Connecting Oregon

The Slow Road to Rapid Communications, 1843–2009

Original Article (with illustrations)

TIMES WERE TOUGH on the Missouri frontier in the spring of 1846. Land speculation fueled an economic collapse, which led to bank failures. Farmers, unable to sell their crops, faced foreclosure. Oregon’s land, free for the taking, beckoned James Brown, who, along with his wife Lucinda and two-year-old son Matt, left behind his Missouri home on April 11, joining the estimated 1,200 emigrants streaming west that summer.[1] Many adorned their wagons with banners proclaiming “all of Oregon,” reflecting their support of President James K. Polk’s threats to England to end the two nations’ joint occupation of the Oregon Country.[2] On October 15, six months after leaving Missouri, Brown settled his family on their square-mile donation land claim along the banks of Silver Creek, land that would become the northern end of Silverton.[3] Today, it is hard to imagine just how isolated life was for newcomers to Oregon like the Brown family. In June, shortly after they left Missouri, Polk signed a treaty with England, separating American Oregon from British Canada. Oregonians would not learn about the change until November, nearly a month after the Browns’ arrival. With no American postal service in Oregon until 1847, after the end of joint United States–British occupation of the area, travelers to or from Oregon carried communications, including mail, newspapers, money, legal documents, and supplies, to be delivered when they arrived.[4] As the Lewis and Clark Expedition had discovered, there was no “direct and practicable” route to shorten the miles separating Oregon from the rest of the nation.[5] But distance was not the only obstacle. Because information traveled no faster than the person who carried it, even a few words took months to hand deliver across the two thousand miles between Missouri and Oregon.

New communication technologies, however, would eventually reduce and then eliminate time and distance from the equation of information delivery. With limited resources in Oregon, it took local commitment to add each innovation, although changes were frequently financed by the federal government or national corporations. In Oregon’s rural areas, small town entrepreneurs and do-it-yourself farmers, including the Browns, cobbled together their local systems. Their contributions can be measured in generations. Matt Brown became one of Silverton’s first postmasters. His son Percy founded the town’s telephone company. Percy’s son and grandsons expanded the business until it was acquired by a national holding company, eventually becoming part of Verizon, one of the largest telecommunication giants in the world.

Even before the Browns left Missouri, the seeds for Oregon’s future communications were being planted in Washington, D.C. As Congress rushed toward adjournment in February 1843, heatedly debating whether to establish military occupation in Oregon to expel the British, Samuel F.B. Morse requested $30,000 to develop his new device, the telegraph. Amid jovial bloviation comparing the “lightening powered” telegraph to hypnotism or speaking to the dead, Congress, in the last hour of the session, approved his request. Fifteen months later, Morse tapped out a sequence of dots and dashes, propelled by electricity through copper cables he had built from his office in the capitol to Baltimore, forty-four miles away. Arriving almost instantly, the signals were translated into the now-famous message, “What Hath God Wrought?” using his own Morse Code.[6]

The following year, the Post Office Department declined Morse’s offer to sell them his telegraph for $100,000. Similarly, Congress rejected his request for $100,000 to extend the line to New York, instead offering $8,000 for continuing operations to Baltimore. Disappointed, Morse organized the Magnetic Telegraph Company and built the first lines connecting Baltimore to New York in 1846. By the time the Browns settled into their new home in Oregon, telegraph service was providing nearly instant communications between Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.[7]

The telegraph had a profound effect on America, creating as much excitement as the Internet would 150 years later.[8] Without the need for messengers, information could be delivered at the speed of electricity, day or night, regardless of weather or road conditions. Railroads used the telegraph to signal and safely dispatch their trains, eventually leading to uniform time zones across the country. Weather forecasts could be delivered before the weather arrived. Wall Street emerged as the nation’s financial center, while other large cities became centers of commerce, connected by telegraph to their customers. The need for telegraph operators who were literate and could spell accurately, when those skills were scarce, promoted broader education and created new job opportunities for women.

Within a year of its invention, a clerk in the General Land Office, Charles Fletcher, urged Polk to build a telegraph line from Washington, D.C., to Astoria as a way to pressure the British to abandon their claims to Oregon: “The president can send an order to the mouth of the Columbia River after breakfast and receive an answer before dinner.”[9] Nevertheless, it would be nearly twenty years before telegraph messages reached Oregon. First, Oregonians needed to get their mail delivered, and that was no easy task when the nearest American post office was almost two thousand miles away in Weston, Missouri.

Oregon’s provisional government appropriated fifty dollars in 1845 to establish its own post office at Oregon City. The following spring, with Oregon now under American jurisdiction, the U.S. Post Office Department opened its first office west of the Rocky Mountains at Astoria and contracted with the Pacific Mail Steamship Company to deliver mail from the East Coast. Within weeks, the department opened a second post office at Oregon City, followed by offices in Salem and Corvallis.[10]

By late 1846, New York newspapers had created the Associated Press to provide readers with updated reports received by telegraph from the Mexican War, leading to the printing of popular daily editions that reported events within days of their occurrence.[11] When Cayuse Indians attacked the Whitman Mission near Walla Walla the following November, however, Oregonians had little choice but to dispatch Joe Meek by horseback across the country to seek military reinforcements. His appearance the next spring in the nation’s capitol failed to bring assistance, but it did help convince Congress to make Oregon the first American Territory west of the Rocky Mountains, which they did in August.[12] Oregonians would learn about the designation five months later.[13]

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 transformed the West. Within two years, the sleepy Mexican village of Yerba Buena, with a population of six hundred, blossomed into the commercial center of San Francisco, with an estimated thirty thousand inhabitants. The Post Office made it the hub for western mail delivery. Beginning in 1851, the steamship Columbia, built specially for Oregon postal service, began more or less regular monthly delivery between San Francisco and Oregon, first choosing St. Helens as its terminus, and then replacing it with Portland.[14]

Mail wagons provided faster and more reliable monthly mail delivery west from Missouri to Salt Lake City beginning on July 1, 1850, generally departing every thirty days. The following year, the route was extended to San Francisco, although deliveries remained erratic. Private express companies also began delivering mail and supplies to the California gold diggings, and in 1852, Wells Fargo, the most successful carrier, opened an Oregon office in Portland at 57 Front Street, delivering among the Pacific Northwest’s scattered settlements by horseback, stagecoach, or river boat. The following year, they added semi-monthly express shipping between Portland and San Francisco. The Post Office also began expanding its mail deliveries within Oregon Territory during the early 1850s, mostly by horseback from Oregon City, although service remained chaotic and a source of constant complaint from Oregon settlers.[15]

In 1854, eight years after the Browns’ arrival, Silverton was founded, and its residents’ experience with communication is revealing. Whenever someone happened to deliver mail to the town, it was dumped on the floor of one of the few local stores. Local residents came and picked out their own mail, which “was just as likely to show up at Sublimity, Parkersville or Olympia, as to come to Silverton,” complained Clark Crandall, the area’s representative in the Territorial Legislature.[16] The following year, stagecoaches began delivering mail south from Oregon City, departing every Monday morning and arriving in Salem by Tuesday at noon.[17]

Telegraph service arrived on the West Coast in 1853, fanning out from San Francisco. A year later, agent Charles F. Johnson of the Alta California Telegraph Company proposed extending service north to Oregon. With Portland just one of several settlements competing to become Oregon’s commercial center, several of its leading businessmen, including Mayor George W. Vaughn, organized the Pacific Telegraph Company to improve communications south, sending their first message from Portland to Oregon City on November 16, 1855. Within a year, wires extended from Oregon City through Lafayette and Dayton, reaching Salem in September. Lack of patronage discouraged organizers from extending the line to Corvallis, as originally planned. The system worked for a time, but as weather damaged its wires, the telegraph line was largely abandoned.[18]

Communications improved substantially for Oregonians in 1857. Congress authorized the Postmaster General to contract for overland mail delivery from Missouri to California to be “performed within twenty-five days.”[19] Telegraph service also edged closer to Oregon as California’s Northern Telegraph Company extended existing telegraph lines from San Francisco to Marysville further north to Yreka. Telegraph wires spread westward like cobwebs from the East Coast to as far as Missouri, connecting even small towns. That spring, circuit-riding lawyer Abraham Lincoln entered the telegraph office in Pekin, Illinois, and asked operator Charles Tinker how the telegraph worked. “How simple it is when you know it all,” he exclaimed as Tinker demonstrated.[20] Four years later, Tinker would operate the telegraph in the War Department office near the White House, where Lincoln, now President, would become a constant visitor.

