Today we carry our telephones with us. They let us send text messages, take pictures, order groceries or a ride to take us to dinner. And we can even make phone calls. When the telephone was introduced in 1876, it was just as revolutionary as our smart phones.
A number of scientists were working on a device that could transmit the human voice over a wire. This would be a huge improvement over the telegraph which required the operator to know Morse code and could only transmit one message at a time. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was granted a patent for the first successful telephone. By early 1877, the first official telephone lines were established as a part of Bell Telephone Company and the first regular telephone line was constructed between Boston and Somerville, MA.
The telephone did not arrive in Carroll County until 1884 when the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company received approval to set up its lines from Baltimore along the Westminster Reisterstown road. The first call was from the local superintendent to the general manager in Washington. Mary Shellman, the local manager (operator) placed the call at 1:20 p.m. on April 1.
Though the system quickly became popular, there were some complaints that the poles were unsightly, not the “nice respectable looking poles” that had been promised. The system was sometimes at the mercy of the weather. An ice storm on March 1, 1902, brought down two-thirds of the poles in Carroll County. It took four days to restore service to Baltimore and almost two weeks to restore service to the western part of the state. Another storm in March 1924 brought down over 5,000 poles, disrupting service to over 15,000 phones. The damage took 10 days to repair. -author Cathy Baty, HSCC Curator