Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Talking Telegraph Comes to Bossier Parish

Alexander Graham Bell is best known for inventing the telephone. The fact of the matter is that he was not the first to invent the telephone but the first to receive a U.S. patent on his design, which he applied for in 1876, therefore receiving credit as the inventor. According to the Library of Congress, “Antonio Meucci, an Italian immigrant, began developing the design of a talking telegraph or telephone in 1849. In 1871, he filed a caveat (an announcement of an invention) for his design of a talking telegraph. Due to hardships, Meucci could not renew his caveat.”

Alexander Graham Bell's telephone patent drawing
National Archives and Records Administration
National Archives Identifier (NAID) 302052
Public Domain, Source: commons.wikimedia.org
On the day that Bell’s lawyer filed his patent application for his telephone design, another lawyer filed a patent application for Elisha Gray’s design of the telephone. The patent was awarded to Bell because his application was filed first, being the fifth entry of the day, and Gray’s was 39th. As you can see, attributing the actual inventor or inventors to a specific invention can be tricky and often times quite controversial. Often the most practical or best working invention receives credit for the creation rather than the original inventor.

The same year the patent was issued on the telephone, Tivadar Pusk├ís invented the telephone switchboard exchange. From there, developments in the telephone industry snowballed and expanded. It did not take long before telephone exchange services began popping up in larger towns across the nation. The Shreveport Telephone Exchange opened for business in the fall of 1881. Less than two years later, the exchange’s manager, Thomas Bresnahan, came to Bellevue to interview the citizens regarding constructing a telephone line between Shreveport and Bellevue.

Bellevue's citizens agreed that a telephone line connecting them to Shreveport would be an incalculable benefit. Within two weeks, plans were set in motion with hopes to have the telephone line completed within a month. As planned, Bresnahan completed the telephone line's installation from Shreveport to Bellevue around 1 p.m. on Wed., Aug. 29, 1883. Mr. John H. Lofton's store was the agreed-upon location of the telephone, and a five-minute conversation cost the user 25 cents, which is equivalent to $6.47 today.

Wooden wall mount telephone circa early 1900s
Arnold Family Collection: 2007.007.001

The following Saturday, Bresnahan called the Shreveport Daily Standard news office from Lofton's store as Bellevue celebrated its first telephone. The write-up in the paper stated, " The music by a string band at Bellevue was distinctly heard by all here who were put in connection, and the piano in Mr. Weaver's residence in the suburbs was as distinctly heard at Bellevue."

While the Bellevue telephone line was the first telephone line installed for public use, the first private telephone was installed in 1881, shortly after the Shreveport Telephone Exchange opened for business. The private line belonged to Samuel Jacob Zeigler, owner of the Shady Grove plantation in Vanceville. After the Shreveport Telephone Exchange company declined to run lines outside Shreveport's city limits, Zeigler built and maintained his line to Shreveport, crossing the river from the top of two tall cottonwood trees. His exchange number or telephone number was 50.

The Shreveport Times, Dec. 30, 1881

This month marks the 145th anniversary of the telephone's invention, since Bell was awarded the patent for the telephone on Mar. 7, 1876. But it was on Mar. 10, 1876, that Bell conducted a successful experiment with the telephone where he called his assistant, Thomas Watson, commanding, "Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you." "That same day, an ebullient Bell wrote his father of his 'great success' and speculated that 'the day is coming when telegraph wires will be laid on to houses just like water and gas — and friends converse with each other without leaving home.'"

What do you want to know about Bossier Parish’s history? Visit, call, or email the Bossier Parish Library History Center for help with your research. We are at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City, 318-746-7717, history-center@bossierlibrary.org.

By: Amy Robertson

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