Reports that Congress had made Oregon the thirty-third state on February 14, 1859, were telegraphed to St. Louis, arriving within minutes. Nearly a month later, the news was delivered to San Francisco by overland stage. At about the same time, a ship arrived in Portland from the East Coast, carrying one thousand printed circulars from Oregon’s Congressional Delegate Joe Lane, advising Oregonians, “General Lane has no hope of the admission of Oregon and therefore desires to be returned as a delegate to Congress.”[21] Within days, the Brother Jonathan[22] docked at Oregon City and delivered the news from San Francisco that Oregon was already a state. The earlier telegraph line had been abandoned, so Stephan Senter rode south on horseback bearing the news.

With the crucial 1860 presidential election on the horizon, political divisions between northern and southern states deepened, increasing efforts to improve ties to the western settlements. Oregon’s population had grown to 52,465, with Portland emerging as its largest city and commercial center with 2,874 residents. Nevertheless, merchants still waited up to forty days for purchase orders to reach suppliers in New York, and up to six more months for the merchandise to reach their stores. On April 3, however, the Pony Express began racing west from St. Joseph, Missouri, and east from Sacramento, California, reducing mail delivery between the two cities to ten days.[23]

That spring, Congress appropriated a $90,000 annual expenditure to provide daily stagecoach service for passengers and mail along the 710-mile route between Sacramento and Portland, beginning on September 15. Traveling night and day and making sixty stops along the route, stages arrived within seven to fourteen days, depending on weather and trail conditions. The new route also linked the extensive California stagecoach network through Portland to the steamboat and local stage networks in the Pacific Northwest.[24] “No one need now subject himself to the delays of the uncertain ocean mail service, but can write daily, or when he pleases,” the Sacramento Union observed. Before adjourning, Congress enacted the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860 and appropriated funds to construct “an electric telegraph line” to connect Omaha, Nebraska, to San Francisco, California, along with a “branch line” to Oregon. After other telegraph companies dropped out, Western Union became the only bidder, and the Treasury Department selected the company to build the line west, using the Pacific Telegraph Company, which they created for the project. At the same time, Western Union reached an agreement with the California telegraph companies to consolidate into the Overland Telegraph Company to extend its lines east to Salt Lake City, Utah, where the two lines would meet.[25]

On October 2, 1860, Oregon Legislators selected as one of the state’s U.S. Senators prominent West Coast attorney Edward Baker, Abraham Lincoln’s former law partner and close personal friend.[26] Lincoln’s election in November brought to a head the national crises leading to the Civil War. Oregonians eagerly awaited the latest national news. In Portland, Henry Pittock became the Weekly Oregonian’s new publisher, and by February 1, 1861, his increasingly influential newspaper became the daily Morning Oregonian. Under Pittock’s direction, reports received in San Francisco by Pony Express were telegraphed north to Yreka, where they were put on a stagecoach to Jacksonville, and then delivered by horseback to Portland.[27]

On May 1, 1861, Daily Oregonian readers learned that southern forces had shelled Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston harbor, forcing its surrender and igniting the Civil War six weeks earlier. As construction crews worked to connect telegraph wires from East to West, the war between North and South erupted.

Soon, Baker’s son and brother arrived in Washington, D.C., as part of the “California Regiment,” and were assigned to help Union forces defend the nation’s capitol. Baker, an Army officer during the Mexican War, became their commander while continuing to serve in the Senate. On the morning of October 21, 1861, Baker’s regiment was deployed to cross the Potomac River from Maryland at Ball’s Bluff, about thirty miles west of the capitol, and capture the nearby Confederate stronghold at Leesburg, Virginia. Confederate soldiers, forewarned, quickly repulsed the Union attack. As the bodies of dead Union soldiers floated down the Potomac River to Washington, Lincoln fretted about Baker’s safety. Getting no reports from his generals, Lincoln finally telegraphed the field officer in Maryland. Soon he had his answer. Baker was dead, the only sitting U.S. Senator ever killed in combat. For the rest of the war, Lincoln would become a regular in the telegraph office, reading every message from the field and sending his directions directly to the officers in charge, using the telegraph to transform the role of wartime political leadership.[28]

The following day, Western Union workers attached their wires from Omaha to the telegraph office in Salt Lake City. With rumors circulating in the nation’s capitol that westerners might leave the Union to form a “Pacific Republic,” Mormon leader Brigham Young sent east the first message, including assurances that “Utah has not seceded, but is firm for the Constitution and the laws of our once happy country.”[29] Two days later, California crews connected their wires. As operators tested the line to send the first transcontinental message, addressed to President Lincoln, a message from Utah was tapped out in the San Francisco office: “COLONEL BAKER WAS KILLED IN BATTLE ON THE 21ST, WHILE IN THE ACT OF CHEERING ON HIS COMMAND. INTENSE EXCITEMENT AND MOURNING IN PHILADELPHIA OVER HIS DEATH.” Baker had been a popular figure in San Francisco before moving to Oregon, and the stunning news dampened the impromptu California celebrations.[30]

From Atlantic to Pacific, the nation was now connected, at least by words. The telegraph, with rates of one dollar per word, was enormously successful. It also meant an end to the Pony Express, which stopped running one day after the line was connected. Horses could not outrace electricity. After completing construction, Western Union quickly merged with both the Pacific Telegraph and the Overland Telegraph.[31]

Telegraph developer J.E. Strong arrived in Salem from California in 1861, and he quickly began organizing the Oregon Telegraph Company, led by five prominent Portland businessmen: W.S. Ladd, banker and former mayor, President; Simeon Reed, principal owner of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, Secretary; Henry Corbett, merchant, banker, and future U.S. Senator, Treasurer; John McCracken, former U.S. Marshall, city councilman, and wheat merchant, Superintendent; and Asa Lovejoy, Portland co-founder, director. Construction started south from Portland in December 1862, reaching Salem by April. Nearly one year later, crews near Roseburg connected the company’s line to the one built north from Yreka.[32] Just five years after achieving statehood, with Portland still having less than six thousand residents, a new era of rapid communications began for Oregonians. U.S. Senator James Nesmith, who had come to Oregon by wagon train in 1843, observed: “This is a fast age … people travel by steam and talk by lightening…. people like myself must get out of the way of the ‘car of progress’.”[33] On March 5, 1864, the Morning Oregonian’s special edition headlined the news from New York, “only 20 hours old!” Three days later, Portlanders celebrated with a torchlight parade through the city’s muddy streets. Mayor David Logan exchanged congratulations with the mayor of Portland, Maine, and Oregon Governor A.C. Gibbs telegraphed President Lincoln, “…Our telegraph is complete…. We want no Pacific Republic, no compromise with rebels in arms, and no more slavery.” Portland’s businessmen had the most to celebrate. Buying and selling directly with eastern markets, they could rapidly take advantage of market changes. The rate for ten words from Portland to San Francisco was set at $3.00, and to New York, $8.50.[34]

Western Union, flush with its successful transcontinental project — in sharp contrast to repeated failures laying telegraph cables across the Atlantic to Europe — developed an audacious plan to build a telegraph line north from Portland to Seattle, into British Columbia, then to Alaska (still part of Russia), across the Bering Strait to Siberia, and finally west to Moscow, Paris, and London. The total length would be more than 16,000 miles. In December 1864, President Lincoln commented on the project in his report to Congress, but by then, construction had already begun north from Portland, arriving in Seattle on October 26, and connecting to New Westminster, B.C., the following April. In 1866, the transatlantic cable was successfully completed. Having already invested $3 million building a line across Siberia, the Russo-American Telegraph Company abandoned construction.[35]

The Civil War had shown the benefits of rapid communications but had also revealed that large numbers of competing telegraph firms hampered the technology’s efficacy. The federal government therefore promoted consolidation of the industry. By 1866, Western Union had emerged as the first major nationwide monopoly. In the Pacific Northwest, however, the independent Oregon Steam Navigation Company built a major telegraph project connecting Portland east to The Dalles in 1868, and through to Boise, Idaho, the following year.

