Telephone Service – Number By Number

by Gloria McNeely

Originally written in the 1990s…

As we head down the “Information Highway” in the closing decade of this century we look back in awe at the changes in the field of communication that have occurred since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1875: commercial radio stations, “talking” pictures, television, computers, “web” pages……

Bell’s assistant first heard his voice through the phone just a few years after the first homesteaders came to the Snoqualmie Valley.  Back then, getting a message as far as Seattle meant a couple of days’ ride on horseback – now almost every home has a telephone connecting us with the world.  So how did this magic instrument find its way here? 

Early telephone at Snoqualmie Falls Power Plant, c 1898.
Newton and Julia Harshman outside their home/telephone company, Fall City.

In 1990, just a few years before his death, Jim Satterlee talked about this.  Many among Jim’s numerous friends remember him as a respected Valley native, athlete, teacher at Snoqualmie Middle School, and leader in the community.  He recalled that his grandparents, Newton R. and Julia Camp Harshman, were instrumental in developing telephone service for the Fall City area.  They purchased a “phone company” with “six or eight people on the system” from Emerson Neighbors at about the turn of the century.  They established a switchboard in their Fall City home, now a King County Landmark, and steadily built business and service until Newton Harshman’s tragic death from multiple bee stings in 1931.  At that time Jim’s parents, George E. and Gertrude H. Satterlee, stepped in to keep the telephone company operating.  The family continued to operate local service until 1947, when the company was sold to the Cascade Telephone Company, founded by George Gaines.  Cascade was eventually acquired by Telephone Utilities of Washington, now PTI Communications. 

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. II c. 1974-86) there were more than 150,000 telephones in the United States only eleven years after its invention.  At the same time there were 26,000 in the United Kingdom, 9,000 in France and 7,000 in Russia.  By 1979 there were more than 153 million telephones in our country alone. 

The evolution and proliferation of the telephone worldwide is echoed here in our Snoqualmie Valley, and can be illustrated by the telephonic history of one household – mine, which now contains three of them. 

In 1941 my husband Denton and I moved our family into the house that is still home.  We had the only telephone on the block then, and when you wanted to make a call you lifted the receiver to hear the operator say “number, please!” (No, you didn’t have to crank it!)  Our phone number was 558.

Telephone without number dials.

Half a dozen years later, World War II was over and service had expanded locally to the point that the company expanded to a four digit format (1947 was the introductory year for dial phones in the Valley – see instructions in this newsletter  Ed.).  Not much later, big city ID came to our Snoqualmie Valley.  We needed a prefix.  “Our 2224” became 88-2224 in 1952, then TU8-4924 in 1958.  A few years later, the company again assigned new numbers and switched to a numeric prefix (888) to conform to what was happening across the country. 

The latest inevitable change, given the Valley’s growing population, is the addition of a second prefix, 831, in the upper Valley, along with Fall City’s traditional 222.  It is a long way from the earliest telephone service here. 

One more thing about our telephone.  During the war years many neighbors used our phone for casual or important calls since it was the only one nearby.  There is THE call I will never forget.  It came for Helen Carlson ( a longtime resident of the Valley now living in Auburn).  I ran to get her when the call she had been waiting for finally came.  It was to tell her that her brother Jerry Emerick was safe and coming home.  He had been on the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in 1942 and had been a prisoner of war for four years.

1921 Cascade Telephone Directory Instructions for Subscribers on telephone rules.