Geek Trivia

Early Rural Telephone Systems In The U.S. Relied On What?

Farm Hand Operators
Cattle Fences
Hand-cranked Generators
Carrier Pigeons
A Fashion Fad During The Late 18th Century Found Europeans Wearing What Scientific Apparatus?

Answer: Cattle Fences

Over a century ago, in the early days of telecommunication network deployment, there was a whole lot of space not covered by the telephone grid. Thousands upon thousands of acres of the rural southwestern and western United States were well beyond the reach of the telephone network and early telephone companies were in no hurry to incur the expense of running miles of line between every farm and ranch west of the Rio Grande.

While rural farmers didn’t have access to a telco-laid wire network, they certainly had more than enough wire to go around. All those thousands of acres of rural land were demarcated with wire fencing. At some point in the late 1890s an unknown but ingenious rancher realized he could hook a telephone up to the fence on one side of his property and ring a phone hooked up to the other side. Because fence wire was routinely woven into the fence wire of neighboring ranches to increase strength and stability it was possible to trace a single wire route for miles and miles.

Over the years, ranchers upgraded the lines by adding additional wire, using old bottle necks to insulate the wire and improve the signal, and even set up switchboards manned by ranchers’ wives. As late as the 1970s there were still many areas in rural Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico where the only way to get a phone call out to a remote ranch was to use the fence-wire network.