A Historical Comic Book of the Southern New England Telephone Company

In January 1878 George Coy founded the District Telephone Company of New Haven, Connecticut, less than one year after telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his invention at Skiff’s Opera House in that city.  Coy’s new company was the first commercial telephone company in the world.

Seventy-five years later, in 1953, the company now known as the Southern New England Telphone Company produced a charming comic book — Pioneering the Telephone in Connecticut — to celebrate its history.  In 1998 the company records were donated to Archives & Special Collections of the UConn Libraries, and the comic book was among the materials.

Here are just a few cells of the comic book, a captivating way to learn about this important company’s history.

Celebrate the first day of summer!

Who wouldn’t want to spend the first day of summer at the beach?  Surely these telephone operators from Norwich were enjoying just that as this photograph, from the Southern New England Telephone Company records, from 1913, shows us.  These ladies, dressed all in white down to their stockings and shoes, seem happy to be on such a pleasant outing that briefly took them from their switchboards for sun and sand.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

The “Voice with a Smile” returns to her telephone switchboard

Mary Cullen Yuhas Anger and her niece Kay Cullen, visiting the reading room at Archives & Special Collections on Monday, February 13, 2012

In 1952 Mary Cullen, a 25-year-old telephone operator with the Southern New England Telephone Company, received the “Voice With a Smile” award, given to operators for superior public service and demeanor.  The award came with a distinctive white headset — Mary said allowed her to stand out and made her feel very special.

Mary Cullen, SNET operator and the “Voice with a Smile,” 1952

On Monday, February 13, 2012, the “Voice With a Smile,” now Mrs. Mary Cullen Yuhas Anger, visited Archives & Special Collections with her niece Kay Cullen to view photographs, documents and employee magazines in the Southern New England Telephone Company (SNET) Records in the archives.  Mrs. Anger reminisced about her happy days as an employee of SNET, from 1944 to 1956, and then off and on, on night shifts, when her children were young.

Mrs. Anger topped off her visit with the gracious gift of a dial pencil, a mechanical pencil with a metal ball at the end, which operators used to work the rotary dials (for efficiency as well as to preserve their manicures, she told us).

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

The 1906 Wire Gang Crew of the Southern New England Telephone Company

1906 work crew, Southern New England Telephone Company

The records of the Southern New England Telephone Company held in Archives & Special Collections have a historical depth that archivists and historians alike find amazing.  The collection not only can give a comprehensive overview of the company itself, but the materials can also speak to other histories — of Connecticut, of the beginnings of the telephone industry, of the introduction of women into the storied profession of telephone operator (“Number, please”), and many many others. 

Established as the District Telephone Company of New Haven, the company opened on January 28, 1878, with a mere twenty-one subscribers.  It was the world’s first commercial telephone exchange, the brainchild of Civil War veteran  George Coy along with Herrick Frost and Walter Lewis.  By the time these men distributed the world’s first telephone directory three weeks later the company had 50 subscribers.  The company took the name of the Southern New England Telephone Company in October 1882 and lasted until it was taken over by SBC Communications in 1998.  After that it merged with AT&T.

Wire Gang journal, 1906, Southern New England Telephone Company Records

There are many extraordinary documents and photographs in the collection and it was hard to choose among them to highlight for today’s blog.  On top is the photograph of a 1906 work crew in Guilford, Connecticut.  Note the goat standing between the legs of the man on the right and the dog with the man up on the pole.  Above are two pages from a 1906 Work Book of Wire Gang No. 31 out of Ridgefield, Connecticut, with details of work done on the line in August 23-29.

For more information about the SNET collection see the finding aid at http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/findaids/SNET/MSS19970122.html.  Two online exhibits that feature photographs from the collection are available from the electronic exhibits page, being from our electronic exhibits page at http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/exhibits/electronic.htm.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections