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Courtesyof the Carl Ballenas Collection
History of the First Telephonein Richmond Hill
1905photo of the Richmond Hill Telephone Exchange, from the Long Island DailyPress newspaper, Thursday, May 6, 1941.
Its possible to assume thatthe woman who is standing is Mrs. Blanche Winham whom the following articlesare about. This photo shows the women sitting at a switchboard as RichmondHill's first telephone operators.
Following Article from the"Mrs. Blanche Winham, TelephoneGirl of 1900"
Queens Borough Public Library
Mrs. Blanche Winham, was the first telephone operator at the RichmondHill Exchange, way back in 1899, when a telephone was something you crankedand yelled into.
Mrs. Winham, who resides at 104-39 117th St. Richmond Hill said: "Telephoningwas lots more intimate and exciting in those days. There was no formalmachine like, "Number Please" and "Thank You." In those days, there wereonly 60 subscribers, and the phone operator knew them all personally. Anybodywho had a phone those days, was somebody.
"Telephone operating then," she added, "was next best thing to news-papering,in some cases it was better.
''We used to have the old type telephones with a crank, that you woundup. One of the things I liked about my job, was that I knew every thingthat was happening in town, before the newspapers.
"One of the most exciting things that happened during my career asan operator, was the assassination of "President William McKinley."
"We had a direct wire to Washington, and I kept receiving bulletinafter bulletin, about the condition of the President. I still have 18 bulletinsI received that day.
"I was hired by "George Van Benschaten," who was then the manager ofthe "Long Island Telephone Company." I had just one switchboard, whichwas at the rear of "Kings Drug Store," which was at Lefferts Boulevardand Jamaica Avenue (now the Triangle Pharmacy).
"As our business grew, I hired my brother as night operator, and whata cinch of a job he had. One call a night."
"Subscribers would think nothing of calling you up, just to have achat, and as for asking you the time, I often wondered if anyone had aclock in Richmond Hill."
In 1902, the Company erected a small building, (now the Lefferts Dog& Cat Hospital) and Mrs. Winham took charge. In the following year,matrimony looked better to her than a career as a telephone operator, andshe quit.
Following Articleand images from the Long Island Daily Press, Thursday , May 6, 1941
Goodbye to the Hello Girl
1905photo of the Richmond Hill Telephone Building located on Lefferts Ave.(now Lefferts Blvd.) from the Long Island Daily Press newspaper, Thursday,May 6, 1941. This structure was built in 1902 as more telephone subscribersincreased. Amazingly it still exists today, but has changed over the years,and is now the Lefferts Dog and Cat Hospital at 86-37 Lefferts Blvd. Incidentally,when this photo was taken there were approximately 80 telephone subscribers.
The last stronghold of the "hello girl" is about to fall in Queens.
The Richmond Hill telephone exchange, with more than 30,000 phones,goes on the dial this summer. The changeover will start later this month.The change to dial service comes 57 years almost to the day since the firstswitchboard was set up in Richmond Hill. There were 80 subscribers in 1897.
According to D. G. Logie, manager of the Richmond Hill office, thefirst telephone came to Richmond Hill in 1889, which was 13 years afterthe telephone itself was invented. The No. 1 subscriber was J.W.Van Wicklen, who secured a hookup with a telephone line in East NewYork.
Three years later, a central office was given the name "Richmond Hill",and the telephone boom was on.
The first magneto-type switchboard was established in J.W. Kings drugstore,at Jamaica Avenue (then Fulton Street) and Lefferts Blvd.
A short time later, four operators and a chief operator were requiredto handle the mounting volume of calls.
The original part of the present telephone building at 87-28 109thStreet was opened in 1910.
The girls who ran the switchboard 50 years ago would be lost in today'smaze of equipment. The mechanical parts necessary to make the changeoverto the dial system filled the equivalent of 29 railroad cars. The wirealone to link 20,000 telephones with the outside would wrap around theglobe. About 20,000 of the 30,000 phone dials are already in place.
Logie cautions subscribers until they get the go-ahead against tryingto use the dials. They must still lift the receiver and wait for the familiarvoice to say: "Number, please!"
About Jacob L. Van Wicklen
The #1 telephone subscriber was Jacob L. Van Wicklen, a dealer in Provisions,Groceries, Flour and Feed, etc. He was also the first postmaster in RichmondHill, a part of his country store was the post office. It was located onPark Street (117th St.) and Jamaica Avenue in the triangleformed by Park St., Jamaica Ave. and Myrtle Ave. He secured a hook-up witha telephone line in East New York. Three years later, a central officewas established in the rear of J.W. Kings drug store at Jamaica Avenue(then Fulton Street) and Lefferts Blvd. (then Lefferts Avenue). It wasa wooden building. Many years later, it was a grocery store, and now isthe Lefferts Dog and Cat Hospital, at 86-37 Lefferts Blvd.
Back in 1895, telephones were not plentiful as they are now, and wordof a fire, generally reached the Volunteer Fire Dept's through the whistleat Morris Park Railroad Shops. Richmond Hill was cut up into fire districts,with a signal for each. When the whistle sounded the Volunteers left whateverthey were doing and ran for the fire-house.