There was a report on this day in 1900 in a newspaper in Ohio about a very unusual telephone system.
Several communities in Indiana had started their own wired telephone service, and the wire they used was plain old fence wire.
As Agriculture.com’s Successful Farming podcast explained, this was still in the early days of the telephone.
Originally the Bell companies leased or rented telephones, and they were pricey.
No surprise that originally the customers were wealthy, a lot of businesspeople who lived in cities.
But people of all income groups recognized how valuable it would be to have a telephone handy.
In some cases, farming communities and other neighborhoods started setting up their own telephone networks.
These phone cooperatives would buy telephones and other technical equipment from phone makers.
Then, rather than running a whole new set of wires, they used something they already had on hand: the wire that ran on the tops of their fences.
It was just a matter of connecting the phones to those wires and then running current through all the lines.
It was relatively inexpensive and, as long as they maintained the wires, pretty effective.
There was one catch, though: since these were small networks, there usually wasn’t an operator.
Everyone was connected to everyone else on every call.
It was like a group call on Zoom, and no moderator.
Callers would use the cranks on their phones to signify who they were trying to reach with a special ring, but others could, and almost certainly did, listen in from time to time.
Some of these cooperatives ran for decades, before being replaced by phone companies that connected them to the rest of the country and, really, the world.
The barbed wire fence phones gave way to more standard phone lines, though I’m a little surprised they didn’t refer to those non-fence based phone networks as “barbed wire-less.”
Today in Kansas City it’s Fountain Day.
The city started putting up public drinking fountains for horses as they came through the area.
Over time the fountains became less about horses and more about decoration.
Each year on Fountain Day the 48 city-operated fountains all go back on.
Barb-Wire telephone line (Insulators.info)
Barbed Wire Telephone Lines Connected The Old Frontier (Successful Farming podcast)