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Early telephones in Pulaski

For the first 50 years of its existence the Town of Pulaski had but two methods of mass communication. These were the United States Mail and telegraph. The latter was used extensively during the War Between the States, and it would be difficult to predict what the outcome of the war would have been , had it not been for the telegraph system.
The year 1876 saw the start of a communication system that would in just a few years make the world a much smaller place. That would be the year that Alexander Graham Bell would send his first message, all the way from one room to the next, where U. S. the individual who owned the line, such as one near Pulaski known as “The Bob,” his assistant waited. After that initial message, it still took a while for the new gadget to catch on, but by the end of the year 1880, there would be 148 telephone companies.
Some carried the names of line. In Bland County, in 1902, a schoolmaster’s debate was held. The subject was ”The World has Passed its Zenith” George Penley, a scholar in his day took the negative side, and in the debate made the following statement, “I have been told that in there on the wall is a box that you can talk all the way to Wytheville on. I predict that some day man will be talking all the way around the world without the use of connecting wires.” Penley lost the debate, but he did live to see his prediction come true.
The first telephone system in Pulaski was a line running from B. Laughan’s Store to the office of Bertha Mineral Company office in 1890. It seemed like any time two people wanted to set up a company, all they had to do was purchase a couple of boxes with a crank and bell, and string a line between them.
In 1897 the Pulaski Telephone and Telegraph Company was formed, with Beauregard Laughon as President. There were about fifteen subscribers, among them Maple Shade Inn, Keister’s drug Store, and Bertha Zinc Company. The operator was a man by the name of Toad Ellis. The story has been handed down that on one very exasperating day, Ellis was trying to hook up parties on a very busy switchboard. Suddenly he threw up his hands and gave up, walking out of the door, and never coming back.
The first number was given to Keister’s Drug Store. It was No. 1, and the number stayed with the store for as long as Dr. Keister ran it; then it remained the number as it changed hands several times, Finally when the dial system came into use, the number of the last four digits was -1111.
In 1912, the Southwest Times carried a front page story about the merger of the Hillsville and the Reed Island telephone companies. The article stated that with the closing of the deal, a new metallic wire would be installed all the way from Pulaski to Hillsville, and people in Pulaski would be able to talk directly to people as far away as Galax. The telephone industry was on the roll.

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.