By the 1860s, Silverton’s mail service had increased to semi-weekly delivery, but it was not until 1873, when the town had grown to three hundred residents, that daily deliveries began from Salem. Matt Brown, now a successful homebuilder in the growing community, soon became the city’s Postmaster.[36] Mail delivery to Portland had also continued to improve. In 1864, stagecoaches began direct service between Portland and Salt Lake City, through The Dalles and Boise, Idaho. The new route significantly reduced travel time to and from eastern cities by avoiding going south through California. Nevertheless, complaints were still made: “It is customary all along the route to cast away sacks of newspaper mails, in the streams, in swampy places, in mire holes, and other spots where the sacks are likely soon to sink out of sight, so that the trouble and labor of transporting them in the stages shall be spared.”[37]

WHILE TELEGRAPH SERVICE vastly improved communications, customers still had to travel to the nearest telegraph office and fill out a form with their message and its destination. A telegraph operator collected the fee, based on number of words and distance, and transmitted it up the line, where it would be repeated and sent from office to office until it eventually arrived at the office nearest the recipient’s address. There, it would be transcribed back into writing and hand-delivered by messenger.[38] In addition to the inconvenience, lack of security, and opportunity for error, only one message at a time could be transmitted across each wire.

A new generation of inventors began experiments to send more messages more quickly. Alexander Graham Bell, who specialized in teaching deaf persons to speak by imitating vibrations of vocal cords, began experiments with his “harmonic telegraph.” Using vibrations from different pitches of sound, inspired by plucking strings on his piano, he sought to transmit multiple messages simultaneously over a single wire. On his patent filing on February 14, 1876, he noted that the device might also transmit the sound of a human voice. A few days later, Bell recorded in his laboratory notebook his now-famous request to his assistant Watson, who heard the words on his receiver and came running. Bell immediately grasped the future of his invention, and wrote to his father that evening, “I feel that I have at last found the solution to a great problem and the day is coming when telegraph wires will be laid on to houses just like water or gas is, and friends will converse with each other without leaving homes.”[39] Like Morse had thirty years earlier, Bell offered to sell his invention for $100,000, but he approached not the Post Office but Western Union, who rejected the new device as “little more than a toy,” believing it would never replace the telegraph.[40] Western Union soon recognized the enormity of its mistake and, challenging the Bell patents, entered the telephone business.

Bell demonstrated the telephone at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia, and the following year, it was on display at the Oregon State Fair.[41] Two months after Bell’s telephone company had began operating its first telephone exchange in New Haven, Connecticut, on January 29, 1878, Portlander George Ainsworth, a prominent developer of the Pacific Northwest’s early river transportation systems, bought the right to introduce the telephone in Oregon.[42] Portland businessmen, however, refused to place it in their stores, explaining, “the pesky thing would be such a nuisance.” Finally, George Himes agreed to put one of the experimental devices in his print shop on the corner of SW First and Washington, and he persuaded W.T. Shannahan, owner of a nearby music store, to install the other telephone. Soon afterward, Himes reportedly asked Ainsworth how he was doing with his new telephone. “Not very good George,” Ainsworth answered, “everyone is rather doubtful about it; they think it will never be worth anything.”[43]

Portlanders disagreed. On March 29, 1878, a public demonstration was held, connecting a call between the office of F.H. Lamb, division superintendent for Western Union, at SW First and A, and the nearby drug store belonging to Dr. Orlando Plummer, who had arrived in Portland in 1864 as Western Union’s first telegraph station attendant and manager.[44] “The test was most satisfactory and successful, the telephone working like a charm,” the Morning Oregonian reported, continuing:

Conversation was maintained by persons at each end of the line with perfect ease, every word being transmitted for the distance of one half mile, distinctly. One of the gentlemen at the drug store placed the instrument close to his lips and whistled an air — certainly [the telephone] is a wonderful invention. This test demonstrated beyond doubt the practicality of the telephone, and showed the many uses to which it may be put in everyday business affairs.[45]

Just two weeks later, Western Union completed a call between its Portland and Roseburg offices, 208 miles apart. Unfortunately for the company, the sound of the human voice faded with each passing mile, and electrical interference caused static and noise. Nevertheless, the Morning Oregonian concluded that talking at “long range” would be practical.[46]

On the same page, the newspaper ran its first advertisement for telephones. “Bell’s Telephone! The success of this wonderful instrument is unprecedented…. The demand is so great that 30 days time is required for filling orders,” Bell’s Portland agent James H. Guild proclaimed. A telegraph operator, Guild was one of three incorporators of Bell’s Portland District Telephone Company, which proposed “to build and maintain telephonic lines throughout the city.” Within a week, Western Union had its own ad for the sale of “non Bell” instruments, “superior to any other in force and clearness of articulation.”[47]

On August 2, Portland became the ninth city in the nation to offer local telephone service. Western Union’s American Telephone and District Telegraph Company began operating the service from a small room next to its telegraph office, with Plummer among its first directors and the Morning Oregonian among its first thirty-two subscribers, whose numbers grew to nearly one hundred within a year. Charges for telephone service, available daily from 7:00 a.m. until midnight, were $2.50 per month, which included renting the telephone.[48]

Early telephones had been directly connected to each other, but inventors soon modified them by developing devices that allowed all the lines to connect to a “central office.” This innovation required callers to turn a crank to charge the telephone’s battery, which sent an electrical signal to a central switchboard, where the caller would tell the operator who they were trying to call and the operator would connect the two parties by plugging jacks into appropriate slots. Young boys were hired as the first operators. Portland’s first was fifteen-year-old George Thomas, who insisted on keeping his office window open so he could shout through the opening, in case customers could not hear him on the telephone. For an additional charge of 50 cents, he would also run around town to deliver messages personally, or bring a customer to a phone.[49] There were no other telephone exchanges outside Portland, but before the end of the year, the Oregon and Washington Railroad Company built for its own use the state’s first long-distance line between Portland and Oregon City.

In 1879, just three years after Western Union rejected Bell’s offer to sell them his telephone, Bell’s company acquired Western Union’s nationwide telephone and telegraph operations, including its fledgling Portland network. Two years later, the two companies were consolidated as the Portland Telephone, Telegraph and Electric Light Company. Its new leader, J.H. Thatcher, had come to Portland three years prior to manage the Western Union telegraph office. Within its first year of operation, the new company counted 172 subscribers. By 1883, it had extended telephone service to Portland’s rapidly growing eastside, with an underwater cable crossing the Willamette River to its office at SE Union and Washington. About the same time, the telephone company began offering a special service for Portland hotels. A lookout in Linnton would call ahead to subscribing hotels as ships came upriver, approaching Portland. With the advance notice, hotels could dispatch hackneys to the docks to pick up passengers as soon as they arrived. By 1880, Corvallis had granted a franchise to Western Union’s telephone system, operating out of Albert Ray’s grocery store at Second and Monroe streets; it was soon absorbed into the Bell system. Bell’s success in Portland led the company to expand to Seattle in 1883 as well as to Oregon’s larger cities of the time, starting with Astoria in April 1884, and then Salem, with fifteen customers, one month later.[50]

Also in 1884, nearly ten years before the Bell patents began expiring, Samuel “Grant” Hughes, a twenty-three-year-old Forest Grove telegraph operator, constructed a primitive switchboard and connected his first twelve customers, establishing the Independent Telephone Company of Forest Grove in a back room of his father’s hardware store. Hughes would later be described as “the father of the independent [non-Bell] telephone system in this state.” By 1908, his company had grown to more than seven hundred customers, with two hundred miles of lines serving Forest Grove, Cornelius, Banks, and Gales Creek, each town with its own switchboard.[51]

The national Bell long distance company, only available to customers of local Bell telephone companies, reorganized in 1884, adopting a new name, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). By 1891, AT&T had extended its long distance service from Portland to Salem, and within two years, it completed construction south to Albany, Corvallis, and Eugene as well as north to Seattle and east to Spokane. In 1898, AT&T crews in Ashland connected wires between Portland and San Francisco and, later that year, added service east to Boise.[52] Shortly after the turn of the century, AT&T became the parent company for all of Bell’s telephone, manufacturing, and research operations and soon became the largest corporation in America.

