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Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Co. focuses on farmers
Bulloch History
roger allen
Roger Allen

Note: The following is one of a series of articles looking at events in the history of Bulloch County.

The “Thirty-Sixth Annual Report of the Railroad Commission of Georgia” (1908), published in 1909, stated it believed in "the important value of telephones in the homes of the farmers in the state."

The Commission revealed it saw "in the extension of what the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company calls its “Farmers' Line Service" (a) great value to (the) farmers of the State."

On April 22, 1909, Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph President W.T. Gentry wrote that his desire was to furnish a service adapted thoroughly to the needs of dwellers in the rural community."

Railroad Commissioner McLendon wrote, "certain elements in the cost of furnish service to rural communities which, in the nature of the case, can be supplied more cheaply by the subscribers than by the Company."

The service was "stripped of every element which, although essential in towns and cities, is non-essential in the country, and (would) increase the cost beyond a point at which the farmers could afford to take the service."

He described how "the farmers should form themselves into small cooperative associations for the purpose of building, owning, and maintaining (the) lines up to the city limits."

"The formation of these associations proved at the beginning a considerable task, and progress was very slow" from 1905-07. At the end of 1907, we had connected with our system but 1961 such (sub) stations."

It that time, there were "929 (stations) in the State of Georgia. On March 31, 1909, there were connected 5,731 stations, and of these stations 2,021 were in the State of Georgia.

New stations are being connected up at the rate of from 6 to 800 a month. If the farmers live not far away from town, they are connected to Southern Bell's switchboard, with a minimum charge of $3 to $5 per line.

Southern Bell offered the farmers other options: they could lease metallic circuits on Southern Bells poles; or actually put up their own wires on Southern Bell's poles.

With enough subscribers, a farmers' association could operate an exchange of their own, with wires running to the farmers switchboard, from where Southern Bell would run a "trunk" line is run to their main switchboard.

Such trunk lines could serve between 30 and 120 subscribers. The last option was for subscribers who live near none of Southern Bell's exchanges but live close to a Southern Bell "toll station."

Southern Bell had established some 4,000 of these stations in the seven states, with some 900 of them within Georgia. The farmers lines which connect with the "toll agent's" station.

The "toll agent" connected the farmers through his switchboard to other farmers lines, and charged them a small fee for doing so. If they connected to Southern Bell's lines, they paid the regular Southern Bell fees in addition.

The 36th annual report revealed the cost of equipment for a farmers' associations instruments varied between $13.50 to $15 per 'set.' The cost of lines also varied, depending on which wire arrangement was selected.

The 1-line wire grounded cost $5 per mile up to 12 miles long; and a grounded 1-line wire over 12 feet long cost $7 per mile. Metallic 2-wire lines under 12 miles long cost $10 per mile, and over 12 miles cost $14 per mile.

All things considered, President W.T. Gentry believed that soon, any farmer "in moderate circumstances," located within 15 miles of the exchanges or toll lines, could afford a phone line.

The Report declared "it is our belief that within a few years, not less than 40,000 plus (toll or exchange) stations will be connected within the State of Georgia alone."

The Bulloch Times and Statesboro News issue for May 13, 1920 published an article that "considered the Interesting Telephone History is Recalled, as, at first, nothing but a “Scientific Toy.”

By 1876, statistics proved that there was "hardly a farm house in the country but is connected on a ‘rural line;’ six families out of ten in the country have telephones.

The government census for 1917 enumerated some 53,000 (mostly) simply rural or mutual ‘farmer’s lines’ systems (and) about 11,000 separate commercial telephone systems.

The "telephone business in 1917 employed about 270,000 people, of whom around 170,000 were women. (The) government census people figure the number of local ‘talks’ during 1917 at about 22 billion."

(That is) an average of 63 million ‘talks’ for every day in the year. (The Transmitter wrote) “the telephone systems in the U.S. should normally grow at the rate of about 750,000 new or added telephones a year.”

Roger Allen is a local lover of history who provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email him at

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