Site of the First Telephone Exchange

Site of the First Telephone Exchange
The Site of the First Telephone Exchange was demolished in 1973.
The New Haven District Telephone office and the first telephone exchange were located in the storefront with the awning. [NPS Photo]

New Haven, CT

Designated an NHL: January 29, 1964

Designation withdrawn: 1973*

*A formal DE designation process was created in 1980. Before then, a property that no longer met NHL criteria was simply removed from the official list.

The first commercial telephone exchange in the world began operations on January 28, 1878 in a storefront of the Boardman Building in New Haven. George W. Coy designed and built the world's first switchboard for commercial use. Coy was inspired by Alexander Graham Bell's lecture at the Skiff Opera House in New Haven on April 27, 1877.

In this lecture, during which a three-way telephone connection with Hartford and Middletown was demonstrated, Bell first discussed the idea of a telephone exchange for carrying on business and trade. On November 3, 1877, Coy applied for and received a franchise from the Bell Telephone Company for New Haven and Middlesex Counties. Coy, along with Herrick P. Frost and Walter Lewis, who provided the capital, established the District Telephone Company of New Haven on January 15, 1878.

The switchboard built by Coy was, according to one source, constructed of "carriage bolts, handles from teapot lids and bustle wire." According to the company records, all the furnishings of the office, including the switchboard, were worth less than forty dollars. While the switchboard could connect as many as sixty-four customers, only two conversations could be handled simultaneously and six connections had to be made for each call.

The District Telephone Company of New Haven went into operation with only twenty-one subscribers, who paid $1.50 per month. By February 21, 1878, however, when the first telephone directory was published by the company, fifty subscribers were listed. Most of these businesses and listings such as physicians, the police, and the post office; only eleven residences were listed, four of which were for persons associated with the company.

The New Haven District Telephone Company grew quickly and was reorganized several times in its first years. By 1880, the company had the right from the Bell Telephone Company to service all of Connecticut and western Massachusetts. As it expanded, the company was first renamed Connecticut Telephone, and then Southern New England Telephone in 1882.

The Site of the First Telephone Exchange was determined eligible for designation as a National Historic Landmark on January 29, 1964. The owner of the building welcomed the designation and a plaque commemorating the Landmark was presented on April 23, 1965. In 1968, the building, then known as the Metropolitan Building, was acquired by the New Haven Redevelopment Agency in order to demolish it and build a parking garage. In April of 1968, the Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the agency's application for funds to rehabilitate 129.3 acres which included the site of the Metropolitan Building at State and Chapel Streets. The Metropolitan Building was demolished in 1973 and its Landmark designation was withdrawn this same year.

<byline>From the website of the National Historic Landmarks <byline>