#lookback: Riverton Telephone Exchange

    A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

    The first telephones appeared in Riverton as early as 1908 – just two years after the town’s founding. At the time, all seventeen of the original subscribers shared a party phone that was connected to a telephone exchange somewhere else. The Riverton Republican reported, “At present, no poles will be used, but permission will be obtained from the owners to string wires along the backs of houses. Arrangements may be made to use the fences of several of the farmers of the Big Bend who desire phones. Party phones saved money, because the same circuit could connect several subscribers, but only one of the subscribers could use the phone at once. Additionally, any one of the subscribers could listen in to phone calls not meant for them.

    As the town grew, its residents pushed for the establishment of a telephone exchange so that more people could use phones and do so more efficiently. Exchanges also became the Siri of the early 1900s, as operators were also counted on to know about the day’s weather and other news and happenings in the community. Concrete plans began to form in 1915 for a telephone exchange, and by 1917, the Riverton Telephone Exchange had nearly as many subscribers as Lander’s.

    This switchboard may have been used either in the Riverton Telephone Exchange, or in the later Mountain Bell exchange that replaced it in 1918. When a subscriber picked up the receiver, a little door opened revealing the number of that subscriber. The operator picked up and said something like, “Number Please.” The subscriber would respond with something like, “Yes, Number six, Hall Oil Company, please.” The operator would insert the plug corresponding to the caller into the jack corresponding to the call’s recipient, and pull a switch to ring the recipient’s phone. Once the call was connected, the operator would exit the call.

    Most telephone exchange operators nationwide were single women. Managers found them to be much more professional and level headed than the teenage boys who worked as operators in the very first exchanges. Working as an operator was a highly sought position for many women. For some, it was even apparently a path to marital bliss. In 1917, the Riverton Review informed their readers of “a sure way to get a husband.” They were to simply “Secure a position at the Greybull Telephone Exchange. Within less than eighteen months, eight young ladies who had been employed there have secured life mates and are now happily married. If you don’t want to get married, don’t secure a position there.”

    Next up for the Fremont County Museums

    February 7, 7pm at the Dubois Museum, “Bats in the Wind River Range”

    Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    February 8, 6pm “What are Those White Lights in the Winter Sky”

    Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series


    February 9, 6pm at the Riverton Museum, “Murder Mystery Event”

    February 16, 4-6pm at the Pioneer Museum, “For the Love of Water, Now and Then” Exhibit Opening

    The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last three and half years. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.


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