First Transcontinental Phone Call

Final Pole Transcontinental Telephone ServiceJuly 29, 1914

The first test call is made on the newly completed transcontinental telephone line, taking place between New York and San Francisco. The last pole was erected and the line completed two days earlier on July 27th, but commercial service did not start until January 25th of the next year. The sixth month delay was due to AT&T’s wish to publicize the service in conjunction with San Francisco’s 1915 World Fair.

  • Ernest D Holly lll

    The Final Splice of the Transcontinental Telephone at Wendover Nevada on the Nevada / Utah border was made by Ralph Eric Knudsen who was a lineman for Pac Bell. He had the honor of making the Final Splice for the West on June 17, 1914… not on July 27, 1914 or on June 27, 1914 that many other web sites have incorrect including an ATT web site…… Ralph Eric Knudsen was my grandfather, my Mother’s father.

    • Do you have any documentation or any way to corroborate this? I love it when I hear personal stories.

      • Ernest D Holly lll

        Marcel, To answer you question, yes, I have documentation such as a poster when my grandfather retired after 43 years of service as a lineman for Pacific Telephone aka Pac Bell on April 1, 1955. The poster is honoring Ralph Knudsen as “The Man who linked East to West” and is signed by about 100 former coworkers. I also have various magazine and newspapers articles along with letters from Pacific Telephone Managers attesting to his making the Final Splice on June 17, 1914, which will be a 100 years in less than a month. Ralph’s E. Knudsen aka “Knute” has his picture along with the lineman representing Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph (who worked the Utah section heading west) on the Final Splice Telephone pole. Ralph E Knudsen was on the left side / west side / Nevada side of the pole and the lineman from Mountain states on the right side / east side / Utah side of the pole. The “famous” photo of the two lineman has appeared in magazines and newspapers over the years, such as The Oakland Tribune March 10, 1968 with a nice write up about Ralph E Knudsen, the photo was in Life August 6, 1965, U.S. News August 9, 1965, McCalls, April 1976 as well as “The Bulletin for Pacific Telephone Employees and Their Families” on January 25, 1965.
        The photo appeared in the American Telephone Share Owners’ Quarterly Winter 1964/1965 mailing that was sent to all ATT Shareholders.
        August, 1954 Pacific Telephone sent the “Talk News and information about you telephone service” with the photo of Ralph Knudsen and the Mountain State’s lineman on the telephone pole making the Final Splice to all Pacific Telephone subscribers with a nice article about Ralph that stated, “The man who made this historic splice is still on the job with us in Berkeley, California. He’s Ralph “Knute” Knudsen……”
        On July 28, 1939 Ralph invited to a luncheon on the 25th anniversary of the completion of the First Transcontinental Telephone Line. The luncheon was held on the 26th floor 140 New Montgomery Street, San Francisco. Ralph Knudsen sat adjacent to the head table which was attended by T. G. Miller, Vice-president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company along with telephone men from across the United States. One newspaper article regarding the 25th anniversary reads; “N. C. Bellingham, construction foreman when the line was built, acted as host to 52 pioneers at a San Francisco luncheon, and the group then participated in a roll call of telephone men in San Francisco, Denver, Omaha, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New York, key points on the line.”

        Ralph signed a document on November 28, 1939 that was requested by N. C. Bellingham, his Construction Foreman for Pacific Telephone on behalf of R. T. Barrett, Historical Librarian of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

        Ralph wrote; “The occurrences of which I shall write lie in my mind as a splendid drama in which it was my great privilege to play a small part. I shall try to put myself back into that wonderful play, and tell you its story from the same attitude of mind I had then – the point of view of a young man of twenty-four”. Ralph wrote that on the first day all the workers for the west were in Wadsworth, Nevada. Ralph wrote there was six inches of snow on the ground and it was 10 below zero. The had 24 horses with six wagons in their “wire stringing gang”. Ralph also wrote that he practically walked the width of Nevada from Wadsworth to Wendover, and wore out two pairs of boots on this job. He went through six pairs of leather work gloves.

        After my grandfather made the Final Splice on June 17, 1914 the next important date was July 29, 1914 when President G. E McFarland of Pacific Telephone and President Theodore Vail of A. T. & T., became the first men to talk by telephone from San Francisco to New York. However the telephone companies waited over 6 months to open transcontinental telephone service to the general public until January 25, 1915 to coincide with the San Francisco World’s Fair. That opening ceremony call consisted of a four-way call between Jekyll Island, Washington D.C., New York City, and San Francisco, a distance of 4,500 miles.

        Over the years my grandfather, Ralph Eric Knudsen attended celebrations and anniversaries regarding the part he played in making “The Final Splice on June 17, 1914” He passed away on July 22, 1975 at his home in Berkeley, California.

        • That’s awesome! Send me whatever pictures you can and I’ll write up an entry for that date. Thanks!

          • Ernest D Holly lll

            Marcel My scanner needs to be replaced and it isn’t on my short list to buy another one. However as soon as I do, I will send you some pictures.. Here is one web site with a newspaper article from the Lodi News July 29, 1954 mentioning Ralph Eric Knudsen. It was the 40th Anniversary of the June 17, 1914 completion of the transcontinental phone line, coast to coast for the first time.

            http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2245&dat=19540729&id=IEYzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=mu4HAAAAIBAJ&pg=1686,2661812

            Here is another web site with a photo of my Grandfather, Ralph Eric Knudsen, he is on the left side / west side / Nevada side of the pole having jus finished making the Final Splice

            http://www.telephonecollectors.org/pictures/?id=237794475

            If you look closely at the following web site the sheet of stamps celebrates the 1910’s and near the upper left you will see the Final Splice Stamp honoring all Telephone Lineman… which includes my grandfather who was up on that pole that day making the final splice.
            If you scroll down on that web site you will see the individual stamp and be able to enlarge the stamp for better viewing.

            http://arago.si.edu/index.asp?con=1&cmd=1&tid=2042594

            PS Question, when I scan the photos how do you want me to email to you?

          • You can e-mail history@thisdayintechhistory.com. Thanks!