August 15, 1945: The 75th Anniversary of V-J Day

On August 14, 1945, at 7:00 p.m., President Harry S. Truman summoned reporters to the White House for a special announcement. He read a statement from the Emperor of Japan which announced in part, “The unconditional surrender of Japan.” Three years, eight months, and seven days after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, WWII was finally over!

V-J Day (short for Victory in Japan Day) came at a steep price. The United States counted some 418,500 military and civilian deaths during the war. Worldwide, that number neared 60 million! For just a moment, in August 1945, a war-weary world set aside mourning to celebrate the end of WWII. People poured into the streets and church bells rang out. President Truman declared a two-day holiday, and on August 15th, the United States celebrated V-J Day.

In New York City, thousands flocked to Times Square. Alfred Eisenstaedt, a photographer for Life magazine, pulled out his camera to capture the exuberance of the crowd. His iconic shot of a sailor kissing a nurse captured a defining moment in history.

In Tinley Park, Illinois, Mildred Pritza recalled hearing the news, “We cried, we hugged. Bells were ringing. Everyone went outside and everyone was hugging…There was real cohesiveness in the nation with everyone working for a shared goal.” The country was united in spirit and purpose and V-J day was a celebration of shared sacrifice. Pritza, who had never worked before the war, recalled her job building crankshafts for airplanes for $1.09 an hour. With her husband in the Navy and a new baby to care for, she did what was necessary.

In Plainfield, New Jersey, police officer Cornelius Coffey was assigned traffic patrol and said the city had the worst traffic jam he’d ever seen as everyone came out to celebrate. He chose to ignore the 10 p.m. wartime curfew for youngsters that night.

News of the Japanese surrender came at 4:00 p.m. PST in Spokane, Washington. The Spokesman-Review reported that crowds spilled into the streets, and at first there was a stunned silence. “Then automobile horns began to blow. In a few moments, their blasts became a solid wave of sound in downtown streets. Their noise drowned out the shouting and even the noise of the siren atop city hall. A storm of confetti swirled down from windows of high buildings as office workers gave vent to their joy.”

On the island of Oahu, the bells in Kawaiahaʻo church pealed, bringing a flashback memory to many who heard the same bells ring out a warning on December 7, 1941. The roof of the Honolulu Advertiser building was crowded that December morning in 1941, as dazed and stricken citizens watched black smoke rise from the distance. Now 1,347 days later, the same rooftop was filled with people tossing shredded paper to the street below in celebration.

Do you remember V-J Day? Have you heard V-J Day stories shared in your family? To read more about the end of WWII and to see more stories on V-J Day, search Newspapers.com today!

Share using:

July 18, 1955: Disneyland Opens to the Public!

David MacPherson, a 22-year-old student, arrived at Disneyland about midnight on July 17, 1955. The amusement park was holding a public grand opening the next morning and MacPherson wanted to be the first in line. He waited alone in the dark through the night, determined to be the first person to buy a ticket and enter the park. By dawn, the line had grown to 6,000 people, but MacPherson maintained his spot at the front. On the morning of July 18, 1955, Walt Disney arrived to greet guests at his new amusement park. He picked two children from the back of the line and allowed them to enter the park for free. Macpherson’s long night paid off, and he purchased the first ticket to enter Disneyland. After years of planning and preparation, Disneyland opened for the first time 65 years ago this month.

Walt Disney dreamed of creating a park that would delight children and adults alike. He started creating sketches of Disneyland as far back as 1932. Using the proceeds from successful movies like Snow White, Disney began formulating plans for an amusement park. He hired the Stanford Research Institute to investigate possible sites, attendance expectancy, and cost. Artists created thousands of sketches and architects worked feverishly on blueprints. A 1953 illustrated map of what Disneyland might look like sold for $708,000 at a 2017 auction! When the Stanford Research Institute recommended Anaheim as the best site for the park, Disney purchased a 160-acre orange grove and construction began.

