The undertaker and the telephone – The Daily Gazette

Historian and undertaker W. Maxwell Reid was one of the first to install a telephone in the Amsterdam area.

Reid visited the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and was impressed by a demonstration of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone.

When Reid returned home, he had wires stretched between a coffin factory in Amsterdam and a store in Broadalbin.

The operation of this first telephone was described in a Chamber of Commerce publication: “Twice a day at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., people at either end of the line, shouting into the phones, then moving the same instruments towards their ears to hear what was being shouted back, were able to carry on a conversation about the ten miles in between.

William Maxwell Reid was born in 1839 on his father’s farm, land that later became known as Reid Hill. Reid’s father was Scottish. He was also a teacher, librarian and justice of the peace.

W. Max Reid married Laura MacDonald in 1859. His father was a partner in the Shuler casket-making business, founded by carpenter Isaac Shuler. Reid, who had been a haberdashery clerk, worked as an accountant for the coffin company.

Eventually, Reid took over the business after the death of his stepfather. Reid also operated his own business.

Reid was one of the founders of the business-spurring Chamber of Commerce in 1884 and president of the organization for 17 years.

Reid is known as a historian for his 1901 book, “The Mohawk Valley: Its Legends and Its History”. Reid also wrote a history column for The Recorder newspaper using “The Hollander Letters” byline.

Reid died in 1911 at the age of 72. He and his wife lived on Spring Street, what is now Guy Park Avenue, and had three children.

Other 1870s telephone lines connected the New York Central Railroad freight office in Amsterdam to the Sanford carpet factory and Kelloggs’ & Miller linseed oil factory. The homes of linseed oil tycoons John, George and Lauren Kellogg had the first telephones.

Another local telephone pioneer was William Charles, who operated a cotton and wool brokerage business. In 1940, Charles was still living in Amsterdam and had the phone number “1”.

Historian Hugh Donlon wrote, “In 1881 the locally organized Amsterdam Telegraph and Telephone Company operated a 50-line switchboard from a central office at East Main and Church streets.”

Several companies competed for telephone customers in Amsterdam, but after a while competition reduced the number of companies to two – the locally based automatic telephone company and Hudson River Telephone, part of the national network in full growth of the Bell system.

Hudson River opened a new central exchange at 40 Division St. and Automatic established a new facility at 19 Pearl St. By 1910, however, the battle was over and New York Telephone – Hudson River’s successor – took over telephone service to some 1,500 Amsterdams. clients.

A few years later, to promote long-distance calling, the telephone company invited 200 people to a public telephone conversation at the Elks Lodge between Amsterdam Mayor James R. Cline and San Francisco Mayor James Rolph. George Scott, the exalted leader of the Amsterdam Elks, spoke with the exalted leader of a lodge in San Francisco.

Donlon wrote: “Despite the uproar, discussions across the country failed to gain immediate popularity with frugal city dwellers. Rates were relatively high, and it was more economical to write a letter when speed was not particularly important.

A photo that accompanied a 1942 article on telephones showed a row of 15 seated female operators and two supervisors at New York Telephone’s Amsterdam office and then at 40 Division Street.

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