Telephone History in New Hampshire

Copyright 2011 by Ronald B. Standler

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    1. Connections to customers

    2. Business history

  2. My Photographs of old telephone company buildings near Concord, NH.
    1. Concord

    2. Penacook

    3. Suncook

    4. Dunbarton

    5. Contoocook

    6. Henniker

  3. Links
    1. list of independent local telephone operating companies in New Hampshire

    2. Museums of Telephone Equipment

    3. links to history of telephones in the USA


This webpage discusses some of the history of telephone system in the USA, with emphasis on the system in the state of New Hampshire.


In the early 1900s, telephone wires ran between each customer and a local "Central Office", which was staffed by a human operator. To make a call, one would would remove the handset from the hook, crank the generator to ring the bell at the Central Office. The operator would respond, and the customer would tell the operator the telephone number (or name of the called party). The operator would say "I will connect you." and connect a patch cable between the calling party and the called party. That completed the connection.

In the 1920s to 1970s, telephones came with a rotary dial, and the user could dial the sequence of digits in the called party's number, and equipment at the Central Office would automatically connect the calling party to the called party.   For long-distance calls, the caller would dial "0" for operator, and have a human operator make the connection.   For non-Bell operating companies in rural locations, human operators for local calls persisted into the 1950s in some places.

In the year 1963, Western Electric introduced push-button telephones that emitted tone(s) to identify the number, instead of a series of clicks from mechanical switches on a rotary dial.

Two developments changed the design of Central Offices. First, automatic switching had eliminated human operators in the Central Office. Second, cold-war concerns about reliable communications during and after a nuclear war.   Beginning in the late 1950s, the Central Office buildings were reinforced, electro-magnetically shielded, windowless structures.   Today few people, except the engineers involved in the design and construction, remember these improvements to Central Office buildings.

Beginning in the 1960s, a person in the USA could directly dial anyone in the USA without needing to speak with a human operator.


Initially, each town had their own telephone company. In some places in the USA (e.g., Rochester, NY and Cincinnati, Ohio) this old practice of having a local telephone company still persists. In most of the USA, local telephone companies were absorbed by a state or regional company (e.g., New England Telephone served most of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine). Long-distance voice service was provided exclusively by American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T). Telephones used by customers of the Bell System were manufactured in the USA by Western Electric, a subsidiary of the Bell Telephone System.

Because copper wire was expensive and labor-intensive to string on poles, it was natural for telephone service to be a monopoly, in the same way as water mains or electric power.   The long-distance network of long cables on poles had a repeater (i.e., amplifier) every 5 to 15 miles. Each repeater was contained in a small, windowless shack near a telephone pole.   By the 1970s, much of the long-distance telephone network was carried by microwave radio transmissions between tall towers. It was easier for companies to erect competing microwave networks, compared with the prohibitive cost of erecting a competing long-distance network of cables with copper wires.   Beginning in the year 1961, long-distance service was also carried by communications satellites in orbit around the Earth. More recently, communications have been carried on fiber-optic cables, which have more bandwidth than copper wire.

Government regulators adopted a policy of "universal access" to telephone service, which meant that local telephone service was inexpensive, to encourage everyone to have a telephone. In contrast, long-distance calls were very expensive. I can remember in the early 1960s, when a long-distance telephone call to a home was something special (e.g., a Christmas greeting, an announcement that a relative was hospitalized in serious condition, or someone had died).

This organization worked well until 1984, when Judge Harold Greene declared the Bell Telephone System to be a monopoly, and he deregulated the telephone system. The deregulation had several major effects:
In 1997, NYNEX merged with Bell Atlantic, which after the merger was still called Bell Atlantic.

In 2000, Bell Atlantic merged with General Telephone and Electric (GTE) to form Verizon. In my opinion, that merger was the beginning of the deterioration in telephone service.

In 2008, Verizon abandoned land-line service (i.e., copper wire from a Central Office to each customer) in New Hampshire and thereafter Verizon provided only cellular telephone service. Fair Point Communications acquired Verizon's land-line telephone network in New Hampshire.

My Photographs

Copyright   This website, , including each of my webpages and each of my photographs, is my personal property.   Each of my photographs here, and also my text, is protected by copyright law and my contractual terms of service.   Please enjoy looking at my photographs at my website, but do not copy either my photographs or my text, and do not display them at another website.

Note about my photographs:   To make this webpage load faster, I have reduced the high-quality, at least 12 megapixel files from my digital camera to medium-quality files, with 480 pixels horizontally.   In order to preserve the fidelity of the data, I have not made any adjustment of exposure or color with software.   Most of my photographs have the date in day/month/year format stamped by the camera.


Central Office at 12 South Street in Concord, NH. Note the microwave tower at the rear of the building, on the right side. The tower is now probably mostly used for cellular telephones. I have a dim recollection that behind the current "Fair Point" sign on the building is the original name "New England Telephone" engraved in concrete.


Central office at 20 Charles Street in Penacook, NH.


Central Office at intersection of Pleasant Street and Appleton Street in Suncook, NH.   View from Pleasant St.


Central Office of Dunbarton Telephone, located at 2 Stark Highway South (NH13) in Dunbarton, NH. This is one of the few remaining independent telephone companies in New Hampshire, see the links below.


11 Kearsage Ave. in Contoocook, NH. The big building with windows was the headquarters of the former Merrimack County Telephone Company, now part of TDS. The small, windowless building is the central office for Contoocook.


Central office at 6 Western Ave. in Henniker, NH. Was part of Merrimack County Telephone Company, now part of TDS. Photo was cropped to remove sky and bank building on right.


Independent Local Telephone Operating Companies
in New Hampshire

Most of New Hampshire currently has land-line telephone service from Fair Point Communications.   A few small towns in New Hampshire continue to have their own independent telephone operating company: There is almost no information on the Internet about the history of these local operating companies in New Hampshire.   There are two books that I can recommend:


New Hampshire Telephone Museum at 22 East Main Street in Warner, NH.   Established by Dick and Paul Violette, Chairman and President/CEO of the Merrimack County Telephone Company in Contoocook, NH.

Telephone Museum in Ellsworth, Maine.

Other websites about telephone history in the USA

Antique Telephone Archive

Photographs of the old New England Telephone headquarters building in downtown Boston. This building was designed in 1939 and constructed in 1947.

Photographs of telephone central office buildings in the USA.   A similar website

History of the blue Bell System logo, website by Larry Larned.

Telephone Collectors International, website with technical data on old telephones.   Western Electric telephones.   Telephony Document Repository by Remco Enthoven.

Bell System Memorial Website by David Massey, includes Western Electric.   TelephoneTribute by David Massey has more historical information.

History of Bell Labs.

Website about AT&T microwave towers in Utah, by Daryl R. Gibson.

Equipment Manufacturers

My webpage about telephones for hearing-impaired people has some remarks on sources of telephones in the USA.

this document is at
first posted 28 July 2011

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