The First Telephone in Ouachita Parish

I wrote this for Louisiana Road Trips Magazine back in 2013:

In late spring of 1878, Monroe experimented with a new invention called the telephone.  The April 26th edition of the Ouachita Telegraph describes the fascination locals had with this new “toy”.  The manager of the telegraph office and a few others rented “a couple of telephonic instruments”.  They soon were able to open a line between Monroe and the town of Trenton.  The editor of the Ouachita Telegraph, George William McCranie, was quick to point out, “The introduction of this new invention here, it should be understood, is not to interfere with the Western Union telegraph in the transmission of business messages, but simply to gratify a general curiosity to see the instrument at work and test its efficacy and scientific principles.” 

The curious were charged a small fee to talk to Trenton.  Captain McCranie reported on his experience: 

“The writer was not at all skeptical, but felt impelled to confirm his theoretical belief by a practical test.  He was handed a small horse-shoe magnet with a funnel-shaped mouth piece, and was told to talk in the mouth-piece.  A wire led from the magnet to the wires of the telegraph line.  Trenton is distant 2 miles from Monroe, and the wires make several angles and crooks, and besides cross the river by cable, now about 40 feet under water.  Speaking in the mouth-piece a brief message, we received in about five seconds the salutation, “Good morning, Captain; how do you do?”  The words were clearly and distinctly heard.  The sound was like that of the human voice, but was suggestive of ventriloquism, like the voice of one speaking in a cave or from inside a closet or underneath a feather bed.  Several messages followed, when, finally, Trenton sang “Shoo Fly” for us, the operator winding up with “Don’t grieve after me; don’t grieve after me,” to which we replied we would not, and then handed the telephone over to another waiting to test its powers.”

            After his demonstration, Capt. McCranie watched a young woman sing into the phone.  He also reported that people had played the violin, French harp and other instruments across the line and all were quite plainly heard on the other end. 

            By mid May, the line was in operation all the way to Delhi.  McCranie talked over the line to Mr. Murphy on the other end.  Mr. Murphy reported that there have been a few ladies over to test the phone and he had conversed with several in Monroe.  You can almost read a sense of wonder at this new invention when McCranie writes, “The telephone is a wonderful and very entertaining invention.  The reader may be assured that the conversation we have detailed, and more, passed over the wires between the writer and Mr. Murphy at Delhi, a distance of 35 miles, through a thickly wooded country, most of the distance being a dense swamp along the railroad line.”

By the end of May, Monroe was able to talk to Bastrop.  They had tried to talk to Marshall, TX but the effort failed.  In December, the railroad office had installed a line between it and their freight agent at the depot.  A new age in communication had come.  I wonder what Captain McCranie would have thought had he been told that the telegraph lines would go the way of the dinosaurs and that everyone from children to seniors would have a telephone in their pocket?

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