Not everyone agreed with the benefits telephones supposedly brought to their communities. Telephone wires, strung haphazardly from one building to another, added dangers for Portlanders. Retired Mayor Dr. James Chapman, for example, accidentally drove his buggy into a low-hanging wire in 1885. Knocked to the ground, he died several weeks later from his injuries. Walter Pierce, later to become Governor and Congressman, was Umatilla County Clerk in 1891, when Sam Jackson, editor of the Pendleton East Oregonian, came by his office. Pointing to the telephone, Jackson asked: “How do you like that?” Pierce responded: “It’s an infernal nuisance.” Jackson agreed. He suggested they both get rid of their telephones, and Jackson would “commence a tirade in the paper, roasting them every night,” until they drove the telephones out of Pendleton. By the time Jackson left to become publisher of the Portland Oregon Journal a few months later, the number of telephones in the community had dropped from “about 270 down to something like seventeen,” Pierce recalled.[53]

As the Bell patents began expiring in the spring of 1893, numerous manufacturers began selling the highly profitable equipment. Farmers thumbing through the Sears Roebuck catalogue could buy everything they needed to set up their own telephone systems. When connected to their neighbors’ equipment, often using barbed wire fences for telephone wire, it worked, at least for short distances. Opening a gate, however, would disconnect all the telephones on the line. These simple, directly connected systems became known as “farmer lines,” with each customer assigned a number. Anyone could call anyone else connected to the system by cranking on the phone to create rings, which could be heard and counted at each telephone, identifying who was being called. Anyone else on the line could also pick up their phones and listen. The more customers who lifted their receivers, the weaker the sound became, so messages were often relayed from listener to listener. Static on the lines caused customers to shout to be heard, leading farmer lines to become known as “whoop and holler” telephones.[54]

In 1903, a publication on the Willamette Valley described Matt Brown as “one of the most energetic and far sighted businessmen in Silverton.” His sons Percy and Carl had used Silver Creek to supply their Silverton Water Works and to generate electricity for their local light and power company, which they later sold to Portland General Electric (PGE).[55] In 1904, Percy visited the World’s Fair in St. Louis and returned home with enough telephone equipment to start the Interurban Telephone Company, serving Silverton and nearby Mt. Angel. With an initial nine customers, the company grew to fifty by the end of the year. By 1908, Percy was advertising local and long distance telephone service to “nearly every town and county in the Willamette Valley.”[56]

The farmer-based Marquam Mutual Telephone Association also had customers in Mt. Angel, but because that company was not connected to Brown’s, customers needed to use both systems if they wanted to talk to customers of both companies. In 1910, dairy farmer Henry Berning convinced city fathers it was time to organize their own telephone company. With twenty-four shareholders and forty-five customers, the Mt. Angel Telephone Company began operations. Three years later, John Bauman arrived in Mt. Angel. Before long, he married one of Berning’s daughters and became the company’s manager, known locally as Mt. Angel’s “Mr. Telephone.” His son Ivo succeeded him as company manager for many years. Ivo’s son Tom continued the family tradition as company manager while also serving as the town’s mayor.[57]

Independent operators were also forming companies in other Oregon towns. Along the Molalla River, about two miles south of Canby, a group of farmers joined together in 1904 to found the Macksburg Mutual Telephone Association. Among them was J.P. Cole, whose family would remain active in Oregon’s telephone industry through the next four generations, more than a hundred years. Membership was twenty-four dollars, or nine dollars if members provided their own telephones. Similar farmer networks developed in rural neighborhoods throughout the area, including New Era, Central Point, Mundorf, East Canby, Barlow, Union Hall, Riverside, Mill Creek, and Oak Grove. Ten years later, they began to consolidate, forming the Canby Exchange of Mutual Telephone Companies, which in 1940, with 515 customers, became known as the Canby Telephone Association. In late 2007, Tom Bauman announced the Mt. Angel Telephone Company would merge with the Canby Telephone Association.[58]

On August 14, 1904, Prineville’s telephone system, which already had its own service through The Dalles to Portland, connected service to Bend in central Oregon, celebrating the system’s inauguration with free calls available in the community. By 1907, the Pioneer Telephone and Telegraph Company had seven customers in Bend.[59] During the 1890s, Portland’s waterworks had run a telephone line east to their water supply at Bull Run, allowing local residents to use it in emergencies. By 1906, area residents had started their own local, ten-party farmer line called the Multnomah and Clackamas County Mutual System, operated out of the Gresham Drug Store.[60]

With local companies popping up all over the state, early owners and operators became proficient in every aspect of the telephone business. They climbed poles and spliced wires, wired switchboards, installed telephones, kept the books, and provided operators to help customers. Central switchboard operators, sometimes working out of their own kitchens, reported being asked to call back in fifteen minutes to remind a customer to take bread out of the oven, or to listen over the phone and call back if the baby cried. “Gentlemen” subscribers were warned not to “use foul language over the telephone,” lest they offend the operators, and they were sometimes assessed additional charges when they ignored the warning. Early telephone directories warned customers not to spend extra time talking to the operators “as she is paid to answer your calls, and not to gossip with you at our expense.” When telephone numbers began to be used, customers were advised to ask the operators for numbers, not names, “and don’t blame the operator if you get the wrong party when you call by name.”[61]

Frequent outages caused by weather or accidents plagued early telephone networks. In 1906, for example, “bare copper” overhead telephone wires in Forest Grove became tangled with a trolley car’s electric wires. Electric current surged through the telephone wire to the switchboard, catching it on fire. Ray Williams, the night operator, described it as “the liveliest fireworks he ever saw” as it knocked out every telephone connection. “Patrons of the service will please have patience,” the local newspaper advised several days later. “It is a lot of work to get all in working order again.”[62]

By 1907, nearly a million and a half rural Americans had telephone service, comprising almost one fourth of all telephone subscribers. The following year, President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Commission on Country Life” concluded that access to telephones, mail delivery, and newspapers were positive influences “for the solution of the rural problem” of isolation from neighbors and communities. Having access to a telephone began to change life dramatically. By 1912, the Oregon Telephone Herald service was advertising combined newspaper and entertainment programming, delivered by telephone.[63]

Not all rural Oregonians found the change an improvement. Former Governor T.T. Geer rode his bicycle from Salem to his home outside Silverton and inquired about his neighbor. He was told that since a telephone line had been erected through the area, calls had replaced trips to the post office several miles away to collect the mail and visit with neighbors. A local farmer explained: “You know we have ‘phones now and when I want to talk to him I simply ‘call him up’ and that is all there is to it.” Geer observed: “Every family within a radius of ten miles was on a ‘party (farmer) line,’ and when two people were indulging in local gossip it was usual for every family between Salem and Silver Creek Falls and from Silverton to Sublimity, to have a receiver down — learning the latest.”[64]

Nationally, the independent companies, known for their local ownership, served nearly as many customers as the Bell companies. Sometimes, like in Mt. Angel, they competed within the same towns. In several of Oregon’s larger communities, such as Portland, Corvallis, and Albany, the independents competed directly against Bell. Despite the bankruptcy of its predecessors, in 1906, the Home Telephone Company of Portland won a citywide franchise election by the lopsided vote of 12,213 to 560.[65] Despite being owned by some of Portland’s leading businessmen, it remained underfinanced and struggled to survive. Without interconnection, Portland customers needed service from both companies to communicate with everyone who had telephones. After replacing operator switchboards with newly invented “automatic” switching offices, the company advertised that customers would not have operators eavesdropping on their calls. The Bell company countered by touting the courtesy of their operators, who, like private secretaries, personally assisted each caller. As competition between the two companies intensified, one of Home Telephone’s owners, Portland businessman Abbot Mills, published an open letter in 1912 to Portland residents:

