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One of the original styles of telephones hung on a wall and involved turning a crank to be connected to the central switchboard.

Today we take the phone in our house for granted. It’s always there, and it is dependable. But this hasn’t always been the case.

As are many things in Menomonie, the first telephone is attributed to the Knapp, Stout and Company. Installed in 1879, this private, grounded line ran from the company’s office to what is referred to as Menomonie Junction.

In 1882, a local company was formed and was managed by Mr. Ole K. Ranum, a native of Norway. Ranum, a druggist, was appointed toll agent for the company. The Wisconsin Telephone Company took over the exchange in December of 1894. A year later an ordinance was granted to J. D. Hills and Sanford Heafield to build a telephone exchange to compete with the Wisconsin Telephone Company.


Competition was soon established and in January 1899, the property of the new company was transferred to the Menomonie Telephone Company. This company had little success, however, and in September of the same year the Menomonie Telephone Company and the Wisconsin Telephone Company were consolidated, and the exchange was moved to the Johnson Building on the corner of Broadway and Main.

This new company had approximately 300 subscribers. But by 1906, the company had experienced steady growth which fostered the need for a larger facility which was found at 307 Main Street.

New equipment was installed including a stateof the art, 9-D six position switchboard with 400 lines. All grounded lines were replaced with metallic lines and a new cable was extended throughout the city. At the completion of the switch board May 1, 1906, the Wisconsin Telephone Company had an amazing 366 city subscribers and 90 rural subscribers.

Rapid growth

Business increased rapidly because everyone wanted a piece of this new technology. As a result of the congestion on the cables and switchboards caused by these new consumers, it was necessary, during the years of 1915 and 1916, to install two additional switchboards and 200 additional lines.

The telephone company’s cable-making plant was enlarged and the cable system extended further into developing neighborhoods. Additionally, an underground cable system, costing approximately $7,000, was installed at this time to eliminate poles and overhead wires in the business district of the city. Two hundred additional lines were installed in 1921 to meet the demand for phone service.

The telephone company’s construction crew was kept busy with the erection of three miles of cable commencing at13th Street extending east of Menomonie into rural territory in order to eliminate the overhead wires because of the strain on the poles, while also avoiding considerable trouble because of sleet storms.

More cable was installed in 1925 west of Menomonie because of strain on the overhead wires due to their larger size. On April 1, 1925, the telephone company had an amazing 1,770 subscribers, of which 645 were rural. The telephone had established itself as a needed and vital part of daily life in Menomonie.

In the future years, telephone service was further extended into rural areas around Menomonie. Everyone had a telephone. Even the most remote areas enjoyed telephone service. Additionally, system maintenance was also a priority. This continued until the modern age, when cell phones started to take phone customers away from the landlines of the telephone company.

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Bruce Gardow is a volunteer at the Dunn County Historical Museum who shares his extensive knowledge as he explores some of the many treasures that exist in the archives of the Dunn County Historical Society’s Rassbach Heritage Museum, located at 1820 Wakanda St. in Menomonie’s Wakanda Park.


Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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