Historical Museum

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Historical Museum

Located in La Conner
"Come to the top of the hill for a spectacular view of Skagit County history"
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The Telephone

Want to make a phone call? As early as 1891, Anacortes was using this brand new technology. By 1894, Mount Vernon and Sedro had their first phones. In 1897, you could buy a telephone for the first time in the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Each phone had a bell, a battery and a crank for ringing the bell.
At first, groups of neighbors bought phones and rigged lines between their homes. When you rang the phone, it rang in all the houses. Everyone knew each other's rings and didn't need an operator, but as the number of subscribers grew, better lines and telephone exchanges were set up.

Companies with names like The Skagit River Telephone Company, Wheelock & Glover or the Independent Telephone helped bring long distance calling to communities around the county.
One of the biggest was the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company. In its 1897 directory, Seattle had 20 pages of listings, Everett, 2 ½ pages, and Whatcom and Fairhaven, 2 ½ pages. In contrast, Anacortes had 21 subscribers, 6 in homes. Mount Vernon had 11 subscribers, but George McLean had the sole phone in his home. La Conner had 3 subscribers: J.H. Chilberg, and the Gaches and Polson stores. By 1903 there were 140 names listed in Anacortes.

Many general stores had a telephone. A local call was free, but to make a long distance call the rates were figured out by the quarter minute. A 15-second call to Southern California cost $1.75; a whole minute was $4.00.

Click here to read instructions on how you would use the telephone in 1903



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