The Home Company is your company, you voted for its existence … its stockholders live here, its money is spent here; monopoly and tyranny are synonymous terms. What the American people are entitled to have is competition in quality of services rendered…. The Bell Telephone monopoly says the people who patronize the Home phone are freaks…. Read our list of Directors at the top of this letter, are these people freaks?[66]

By 1919, the company was broke and was acquired by Bell.[67]

Since 1891, the Populist Party had been calling for nationalization of both telephone and telegraph companies, preferring government agencies to private ownership. Congress did not respond until 1910, when it extended the railroad jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to include interstate communications.[68] In the meantime, Oregon voters had adopted in 1902 the Populist inspired initiative and referendum process to directly enact legislation, and two years later, they used the initiative system to enact a 2 percent gross revenues tax on telephone and telegraph companies. The Bell company defied the new tax on the grounds that only the Legislature could enact the tax, and the state sued the company. The “Oregon System” of direct democracy was ultimately upheld when the U.S. Supreme Court refused jurisdiction.[69]

Meanwhile, Oregonians had also used the referendum to extend state regulation by the Oregon Railroad Commission to include the intrastate operations of Oregon’s telephone and telegraph companies. In its Annual Report to the Governor in 1913, the Commission reported it had resolved 143 informal and 40 formal complaints, “the primary issue in telephone cases having to do with physical connection.” The report listed more than 120 telephone companies operating in the state. San Francisco–based Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company (Pacific Tel), created by AT&T in 1907, to consolidate all Bell companies on the West Coast, was by far the largest, with 55,656 Oregon customers, dwindling rapidly to Forest Grove’s company with 950, Silverton’s at 603, and Canby’s at 278.[70]

AT&T still held important long distance patents and used its long distance dominance and financial muscle to buy out independent companies. These practices came to a head in Portland in 1913, when the U.S. Justice Department filed an anti-trust suit in Oregon’s federal District Court, alleging that AT&T’s acquisition of the Northwestern Long Distance Company — operating in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana — violated the Sherman Act.[71] Among other things, the government alleged that AT&T’s refusal to allow independent local telephone companies to interconnect with its long distance network resulted in harm to local competition. The suit was ended a year later with the landmark “Kingsbury Commitment,” in which AT&T agreed to a revised national policy requiring the company to: divest the telegraph services it had acquired from Western Union; interconnect with other telephone companies and allow its customers to use AT&T’s long distance services; and not acquire further telephone operations without the prior approval of the ICC. Congress repealed the third provision in 1921.[72] The settlement effectively created a nationwide regulated monopoly, with AT&T responsible for end-to-end telephone communications, regardless of whether the parties on either end were customers of a Bell company or of an independent. AT&T’s goal to have a telephone in every home connected to every other telephone in the country became known as “universal service.”

Meanwhile, AT&T researchers had been improving the quality of long distance sound transmission. On January 25, 1915, sixty-seven-year-old Alexander Bell placed the first transcontinental telephone call from New York City to Watson, his former laboratory assistant, in San Francisco, using his original 1875 telephone instrument loaned by the Smithsonian Institution for the occasion. President Woodrow Wilson, connected in on the call, observed: “It appeals to the imagination to speak across the continent.” To help celebrate the event, an Oregonian reporter called the San Francisco Chronicle and reported that the call was connected “in less than three minutes” and was “as clear as a local call in perfect conditions.” Following the call, Watson traveled to Portland and addressed a crowd of eight hundred telephone enthusiasts at the Old Baker Theater, his talk sponsored by the Telephone and Telegraph Society of Portland. The first person to hear a word spoken over the telephone, Watson now told the audience that the first call was only forty feet down the hall, but the last call was 3,400 miles across the continent, “and it was clearer.” Nevertheless, at the price of $20.70 (about $450 in today’s dollars) for the first three minutes and $6.75 for each additional minute, transcontinental calling remained largely a novelty.[73]

With the onset of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson nationalized long distance service in June 1918, placing it under the control of the Postmaster General. It was returned to AT&T one year later, but the brief government control encouraged telephone pricing concepts akin to postage stamp rates. Like mail, prices for long distance telephone messages would be based on the call’s duration and the distance between speakers, not on its cost. The telephone’s popularity continued to grow after the war, with the Oregon Journal observing: “Today the telephone stands as one of the most indispensable needs of the business world. The businessman can do without transportation or electric light, for other things would take their place. But few businessmen will admit they could do without their telephone.”[74]

All over Oregon, local companies added new customers while updating their networks. In rural areas, farmer’s were eager for local community telephone companies to connect their lines with the more advanced “switched” systems offered in towns. Silverton’s 1919 telephone directory advertised sixteen-party farmer-line service “for the price of one dollar per month, paid semi-annually, in advance.”[75] The company, which in 1922 built the most modern brick building in town, had “developed a fine system, operated in a highly efficient basis” and by 1927, had installed more than 529 miles of wire to serve about 1,100 subscribers.[76] In 1926, Hughes sold his telephone company, and the new owner soon consolidated with telephone companies from California to Washington to form the West Coast Telephone Company.[77] In 1928, Forest Grove Mayor Charles Hines threw a switch that instantaneously transferred 1,050 telephones to the latest “automatic” switchboard located in the town’s new central office building. All customers received new telephone numbers, while party lines were reduced to no more than four subscribers, with charges increased to two dollars per month for four-party service.[78]

As the boom years of the “Roaring Twenties” drew to a close, Pacific Tel boasted of 6,100 subscribers in Salem and was planning to celebrate its 100,000th customer in Portland.[79] Instead, the economy collapsed into the Great Depression, and telephone service became an expendable luxury, even at the typical statewide residential rate of $1.50 per month. Customer lines dropped in Portland from 98,000 in 1930 to 76,000 by 1933. Similar reductions occurred across the state. Many customers lowered their cost by adding as many as sixteen other customers on party lines, with calls limited to five minutes each. Long distance calling virtually stopped, as customers avoided the additional charges. Neighbors began “sharing” their telephones with non-subscribers, despite company efforts to discourage the practice. In some cases, farmers paid their telephone bills with produce from their farms, and local companies expected customers to help maintain their own lines. In Canby, retired manager Larry Cole remembers the association traded a cow for a telephone, getting them in trouble with state regulators. Canby would later delay replacing its outdated operator switchboard with an automatic switch, customers not wanting operators to lose their jobs. Similarly, Brown’s thriving Silverton operations fell on difficult times. The local bank ran out of money and began using its own scrip. Brown’s wife Ethel, who ran the business office, began walking around town, personally putting into her “collection box” whatever cash her customers could afford, and using that money to pay company employees. The Depression also ended the cooperative relationship between the telephone industry and government regulators, and in 1934, Congress created the Federal Communications Commission with the goals of broadening universal service and ensuring “reasonable charges.” The same year, Oregonians elected Governor Julius Meier, who dismissed the existing Public Service Commission as “an utter failure” and urged the Legislature to abolish the Commission and replace it with a single commissioner heading a new state Department of Public Utilities to provide greater regulatory control over transportation and utility companies within the state.[80]

In May 1940, Pacific Tel finally celebrated the installation of its 100,000th Portland customer. Having been displaced as the area’s largest employer by the city’s booming shipyards, it was a mixed celebration.[82] World War II brought rapid economic change to Oregon and created enormous new demands on the telephone industry, transforming it from a luxury to a necessity. As long distance service exploded, telephone companies scrambled to meet their growing demand despite shortages of such necessary supplies as copper, rubber, lead, and gasoline for their vehicles.

