Marvelettes, 1962

The history is hotly contested…who invented it…who stole it…who cashed in on it it…but one fact remains. On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell said “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” And the world changed forever. Most images in this post can be clicked for larger versions.

From the Western Sentinel, Winston, NC


Even as the Twin City’s first telephone exchange was being built, some were thinking way ahead.


The reference to “both towns” means Salem and Winston. Until the late 1880s, both towns had gas street lighting. Winston had electric street lights first. Salem delayed until the new streetcar system required electricity in both towns in 1890. Salem’s electric street lights were turned on the same night that the first streetcar ran from the square in Winston to the square in Salem.


They were right on target. Telephone service began in Winston and Salem the second week of May, 1891.



The first telephone number in Winston was 1. The second was 2. It took a little while for the numbers to reach triple digits. Of course, the numbers were meaningless to the public, because the only way to make a call was through the switchboard, which was located on the second floor of Cheap Joe’s store at the corner of Fourth and Liberty Streets.


Eight months later, the number of subscribers had reached 120

From the Union Republican, Winston, NC


What does water have to do with telephones? In October, 1892, the building housing the telephone exchange burned. This was nothing new. After the Salem tavern, the main economic engine of the town, burned in 1784, Salem became one of the first towns in the US to own a “fire engine”, at the time a hand pumped device made in Europe (see But the town of Winston went for thirty years without even an organized fire brigade, until, after a good part of the courthouse square burned in 1880. In the October, 1892 fire, the telephone switchboard was saved, but it took some time before it could be restored to operation.



The telephone exchange resumed operations in December, 1892, in the tower of the brand new Town Hall, which was located where the Reynolds Building is today.


By 1910, Southern Bell had built its own building at 215 North Liberty Street

In 1926, the Bell system celebrated  the 50th anniversary of the telephone. The local office threw a big bash honoring its original subscribers at the Robert E. Lee hotel. The invitation came in the form of a booklet. Don’t forget to click the images for larger versions.











The booklet included a history of the local operation. Since it was accurate, and quite entertaining, we will let them tell it:


Don’t forget to click on the pic for full size


Two years later, Bell South built a new, architecturally striking building in the 600 block of West Fifth Street. It is still the core of the local landline telephone network.


Operators Margaret Simmons, Johnny Ware, Beatrice Husband (l-r) at the Bel Tel switchboard on West Fifth Street, 1939


You may think that you have seen it all when it comes to telephones…just wait until you see what Apple has coming in 2016


Images in this post are from the Forsyth County (NC) Public Library Photograph Collection or from the 1926 Southern Bell 50th anniversary booklet, except the last pic, which is of unknown origin.