The first commercial telephone exchange
in the world began operations on January 28, 1878 in a storefront
of the Boardman Building in New Haven. George W. Coy designed
and built the world's first switchboard for commercial use.
Coy was inspired by Alexander Graham Bell's lecture at the Skiff
Opera House in New Haven on April 27, 1877.
In this lecture, during which a three-way
telephone connection with Hartford and Middletown was demonstrated,
Bell first discussed the idea of a telephone exchange for carrying
on business and trade. On November 3, 1877, Coy applied for
and received a franchise from the Bell Telephone Company for
New Haven and Middlesex Counties. Coy, along with Herrick P.
Frost and Walter Lewis, who provided the capital, established
the District Telephone Company of New Haven on January 15, 1878.
The switchboard built by Coy was, according
to one source, constructed of "carriage bolts, handles
from teapot lids and bustle wire." According to the company
records, all the furnishings of the office, including the switchboard,
were worth less than forty dollars. While the switchboard could
connect as many as sixty-four customers, only two conversations
could be handled simultaneously and six connections had to be
made for each call.
The District Telephone Company of New
Haven went into operation with only twenty-one subscribers,
who paid $1.50 per month. By February 21, 1878, however, when
the first telephone directory was published by the company,
fifty subscribers were listed. Most of these businesses and
listings such as physicians, the police, and the post office;
only eleven residences were listed, four of which were for persons
associated with the company.
The New Haven District Telephone Company
grew quickly and was reorganized several times in its first
years. By 1880, the company had the right from the Bell Telephone
Company to service all of Connecticut and western Massachusetts.
As it expanded, the company was first renamed Connecticut Telephone,
and then Southern New England Telephone in 1882.
The Site of the First Telephone Exchange
was determined eligible for designation as a National Historic
Landmark on January 29, 1964. The owner of the building welcomed
the designation and a plaque commemorating the Landmark was
presented on April 23, 1965. In 1968, the building, then known
as the Metropolitan Building, was acquired by the New Haven
Redevelopment Agency in order to demolish it and build a parking
garage. In April of 1968, the Department of Housing and Urban
Development approved the agency's application for funds to rehabilitate
129.3 acres which included the site of the Metropolitan Building
at State and Chapel Streets. The Metropolitan Building was demolished
in 1973 and its Landmark designation was withdrawn this same