A HISTORY OF THE "TELEPHONE COMPANY" IN HAWAII--Part One
With the pending acquisition of Verizon Hawaii by The Carlyle Group,
iTHINK we should look at the history of telephony in Hawaii:
In earlly 1878, Maui's Charles H. Dickey installed Hawai'i's first
two telephones between his home and his store. The phones were
rented from a Mainland firm and ran on wet cell batteries.On
December 23, 1880, a charter was granted to the Hawaiian Bell
(Bell had nothing to do with the company. The name "Bell" was added
to honor Alexander Graham Bell.) The primary investor was the Orient
Bell Telephone Company of London and the first order was for 50
phones from a Belgium manufacturer.
By the end of 1881 there were 119 subscribers, a year later there
In 1883, the business phone rate was $5. a month and residential
lines to $4.
On August 16, 1883, a competitive group was granted a charter. It
was called the Mutual Telephone Company Within a year, Hawaiian Bell
Telephone reduced the business rate to $3.00 and residential to
With two companies, the subscriber needed a phone from each. Sharp
customers got the same number from each company.
In September, 1885, Mutual deployed and by the end of the year had
300 subscribers. Hawaiian Bell dropped from 381 to 366.During the
same period, phone companies were established on Kauai, four
different companies on the Big Island, and one on Maui.
On September 24, 1894, Mutual bought Hawaiian Bell and the customer
now only needed one phone.
But monopoly came at a price: the business rates went up to $4.00
and residences to $2.50 per month. Country "stations" went to $7.50
plus toll charges. All rates were payable quarterly in advance.
Phone rental per year remained at $10.
By the way, to compare the value of those rates to current, multiply
the 1890 rates by $21.
Now, there were also "toll" charges on Oahu. Country rates were
charged for calls made to and from the Leeward and Windward
districts in addition to the monthly base charges.
Clearly, the average canefield worker could not afford a telephone.
Now, think about how you use phones today as you read these 13 rules
published in the 1894 telephone directory:
1. When you desire to be connected to any number do not hang the
Receiver on the Hook, but keep it at your ear until the party asked
2. In talking to the transmitter, stand facing it,with the mouth
about three inches from the opening. Speak naturally, dinstinctly,
and not too rapidly.
3. The "Lever" must never be pulled down except to mention the
numbers to be connected, or the number to be disconnected. At such
time no other word or sentence must be uttered.
4. Do not interrupt anyone else who may be speaking, as you cannot
5. If the Subscriber does not respond promptly,pull the Lever down
again, ask "Central" to ring again the number wanted by you, for
example, "Ring up 256."
6.Subscribers should always exhange numbers before commencing
conversations, and it the duty of the Subscriber called to give his
7. Never leave the Hand Telephone anywhere except on the hook after
finishing the conversation.
8. When you have finished talking do not ail to tell the Central to
disconnect,otherwise your line will stand connected for an
indefinite length of time, and others calling for you cannot be
9. Remember that many numbers have similar sounds, therefore
pronounce numbers you call distinctly.
10. All reports should be made in person, or by letter, to the
Company, and in no case to the operator on the circuit. When it is
necessary to report by telephone ask for No. 200.,
11.All communication with the central Office, except to connect or
disconnect, must be made with the Private Wire the same as with
offices,and with the Callin Wire. As for (Extra Operator) thus:
"200-33" and he will furnish the information desired. No notices
will be taken of questions asked on the Calling Wire by the
operators making connections except in case of fire.
12.We cannot too earnestly impress upon our Subscribers the
importance of cooperating with us to improve the telephone service.
To this end we ask that promptly notify the Company in writing, of
any interruption to your line or instruments, and that you restrict
their use by others as far as possible. The Company requires
courtesy from operators, please extend it to them.
13. In calling country stations, give letter and number.
These declamations tell us when the arrogance of the legacy phone
As to investment and value of the company at the end of 1894, the
book value was
$50,000. The plant value was estimated to be $62,074,
Total cummulative revenue was $50,050. from date of charter.
At the end off 1889, the number of subscribers on Oahu was 1,090
serving a population of 45,000. The Big Island had 500 subscribers.
The century ended with the incorporation of the Wireless Telegraph
Company on October 31, 1899 to provide interisland and ship-to-shore
To be continued next week.
While waiting, put your cell phone in your hand. Stare at it. And
think about what I've written thus far.