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The First Telephones in New Mexico

By Rick Hendricks

The honor of installing the first telephone system in New Mexico is often given to Las Vegas merchant Carlos Blanchard, who connected his place of business on the plaza to his home in 1879, just three years after Alexander Graham Bell's invention.[1] In the spring of 1878, however, the manager Western Union Telegraph office in Santa Fe, placed telephones in the Second National Bank and connected them by telegraph wire to the residence of its president, Mr. Lehman Spiegelberg.[2] The equipment rented for $50 a year.

On Sunday, 12 January 1879, telephone service between Las Cruces and Mesilla was inaugurated.[3] Residents enjoyed the novelty of sharing with friends three miles away singing and conversation, and the sounds of a Jew's-harp, a violin, and a bugle. Later in the month, the telephone transmitted more serious communication when news came from Ft. Bayard to Ft. Cummings that Major Albert P. Morrow had driven Victorio from his lair and routed him, recovering livestock the Apaches had recently stolen.

By March 1881 a telephone line connected the military headquarters near Santa Fe to the train depot of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe was reportedly working like a charm after a few false starts.[4] In mid-October poles were going up in Santa Fe with the prospect of an exchange opening soon. Poles for the telephone between Old and New Town Albuquerque were all up and workmen were stretching wire in late October 1881.[5] By November the Santa Fe Daily New Mexican reported that concerts by telephone were all the rage.[6]

[1] Jane Pattie and Tom Kelly, Cowboy Spur Maker: The Story of Ed Blanchard (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2002), 32.

[2] The New Mexican, 13 April 1878

[3] Thirty-Four, 15 January 1879.

[4] The Daily New Mexican, 5 March 1881.

[5] The Daily New Mexican, 25 October 1881.

[6] The Daily New Mexican, 2 November 1881.