In the midst of the communication technology that has come to define our busy lives—mobile everything and 24/7 communication—we thought a little historical context might be of interest. During a recent session with The Oregonian microfilm, we came across this little nugget from January 11, 1911.


From The Oregonian, January 11, 1911.

Just wanted to make sure you caught that: the Home Telephone & Telegraph Company, working at a very busy pace, installed 2,460 phones in calendar year 1910, bringing the total number of working phones in Portland to 12,254. Just for interest sake, Portland’s total population in 1911 was 212,290. Between 1910-1911, more than 13,000 building permits were issued in Portland, a record that made the City Building Department (formerly located in City Hall) a very busy place. Construction in Portland, and in our brand new neighborhoods here in the Northeast quarter of the city, was taking place at a pace which we can hardly imagine today.

In our 1912 bungalow, the first phone was hidden away in a box tucked into the wainscot in the breakfast nook. A later version had its very own table mounted to the wall in the hallway outside the master bedroom. Not sure when the “twisted pair” arrived here, but our hunch–based on what was a growing trend both in homebuilding and telephone business–is that we were wired from the beginning. What’s the history of the phone in your house?

At a time when we take wi-max, wi-fi, cell phones and the internet for granted, the notion of 12,254 working phones in Portland makes us want to slow down a bit, and wonder if people were actually better connected then.