Oxford County town claims to have world’s largest telephone

The town of Woodstock, in the County of Oxford, has a population of approximately 1,200. It sits approximately 10 miles from the Maine-New Hampshire border, nestled among hills, forests and small ponds. And it’s the site of what the city says is the world’s largest telephone.

The 14-foot-tall “candlestick” telephone sculpture was erected in 2008, to commemorate the fact that Woodstock was once home to the country’s very last hand-cranked telephone company: Bryant Pond Telephone Company.

The company, named after the village of the town of Woodstock and the nearby pond, made its last phone call in 1983, decades after the vast majority of homes across the country abandoned this early technology in favor of the service. numbering.

Crank telephones, or “magneto” telephones, were among the first commercially available telephones, developed by Alexander Graham Bell in 1892. Users could power their own telephones by turning on a magnetically-controlled electric generator, allowing them to contact operator, who connect them to the line of their choice. Among these phones, the distinctive chandelier variety was by far the most popular between the 1890s and 1920s.

By the turn of the 20th century, tiny rural telephone companies like Bryant Pond were scattered across the country, defying AT&T, which at the time held a monopoly on the entire US telephone system. One by one, however, they started to fall as they went bankrupt or were bought out by AT&T and other big telecom companies. Today, there are only a few hundred independent telephone companies left.

Meanwhile, by the 1940s, almost every business had made the switch entirely to the direct dialing system, and customers were using all-in-one rotary phones instead of hand-crank phones. However, reluctance remained, including the Bryant Pond Phone Company of Woodstock.

There, in the small town of western Maine, the locals had grown accustomed to the old ways of making a call. Each of the company’s 400 or so customers had their own special ring. When they made a call, they first spoke to the switchboard operators, who connected them to the line they were calling, and who could also take messages, provide wake-up calls and offer news, call. weather and other information. Kind of like Google, if Google was a real person.

The Bryant Pond Phone Company was operated out of the home of Elden and Barbara Hathaway, who for nearly 30 years between 1952 and 1981 kept the lines connected and only charged their customers $ 5 a month for the service. By the late 1970s, however, it was becoming clear that the outdated technology in their phones was not worth the novelty – according to a 1983 New York Times article, it sometimes took customers up to half an hour to get online. . at their party.

In 1981, the Hathways sold the business to Oxford Telephone and Telegraph, now known as Oxford Networks. Customers have launched a campaign called “Don’t Yank the Crank,” advocating their old-fashioned crank system and asking the Maine Public Utilities Commission to let them keep it. Ultimately, however, modern technology prevailed, and on October 11, 1983, the wires were disconnected, the phones were switched to a direct line, and the last remaining connection to the phones of the past was gone.

It didn’t take long for customers to get used to the numbering system. The company sold the older chandelier phones and the switchboards now belong to the Maine State Museum in Augusta. To ensure that the city’s decades-long love affair with outdated technology is not forgotten, however, Gil Whitman, a cousin of the Hathaway, built a one-and-a-half-ton statue of a phone. metal candlestick, with a crank that actually turns. It opened in Woodstock Remembrance Park in 2008, almost exactly 25 years to the day after the last call of the crank system.

Although Woodstock claims its phone is the biggest, others dispute that claim. In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records says that the largest phone in the world is in the Netherlands, a touch-tone phone that is actually operational. It weighs 3.5 tons, is 8 feet tall and 19 feet long, Woodstock’s dwarf phone.

Nonetheless, Woodstock does indeed have the largest hand crank phone in the world – commemorating a different technological era and a long tradition of family and pop businesses and small Maine communities existing in the old-fashioned way, long after others had moved on. .

The “World’s Largest Telephone” sculpture is located at 1 North Main Street in Woodstock.

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