By Holly Engelland, August 2022
In grade school Susie Carron and I made a “telephone” which consisted of two cans and a taut string. This string stretched over the top of Mrs. Delmore’s house from my second-floor bedroom to the second floor of the Norman Carron home on 26th Street. The “phone” really worked; however, I am not sure if it was just because we just yelled loud enough to hear each other from her home to mine.
Little did I know that this “phone” idea was previously used between J. E. Hamilton and Gagnon’s butcher shop located on the corner of 17th and Jefferson Streets. It was used only for orders. The phone was put into operation by pounding on the can on either end of the connection. The tin can served as both receiver and transmitter. Instead of a string, a wire was used. Can this be counted as the first telephone in Two Rivers?
The first actual telephone was located in Kirst’s Drug Store about 1884. For almost a year, it was the only telephone in town. Anyone wanting to place a call to Manitowoc or Milwaukee over this line, had to come to the drug store. If someone received a call, a messenger had to be sent to inform the person, who then had to go to the drug store. A dime was the usual fee. Charles F. Kirst, was the first messenger.
Placing calls to Manitowoc were considered “long distance” and cost ten cents while placing calls to Milwaukee were twenty-five cents. No time limit was on the conversation in that early day. This telephone line running from Manitowoc to Two Rivers was built by the Wisconsin Telephone Co. and was supported by the businessmen of Two Rivers. The line was built along the lake shore on 20-foot poles, and a single iron wire furnished the connection. Phone bills were ninety cents per month.
In 1885, J. E. Hamilton and H.M. Gebhard organized the Two Rivers Telephone Company. This beginning company had nineteen subscribers with only four of the phones located in residences. The telephone was a luxury.
With the death of Mr. Gebhard, a new company was formed by Charles F. Kirst, J.E. Hamilton and Gus Kirst. This group took over the company in 1901.
The Kirst brothers bought Mr. Hamilton’s interests in the company in 1906. By 1921 until 1927, Charles F. Kirst was the sole owner of the company. As manager of the local exchange, Charles Kirst had to do all the repairs and outside line work like climbing poles in mid-winter. An operator was paid twelve dollars a month. If someone called at night, Mr. Kirst had to run to the switchboard and answer.
In 1927, the telephone exchange became part of the Wisconsin Telephone Company and later became part of the Commonwealth Telephone Company. From the original 19 subscribers, the list grew to more than 1,500, in 1936. The Commonwealth Company under the managership of Ed Weber handled more than 10,000 calls a day.
Story based on article from Two Rivers Reporter Centennial Edition, 1936.