In this age of technology, with global communication and its instant access to contacts, news, information, and products at our fingertips, fully understanding what it was like when Vineland was first outfitted with telephone lines in the late 19th century may not be possible. But that first step in the development toward what we now have in the 21st century, however monumental it might appear in hindsight, wasn’t necessarily filled with the urgency we might expect.
It wasn’t until 1884 that telephone lines arrived in Vineland, eight years after Alexander Graham Bell filed his patent for the invention. That was somewhat late, considering the thoughtco.com website identifies that “by the end of 1880, there were over 49,000 telephones in the United States.”
In 1951, William J. Mulligan, managing editor of the Vineland Times-Journal, recalled in an article for the Vineland Historical Magazine his father’s role in bringing the telephone to town. The elder Mulligan reminisced about his work here, telling his son that he “built the first telephone line through Vineland…back about 1884.” He remembered staying at the Baker House Hotel while he was in town.
Mulligan put his journalistic skills to work, tracking down the register book at the Baker House and discovering that his father had signed in that year on October 6 and December 28 in order to “lay-out” the line.
Mulligan’s research also uncovered an Evening Journal article, dated December 11, 1884, which stated, “The first telephone line was put up this morning through this place.” The article explained that this was the only line to be installed for the moment and that it would “only run to Millville, to which place the poles have been put up.”
According to Mulligan, his father “often remarked about the ‘wildness’ of Vineland in its early days, referring of course to the fact that the community was carved out of cedar and oak forests.” Not always flattering in his comments about the town, Mulligan’s father recounted that “you needed gunboats to cross the main street; and there were no good hotels nor eating places for traveling men,” who apparently “evaded” Vineland in those days.
However, Mulligan identifies that his dad “accurately predicted that the town would amount to something, as he recalled the foresight and vision of its founder, Charles K. Landis, in establishing ‘extremely wide streets.’ ”
One of the other things that caught the attention of Mulligan’s dad was the enterprising nature of South Jersey towns, including Vineland and its surrounding area. “…many folks cooperated to form their own little telephone company,” Mulligan recalled his father saying. Additional research uncovered that such a telephone company “was formed many years ago by folks in the Richland area. In other words, the telephone company would refuse to lay lines in areas then deemed too rural to repay them for the expense involved.”
By 1892, the Evening Journal was reporting that the rapidly increasing success of the telephone “compels [the company] to put in a 50-wire cable and switch board.”
Mulligan also says that his father mentioned a telephone line from Vineland to Bridgeton, a venture mentioned in an article from the June 3, 1899 issue of the Evening Journal. The newspaper refers to a resident from each town connecting “wires” and marking “a new era in cheap telephoning.”
The article reports that “communication between the two cities will soon be established for every subscriber to the local phone,” adding that the clarity on the Vineland-Bridgeton line was as good as “on the wires that cover but a block in Vineland.”
Mulligan writes that the telephone linemen of that era “literally carved a line through the wilderness” while “sleeping in tents with a chuck-wagon as their ‘food supplier…’ ” as they carried new technology into the world.