THE TELEPHONE IN UTAH
Final transcontinental telephone pole, 17 June 1914
The telephone or "harmonic telegraph" as it was first called,
was invented in June 1875 by Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson.
Inventors and gadgeteers throughout the country soon picked up on the idea.
A.M. Munser secured the rights to introduce the telephone in Utah. The first
demonstration in Salt Lake City took place on 1 March 1879 between the residence
of L.E. Holden on South Temple and Fort Douglas.
Soon there were small systems in Utah that resembled intercoms rather than
phone systems as we know them today. In March 1880 telephone exchanges were
licensed to operate in Ogden and Salt Lake City. The Ogden exchange, known
as "The Ogden Telephone Exchange Company," began operating in
September with twenty four lines and thirty phones under the National Bell
Telephone Company. The Salt Lake City exchange began operation in April
1881 under the American Bell Telephone Company. The major difference between
the two national companies was their financial backing. J.P. Morgan backed
the American Bell Telephone Company, which developed into the American Telephone
and Telegraph Company in 1907 and eventually absorbed most of its competitors.
The first technology was primitive. Phone wires leading from the exchange
office to subscribers were strung from housetop to housetop, but the Salt
Lake City exchange, especially, grew rapidly. By 1890 there were over 500
subscribers; by 1900 there were more than 1,200.
Other systems also grew; and with the growth came consolidation. In June
1881 the Utah Telephone Company was formed to provide service to all of
Utah. In February 1883 the Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone Company was incorporated
and licensed by the American Bell Telephone Company to serve the states
of Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. In 1911 the Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone
Company became part of the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company.
Long-distance service began with lines between Salt Lake City and Park City
in 1883. Service between Salt Lake and Ogden was then opened, and by the
early 1890s long-distance lines had been built as far south as Nephi and
as far north as Preston, Idaho. Other rural systems were established around
the turn of the century; for example, a line connecting Moab and Monticello
was finished in 1906. However, for some time only one telephone was available
in Monticello, at the local store.
Nationally, phone wires were being strung to link the country as the telegraph
and railroads had done in the 1860s. The span between Salt Lake City and
Wendover was a problem. At times the working temperature was 130 degrees
and the glare made working in the daytime almost impossible. The final pole
was set and wires strung on 28 July 1914 at Wendover to complete the first
transcontinental phone line in the United States.
Following the completion of the transcontinental telephone line, telephone
service expanded throughout the state. By the mid-twentieth century nearly
all homes, offices, businesses, farms, and ranches within the state had
access to telephone service.
In 1993 telephone service was provided to over 800,000 access lines in Utah.
The telephone company is attempting to compete with other information providers
and expand the definition of "telephony" to include all aspects
of telecommunications. When early in the twentieth century local phone companies
joined with other providers to become Mountain Bell and American Telephone
and Telegraph, the resulting giant telephone company earned the charge of
monopoly. It was forced to break up in 1984 into what were called "Baby
Bells"--regional service companies. In the Intermountain West, the
regional company was US West, which provided service in fourteen western
states. The new companies were restrained from going into the fields of
information services, the manufacture of equipment, and the extending of
long-distance phone lines. As compensation, they could join in the growing
computer industry. Located in one of the most rapidly growing areas of the
country, US West has formed business combinations and alliances to meet
the new competition from other phone companies. They (and the other phone
companies) have expanded services and are attempting to define a telecommunications
business to meet and claim a share of the future in information services
related to computers, networks, modems, faxes, satellite and cellular transmissions,
and many other (and future) technological communication breakthroughs of
the present era.
Jay M. Haymond