The Sacramento Bee – July 16, 1955
Longview News-Journal – June 28, 2017

As opening day approached, the highly anticipated park was called a modern “Wonder of the World.” One paper reported that “never in history has any attraction, including World Fairs, ever received so much advance publicity…and worldwide attention.” Tickets to enter Disneyland cost $1 for adults and 50 cents for children. Parking cost 25 cents a day and the overall cost to build the park was $17 million.

Some 50,000 visitors flocked to Disneyland on opening day. Cars backed up for miles on the Santa Ana Freeway and the parking lot was filled to capacity by 10:00 a.m., leaving hundreds of cars waiting in line. David MacPherson walked around the park for a little while that first day, before heading back to campus to attend a class without riding a single ride. Although he was allowed to keep that first ticket as a souvenir, he sold it for 50 cents after leaving the park to buy gas to get home.

MacPherson’s night at the ticket booth, however, came with a big reward. He was given a lifetime pass to Disneyland. Each January he receives an annual pass for four which covers admissions, free parking, and rides.

Nearly 20 million visitors visit Disneyland each year. Do you remember your first visit to the park? Read more about the opening of Disneyland on Newspapers.com today!

Share using:

June 6, 1933: The Era of Drive-In Movies Begins

A summer night spent at the drive-in brings nostalgic feelings for millions of Americans who grew up listening to the tinny sound coming from the speaker hooked to the car window at their local drive-in theater. On June 6, 1933, the world’s first drive-in theater opened in Camden, New Jersey. This revolutionary concept transformed automobiles into “private theatre boxes” allowing guests to “smoke, chat, or even partake of refreshments.”

The Morning Call – Allentown, Pennsylvania 06.04.1933

Richard Hollingshead, Jr., the inventor of the drive-in theater, developed the idea during the midst of the depression. He was out of work but figured there were two things people weren’t willing to give up – their cars and going to the movies. He tested his concept by setting up a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his family car and projecting pictures onto a screen nailed to a tree in his yard.

Courier-Post – Camden, New Jersey 06.09.1985

Pleased with the results, Hollingshead sought financial backing from his cousin and opened the first drive-in theater. Patrons paid $1 per car or 25 cents per person. Speakers were mounted atop the 60-foot screen but didn’t provide very good sound. It would take years to improve the sound problem at the drive-in. Hollingsworth’s theater design included concentric, curved rows titled at a five-degree angle to ensure that everyone had a good view of the screen.

The novelty of watching a movie from your own car was a draw for families who could put the children to sleep in the back seat and enjoy a movie. Viewing a movie from your car also didn’t require you to dress up, a common practice when attending the theater in that era. The problematic sound issue and a depressed economy kept the idea of drive-ins from spreading for the rest of the decade, but after WWII the era of the drive-in movie theater entered its golden age. More than 4,500 drive-in theaters opened between 1948-1955.

Covina Argus – Covina, California 08.25.1950

During the 1950s and ‘60s, the drive-in also became the quintessential teen hangout. Teenagers loved having a place to congregate and socialize with their friends. Drive-in theaters provided an evening of fun at an affordable price.

By the 1970s, the popularity of the drive-in waned. The 1980s brought an explosion of VHS tapes and movie rentals. The transition to digital projection also provided a challenge for theater owners because of the steep price tag at a time when attendance was down. As a result, many theaters began to shut down. Increased land values also pressured many owners to sell their property for development.

Today, there are somewhere around 330 drive-in theaters remaining in the U.S. During recent months, some of those theaters have experienced an unexpected revival, offering families an evening out during social distancing. Do you remember attending the drive-in when you were young? To learn more about the history of drive-in theaters, search Newspapers.com today!

Like this post? Try one of these:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Released Nationwide: February 4, 1938

Elsie Leslie: America’s First Child Star

Star Wars in the Headlines, 1977

Share using:

Find Your WWII Soldier’s Story in Newspapers!

On May 8th, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, the formal acceptance of Germany’s unconditional surrender in Europe. To honor the legacy of our WWII soldiers, we want to help you tell their story. Historical newspapers are a great way to research your WWII veteran. Here are some tips and tricks for researching your soldier’s story in Newspapers.com.

  1. Begin your search by name. Just enter your soldier’s name in the search tab. You can narrow the results by refining dates, locations, or keywords. Maybe the local paper ran a story about your soldier enlisting. This can provide valuable clues about which branch of the service your soldier served in. You might even learn what regiment or company he or she belonged to. Hometown newspapers often reported when a local soldier was injured or killed, home on leave, or discharged. If multiple siblings served from one family, search all names, including the parents. Newspapers often include photographs of soldiers too. If you don’t find your soldier in a name search, don’t despair, there are some other tricks!
  2. Search for specific battles. If you know your soldier fought in a specific battle, use that battle as your search keyword. You might not find your soldier specifically mentioned, but others provided first-hand accounts. These details can help you construct a story.
  3. Search by battalion, division, company, name of a Navy ship, etc. Did your soldier’s company/battalion have a famous nickname? Or do you know the name of the commanding officer? These searches can also provide valuable results. Newspapers tracked the movements of our soldiers and reported daily on skirmishes and battles. You can create a timeline of your soldier’s movements by tracking those stories.
  4. Search by date. If you have records showing your soldier was wounded or killed on a specific date, search for battles fought at that same time and place.
  5. Search by location. Do you know, for example, that your soldier was part of the Japanese occupation force? Use that in your search term. When we searched that term and filtered the dates from 1944-1947, it returned more than 300,000 search results. Do you have a Navy veteran that served in the Solomon Islands? You could search “Asiatic-Pacific Theater”. The more details you have, the more you can narrow your search.
  6. Personal interviews. Over the years, many of our WWII veterans have given lengthy interviews in newspapers. These first-hand narratives provide amazing insight into what our soldiers experienced. Expand your search beyond the war years, some of these soldiers didn’t share their story for decades.
  7. Search the names of fellow soldiers. Do you have records, photographs, or journals that mention the names of soldiers that served with your ancestor? Research those soldier’s names for more detail.
  8. Search post-war clubs and associations. Many soldiers joined clubs, fraternal organizations, and associations after returning from their service. For example, the American Legion changed its charter after WWII to allow returning soldiers to join its ranks.
  9. Search obituaries. Often the families of deceased soldiers shared details and stories of their military service in their obituaries, even decades later. Even if you are not related to this person, their obituary may shed light on your own ancestor’s service.

Preserving the story of our WWII veterans is a great way to honor their service! Please share your finds in the comments below. Get started searching your WWII veteran on Newspapers.com today!

Share using:

April 29, 1903: The Frank Slide

In the pre-dawn hours of April 29, 1903, a huge landslide broke loose from Turtle Mountain in Alberta, Canada. Residents in the town of Frank heard rumbling and wondered if there had been an explosion in a nearby coal mine. Within minutes, approximately 90 million tons of limestone crashed down, entombing more than 90 of the town’s residents under 150 feet of boulders.

Calgary Herald – April 6, 1906

Turtle Mountain is located in a picturesque section of Crowsnest Pass in southwest Alberta. In the 1880s, settlers discovered a seam of coal in the area. In 1901, American entrepreneurs Henry Frank and Sam Gebo opened a coal mine, and shortly after the town of Frank became the first incorporated village in the Pass. By 1903, 1000 people lived in Frank and a dozen nearby coal mines were operating.

Coal miners honeycombed tunnels through Turtle Mountain without realizing that they were further weakening the already unstable geological structure of the mountain. Layers of sedimentary rock had been tilted to almost vertical over time and erosion in the lower part of the mountain created a dangerous overhang of rock on top. For millennia, water seeped into cracks in the rock. Repeated freeze-thaw cycles caused the cracks to widen, creating more instability.

