Telephomania: The Contested Origins of the Urban Telephone Operating Company in the United States, 1879-1894 GCP-05-02

Richard John
Associate Professor of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


This essay reconsiders the origins of the urban telephone exchange in the United States in the formative era of commercial telephony that stretched from 1879 and 1894.  This time span marked the beginning and the end of a distinctive epoch.  In 1879, the Boston investors who had secured the ownership of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patents successfully negotiated an agreement with telegraph giant Western Union to divide the market for electrical communication.  Henceforth, Western Union would specialize in telegraphy; the Boston investors in telephony.  In 1894, the second of Bell’s two fundamental telephone patents expired, opening the telephone market to competition.

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