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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 Telephone Company.
(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 were 179.

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 $2.00..

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 for responds.

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 be heard.

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 number first.

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 connected.

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 companies began.

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 wireless communications.

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.

Shaloha,

Marty Plotnick
martycri@lava.net
 


 




 

 

 

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