Jonathan Hoppe

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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Hello! Central

Hello! ma baby
Hello! ma honey
Hello! ma ragtime gal
Send me a kiss by wire
Baby, ma heart’s on fire!
If you refuse me
Honey, you’ll lose me
Then you’ll be left alone
Oh, baby, telephone
And tell me I’m your own!
— Joseph E. Howard and Ida Emerson, “Hello! Ma Baby,” 1899.

 


Early in 1901, the pages of the Daily Local News were abuzz with word that a group of businessmen was attempting to lure the Sun Electric Manufacturing Co., of Philadelphia, to relocate to West Chester. The Sun Co. manufactured telephones, which were the hot new technology of 1901. Anyone who could wanted a piece of the action, and start-ups sprouted throughout the country to license and build the miraculous devices (a craze that would repeat itself in the 1970s and 1980s with home computers, which gave rise to one of West Chester’s most famous employers — Commodore International). The town was “too quiet,” one article opined, “and will be slower unless we get something of this kind.” Their pleas worked; by May, the contract to build a factory was let, and by October the factory was built at Franklin and Lacey Streets and employing about 40 people in the manufacture of many types of telephones and related equipment.

But it was not meant to last.

(more…)