When the residents of Frank went to bed the night of April 28, 1903, they had no idea of the power of nature about to be unleashed in their town. At 4:10 a.m. on the morning of April 29th, a loud rumbling awakened them. The sound was reportedly heard by residents living nearly 100 miles away. An avalanche of rock broke free from the mountain and careened down, traveling over 180 miles per hour. It reached the valley floor in just 100 seconds

The Province, Vancouver, British Columbia – December 14, 1946

George Hie was a miner in Frank and recalled hearing a cracking noise coming from the mine about two weeks before the slide. “The pressure was so great at this place that a six-inch timber was broken,” he said. The morning the Frank Slide broke loose, Hie was sleeping in his bunk. “I was thrown violently out by pressure. I ran outside and was startled to see a gigantic mountain passing down only twenty-five feet away from me.” After the dust settled, Hie saw the corner of a house protruding from the rocks. He heard a cry for help and frantically helped dig out a trapped woman. Her two children died. Later, Hie found the bodies of two boys about 200 feet from their cabin. “They were clad in pajamas. Their bodies never had a mark on them.” Hie wondered if they had time to run or if the force of the blast carried them there. 

The Vancouver Sun – August 12, 1944

Three young girls were among the survivors, dug out alive hours after the slide. Sadly, their parents and brothers perished in the disaster. The three sisters were adopted by separate families and reunited for the first time in 41 years in 1944. The bodies of most of those killed remain buried under tons of rock in Frank, and the scar from the rockslide serves as a visible reminder of the tragedy that occurred 117 years ago this month.

If you would like to learn more about the Frank Slide, search Newspapers.com today!

Share using:

March 14, 1942: First American Treated with Penicillin

In March 1942, 33-year-old Anne Miller lay near death in a Connecticut hospital, her body ravaged with a burning fever for weeks. She had developed septicemia, or blood poisoning, following a miscarriage. Doctors tried every known treatment, and in a last-ditch effort to save her life, decided to gamble on a new experimental drug called penicillin. The government released nearly half of its entire supply – roughly a tablespoon. Within a day, Anne’s temperature returned to normal and she was on the road to recovery. Anne became the first American treated with penicillin. This newly developed miracle drug would ultimately save the lives of millions, including countless soldiers during WWII.

In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming was experimenting with the flu virus in a London hospital laboratory when he discovered the antibiotic properties of penicillin by accident. A staphylococcus culture plate inadvertently became contaminated with mold, and Fleming noticed the mold prevented the growth of staphylococci.

Fleming published his findings and Oxford researchers Howard Flory and Ernest Chain continued the research. After intense German bombings in London in 1940 made research difficult, Flory and biochemist Norman Heatley collaborated with the US government and the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research and began work in a research lab in Peoria, Illinois. The first human trials involving penicillin started in London in 1941, but the US government didn’t approve a trial until Anne Miller’s doctor successfully lobbied for the drug in 1942. It was a huge success. After it became clear that penicillin could dramatically reduce infection, the US government ramped up production rapidly.

The use of penicillin to treat soldier’s wounds and amputations revolutionized combat medicine during WWII. Doctors reported that wounded soldiers who were weak and delirious began to improve almost immediately after being injected with penicillin. One soldier being treated at Bushnell’s Veteran Hospital in Utah lay sick in a hospital bed for 14 months. His festering wounds contained bits of uniform, missile fragments, and shattered bone. Doctors did not dare operate on the gangrenous wound. Once the soldier began receiving penicillin injections, he began to improve almost immediately. This soldier who suffered terribly for 14 months recovered in just 27 days.

Anne Miller may have been the first patient treated with penicillin in the US, but to date, penicillin is credited with saving the lives of millions and ushering in the age of antibiotics. These advances had a huge impact on medical care for wounded WWII soldiers, turning penicillin into the war’s miracle drug. Anne Miller went on to live another 57 years after that first dose of penicillin. She died in 1999 at the age of 90. To read more about the development of penicillin and its use during WWII, search Newspapers.com today!

