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The First Telephones in Grand Forks


On this date in 1882, Grand Forks said “hello” to the telephone. Famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell had invented his modern marvel of voice communication in 1876, and telephone wires began to connect American cities in the years thereafter.

Minneapolis and St. Paul started a telephone system in 1879. Fargo got its telephones in 1881, and Grand Forks set up an exchange in 1882.

The telephone was “certainly a wonderful instrument,” wrote the Grand Forks Plaindealer, and it became “a necessity” almost immediately. For a cost of only five dollars a month, a subscriber could enter into the world of telephone communications. The telephone company owned the phone and kept the phone lines and the telephone in good working order at all times, the phone-user merely rented the phone.

The public received instructions for phone use from the local phone company and through newspaper articles. When a person spoke into the phone, he or she was to stand “at a distance of two feet from the microphone” and speak in an “ordinary tone of voice,” not shouting, “in order to be distinctly heard.”

Phone etiquette called for saying “hello,” and then stating your name “so that the person connected may know who is talking to him.” The famous inventor Thomas Edison has been credited with starting the practice of saying “hello.” Alexander Graham Bell preferred the use of “AHOY.”

“Hello” perhaps came from the older word “halloo,” an exclamation

“used to attract someone's attention” or “to incite dogs to the chase during a foxhunt.” Or, it came from holla, an archaic exclamation used to call attention to something.

And so the citizens of Grand Forks caught the pulse of telecommunications in the summer of 1882. The first telephone poles and aerial phone lines ran from Mayor M. L. McCormack’s residence to the house of Mr. S. S. Titus at the “opposite end of the city.” In between, the phone line connected newspapers, businesses, lawyers, doctors, hotels and saloons, linking the most progressive leaders of the community.

Grand Forks used the Bell Telephone System, which would later change its name to American Telephone and Telegraph Company, know today as AT&T.

On this date in 1882, the word “Hello!” began echoing along Grand Forks copper wires – for those with the right connections, that is.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, Minnesota State University Moorhead History Department.


“Hello!, That is the Word That Now Goes Ringing Along Grand Forks Wires,” Grand Forks Weekly Plaindealer, June8, 1882, p. 3.

“Things Telephonic,” Minneapolis Tribune, February 24, 1879, p. 4.

“The Wonderful Telephone,” Grand Forks Weekly Plaindealer, May 18, 1882, p. 2.

“Hello!, Grand Forks At Length To Have A Telephone Exchange,” Grand Forks Herald, March 8, 1882.

“News Notes,” Bismarck Tribune, January 7, 1881, p. 1.

“Telephones in New York,” New York Times, February 9, 1880, p. 2.

“Hello,” and “Halloo,” and “Holla,” from Oxford English Dictionary, http://dictionary.oed.com, accessed on October 21, 2010.