WHEELING’S FIRST TELEPHONE 1879 by John Bowman

The TELEPHONE, A device nearly everyone everyday has in their hand, but this was the first telephone in Wheeling, West Virginia.

In 1879, a telephone line connecting two telephones was strung between the H.F. Behrens Co. grocery store at 2217 Market Street and their warehouse at 2219 Market Street.  The novel invention, then just three years old, was found to be so practical that it attracted the attention of Mr. M.R. Wolff, manager of the Western Union Telegraph Co., who quickly secured fifty-one subscribers for this newfangled thing.  Telegraph lines had reached Wheeling in 1850.  Wolff had a telephone exchange opened for service May 15, 1880 in the basement of the building of the People’s Bank of Wheeling, DBA “The Central District and Printing Telegraph Co.”, Wolff, M.R., Superintendent, office northwest corner Twelfth and Main Streets, Wheeling.

Envelope H.F. Behrens 2217 Market Street Wheeling, W. Va. Envelope Feb. 18, 1887 courtesy Doug Lehman.  For those of Wheeling area familiar with ‘Centre Market,’ this business was on the west side of the Upper Market House where there is now a vacant paved lot. Statement H.F. Behrens, Wheeling, W. Va. Dealer in Groceries, Flour, Produce, European Steamship Agency, 2217 & 2219 Market Street Statement Feb. 18, 1887 courtesy Doug Lehman

Envelope H.F. Behrens 2217 Market Street Wheeling, W. Va. Feb. 18, 1887 courtesy Doug Lehman

This vintage crank telephone may not be exactly the same as the phones Behrens had but it is probably a close fit.

Vintage crank telephone photo courtesy the Library of Congress

Wheeling’s first long distance line was constructed to Pittsburgh via Steubenville, Ohio in 1883.  In Wheeling, the value of the telephone was slow to catch-on.  By the end of 1885 there were still less than 500 subscribers and it was not until 1899 the 1,000th telephone was installed. 

In 1894, the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. constructed the first lines that connected cities throughout the state of West Virginia.[1] 

The National Telephone Corp. (Wm. C. Handlan and others) in 1902 acquired the Pittsburgh and Wheeling Telephone Co., and the National Telephone Co. of West Virginia were both local phone companies operating in West Virginia’s Northern Pan-handle.   The Elm Grove section of Wheeling had no phone service until October 10, 1896, and the exchange in Warwood did not open until February 13, 1906.

Here we see Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone.  Bell invented the first telephone in 1876. Bell’s First Telephone photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

Bell’s First Telephone photo courtesy the Library of Congress

An early circa 1920’s dialing telephone photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

An early disc-type dialing telephone photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

Disk type dial Telephone II photo courtesy the Library of Congress
Dialing telephone circa 1920 photo courtesy the Library of Congress

In this photo, we see an array of desk telephones. This is the type phone that many of us will remember in our homes.  Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

John Foster Dulles seated at desk in office, talking on the telephone photo courtesy the Library of Congress

A modern cell phone from clip art.

Earliest Telephone Service in Wheeling name and business Index

American Telephone and Telegraph Co.

Central District and Printing Telegraph Co.

H.F. Behrens Co.

Handlan, Wm. C.

National Telephone Co. of West Virginia

National Telephone Corp.

People’s Bank of Wheeling

Pittsburgh and Wheeling Telephone Co.

Western Union Telegraph Co. Wolff, M.R. mso-far


[1] Source: Boyd, Peter, History of Northern West Virginia Panhandle, Vols.  I and II, Historical Publishing Co. Topeka-Indianapolis 1927 Vol. I Pgs. 361-363.

Source: Bowman, John “Bills Of Lading Freight On Board Wheeling West Virginia” Wheeling 2012 Pg. 99

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