In the post-war economic boom, demand for new telephone service far exceeded the industry’s ability to supply it. By 1950, Pacific Tel served more than 350,000 customers in 60 exchanges in Oregon, nearly 200,000 in Portland alone. An additional 69,000 customers were served by the 81 independent companies operating in 166 separate exchanges throughout the state.[82] Costs to expand the networks, combined with increased labor costs for the growing telephone company workforce, put pressure on local company earnings, and smaller companies began merging to meet the new demands. In 1949, Brown’s Interurban Telephone company acquired operations in Aumsville, Turner, Mill City, and Detroit, and in 1956, it was renamed the Valley Telephone Company.[83]

Attempts to increase earnings through higher local rates, however, were resisted by state regulators and politicians, who noted that AT&T was making handsome profits from long distance service. The company introduced new technologies, including one they titled “Direct Distance Dialing,” that were eliminating operators and reducing company costs. Officials from Oregon, Congress, and the FCC responded to concerns that increased local rates would adversely affect the goal of universal service by creating “Universal Service Funds” that shifted more earnings from larger urban-based companies to smaller rural ones. Since every telephone was now connected to AT&T’s long distance network, revenues from long distance service flowed back to the local Bell companies, as well as to the independents, to subsidize their local customers.

In 1961, Bell telephone operations in Oregon and Washington split from the San Francisco based Pacific Tel to create Pacific Northwest Bell (PNB), which, in 1964, added its 300,000th subscriber in Portland and reached a total of more than 600,000 throughout the state. As large numbers of Oregonians moved to the suburbs, independent companies, serving many of these growing areas, struggled to update their four- and eight-party lines.[84] General Telephone & Electronics Corporation (GTE) purchased West Coast Telephone Company, serving many Portland suburbs as well as the LaGrande and Coos Bay areas in its Oregon operations, in 1964.[85] Brown’s operation continued to expand from its headquarters in Silverton, merging in 1966 with the Sunnyside Telephone Company southeast of Portland and acquiring Hoodland Telephone Company, which still used a war surplus battleship intercom system to provide telephone service in the Mt. Hood Recreation Area.[86] Three years later, Continental Telephone Corporation acquired the company started in 1904 by Percy Brown.

Telephones were installed in more than 90 percent of American households by 1970. In the years since 1940, the charge for monthly residential telephone service, relative to other consumer prices, had fallen by more than half.[87] By the time it celebrated its first century of operation in 1976, AT&T had become the largest corporation in the world, with more than one million employees providing local and long distance telephone service across the country. It manufactured all its own equipment and provided most of the worldwide research in communications from its Bell Laboratories.[88]

Telephone service had grown enormously in its first hundred years. Nevertheless, it was still the same analog voice service originally envisioned by Alexander Bell. Although business customers received essentially the same voice service as residential customers, they were charged higher prices, based on a quaint regulatory notion that telephones were more valuable to businesses, who were better able to afford it. Technology, however, was again transforming the industry. Businesses began using computers, powered by transistors invented at Bell Labs, to process vast new quantities of digital data, and they needed to transmit that data from office to office. New competitors such as MCI Corporation targeted AT&T’s lucrative long distance and business services. AT&T’s reluctance to interconnect with these new competitors revived long quiet allegations of anti-competitive practices, and several anti-trust lawsuits began winding through the courts.

President Dwight Eisenhower had in 1958 created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the Department of Defense. A decade later, ARPA was seeking proposals to develop a decentralized telecommunications network to allow computers to continue communicating with one another in the event of a nuclear attack. Believing there would be no money in the project, and concerned about their anti-trust battles, AT&T decided not to bid on it. ARPAnet, as it became known, would ultimately evolve into today’s Internet.[89] Once again, the existing communications monopoly missed the next wave of technological innovation. As was the case for the telegraph, and later the telephone, the new digital communications took time to become adopted, but “while the benefits of new technologies are often exaggerated at first, they often exceed initial expectations.”[90]

By 1980, the FCC, state utility commissions, Congress, and the courts were all unsuccessfully trying to reshape the way AT&T would operate in the increasingly competitive environment. Ronald Reagan was elected President that fall, and Republicans regained control of the U.S. Senate. As the new Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Oregon Senator Bob Packwood led the efforts to resolve all the issues, for all the parties, in one comprehensive Congressional masterstroke. While preserving AT&T’s role as “a dominant carrier,” his bill created extensive new rules to allow competition. Packwood maneuvered it artfully through the Senate, and the bill was adopted that fall by a margin of ninety to four.[91] The House, however, took a different approach, and legislation bogged down.

With no Congressional solution in sight and the anti-trust trial nearing conclusion, AT&T agreed to a Justice Department proposal in December 1982 to divest its local telephone operations, creating seven regional “Baby Bell” companies around the country, including the Denver based US West, now known as Qwest, that contained its Oregon operations. The 471-page “consent decree” agreed to by AT&T and the Justice Department went into excruciating detail “divesting” the giant corporation. On page 385, after it dealt with office furniture and tools, pension funds and tax reserves, the decree addressed the new “cellular radio services.” In footnote 387, it clarified that when the FCC authorized it, the anticipated service would be provided by the new regional Bell companies.[92] The fateful decision, hardly noticed at the time, would be the next big advance in telecommunications technology. Within the next twenty years, cellular technology would free voice and data communications from the necessity of wire connections.

In 1990, GTE and Contel announced a $6.2 billion nationwide merger. What had begun with Grant Hughes’s twelve customers in Forest Grove and Percy Brown’s nine customers in Silverton now counted 350,000 customers covering 5,200 square miles in its northwest operation. Mergers would continue to consolidate the industry, and little more than ten years later, GTE would merge with East Coast–based Bell Atlantic to form Verizon Corporation, as distinctions between the former “independent” and “Bell” companies faded into history. A few years later, Verizon would acquire its former long distance competitor, MCI.[93]

Alternative communications technologies, which once seemed so crucial, began going the way of the Pony Express. Western Union had reached its height in 1929, when it sent more than 200 million telegrams all over the world. The volume of messages continually dwindled to just 21,000 in 2005, and on January 27, 2006, Western Union sent its last telegram. Its logical descendent, the Internet based e-mail, made the telegraph obsolete. The postal services scrambled to adapt to the technological innovations, in an effort the Oregonian headlined, “Snail Mail Tries to Stay in the Race.” In response to the decreased demand, the Postal Service suggested consolidating three thousand offices across America, while reducing mail delivery from six to five days a week.[94]

New government policies adopted by the Oregon legislature and by Congress during the 1990s expanded reliance on competition and innovation in the industry.[95] The Internet, transmitting uncountable bits of information simultaneously around the world, expanded to include voice and video transmission, competing directly against the telephone companies. Glass fibers replaced copper wires, transmitting data at the speed of light. By 2007, Verizon began providing video programming and Internet services over fiber optic networks, labeled FiOS, to its suburban Portland telephone customers, allowing them to choose between cable and telephone companies for all their communication needs. Comcast, the cable TV company in the area, had two years earlier “moved beyond its traditional cable TV business and [begun] marketing local and long distance phone business — stealing business from Verizon and Qwest.” With their telephone customer base dropping, Verizon announced in May 2009 that it would sell its “wireline” telephone network in Oregon and eleven other states to Frontier Communications Corporation, while retaining its growing nationwide “wireless” and high-speed internet operations.[96] The April 22, 2010, Oregonian reported Qwest’s announcement that it had been sold to Century Tel, Inc., a rural-based telephone company headquarted in Monroe, Louisiana. Country Tel would add some 800,000 Oregon customers to the nearly 114,000 it already served in central and coastal Oregon.

