First Telephone Exchange in West Virginia

Wheeling News Register
May 15, 1938


Exchange in Basement of Peoples Bank Building, Twelfth and Main Wheeling can well be called the cradle of the telephone industry in West Virginia. On May 15, 1880, a central office, the first in the "Mountain State," was placed in service in the basement of the Peoples Bank of Wheeling building, Twelfth and Main streets, now the Hazlett building, by the Central District and Printing Telegraph company, predecessors of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company of West Virginia.

The first subscribers to the telephone system in Wheeling included the Daily Intelligencer; Daily Register, Franklin Insurance Co., Greer & Laing, hardware dealers; C. H. Booth and Son, steamship agents; Henry Seamon, steamship agent; New McLure House, Hobbs, Brockunier & Co., Whitaker Iron Works, Riverside Iron Works, Riverside Nail Mill, Riverside Blast furnace, Riverside Iron Works, office, Main street.

Benwood Iron Works office, Fourteenth street; Benwood Blast Furnace, Martins Ferry; Benwood Nail Mills, Benwood; Henry Schmulbach, Market street; Nail City Brewing Co., Fountain Saloon and Restaurant, H. W. List, D. C. List, Jr., Logan, List & Co., druggists; Charles E. Dwight, druggist; Dr. George Baird, Dr. T. O. Edwards, Dr. B. W. Allen, Justice William Phillips.

City Gas Works office, City Gas Works, A. T. Sweeney & Sons, foundry; Wheeling Iron and Nail Co., Top Mill, Brown & Good, Joseph Speidel & Co., J. A. Holliday, C. Y. Lucas, Dr. Eugene Hoge, Dr. R. H. Bullard, A. Young, drug store, Island; State House officers: Governor A. [sic] M. Matthews, Cochran & Cochran, attorneys; Joseph Bell & Co., Buckeye Glass Co., Central Glass Co., Exchange Bank, Mount de Chantal academy, St. Joseph's Convent, Laughlin and Co., Nail Mills; Laughlin & Co., offices, and Wheeling Pottery.

Crude Switchboard

The crude switchboard of this first central office was installed in the basement of the Peoples Bank of Wheeling building at the corner of Twelfth and Main streets, but later was moved to the third floor of the same building. At first, as was the practice in the few other central offices then in operation in the larger cities of the United States, boys were employed as operators.

The boys objected to the telephone company replacing them with girls and did everything they could to make the employment conditions unpleasant for the young women.

They tried to freeze them out in the winter time by opening the windows and doors while they themselves wore coats and mittens so that they might not be too uncomfortable.

Also, they smoked cheap cigars and in other ways showed their objection to the employment of girls, but they were not discouraged and soon learned the work and became much more proficient in every way than the boys could ever expect to be.

One of the first boy operators in Wheeling was Harry Drummond, while among the first girl operators was Miss Mattie Miner.

The Early Days

Miss Miner in commenting on those early days says:

"One operator could not answer a number on another position unless the number came in at the end of the position, and then if the position was occupied the operator at that position would object if another operator answered her subscribers. Occasionally the subscribers would notice that it was not their operator answering, and make inquiry as to "Where's Annie" or "Lizzie."

"We answered subscribers by saying, 'Hello,' no repetition: every one called by name. There were no telephone directories, just lists of subscribers' names, and each operator was required to memorize the names and numbers of all the subscribers before she was considered capable of taking a position. I learned the names and numbers of the business houses by walking home with my sister, looking at the stores and finding out what the telephone numbers were. We would take first one street and then another and it was not a bad way, for I learned both the telephone number and the kind of business the subscriber was engaged in, and sometimes saw the owner of the store.

"We had no protection from lightning before 1889. At that time lightning struck the tower on the roof of the building and Wheeling had no telephone service for almost a week. The people were indeed glad to hear the `Hello' again."

Moving of Company
After the first switchboard, which was located in the basement of the Peoples Bank of Wheeling building, had been in use for several years, it was moved to the third floor of the same building, where it remained until 1898, at which time the switchboard had been increased to eight positions and served about 300 telephones.

In 1898 the company purchased property at 1501 Chapline street, on which they erected a two-story brick building, in which a No. 1 common battery switchboard, the first board of this type in the state, was installed. The service was transferred to the new office April 19, 1899, at which time there were 1,000 telephones in Wheeling.

The Present Building

In 1915, property was purchased adjacent to the Chapline street building, on which a four-story brick and concrete fireproof building was constructed and in which switchboards of the latest type were installed.

The service was transferred to this new office August 3, 1918, at which time a merger was made with the Consolidated Telephone company. The offices affected by this merger were Wheeling, Elm Grove, Warwood, Woodsdale (formerly Altenheim), Benwood and Moundsville.

Other offices in the Wheeling district included Woodsdale, which was established April 18, 1893, and was just moved into new and permanent quarters located on the National highway between Edgington Lane and Bae Mar Place. The service was transferred to the new equipment March 27 of this year. Service was established at Elm Grove October 10, 1896, and at Warwood February 13, 1906.

As an indication that there was a real need for telephone service in greater Wheeling, it is found that there are about 90,000 calls made in the combined offices daily. In addition about 1,500 long distance calls are made through the toll office here each day.

The services of about 200 telephone operators are now required to handle the service in the several offices in Greater Wheeling.

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