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Early Telephone Days

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In 1883, the Bismarck Tribune reported on the desire for a telephone link between Bismarck and Mandan, stating: “these are days when expedition and dispatch are needed. Life is too short to be flittered away at a stage coach pace, and a telephone between the two cities is what we need.” A charter was already held for a telephone system in Bismarck, and it was predicted that a telephone system would soon connect the two cities, as well as Fort Lincoln. However, the first telephone system in Bismarck didn’t come until two years later, in 1885, when St. Alexius Hospital set up phone connections with drug stores and town doctors.

In 1937, telephones played an interesting role in estimating Bismarck’s population. The Bismarck Tribune reported that the town’s population had increased by approximately 15 percent in two years, putting the population somewhere between 15,500 and 16,500. The estimate relied on data from local school boards, city officials, and the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company, which made semi-annual population estimates based on telephone installations and service calls.

F. H. Waldo, the district manager for the phone company, said Bismarck was enjoying a "steady but sound growth." Bismarck was known as the "city without a vacant house."

And on this date, Waldo was in talks with various members of the city to consider installing telephones at strategic points around the city of Bismarck to create a new and improved alarm system for police. He said the city had "now grown to a point where its police department needed a more efficient method of communication between headquarters and patrolmen.

This system would include "a loud gong" that "would summon cruising police cars and patrolmen on their beats."

The system currently in use was a telephone operator and police light system, which Waldo called "antiquated." It did not allow easy communication between the men on the street and staff at headquarters.

Waldo and Police Commissioner E. B. Klein had tentative plans for creating weatherproof boxes to house the phones, which would connect to a desk sergeant. Such a system was already used in Fargo.

The newspaper noted that the city commission would have to consider "whether Bismarck householders will consent to having a gong rung in their ears at odd moments of the day in return for what may be more efficient police protection."

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


Bismarck Tribune, July 9, 1937, p1; August 10, 1937

Bismarck Tribune, May 11, 1883, p1

The Bismarck Tribune, September 12, 1935, p8

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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