Share using:

Madam C.J. Walker: America’s First African-American Female Millionaire

In the early 1900s, Sarah Breedlove Walker’s dreams came true – literally. She had a dream where a man appeared to her and told her what ingredients to use to make a line of hair products for African-Americans. Her hair products were wildly successful, and Walker became the first African-American woman self-made millionaire and philanthropist.

Born in 1867 on a cotton plantation near Delta, Louisiana, Sarah was the daughter of freed slaves and orphaned at just 7-years-old. She married at age 14 and found herself widowed and a single mother by the time she was 22.

Madame C.J. Walker in her Model T

Struggling to survive, Sarah and her daughter moved to St. Louis where she worked as a laundress. Sarah earned just enough to send her daughter to school and took evening classes whenever possible. She married a second time, but the marriage ended in divorce.

About that time, Walker developed a scalp condition that led to hair loss. She tried a variety of remedies to cure the condition without success. Sarah got a job selling hair products and moved to Denver, Colorado where she met Charles J. Walker, who would become her third husband. He worked in advertising and later helped promote her business.

One night, Sarah had a dream where a man appeared to her and told her what products to use to create a new hair product. When she woke up, she mixed up the concoction and worked it into her scalp. After a few weeks, she noticed her hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out. The scalp problems that had plagued her cleared up. Sarah formed her own company in 1903, calling it “Madam C. J. Walker”.

The Madam C. J. Walker Company revolutionized hair care for African-American women. The company developed a system of hair care known as the Walker System and sold products directly to African-American customers. Sarah also hired a team of saleswomen, known as Walker Agents who used that direct sales model and worked door-to-door in their own black communities across the country. The company opened a beauty school in Pittsburgh followed by additional schools in other locations.

As the company grew, so did Sarah’s net worth. One year before women had the right to vote in America, Sarah became the country’s first female African-American self-made millionaire. She bought luxury homes including one called Villa Lewaro at Irvington-on-the-Hudson in New York. It was designed by black architect Vertner Taney, the first African-American registered architect in that state. It was located in an exclusive neighborhood. She also gave generously to multiple organizations including the NAACP, the black YMCA and funded scholarships at the Tuskegee Institute. In addition, she championed female employees and encouraged her employees to donate to local charities in their communities.

About a year after moving into Villa Lewaro, Sarah became sick while traveling. She died in 1919 of kidney failure caused by hypertension. The life of Madam C. J. Walker will be celebrated in an upcoming series set to premiere on Netflix this March. If you would like to learn more about Sarah Breedlove Walker, her amazing life and her company, Madam C. J. Walker, search Newspapers.com today!

Share using:

January 30, 1945: The Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff

On January 30, 1945, the greatest maritime disaster in history occurred when the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, a German luxury liner turned military transport ship sank in the Baltic Sea after being torpedoed by a Russian submarine. The sinking ship resulted in the loss of an estimated 9,300 victims, including 5,000 children. Those on board included 9,000 civilians fleeing an advancing Red Army, German soldiers, and the crew. The fatalities were six times that of the Titanic.

The Ottawa Journal February 19, 1945

Three months earlier, in October 1944, the Russian Army broke through German defense lines in East Prussia, inflicting atrocities on German civilians. Fearing the approaching army, thousands began to flee west. The temperatures were freezing, and many suffered frostbite, exposure, and starvation. In January 1945, the refugees converged on the docks at Gotenhafen (today Gdynia, Poland) and tried desperately to obtain passage on transport ships appropriated by German officials. The Gustloff, which launched in 1937 as a luxury liner, was now transporting soldiers to western Germany but allowed refugees to board as well. The ship was built to accommodate roughly 1,900 people but quickly filled beyond capacity as some 10,000 boarded the ship. Shortly after noon, the ship set sail.

