May 15, 1880: West Virginia’s First Telephone Exchange Placed in Service

May 15, 2019

Credit Michael Keller / West Virginia Humanities Council

On May 15, 1880, West Virginia’s first telephone exchange was placed in service in Wheeling with about 25 subscribers. Actually, the state’s first telephone line was strung in Wheeling the year before, connecting two grocery stores owned by the Behrens brothers. At first, only local calls were possible, but long-distance service was started between Wheeling and Pittsburgh in 1883.

Telephone exchanges were soon added in other cities: Parkersburg in 1882, Charleston in 1883, Huntington and Moundsville in 1884, Martinsburg in 1886, Grafton in 1890, Clarksburg in 1891, Bluefield in 1893, Fairmont in 1894, and Morgantown in 1896. By 1889, all of the exchanges in northern West Virginia had been linked by toll lines.

In 1897, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company connected the northern and southern parts of the state by long distance. And, by the early 1900s, virtually the entire state was interconnected.

Other major telephone developments included the introduction of dial service in Huntington in 1925 and direct-distance dialing in Wheeling and Moundsville in 1956. And in 1984, Charleston became the first city in the country that could choose long-distance carriers other than AT&T.