Monday, March 7, 2011

135 Years Ago Today Bell's Patent was Issued for the Telephone which was Followed 2 Years Later by Deadwood Telephone System

Public domain image
Alexander Graham Bell

135 years ago on March 7th 1876, 29-year-old Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for his revolutionary new invention, the telephone.  There was a dispute over the patent but Bell prevailed.  Bell and his partners, Hubbard and Sanders, in 1878 offered to sell the patent outright to Western Union for $100,000. The president of Western Union balked, countering that the telephone was nothing but a toy. Two years later, he told colleagues that if he could get the patent for $25 million he would consider it a bargain. By then, the Bell Company no longer wanted to sell the patent. Bell's investors would become millionaires while he fared well from residuals and at one point had assets of nearly one million dollars.

Paul Rewman courtesy of:
Adams Museum
Ann Stanton
Also in March 1878, the progressive Deadwood had the first telephone exchange in the state of South Dakota. The Black Hills Telephone Exchange was established by Paul Rewman.  He offered calls between Deadwood and Lead for 50 cents which was 25 cents cheaper than a stage ride between the cities, and much faster. The weekly Black Hills Pioneer reported the completion of the exchange/line which was promptly celebrated with a large bonfire, gathering, and a grand ball at the Grand Central Hotel.  The hotel building does not exist today.  After only two years of operation, the Grand Central Hotel went on the auction block July 1878. With the sale, portions of the building were leased for retail space and various managers would run the remaining facilities as a boarding house up and until the big fire of September 1879. The hotel was renovated into a 70 bed furnished lodging house and served as host to the many soldiers visiting the area from Ft. Meade. The lodging house experienced a slow decline over the years, suffering its final demise in 1892 when the building was demolished to make room for new development. [1]

The telegraph was a technology part of the original 1876 Deadwood.  So to better understand and appreciate the amazing feat of a telephone system you have to consider what Deadwood was like in 1878.  A chronological Deadwood history in contemporary wording of the period reveals . . .  the city of Deadwood is located at the northern extremity of the Black Hills, at the confluence of Deadwood and Whitewood Creeks, and about eight miles in the interior--or from the foothills where the latter stream enters the prairie. The position, while not at all eligible for a settlement of any kind, much less for a city of the pretensions of Deadwood, has been so improved by artificial means, that not only are a surprisingly large number of people housed within its limits, but the tout ensemble is very pleasing to the eye. Originally the narrow gulch admitted of but one street, but excavations and cribbing have gradually added one after another until the entire north hill is now cut up into avenues, like steps, appropriately named, and lined with pretty little cottages and dwellings of more elaborate designs. The southern hill, owing to its abruptness, is valueless for building sites, and, with the exception of one or two crudely constructed log cabins, regular "old timers," which threaten to wreck themselves and residences below at any moment, its breast is bare and uninviting. The city proper, as generally understood (there is no legally defined limits), is about one mile long, and contains at the present time about six thousand inhabitants, the male portion being engaged almost exclusively in mercantile and other legitimate business pursuits. Deadwood, although not immediately at the mines, is universally considered the metropolis of the Hills, being the county seat of Lawrence county, and having the land office, courts, banks, express offices, stage headquarters, signal service station, and commission houses--conveniences found nowhere else in the hills--and in addition contains many large jobbing houses, retail stores of every description; two excellent hotels; two daily, one weekly, and one semi-monthly papers; two churches--Congregational and Catholic schools; the telegraph; a fire department; efficient constabulary force; a large and most excellent society that is daily increasing; and all the concomitants of a well regulated and prosperous community. Three daily mails, a money order post office, the telegraph and banks, present facilities for conducting business, equal with those elsewhere enjoyed. Comfortable dwellings, marts of trade of all kinds, keeping stocks of graded qualities to suit the tastes and purses of every one, the poor as well as the rich; a charming climate, plenty of vigorous exercise and universal prosperity, makes life in the Hills both pleasant and healthful.  Deadwood, as originally constructed, was chiefly composed of buildings of pine logs or flimsy board structures common to mining camps. A great population had crowded into the narrow gulch and there was a large accumulation of personal property. [2]  In September 1879 Deadwood suffered a disastrous fire that consumed the entire business section of the city.

Paul Rewman telephone receipt:
to the Caledonia Mining Co.
courtesy of the Jerry Bryant Collection

Jerry Bryant
Archeologist - Historian
Jerry L. Bryant is an accomplished historian. He is also a member of the RPA, Registered Professional Archaeologists. Bryant works extensively within the Black Hills of South Dakota and more specifically within the city of Deadwood. His work for the HBO series Deadwood has earned him honors from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Bryant is also one of the foremost authorities on the life of Al Swearengen. Bryant is a fierce advocate of historical preservation.
Jerry is the president of the Lawrence County Historical Society which offers oldtimers and newcomers alike an opportunity to learn more about the people and events that have shaped our Lawrence County. He also a contributor to Larry Miller's Historical Marker on-line web site of the Society.  In the January issue of the Historical Marker, Jerry wrote an amazingly researched article about Cynthia Cleveland.  "Many Black Hills history buffs likely have never heard of Cynthia Cleveland, and those who have probably know little about her.  Her's is a story worth telling, and so a few years back Jerry Bryant researched and wrote  Cynthia in the Dakotas  which briefly chronicles her life.    Cynthia Cleveland left a pretty big swath across Dakota Territory long before women were allowed even to vote – let alone serve as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives!"  You’ll find Jerry Bryant’s piece well worth the read.


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