Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tulsa's Telephone History

If you are of a certain age, you remember telephones with rotary dials and know what an exchange name was.  I remember these Tulsa exchanges:  Luther, Webster, Temple, Riverside, National, Madison and Cherry.  There was also Hickory, Gibson, Diamond, Fillmore 5 and General - to name most of them.  The first exchanges listed in the 1918 directory are Osage and Cedar.  

Tulsa went to all-dial equipment in 1924 when there were 24,300+ telephones in the booming city.  Before that, there were The Telephone Girls who would connect you via switchboard.
This group of Tulsa Telephone Girls are posing at the northeast corner of Third and Main Streets in 1913. 

Did you know that Indian Territory was among  the first regions to be served by Alexander Graham Bell’s 1876 invention?  The reason being that 1876 was the year of Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn.  The military was doing everything possible to improve it’s communications when the first telephone line (in what was to become Oklahoma) went into service between  Fort Sill and Fort Reno in 1879.  The military was concerned with the supervision of the Indian reservations in western Indian Territory.

The Indians themselves financed and built the first commercial telephone line in I.T. back in 1886.  It was installed between Tahlequah and Muskogee via Ft. Gibson by the Cherokees - to connect the Cherokees with the Five Civilized Tribes agency at Muskogee.

These men are constructing the telephone lines in McAlester circa 1909
Tulsa service was begun in 1899 with an exchange that served some 80 subscribers by Robert H. Hall.  His first central office was located on the second floor of a stone building on the northwest corner of First and Main Streets.  The lines extended out a window to connect the switchboard with a pole outside.  

Northwest Corner of First and Main

This is Mr. Hall and Mrs. McDowell in 1903.

Hall sold his exchange on January 16, 1903 to the Indian Territory Telephone Company (out of Vinita) who was then purchased by Pioneer Co, predecessor in Oklahoma of Southwestern Bell, on July 8, 1904.

There was a story told back in 1906 that if someone called for a taxi, the Telephone Girl would simply lean out of the window and shout to the drivers (of horse-drawn hacks) who were below.  At that time, the telephone office was located on the second floor of the Bynum Building (NW corner of Main and Second) and there were 280 telephones in Tulsa.

Northwest Corner of Main and Second
Soon Pioneer began construction of their own building on the southwest corner of Fourth and Boston, which was the former site of the First Presbyterian Church.  The workers stayed at a nearby boarding house during that time.  

When the building was nearly done, they proudly posed in front of their work.  
Southwestern Bell took over the system in 1917 and remained Tulsa’s phone service provider until the breakup of the company in 1984.


Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Awesome photographs and great history.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! Very interesting. I work for a phone company so this is very interesting to me.


Unknown said...

What year did they start using letters instead of the first two numbers was it 1958