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Telephone connects Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and Spokane beginning on October 16, 1893.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5571 : Printer-Friendly Format

On October 16, 1893, long-distance telephone service is inaugurated between Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and Spokane. This is the second longest telephone connection in the world. Seattle Mayor James T. Ronald (1855-1951) and Spokane Mayor Edward L. Powell greet one another in a special ceremony opening the new service. A three-minute telephone call between the cities costs $4.50.

Mayor Ronald noted that in connection with the search for fugitive City Treasurer Adolph Krug (1856-1904), he had conversed by telegraph with the mayor of New Westminister, B.C., the day before, for five minutes at a cost $12.00. Krug was discovered missing on September 12, 1893, along with approximately $125,000 in City funds.

Ring Up Run Around

According to Sunset Telephone Company General Manager Arthur L. Clark:

"The way to use a long-distance wire of the Seattle Exchange is by means of engagements. When you want to talk with a man in Spokane, you ring up his office or come here [17 Korn Block, Southwest Corner of 2nd Avenue and Yesler Way] and ask us to get John Smith at the other end of the line at a certain hour. We call him up at the other end or send out a messenger for him, and if we can't get him we'll let you know it. If we do get him and he can't come at the time you want him to, he can fix another hour and we will advise you. At the appointed time, the line will be ready for you and thus neither you nor your correspondent lose any time" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

The 750-mile line ran from Spokane south to Wallula on the Columbia River and from there, downriver to Portland. From Portland, the line ran through Vancouver, Olympia, and Tacoma to Seattle. The No. 10 hand-drawn copper wire was strung between live cedar poles between 30 and 65 feet long and was transponded (amplified) every half mile. The nine-foot crossarms each had six seasoned oak pins for pony glass insulators. Underwater cables crossed the Willamette and Columbia Rivers at Portland. The only longer connection in the United States was the one between Chicago and New York.

The Washington state line was constructed at a cost of $250,000 and was a cooperative venture between the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Co., the Oregon Telephone and Telegraph Co., and the Inland Telephone and Telegraph Co.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer told its readers, "Long distance telephony has within the past few years been brought almost to the level of an exact science."

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 17, 1893, p. 8; Seattle City Directory (Seattle: R.L. Polk Co., 1893), 49, 88, 293; Spokane City Directory (Spokane: R.L. Polk Co., 1893), 75.

Travel through time (chronological order):
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Long distance telephone operators, Seattle, ca. 1907
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Lee20109)

Tacoma, 11th Street, July 19, 1893
Photo by Alvin H. Waite, Courtesy UW Special Collections (Image WAT015)

Bird's-eye view of Seattle waterfront, 1890s

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