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Betendorf, IA 52722

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Silvis, IL

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Rock Island, IL 61201

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East Moline, IL 61244

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Moline, IL

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Moline, IL 61265

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Hodgson Funeral Home
608 20 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

WaterPark Car Wash
3800 38 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

History of telephone rings with change

By Brian Buehler, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer
Click for a larger image
On Jan. 28, 1878, the first commercial telephone switchboard was put into operation in New Haven, Conn. It served 12 subscribers. Ten years later, this was the scene at the New York Telephone Exchange.

Todd Mizener / staff
Ameritech manager Bob Bradford looks over the company's newest digital switching equipment in the Rock Island center. The equipment, which is 4 to 5 years old, can handle 50,000 calls an hour.

Photo courtesy Rock Island County Historical Society
Equipment has come a long way since the days when patch-cord systems like this were commonplace in large businesses.

Less than a year after Alexander Graham Bell first demonstrated his invention, a telephone call was made between Chicago and Highwood.

While the telephone was not an immediate success after its 1877 Illinois debut, Iowa and Illinois eventually took to it in a big way.

For whatever reason -- maybe rural Iowans were eager to have someone to talk to -- the state was fertile ground for the telephone.

According to information supplied by U.S West Communications, in 1923 Iowa had the highest per capita rate of telephones in the country, 18.9 telephones per 100 population compared to 13.1 nationally. At the time, Iowa had more telephones than Italy, Belgium, Austria and Switzerland combined.

A lot of change has taken place in the telecommunications industry since it first appeared. The industry has gone through consolidation, fragmentation after the AT&T breakup in 1984 and reconsolidation currently. Technologically, what started out as direct lines between each individual telephone has gone to electronic switching stations that start routing your call automatically from the time the first number is touched on your telephone.

``Staying ahead is a very big part of it,'' said Dennis E. Pauley, external relations manager for Ameritech Illinois, of the telephone industry.

Currently there are more than 84,000 access phone lines in the Illinois Quad-Cities, said Mr. Pauley. They are interconnected through fiber optic lines connecting six electronic switching offices. In all of Iowa, U.S. West has 868,000 access lines including 135,000 business lines, 666,650 residential and 69,000 miscellaneous lines.

Much of the current growth in new phone lines comes from second lines for homes and businesses, said Mr. Pauley. The demand for second lines comes from a number of sources, including Internet access for home and business computers, fax machines, home offices and families that add lines for their children.

While the industry has seen mostly consistent growth there were at least two periods when business slowed down. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Northwestern Bell which served the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, lost 110,000 phone service subscribers, according to U.S. West. That amounted to almost one fifth of its customers.

After the Great Depression expansion of phone service was slowed down by World War II. During the war, Northwestern Bell experienced 59,000 held orders for new phone service. The company quadrupled its construction force following the war and Northwestern Bell and AT&T installed the country's 30 millionth phone line in Marshalltown, Iowa in 1948, according to Northwestern Bell's future parent U.S. West.

While there were still a large number of companies providing telephone services up until well after World War II, there were 2,000 phone companies in Illinois alone in 1965 according to Mr. Pauley, most were consolidated into the Bell System under AT&T.

Up until 1982 there were 22 Bell Companies which controlled most of the country's phone service. In Illinois most customers were served by Illinois Bell, and on the Iowa side most customers were served by Northwestern Bell. In 1984 the 22 Bell companies were split from AT&T and formed 7 regional companies. Northwestern Bell joined Mountain Bell and Pacific Northwestern Bell to form U.S. West Inc. Illinois Bell became part of Ameritech which also serves the states of Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Further consolidation appears to be the wave of the future in telecommunications. Ameritech is currently working on a merger with Southwestern Bell communications that would form the sixth largest company in the United States, said Mr. Pauley.

Among the many recent changes in the industry are the expansion of services provided by local companies. While they cannot offer long distance service in some areas they offer cable television and Ameritech is the largest provider of home security systems in the country, Mr. Pauley said.

Both U.S. West and Ameritech are expanding the use of fiber optic phone lines. Iowa currently has 8,000 miles of of fiber optic lines, capable of transmitting voice, data and full motion video, according to U.S. West. The history of telecommunications is full of innovations.

The following is a brief list of innovations and milestones of the telecommunications industry in the United States provided by Ameritech.

March 3, 1876 -- Alexander Graham Bell receives a patent for the telephone.

Aug. 10, 1876 -- First long-distance call is made, one way, covering 68 miles.

July 1, 1878 -- 10,755 Bell telephones are in service

1889 -- The first coin-operated telephone is introduced.

Aug. 27, 1896 -- The dial telephone is introduced.

June 17, 1946 -- Mobile telephone service is introduced.

Nov. 18, 1958 -- The 50 millionth telephone is installed in the United States.

Nov. 18, 1963 -- The first touch tone phones go into service.

Jan. 12, 1968 -- 9-1-1 emergency service is adopted.

Jan. 1982 -- AT&T agrees to divest itself of the Bell Companies.

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.