With companies competing to deliver voice, video, and data to homes and offices, being on the wrong side of the “digital divide” and unable to connect to the latest technologies was as threatening as being isolated from mail delivery had been 150 years earlier. Newly elected President Barack Obama revived the issue of rural isolation in 2009 and proposed bringing high-speed Internet service to every home, making the benefits of new broadband technologies available to all Americans. By year’s end, he had allocated $7.4 billion to the project. “New broadband access means more capacity and better reliability in rural areas and underserved urban communities around the country,” Vice President Joe Biden explained. “Businesses will be able to improve their customer service and better compete around the world.” Technology futurist George Gilder has observed: “Communication is the way we weave together a personality, a family, a business, a nation, and a world…. new communications technology will make human communication universal, instantaneous, unlimited in capacity, and at the margins free.”[97]

For retired telephone executive Larry Brown, James’s great-great grandson, the effect of the changes are apparent. Sitting in his home in the Silverton hills, looking across the original Brown land grant, Larry can ponder that wireless services and high-speed data and video connections have replaced the original farmer line that ran by his property, making it possible for him to communicate around the world as easily and quickly as calling next door. The new communication tools empower him to choose when, where, and with whom he wants to be near, or far, and how he wants to use the technology. In looking back to explain his family’s contribution to Silverton’s communications, Larry recalled that James Brown came to Oregon not to make history but to start a tannery. He was among the first Oregonians to be off to the California gold mines. Returning with a teapot full of gold dust, he started a highly successful inn alongside the Territorial Road meandering south from Oregon City. “He was an entrepreneur,” Larry explained.[98] Entrepreneurs like James Brown, his family, and all the developers of what has become the communication networks for all Oregonians are among the unsung heroes of Oregon’s economic development.

Frank Dillow is an adjunct fellow in the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute


[1] John D. Unruh, The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the trans-Mississippi West, 1840–60 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979), 119; Biography of James Brown, Oregon Historical Society Research Library, Portland [hereafter OHS Research Library], James M. Brown Papers, Mss 57.5.

[2] Walter R. Borneman, Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America (New York: Random House, 2008), 219.

[3] Robert Horace Down, A History of the Silverton Country (Portland, Ore.: Berncliff Press, 1926), 35–36.

[4] One eastbound wagon in 1845 arrived in Missouri with 840 letters. Another wagon the same year delivered 541 more. Unruh, Plains Across, 126.

[5] See Jefferson to Lewis, June 20, 1803, in Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783–1854, 2 vols. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 1:61.

[6] Congressional Globe, 26th Congress, 2nd Session, March 1, 1843; Kenneth Silverman, Lightning Man: the Accursed Life of Samuel F.B. Morse (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 236.

[7] Silverman, Lightning Man, 243–52; Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 748.

[8] Similarities between the two communications technologies are given extensive analysis in Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet: the Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers (New York: Walker, 1998).

[9] Fletcher to Polk, July 24, 1845, quoted by Borneman, Polk, 422.

[10] Joseph Gaston, The Centennial History of Oregon, 1811–1912 (Chicago: S.J. Clark, 1912), 510.

[11] Richard Pyle, “19th century papers shed new light on origin of The Associated Press,” press release of January 31, 2005, by The Associated Press, available at (accessed April 14, 2010).

[12] Congressional Globe, August 12, 1848.

[13] The news was delivered by passengers on the Ondine when it docked in Oregon City. Oregon City Oregon Spectator, January 25, 1849, p.1.

[14] The Pacific Mail Steamship Co.’s decision to build a wharf at St. Helens and terminate its mail service on the Columbia River threatened Portland’s dominance of early Oregon settlements. By 1854, the company began bringing the mail to Portland, and St. Helens became a stop along the way. Eugene E. Snyder, Early Portland: Stump-town Triumphant 1831–1854 (Portland, Ore.: Binfords and Mort, 1970), 154–72. See also Carlos A. Schwantes, Long Day’s Journey: The Steamboat & Stagecoach Era in the Northern West (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999), 80–81.

[15] Unruh, The Plains Across, 240; W. Turrentine Jackson, “Portland: Wells Fargo’s Hub for the Pacific Northwest,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 86:3 (Fall 1985): 230; Roberta Frye Watt, Four Wagons West: the Story of Seattle (Portland, Ore: Metropolitan Press, 1931), 81–83, 148.

[16] Down, History of the Silverton Country, 226.

[17] Salem Statesman, March 27, 1855.

[18] Gaston, Centennial History of Oregon, 510; E.D. Smith, “Communications Pioneering in Oregon,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 39:4 (December 1938): 356. See also Jewel Lansing, Portland: People, Politics and Power, 1851–2001 (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2003), 74–77.

[19] United States, statutes at large, 34–36 Congs, vol. XI, p. 190.

[20] Charles A. Tinker, “A Telegrapher’s Reminiscence,” in Abraham Lincoln: Tributes from His Associates (New York: T.Y. Crowell, 1895), 157–58. See also Tom Wheeler, Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: the Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War (New York: HarperBusiness, 2006).

[21] Weekly Oregonian, March 12, 1859, p. 2.

[22] Morning Oregonian, November 27, 1885, p. 2.

[23] U.S. Census, 1860, Population, pp. 598–99; E. Kimbark McCall, with Harry H. Stein, Merchants, Money and Power: the Portland Establishment 1843–1913 (Portland, Ore. Georgian Press, 1998), 102; Christopher Corbett, Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express (New York: Broadway Books, 2003), 1–9.

[24] Senate Executive Documents, 36 Cong., 2 sess., vol III, doc 1, pp. 436–37; Oscar Osburn Winthur, The Transportation Frontier: Trans-Mississippi West, 1865–1890 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), 46, 255–57.

[25] Sacramento Daily Union, January 1, 1861; Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 1st Session, pp. 494, 1292, 1345, 2353, 2375, 2422, 3032, 3063, 3113; 12 U.S. Statues at Large 41; James Gamble, “Wiring a Continent, the making of the U.S. Transcontinental Telegraph line,” The Californian (1881).

[26] Harry C. Blair and Rebecca Tarshis, The Life of Colonel Edward D. Baker, Lincoln’s Constant Ally, Together with Four of His Great Orations (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1960), 105.

[27] Robert C. Notson, Making the Day Begin: A Story of the Oregonian (Portland: Oregonian Publishing Company, 1976), 7–8; McCall, Merchants, Money and Power, 113.

[28] Byron Farwell, Ball’s Bluff, A Small Battle and Its Long Shadow (McLean, Va.: EPM Publications, 1990), 11–24; Blair and Tarshis, Colonel Edward D. Baker, 147–63; Wheeler, Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails, 44–45.

[29] Robert Walter Johanssen, Frontier Politics and the Sectional Conflict: the Pacific Northwest on the Eve of the Civil War (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1955), 163–65. Young sent the message to J.H. Wade, President of the Pacific Telegraph Company in Cleveland, and it was published widely. See Phil Ault, Wires West (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1974), 73–74.

[30] The first transcontinental message was addressed to President Lincoln from his friend Stephan J. Field, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. See James Gamble, “Wiring a Continent, the making of the U. S. Transcontinental Telegraph Line” The Californian (1881).

[31] Ibid.

[32] Smith, “Communications Pioneering in Oregon,” 357; H.O. Lang, History of the Willamette Valley, being a description of the valley and resources, with an account of its discovery and settlement by white men, and its subsequent history (Portland, Ore:, G.H. Himes, 1885), 847; Hubert Howe Bancroft [Frances Fuller Victor], History of Oregon, vol. 2, in The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 30, (San Francisco: The History Company, 1888), 339–40. Strong had been Superintendent of the Northern Telegraph Company in California, which had built the telegraph line from Marysville to Yreka in 1857. James A. Reid, The Telegraph in America and Morse Memorial (New York: for the author by J. Polhemus, 1886), 500.

[33] James W. Nesmith to Matthew Deady, February 28, 1864, OHS Research Library, as quoted in Charles Henry Carey, History of Oregon (Chicago-Portland, Ore.: The Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1922), 710.

[34] Smith, “Communications Pioneering in Oregon,” 356–58.

[35] Phil Ault, “The (almost) Russian American Telegraph,” American Heritage 26:4 (June 1975); Watt, Four Wagons West,
300–304; George Kennan, Tent Life in Siberia: An Incredible Account of Adventure, Travel, and Survival (New York: Skyhorse, 2007), 422–24.

[36] Author interview with Larry Brown, Silverton, Oregon, October 26, 2007.

[37] Boise Idaho World, May 11, 1867.

[38] Standage, The Victorian Internet, 63–64.

[39] Alexander Graham Bell to Alexander Melville Bell, March 10, 1876, as quoted by Seth Schulman, The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008), 14–15, 163–78. See also Alexander Graham Bell, Lab Notebook, March 10, 1876, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.

