Southwestern Bell Telephone Company

The first telephone exchange in Marceline was built about 1896. Four years after it went into operation, it was purchased by the Western Telephone Company of Princeton, Missouri. Ira B. Hyde and his sons, Arthur and Ben, owned a substantial part of the Western Telephone Company and were actively engaged in managing the company.

The first manager of the telephone operation in Marceline was a man named George A. Smith. He was sent here in 1900 by the Missouri and Iowa Union Telephone Company which controlled the Western Telephone Company.

Just how many phones were serviced by the telephone company in Marceline during the early years is uncertain due to the lack of records. However, by 1906 there were over 580 phones in the community.

In December 1905, the Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company purchased the Marceline exchange. The Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company is the “parent” company from which Southwestern Bell Telephone Company was formed in 1912. Southwestern Bell operates today under a charter granted to the Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company.

In 1909 the company’s facilities were badly damaged by a severe sleet storm. After the storm, the company sought to expand its service as it rebuilt and repaired. However, the franchise under which the company operated permitted only $1.50 a month rate for business phones and $1 per month for residence. Under these rates capital for expansion was not available.

A petition was circulated in the town to allow an increase in rates, and 74% of the residents signed. However, the Marceline city council refused to alter the franchise to allow for higher rates at that time.

By 1911 Marceline was served by over 40 miles of telephone line. After operating at a loss for several years, the company finally obtained a rate increase in 1919.

A severe rain and wind storm on May 20, 1933, did considerable damage to the plant and disrupted telephone service. Approximately 200 phones were put out of service. Telephone repair crews were sent to Marceline from Chillicothe, Carrollton and Trenton.

Some of the early employees of the telephone company in Marceline were C. E. Chenoweth, wire chief from 1915 to 1921; Lula Laws who was the first telephone operator in Marceline and remained with the company until 1910, and Ethel Alderson who was the chief operator and cashier from 1923 to 1935.

A decline in customers was experienced during the 1930’s and reached a low of 565 stations in 1933.

Since World War II there has been a steady growth in the telephone business in Marceline. Today more than 1,100 customers are served by Southwestern Bell. In 1950 the Marceline exchange was converted to dial service and the present building at 110 West Howell Street was completed.

Two full time employees, Mrs. Edna Collins, service representative, and Robert Ward, plant combination man, work out of the Marceline office. Mrs. Collins has been with the firm since the mid 1930’s and was hired for her job by Ethel Alderson the chief operator from 1923 to 1935.

Back to Top