Hello, Central

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Hello, Central


Its equipment was somewhat crude and unreliable, but when the first telephone company in Richmond began its operations in 1884, the local folks thought it was great to be able to stand in one's own home and talk in a normal voice to another person on the other side of town. People could order things like groceries or coal without leaving their homes. Professional men like lawyers and physicians could confer with others by telephone and thereby speed up their work.

The Richmond Telephone Co. was organized in 1884 by Dr. J.M. Poyntz, a local physician, and a board of directors which included John Bennett, Thomas H. Hart, W.M. Irvine, R.C. Stockton, and J. Stone Walker. The exchange, which never had more than 50 subscribers, was established at the Richmond end of a long distance line from a new telephone company in Lexington. Although it was closed at night and all day on Sunday, the local subscribers thought that it was wonderful. Most of the time persons were called for by name rather than by number, and the lone operator frequently knew to call for a person at some other place where he was visiting or doing business. The company's operations came to an end a year later when both the Richmond and Lexington companies were sued by Bell for infringement of patents.

Richmond had had a preview of telephone service back in 1878 when T.W. Tobin, professor of chemistry and physics at Central University, made two reproductions of the Bell magnetic telephone and tried them out on an experimental line which ran from the university to several stores and residences.

Nine years after the first telephone exchange had been closed, a new Richmond Telephone Co. was formed by Charles S. Powell and J.A. Sullivan, local attorneys, and E.S. Jouett of Winchester. With $5,000 capital and Powell as president, they were able to open the exchange in late 1894. There were less than 100 subscribers. Rates were $1.50 a month for residences and $2.00 a month for stores and professional offices.

After a few years of spending thousands of dollars on new equipment to improve and extend the service, Powell realized that the Richmond Telephone Co. needed to be a part of a unified system rather than a separate local exchange with uncertain "patchwork" connections with companies in other nearby towns. In an effort to improve service, this local exchange was sold to the Cumberland Telephone Co. of Nashville, which owned exchanges in other Kentucky towns.

The Cumberland company installed an early form of the Bell telephone which used the Blake transmitter which produced distinct but weak signals. These were used in Richmond up until the 1920’s when the more familiar oak "long box" wall telephones with dry cell batteries and hand-cranked magnetoes were installed.

Southern Bell, which took over the Cumberland company, made a great improvement in 1930 when it installed a central energy system within the city limits. Richmond subscribers were pleased with the upright desk model instruments which allowed them to call central by simply lifting the receiver rather than having to crank the old wall telephone.


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “Hello, Central,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed April 13, 2024, https://madisonsheritage.eku.edu/items/show/693.