Just beyond the Gulf of Danzig, the Russian submarine S-13 under the command of Capt. Alexander Marinesko patrolled the waters. On the evening of January 30th, the sub surfaced and spotted the Gustloff sailing in deep waters to avoid the heavily mined area closer to the coast. Suspecting the ship held German combatants, Marinesko decided to attack. He maneuvered S-13 alongside the ship until shortly after 9:00 p.m., when he ordered the launching of three torpedoes. All three impacted the ship’s port side.  

Honolulu Star-Bulletin March 23, 1974

The torpedoes exploded and the initial impact likely killed hundreds. Startled passengers clambered to get up on deck and in the panic, some were trampled, while others drowned as water flooded in. As the Gustloff began to list, panicked passengers found the davits holding the lifeboats in place were coated with ice and inoperable. In the chaos, young mother Irmgard Harnecker clung to her baby daughter Ingrid. Suddenly, an icy wave swept over the deck ripping the baby from her arms. Harnecker also lost her sister in the tragedy. Another young mother had given birth to a baby boy less than 24-hours earlier in the ship’s hospital. She named him Egbert Worner. When the torpedoes hit the ship, she ran up on deck holding the newborn but struggled to descend a rope ladder to a rescue vessel. A nearby soldier called out, “give it to me, you’ll get it back right away.” She handed baby Egbert to the soldier, but the lifeboat was lowered before he handed the child back. She watched the ship sink and feared her child was dead. “I was quaking,” she said. When she boarded a rescue vessel several hours later, someone placed a bundle in her arms. Her baby had been saved!

Passengers recall the horrific screams as the Gustloff sunk below the surface within an hour of the torpedoes’ impact. Those in the sea quickly succumbed to the icy water. Rescue boats arrived and picked up as many as 900 survivors, but the surface of the sea was littered with the dead. The risk of enemy submarine attacks remained and rescue efforts abandoned after one navy barge was nearly struck by two more torpedoes, missing its hull by mere inches.  

The magnitude of the incident became somewhat lost in the headlines of war. World War II was months away from ending and Russia suppressed news of the disaster for another 50 years. The fate of the ship was not made public in Germany during the war and publishing tales of Germany’s hardship was prohibited in East Germany after the war. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, you can search for more news related to this maritime disaster on Newspapers.com today.

Like this post? Try one of these:

Lake Nyos Disaster: August 21, 1986

Anchorage Alaska Earthquake: March 27, 1964

The Great Solar Storm of 1859

Share using:

A Nostalgic Look Back at the Sears Christmas Wish Book

For many children, the arrival of the Sears Christmas Wish Book heralded the official beginning of the holiday season. The catalogs were carefully studied, and toys longingly admired until the pages were dog-eared and tattered. The first Sears Christmas Book debuted in 1933 offering items like the “Miss Pigtails” doll, live singing canaries, fruitcake, and a Mickey Mouse watch.

Letter to Santa – 1933

Over the years, the pages of the Sears Wish Book were filled with toys and gifts that offered a historical snapshot of what was happening in middle-class America at the time.

In 1937, Sears advertised tractor sets and Shirley Temple dolls. Pedal cars were all the rage and sold for about $10. Just five years later, in 1942, the world was at war. The Sears Christmas Book urged Americans to send gifts to members of the Armed Forces. The Christmas Book also allowed families to do their Christmas shopping from home, filling a need when wartime rations on gasoline and tires prevented shopping excursions into town.

Roy Rogers Inspired Gifts 1949

In 1949, Western TV shows and movies exploded in popularity. Roy Rogers was known as the “King of the Cowboys” and that year, the Christmas Book offered a variety of Roy Rogers inspired Christmas gifts and even Roy Rogers school supplies

America entered the Space Race in the 1960s. Children everywhere dreamed of becoming an astronaut and in 1968 the Major Matt Mason astronaut action figure was a popular toy. That’s also the year that Sears embraced the nickname of its Christmas catalog and officially renamed it the Wish Book. Other popular toys during the 1968 holiday season included Hot Wheels cars and G.I. Joe.

