The first telephone line in Atlanta was installed in the year 1877, as a private line connecting the freight depot of the Western & Atlantic Railroad with a restaurant in the passenger station. The telephone was a primitive one, without even a bell or buzzer to signal the user that someone on the other end of the line wished to call. One would simply tap a pencil against the diaphragm or just yell to get the attention of the person on the other end, and hope that the person on the other end was nearby to hear it. The private line connecting pairs of telephones was either a private line owned by the customer or a line leased from the Western Union Telegraph Company.
In 1879, the National Bell Telephone Company opened the first telephone exchange in Atlanta, under the name of the Atlanta Telephonic Exchange, on the top floor of a hotel on the corner of Wall and Pryor streets. (It was customary in those days to put switchboards on the top floor of a building, so that the wires could easily be strung out of the building to telephone poles. The Atlanta Telephonic Exchange served about 60 customers, on twenty-five party lines shared by two or three subscribers each. By 1881, a one-page directory had been issued, listing names of subscribers. There were as of that time no numbers assigned. Operators simply had memorized where on the switchboard each subscriber's jack was located so that they could make the connections. The company name had been changed by 1882 to American Bell Telephone Company, and subsequently to Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company.
The Kimball House, the hotel which housed the switchboard, caught fire and the building burned down on August 12, 1883; the successor building cought fire again a number of years later, destroying the switchboard a second time although the building survived. By 1884 the switchboard had been expanded to handle approximately 370 subscribers, and another exchange had been set up in the suburb of Decatur. At that time, a call from Atlanta to Decatur was a long distance call.
Southern Bell finally decided, after the two fires, to construct its own headquarters building, complete with the "Main" central office for Atlanta and a toll switchboard. This building opened in 1892.
From 1899 to 1919, a competitive telephone company, first called the Atlanta Standard Telephone Company but changed in 1905 to the Atlanta Telephone and Telegraph Company, existed. This company had only one large exchange, with no name, so no details will be provided on this site. There were no interconnections between Southern Bell and Atlanta Telephone, so businesses wishing to be contacted by subscribers of both companies needed two telephones. Because Atlanta Telephone's service was cheaper, it quickly developed a larger customer base than Southern Bell had, but the more affluent customers favored the Bell company because it was connected to long-distance lines operated by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, while Atlanta Telephone had no such access. In 1919, Southern Bell bought out the competing company and closed it.
For an alphabetical listing of the exchanges in this period, click here.
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Last modified February 19, 2015.