[40] Western Union memo, 1876, as reproduced at “History: AT&T, Cybertelecosm Federal Internet Law & Policy, An Educational Project,” (accessed April 12, 2010; see “Patent Wars Act 1: Western Union”).

[41] Robert V. Bruce, Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973), 190–91; Salem Public Library, “Communications: Telegraph, Telephones and Television in Salem,” (accessed April 7, 2010).

[42] John Brooks, Telephone: The First Hundred Years (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), 65.

[43] Gaston, Centennial History of Oregon, 511; Ainsworth quoted in “A Telephone History of the Pacific Northwest,” prepared by Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone Company, 1965, 6–7, in author’s possession and available at OHS Research Library.

[44] OREGON FOLKLORE STUDIES interview by A.C. Sherbert with Ross M. Plummer, 1202 S.W. Third Street, Portland, Oregon., January 13, 18, [1939], (accessed April 12, 2010).

[45] Morning Oregonian, March 29, 1878, p. 3.

[46] Ibid., May 6, 1878, p. 3.

[47] Ibid., May 7, 1878, p. 3, May 13, 1878, p.3.

[48] Smith, “Communication Pioneering in Oregon,” 360. Brooks, Telephone.

[49] W.E. Hoberg, “The Participation of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company in the Development of the Telephone Business in the State of Oregon,” internal Pacific Northwest Bell treasury department document dated December 26, 1950, p. 6, in author’s possession.

[50] Ibid.; Corvallis Gazette Times, July 24, 1937; Morning Oregonian, December 13, 1885, p. 5.

[51] Washington County News, Board of Trade Edition, April 1908.

[52] Hoberg, “Participation of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company,” 4.

[53] Morning Oregonian, December 13, 1885, p. 5; Walter M. Pierce, Oregon Cattleman, Governor, Congressman: Memoirs and Times of Walter M. Pierce, ed. Arthur H. Bone (Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1981), 23–24.

[54] Charles E. Pleasance, The Spirit of Independent Telephony: a Chronicle of the Accomplishments, Intrigue, and the Fight for Survival that Accompanied the Independent Movement in the United States (Johnson City, Tenn.: Independent Telephone Books, 1989), 112.

[55] Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley, Oregon (Chicago: Chapman Publishing Company, 1903), 1377–78; Biography of James Brown, OHS Research Library.

[56] Interurban Telephone Company Directory (Silverton, Ore.: Appeal Print, 1908).

[57] Ivo Bauman, “Mt. Angel Telephone Company,” in Proud of our past, planning for our future: A History of the Telephone Industry in Oregon (Salem: Oregon Independent Telephone Association, 1990), 24–27; author interview with Thomas Bauman, October 29, 2007.

[58] Eugene L. Cole, “Canby Telephone Association,” in Proud of our past, planning for our future, 3–5; Bauman interview.

[59] Phil F. Brogan, East of the Cascades (Portland, Ore: Binfords and Mort, 1964), 190.

[60] Gresham Outlook, February 2, 1982.

[61] Interurban Telephone Company Directories (Silverton, Ore., 1906–1910).

[62] Forest Grove Times, July 19, 1906, p. 1.

[63] Brooks, Telephone, 116–17; Sunday Journal, June 12, 1912, sec. 3, p. 5; Sunday Oregonian, June 30, 1912, sec. 1, p. 5.

[64] T.T. Geer, Fifty Years in Oregon: Experiences, Observations, and Commentaries upon Men, Measures, and Customs in Pioneer Days and Later Times (New York: Neale Publishing, 1912), 314–15.

[65] Brooks, Telephone, 10.

[66] Abbott C. Mills to Citizens of Portland, October 20, 1912, quoted in McCall, Merchants, Money and Power, 440.

[67] Hoberg, “The Participation of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company,” 10.

[68] The Mann-Elkins Act (61st Congress, ch. 309, 36 Stat. 539, enacted June 18, 1910).

[69] Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Co. v. Oregon, 223 US 118 (1912).

[70] Railroad Commission of Oregon, 7th Annual Report to the Governor, December 15, 1913, pp. 232–40.

[71] US v. AT&T, no. 6082, U.S. Dist. Ct. of Oregon, Original Petition, July 24, 1913, Decree, 1914.

[72] Peter Temin with Louis Galambos, The Fall of the Bell System: A Study in Prices and Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 9–10; Willis-Graham Act, ch. 20, 42 Stat 27, 1921.

[73] New York Times, January 26, 1915; Morning Oregonian, January 26, 1915, p. 3, 4.

[74] Act of Congress Covering Taking Over of Wires, Pub. Resolution no 38, 40 Stat. 904, 1918, President’s Proclamation Taking Over Telephone and Telegraph Systems, July 22, 1918; Oregon Journal, February 26, 1922.

[75] Interurban Telephone Company Directory (Silverton, Ore., 1919).

[76] Lang, History of the Willamette Valley, 2:49.

[77] “History and Development of the West Coast Telephone Company,” internal company document dated November 1, 1958, p. 5, in author’s possession.

[78] Washington County News Times, January 26, 1928.

[79] Jim Haynes, “US West Communications, Incorporated, Telephone History in Portland, Oregon,” in Proud of our past, planning for our future.

[80] Author interview with Eugene L. Cole, Canby, Oregon, October 27, 2007; Brown interview ; 73rd Congress, 2nd Session, S.3285, Communications Act of 1934, ch. 652, 48 Stat. 1064, 1934; Governor Julius L. Meier message to the Thirty Sixth Legislative Assembly (Oregon State Archives, January 12, 1931).

[81] Carlos A. Schwantes, The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretative History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), 330.

[82] Hoberg, “Participation of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company,” 4.

[83] Brown interview.

[84] Hoberg, “Participation of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company,” 4; “History and Development of the West Coast Telephone Company,” p. 5.

[85] “Celebrating S.G. Hughes and 100 years of telephone service in Forest Grove,” GTE Northwest and the Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce, December 1, 1988. See also Thomas E. McCarthy, The History of GTE: The Evolution of One of America’s Great Corporations (Stamford, Conn.: GTE Corporation, 1990), 109–110.

[86] Sunnyside had been assembled by West Coast Telephone Company lineman Lambert Miller, who operated the company in his spare time with his wife from their Sunnyside Road home. Brown interview.

[87] Temin, The Fall of the Bell System, 59–60, 62 (quotes Bell System Statistical Manual, 1950–1981).

[88] Leslie Cauley, End of the Line: The Rise and Fall of AT&T (New York: Free Press, 2005), 34–46.

[89] “History::Arpanet (1960s), Cybertelecosm Federal Internet Law & Policy, An Educational Project,” (accessed April 12, 2010).

[90] Robert D. Atkinson and Andrew S. McKay, Digital Prosperity: Understanding the Economic Benefits of the Information Technology Revolution (Washington, D.C.: Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, 2007), 1.

[91] 97th Congress, 1st Session, Senate S. 898, “The Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1981”; Temin, The Fall of the Bell System, 235–49.

[92] US v. Western Electric Co., Inc and AT&T, No. 82–0192, U.S. Dist. Ct. for the District of Columbia, Plan of Reorganization, December 16, 1982, pp. 385–89.

[93] Some of the information in this paragraph is drawn from the author’s experience as an employee of GTE-Verizon.

[94] Oregonian, February 4, 2008; U.S. Postal Service, The Challenge to Deliver, 2009 Annual Report, U.S. Postal Service, 1–5.

[95] See Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) Chapter 759, S. 652, The Telecommunications Act of 1996, February 8, 1996.

[96] Oregonian, December 12, 2007, May 13, 2009.

[97] Washington Post, December 3, 2008, p. D4, December 18, 2009, p. A28; George Gilder, Telecosm: How Infinite Bandwidth Will Revolutionize Our World (New York: Free Press, 2000), 2.

[98] Brown interview. See also John Niles, “Telecommunications and the Location of Work,” NTQ (New Telecom Quarterly), 6:4 (Fourth Quarter 1998): 23–30.