A HISTORY OF THE "TELEPHONE COMPANY" IN HAWAII--Part Two
Prompted by the pending acquisition of Verizon Hawaii by the Carlyle
Group, we started a concise history of telecom in Hawaii last week.
We left off at the end of 1899 with the formation of the Wireless
Telegraph Company. It was to be operated by the Marconi Company to
provide "radiotelephone" between Oahu and the Neighbor Islands.
For most of 1900 transmitting/receiving stations were set up, but
failed for the most part. The Marconi techies were sent back to the
Mainland and Marconi sent an "expert" to solve the problem. He did.
He used Ben Franklin's kite experiment and found the right locations
for the stations. Service was spotty and Wireless Telegraph ran into
debt. The "expert" bought the judgments for $600. and got local
businessmen and sugar planters to put up $1,000. a month to continue
attempts to get reliable service.
In 1903, the Territorial Legislature provided for the subsidy for
two years. In 1905, the subsidy was not renewed and in 1906 the
company was auctioned off.
While the inter-island attempts were being made, the trans-Pacific
cable was being laid and finally brought ashore on December 28, 1901
at where the Natatorium is now located.
The rates for messages were a dollar a word (1901 dollars).
By 1903 the cable was completed from Hawaii to the Phillilpines.
As these events transpired, Mutual Telephone continued upgrading its
switchboards, but they were all manual and required voice
instruction from the subscriber to the operator.
Concurrently, an undertaker in Kansas City had invented the
automatic dial switch which led to the dial phone system. The patent
was assigned to the Automatic Electric Company of Chicago.
Mutual looked into the swich but decided it would be too expensive
to convert to automatic dialing. Yet the company was growing with
1,850 phones in service. This was exclusive of the 18 private
exchanges in service. One was at the first Royal Hawaiian Hotel
which had a phone in every room.
A group saw the benefit of the automatic switch and organized the
Standard Telephone Company in 1906. The legislature gave the company
two years to be in operation. The company failed. While Standard was
failing, another group bought the assets of Interisland Wireless and
got it running. In 1908 it built and deployed the first
ship-to-shore wireless station that enabled direct communication
with the Mainland.
In 1908, Interisland changed its name to Hawaiian Telephone and
Telegraph Company, ordered the Automatic Electric switches and took
1,000 advance orders for phone service. This panicked Mutual's
officers and directors and they decided to buy Hawaiian Telephone
for $117,455. and invest $81,750. for the Automatic Electric switch
A new central office for the switch system was built and was ready
for deployment on August 10, 1910. The old c.o was shut down and the
building sold. When implemented, the new switch served 2,000 active
In 1911 there were still manual phones in the country districts with
subscribers paying higher monthly rates plus toll charges. These
were converted to automatic and the rates dropped and the toll
charge reduced to a ten cent toll.
In September, 1912, Federal Telegraph of San Francisco established a
wireless transmitter at Heeia near Kaneohe and starting at 25 cents
a word, messages went to the Mainland. Again, Mutual panicked and
entered an agreement with Marconi and in 1914 a station was opened
In 1913, Mutual absorbed three of the four Big Island phone
companies, merging them into a new Hawaii Telephone Company. Service
on the Big Isle was so bad, that there were 10 to 20 subscribers on
one party line.
On Christmas eve 1914, the new automatic Mutual switch handled
50,600 calls. For all of 1914, the switch completed 1.5 million
calls There were 5,400 subscribers and 660 government lines.
By 1916, Mutual had 154 employees, 44 of whom were women. Plant
department employees were paid from $1.50 a day for helpers to $4.50
a day for linemen. Operators were paid $20. to $40.00 a month. In
1916, there were 7,600 subscribers.
With the U.S. entry into World War I, the U.S. Post Office
Department took control of the Mutual plant, but it was only a paper
With that, we'll end part two.
Part 1 HERE