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Hidden Houston

Hidden Houston: Telephone Museum

Houston Public Radio’s Rod Rice reports on places that help form the fabric of the area, but that are not as well known as they might be. Today, is the Telephone Museum in the Heights, the first of two reports on smaller museums in the city in our occasional series called “Hidden Houston.”



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It could be argued that no other devise has had more of an impact on human interaction than the telephone. It allowed people to communicate in real time over a distance. It ushered in a communications era that is still growing and expanding. For the first 100-years telephones required wires and that era of telephone history is what you’ll find at the Doc Porter Telephone Museum at 17-14 Ashland Street. Doc Porter is the curator and he’ll show you large switchboards that once handled call for two Houston office buildings, and older, smaller switchboards called drop leafs, that were used in small towns.

“This is a working model of a drop leaf, it was in a home. A lady operated it and she took care of it 24-hours a day. Her husband maintained the telephone system.”

(Reporter) “So whenever the phone rang, she had to get up an answer it?”

“Yea, she got up and answered it, and when they had a call come in for somebody that didn’t have a telephone, she would send the kids to get them to tell them to come to the house because they had a call.”

The earliest phone system was two phones connected by a wire. As the desire for phones grew the switchboards came into use and towns didn’t have to wait for the phone company to set up a telephone system. Doc Porter says they could buy their own.

“I’ve got a Montgomery Ward catalog where you order the complete telephone system and it gave you the blueprint on how to set the poles, the type o sets you used, the wire size and the complete how to build your own telephone system.”

Next year the Telephone Museum is moving from it’s location in the Heights out to Park West. When the move is complete the museum will be able to display a huge private collection of telephones it has recently acquired. Included in the collection is an early payphone in which the caller would ring the operator and she would listen as coins were dropped into a box before completing the call.

Doc Porter says not everything new is brand new. Although there are a lot of cell phones that take pictures, the first picture phones go back to 1964, but you could not carry them around.

“It took a relay box of about four foot by three foot of machinery and relays and switches to operate that picture phone.”

There is a lot more to see and learn and you can do it on Tuesdays from nine to noon and other days by appointment for groups of ten or more. It is run by Telecom Pioneers, a service organization made up of former phone company employees.

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