones and a greatly expanded long distance service.
Lansing Telephones in the Twentieth Century
Alexander Graham Bell’s original telephone patent expired in 1893. As a result, more phone companies formed as the twentieth century approached. In Lansing, the newly-established Citizens phone company competed with the Michigan State company. The competition ended in 1923, when Michigan State bought out Citizens. In 1924, Michigan State became Michigan Bell.
Technological advances changed how people used their phones. In 1902, Lansing’s hand-crank phones were replaced by a “common battery system.” With a common battery phone, a caller could reach an operator by simply lifting the receiver. A modern-style dial operation went into effect shortly after Michigan State/Michigan Bell gained its monopoly in 1923. In 1954, Michigan Bell’s Turner office (located on Jolly Road) became the first Lansing location to use a new phone number system. Under this system – which spread to all of Lansing in 1955 – each phone number consisted of two letters followed by five numerals.
Note on Sources
Information for the above article was taken from pages 2-C and 10-C of the May 24, 1959 State Journal.