“Number, Please.” “9,800 and Growing.”

Fort Worth’s first telephones were installed about 1880. A single switchboard, a handful of operators called “hello girls” (men were considered too rude to be operators), and phone numbers of first one digit and then two and three and four digits served the city for thirty years.

But during those thirty years Fort Worth’s population exploded. In fact, in 1900 Fort Worth’s population was just 26,688. By 1910 the population was 73,312, an increase of almost threefold. Much of that increase came in 1909 when Fort Worth annexed the city of North Fort Worth, which had boomed after the packing plants began operation in 1903. The increase in the number of phones in Fort Worth was almost ninefold, from 1,116 in 1900 to 9,800 in 1910. Thus, in 1900 one person in twenty-three had a telephone; by 1910 one person in seven had a telephone.

exchanges phone exchanges 1-23-10In fact, it was in large part due to the population boom in the former city of North Fort Worth that Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone Company in 1910 was forced to make some changes. A single switchboard could handle only so many phone numbers. So, on January 23 the Star-Telegram announced (type is cut off on the right margin in this clip) that, beginning on January 29, to place a call a caller would have to specify to the operator whether the number desired was in the Lamar exchange or the Prospect exchange. The Prospect exchange was added to serve the North Side. The original (nameless) exchange that had served all of the city to that point became the “Lamar” exchange to distinguish it from the Prospect exchange. And the news story said that soon a third exchange—Rosedale—would be opened for the South Side.

exchanges ad 1-28-10 3Clip is from January 28.

exchanges cobden 8-8-9On August 8, 1909 the Star-Telegram ran this photo of the new Cobden Building on North Main Street, which would house the new Prospect telephone exchange in 1910.

exchange PR wideexchange PR cornerThe Cobden Building today at 2027 North Main Street.

exchanges prospect open house 3-23-10The phone company held an open house for the new exchange on March 24, 1910. Clip is from the March 23 Star-Telegram.

exchanges party lines 1-29-10On January 29, 1910 the Star-Telegram reported that the new phone system would change the nature of telephone party lines. Now, instead of each phone on a party line being assigned a different number of rings, each phone would be assigned a different letter. Also, “only the phone of the party wanted”—not all the phones on the party line—“will ring.”

The story also said that bids would be taken for construction of the third exchange building (Rosedale) on Jennings Avenue.

exchanges rosedale building 4-7-10 dmnIndeed, on April 7 the Dallas Morning News reported the progress of construction of the $40,000 ($985,000 today) Rosedale exchange building.

exchanges rosedale photo 10-2-10On October 2 the Star-Telegram printed a photo of the new Rosedale exchange building.

exchanges rosedale to open 12-31-10On December 31, 1910 the Star-Telegram announced that the Rosedale exchange would begin operation with thirty “hello” girls.

exchange RO wideexchange RO detailThe Rosedale exchange building today.

exchanges trouble 1-7-11Predictably, there were growing pains as callers adjusted to having to specify one of not two but now three exchanges when they placed a call with an operator. Clip is from the January 7, 1911 Star-Telegram.

txu-sanborn-fort_worth-1910-05In 1910 the phone company was located where it is located today: on Throckmorton at West 10th Street near Peter Smith Park and St. Patrick Cathedral. Top photo is from Greater Fort Worth (1907).
In the twenty-first century, here’s a look at other surviving telephone exchange buildings:

exchange JE wideexchange JE cornerentry exchange JE

exchange JE entranceJEfferson on Avenue G (1927) just off Vaughn Boulevard in Poly.

exchange PE wideexchange PE detail 2

exchange PE lampexchange PE entranceexchange PE detail 3PErshing on Pershing Avenue (1930) on the West Side.

exchange WA wideexchange WA detailWAlnut on West Bowie Street (1931) on the South Side.

exchange MA wide2

exchange MA entranceexchange MA bas reliefexchange MA windowexchange MA window 2MArket on Chestnut Avenue (1931) on the North Side.

Note the art deco detailing of the three exchanges built in the early 1930s.

And finally:

exchange VA wideexchange VA floretexchange VA windowsVAlley on Eagle Drive (1946) in Haltom City.

 

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