Telegraphs & Telephones
Kane County, Illinois
As railroad fever arrived so did telegraph line fever.
June 1848 a proposal was made to built a telegraph line from Janesville, Wisconsin to Joliet or Ottawa, Illinois by way of Beloit, Rockford, Belvidere, Elgin, St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, Aurora and Oswego but the plan failed to produce the needed financial backing. However, another proposal was floated in May 1849 to link Elgin to Aurora and on to Naperville. Each community needed to raise a $500 subscription and $4,600 for the area along the Fox River. By the winter of 1850 - 1851 the line was in place.
In 1885 the telephone was yet a new invention and practically unheard of in the Fox River Valley. A historian of the time didn't even mention it. But by 1886 the Chicago Telephone Company opened their office on Main Street in St. Charles with PROSPER HEMPSTEAD at the head. By 1908 there were two telephone systems operating in Kane county; the Interstate Telephone Company and the Chicago Telephone Company. However, the Chicago Telephone Company was the only company that could access Chicago numbers.
During the 1950s and 1960s party lines were the way of life. The crank phone was a thing of the past, but dials hadn't yet arrived. A caller just picked up the phone and an operator answered "Number Please". The caller responded with either the number, or just a name and the operator made the connection. The phone number might be something like 424-R2, indicating 2 rings. The operator was an important communications link in the community and had sought after positions. Only the best people were hired. My neighbor, MARIE WHELAN, was an operator who worked at the Geneva switchboard.
Progress arrived and a phone company man came to each home and installed a brand new shiny black phone complete with dial. The phone wires didn't just plug in as they do today. New phone numbers were issued, now with a prefix, SHERWOOD was one from Elgin, JUNO covered St.Charles. You could dial yourself, JU-4-0424. It was long distance to call between Elgin and St. Charles. Somethings haven't changed.
Directory Assistance was free and the phone came as part of the phone service. They repaired everything as part of your regular service. Many of the operators then became directory assistance operators.
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