Telephone exchange starts for 90 Seattle subscribers on March 7, 1883.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 2/10/1999
  • Essay 875

On March 7, 1883, the Sunset Telephone Company starts operating with 90 Seattle subscribers. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) invented the telephone, which was demonstrated two years later in Seattle. The phone company, headed by E. W. Melse from California, locates the exchange and operators on the southeast corner of 2nd Avenue and Cherry Street, the present (2005) site of the Alaska Building.

Those New-Fangled Devices

Once, while Melse was helping a crew install telephone poles, he was greeted by Henry Yesler, who asked him a variety of questions about telephone use. Melse recorded that one of Yesler's queries was whether or not "one could swear over that thing." It is not known what Melse's answer was.

Using a telephone was a novelty for many. James Hamilton "Dude" Lewis, later a Washington State Representative, was known to tip his hat whenever a woman answered the phone.

By The Numbers

Miss Harriett Hanson (later Mrs. Val Hall) was the first operator. The telephone installation charge was $25 and monthly charges were $2.50 for residences and $7 for businesses. The four most popular numbers were the Gem Saloon, Clancy Liquor Store, Funk and Dickman Saloon, and the Seattle Brewery.

The 90 customers were listed as follows:

Business Listings

  • Anderson & Company (Gem Saloon)
  • Arlington Hotel (Smith & Farrar, Props.)
  • Bagley, Dr. H. B.
  • Ballard & Hatfield
  • Bijou Theater (Smith, J. W.)
  • Blanchard, John M.
  • Burke & Raisin (Attorneys)
  • Burns & Taylor (Insurance)
  • City Clerk (E. S. Osborne)
  • Clancy & Company (Liquor Dealers)
  • Dexter Horton & Co. (R. H. Denny)
  • Edwards, J. W. (Real Estate)
  • Eshelman, Lllewellyn & Co. (Real Estate)
  • First National Bank
  • Frauenthal Bros. (Merchandise)
  • Funk & Dickman (Liquor)
  • Gove & Wilson (Produce Dealers)
  • Grasse, Dr. J. C. (Dentist)
  • Hall & Paulson Furniture Co.
  • Hall & Wood (Attorneys)
  • Haller & Eagle (Attorneys)
  • Hanford, C. H. (Attorney)
  • Hanford, Clarence (Printer)
  • Harrington & Smith (Store and Dock)
  • Jacobs & Jenner
  • Jennings, W. A. (Grocery)
  • Kellogg's Drug Store (Gardner Kellogg)
  • Kelly, Matthew A. (Druggist)
  • King County Auditor (S. G. Harris, L. S. Booth, Deputy)
  • King County Sheriff (John H. McGraw)
  • King County Treasurer (Capt. Geo. D. Hill)
  • MacDonald & Reitze (Sashes and Doors)
  • McGinnis, Geo T. & Co. (Soda Water)
  • McNaught, Ferry, McNaught, and Mitchell (Attorneys)
  • Maddocks Drug Co.
  • Miller, Dr. P. B. M.
  • Minor, Dr. T. T.
  • Moran Bros.
  • New England Hotel
  • Occidental Hotel (John Collins)
  • Oregon Improvement Co. (J. M. Colman)
  • Phillips, H. F. & Co. (Livery Stable)
  • Phillips, W. R. (Stoves, Ranges)
  • Phinney, G. C. & Co. (Real Estate)
  • Pinkham, Roy (Messenger Service)
  • Pontius, Frank A. (Druggist)
  • Post-Intelligencer
  • Pumphrey & Lowman (Stationery)
  • Reinig, L. (Grocer and Baker)
  • Schram & Korn Hardware Co.
  • Schwabacher Bros. Co.
  • Scott, W. D. & Co. (Grocers)
  • Seattle Brewery (A. Slorah)
  • Seattle Gas Co.
  • Shorey, O. C. & Co. (Undertaker)
  • Seattle Lumber & Commercial Co.
  • Smith & Willard (Physicians)
  • Smith, L. P. & Sons (Jewelers)
  • Stetson & Post (Sawmill)
  • Stewart, A. B. (Druggist)
  • Stone, C. P. & Co. (John Haley and C. A. Wright - Grocers)
  • Struve & Haines (Attorneys)
  • Toklas & Singerman (General Clothing)
  • United State Court Clerk (The Rev. James P. Ludlow)
  • Waddell & Miles (Stoves)
  • Wald & Campbell (Hardware)
  • Washington Iron Works (J. M. Frink, Superintendent)
  • Weed, Dr. G. A. (M.D.)
  • Wusthoff Hardware Co., F. W.
  • Yesler's Dock and Yesler Mill & Manufacturing Co. (Geo. N. Foster, Wharfinger)

    Residence Listings

  • Baxter, Sutcliffe
  • Brooks, A. M.
  • Burke, Judge Thomas
  • Colman, J. M.
  • Denny, A. A.
  • Ferry, E. P.
  • Gatzert, Bailey
  • Haines, Col. J. C.
  • Hall, Judge I. M.
  • Haller, Col. Granville C.
  • Harris, S. C.
  • Kellogg, Gardner
  • McNaught, Jos.
  • McNaught, James
  • Miller, Dr. P. B. M.
  • Pumphrey, W. H.
  • Smith, Dr. E. L.
  • Stacy, M. V. B.
  • Struve, Judge H. G.


“Seattle Telephone History,” Portage: The Magazine of the Museum of History and Industry, Vol. 9, No, 2 (Summer 1988), 5, 6.; “Seattle Fetes First Phone” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 8, 1933, p. 13; “Seattle's First Phone Service” The Seattle Times, March 29, 1959, magazine, p. 4.
Note: This file was revised by Alan J. Stein on January 15, 2002.

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