VICKSBURG FACTS: Wait one moment — I’m on the phone

Published 8:00 am Friday, January 27, 2023

Do you know when Vicksburg started using telephones?

After the invention of the telephone in 1876, the product began to expand into other cities, including Vicksburg. 

The first commercial use of the telephone in Vicksburg was in 1879. The goal was to improve communication between some of Vicksburg’s most active businesses.

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“The necessity for constant communication between some central point with the Elevator, Compress, Wharf-boat and Depot has long been felt, and a correspondence has been going on for some time in reference to a telephone line of connection between these points,” as reported in The Vicksburg Herald, Jan. 16, 1879.

Most of these businesses were only a few blocks away from each other.

“Mr. Wm. Maddox arrived from Memphis and immediately commenced the construction of a line leading from the Cotton Exchange to the off of Capt. Carroll in the Elevator building,” The Vicksburg Herald reported.

After the installation of the new phone, a crowd of men was lined up and ready to try out this new invention.

“A number of gentlemen stepped up one after another to try the new-fangled concern, to see if they could hear and be heard,” as mentioned in The Vicksburg Herald on Jan. 17, 1879.

The Vicksburg Herald recorded many of these men’s first conversations on the telephone, which were typically them checking to see if they could be heard on the other side. However, there was one young man’s conversation on the phone that was a little different.

“He caught hold of the swinging tube gracefully and manfully, but couldn’t think of anything particular to say, so he just out with the first thing that popped into his head: ‘I’m going into Nick’s to take a drink — will you join me?’ There was evidently a stranger at the other end, for the reply came back very prompt ‘I will. Don’t try to send it over the line. I’ll come up the hill after it,’” The Herald reported.

By 1881, the use of the telephone was becoming more available for both other businesses and residents. According to The Historical Marker Database website, “The first telephone exchange in Mississippi was installed in Vicksburg, Jan. 10, 1881, at 102 ½ North Washington St., by the Louisiana Telephone Company, a predecessor of South Central Bell.”

Now the city was part of a company that could help make phone calls to people miles away. 

The city of Vicksburg was ready to be part of the telephone exchange and was increasing in subscribers before the first official exchange. Some individuals even saw the potential of the exchange benefiting other aspects of the community.

For example, “An ingenious police officer has conceived the idea of extending the telephone to wider and more important uses in connection with the suppression of crime in the city,” The Vicksburg Herald reported on Jan. 6, 1881.

The telephones were to be placed in the most dangerous parts of the city so citizens in need could ring up the police officer and the fire department when in need of help. 

Within the first nine days of the telephone exchange opening, 800 calls were made and answered according to The Vicksburg Herald on Jan. 19, 1881. By May, people were able to make business calls to other areas in Mississippi — for example, a phone call that made it 110 miles to Natchez.

The telephone line only expanded and many believed it has become a necessity in order to operate in day-to-day life. “The businessmen of our larger towns and cities now consider it quite a necessity,” The Vicksburg Herald reported on Oct. 23, 1881.