With Lips As Close As Possible To The Mouthpiece: Albany Telephones, 1895

Telephone service dates to the 1870s, with the National Bell Telephone Company being formed in 1879, and a long-distance operation by the name of American Telephone and Telegraph formed in 1885. Even as late as 1895, telephone service was rare enough that AT&T was able to publish a national telephone directory, listing all the customers on its system who were connected to the long distance system by “metallic-circuit lines;” it ran about 470 pages. Granted, there were many other small telephone companies, but these were the customers who had reason and means to be connected to the rest of the world.

The directory, in its general information section, said:

For the convenience of persons not subscribers to local exchanges, telephones have been located at the various telephone offices and toll stations established at all points connected with this system. Messages can be sent collect if satisfactory to the receiver.

Customers desiring to communicate with persons not connected directly with this system can arrange to have appointments made by the Central Office.

Albany was well-represented with phone service in 1895. Of the couple of hundred customers connected to the long distance system, the vast majority were businesses – law offices, railroads, paints and hardware, and everything else. There were some residences, but they were dwarfed by the businesses. The Capitol was well-wired; Governor had three phones, one in the Executive Mansion, one in his Private Office, and one at his stable on Congress Street (now Spring Street). Among the private customers were pretty much every historic business we would know from that period of Albany history: Beverwyck Brewing, Billy Barnes (both at his residence and at the Evening Journal), Hilton Bridge Construction Company, Hudson Valley Paper Company, F.C. Huyck Felt Mills, Grange Sard, Weed-Parsons Printing. It goes on and on. Spencer Trask & Company had a special terminal for long distance service only. Thomas Willard, Chief of Police, had a phone at his residence at 69 South Ferry St.

The public stations, where anyone could go to make a long distance call, were at these locations:

Lane, J.M. – Bath (now Rensselaer) – J.M. Lane was an undertaker.

Keeler’s Hotel – Broadway & Maiden

Consolidated Transfer Co.– Delavan House

Blanchard, M.L. – Delmar – Marcus L. Blanchard was a Bethlehem politician.

Belknap, J.C. – Greenbush – Belknap was a grocer.

Sloan’s Hotel – Guilderland

West End Pharmacy – Madison av & Ontario

Millerick, J.S. – North Albany

O’Sullivan, M. – North Albany

Kenmore – North Pearl

Daly, T.J. – 71 North Pearl

Stevens, J.P., Hotel – Slingerlands

Union Depot

Capitol – Wash. Av. Ent.

Bennett House – West Albany

So, if you went to one of the public stations, you might have wanted some advice on how to work this newfangled gadget:

A careful observance of the following will aid materially in securing good service:

To call Central Office, give the bell crank one sharp turn; then take the hand telephone from the hook; place it firmly against the ear and listen for the operator, who should answer, “What number?” Give the operator the location and number of the station desired. For example: “NEW YORK: Cortlandt 1520;” “CHICAGO: Main 52.” The operator will then repeat back your order, and may, to avoid errors and to expedite the service, ask for further information in relation to the station called for.

In talking, speak directly into the transmitter, with lips as close as possible to the mouthpiece. When you are through talking, return the hand telephone to the hook; give the bell crank one sharp turn, to notify the operator that you have completed your conversation.

Answer your calls promptly. It is impossible to give quick service unless this is done . . .

Customers will confer a favor by reporting, in writing, any lack of courtesy, overcharge or unsatisfactory service, to Edward J. Hall, General Manager, No. 18 Cortlandt Street, New York.

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