1887: Manhattan Telephone Wires


Library of Congress


Vintage Everyday

Only 10-odd years after the telephone was patented, New York was a mad tangle of wires. It’s evident that it took some time before city planners caught up with the phenomenon.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

6 responses to “1887: Manhattan Telephone Wires

  1. And this is why they developed the telephone cable.

    First ones were paper strip wrapped or paper pulp extruded insulation over bare copper wires. Two wires twisted into pairs, then 25 pairs bundled together with string. Then 100 pair (or 101 with a spare) bundles with another string, then they twisted those in concentric groups into a 400 – 600 – 1200 – 2400 pair cable. Then some protective muslin wrapping, and a lead sheath over the top.

    Then they started hanging those off the same phone poles and realized they were going to start snapping phone poles real fast – they had to use heavy steel messengers to hang it from. And they started developing underground cable and clay tile duct systems just to avoid having tons of lead cable hanging in the air.

      • No, but I spent 7 years in Central Office Construction and 6 in Outside Plant Construction. When it’s your livelihood, you pay attention to the history behind it – especially when the stuff is far older than you are.

        And while much if it has been changed out the plastic insulated cables, there is still some of the old Single-wrap Paper Cable and Pulp Cable still in service to this day. Lead Sheath, and hand-formed “Pot-wiped” lead sleeve splices.

        The Single-wrap was also known as “Firecracker Paper” because that’s what it would do if you handled it roughly at the splice cases. You’d chip open the lead sleeve splice to find and repair 4 faults that the testers said were in there – and the rough handling installing a newer stainless splice case would cause 4 new ones. Better to just leave it alone, but that wasn’t an option.

  2. Pingback: 1890: Telefontornet | Playing in the World Game

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