In 1975 as Americans prepared to celebrate the Bicentennial, nostalgic American themed toys such as toy fife and drum sets, Colonial dolls and models of the USS Constitution were popular. In contrast, that was the same year that Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft. In a glimpse of the high-tech explosion soon to come, the Wish Book advertised the new electronic game Pong. It was described as a “fast-paced electronic ‘table tennis’ game you play on your own TV.”

Atari Pong Ad – 1975

Transformers exploded on the scene in 1984. The popular transforming robot toys proved wildly successful for kids. It was like getting two toys for the price of one. In 1984, a first-generation Optimus Prime sold for $22.99 in the Wish Book. That same toy is now highly collectible and according to some reports can sell for as much as $12,000

In 1993, as consumer shopping habits changed, Sears announced that it was dropping the Wish Book and getting out of the catalog business. Does the Wish Book bring back a flood of memories from your childhood? If you want to take a trip down memory lane, enjoy free access* to the Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co. on Ancestry through January 2, 2020; and search historic ads and news stories related to the Wish Book on Newspapers.com today!

*You can explore this amazing collection for free now through 11:59 pm MT on 02 Jan 2020.

Share using:

Telephone Technology: Push Buttons and Party Lines

In the Spring of 1963, President John F. Kennedy sat down at his desk in the oval office. With cameras clicking, he picked up the handset of a telephone and pressed the numbers “1964”. The connection activated a countdown clock for the New York World’s Fair, set to open the following year. The photo opportunity was noteworthy, however, because Kennedy’s call showcased an amazing new technology – the push-button dial telephone

Later that year, on November 18, 1963, Bell Telephone officially rolled out push-button telephones to the public. A push-button interface meant customers no longer had to wind a rotary dial and wait for it to spin back when dialing each number. This technological achievement was the latest in a long line of telephone innovation that dated back to when Alexander Graham Bell received the first patent for a telephone in 1876.

Back then, Alexander Graham Bell and his colleague Thomas Watson shocked the world when they carried on a 30-minute telephone conversation from two miles apart. Their newly invented telephones converted sound into electric pulses that traveled along a wire connecting the phones.

The popularity of the telephone quickly grew and soon everybody wanted one. However, it wasn’t feasible to stretch a wire between every set of telephones, so inventors developed a telephone exchange. Each telephone connected to the exchange by wire. To place a call, a caller would pick up the phone and turn a crank. This illuminated a light at the switchboard at the central station and an operator would plug a wire into your jack and ask who you needed to reach. She then connected a wire to the appropriate customer and sent an electrical current down the line to alert them with a bell. 

Operators became a familiar voice to every telephone user. They generally worked with a relatively small group of customers and often knew each one. In 1903, one mother discovered a new use for her telephone when she opened the receiver and asked the operator to ring her at the neighbor’s house when her sleeping baby woke up! On any given day, an operator might soothe a frightened child, or even save a life. Rose Coppinger was an operator in Webber Falls, Oklahoma in 1914. When a fire raged through town, she refused to leave her post at the telephone exchange and warned neighbors of the approaching flames.

By 1918, ten million telephones were in use in the US. Rotary dials were the norm and party lines were common. A party line was a telephone line shared by more than one user and came at a reduced cost. It was not uncommon to pick up a telephone receiver and hear a conversation already occurring. The town’s news often traveled this way despite party line etiquette which dictated never listening in on another’s conversation. A party line presented challenges during emergencies, though, and tragedies occurred if users failed to yield the telephone during a crisis. The last operating party line in Woodbury, Connecticut shut down in 1991.

Technology has come a long way since party lines and push-button phones. Today, an estimated 5.3 billion people worldwide communicate daily using mobile devices. To learn more about the changing technology in telephone communication, search our archives today on Newspapers.com!

Share using: