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July 29, 2003

Some local historians believe the first telephone line in Perry was installed a month after the 1893 Cherokee Outlet land run, an historic event which made possible the founding of this city and several others in the northern tier of counties in Oklahoma Territory. That would mean the first phones appeared here in about mid-October of 1893, and that sounds reasonable to me. However, I have a copy of a printed program that was handed out by Southwestern Bell Telephone Company on December 9, 1926, at their "semi-centennial celebration" dinner in the Perry Presbyterian church. That might lead one to believe that phone service was available here fifty years earlier, or in 1876, before there was a Cherokee Outlet. Confusing discrepancies like that cloud the real date of the origin of the first telephones in Perry. A partial explanation follows:

The little booklet includes a narrative that clears up some of the confusion. The celebration took note of the day in 1876, fifty years previously, when Alexander Graham Bell succeeded in sending his voice over telephone wires for the first time. So, it was truly, a semi-centennial observance—of the telephone company, not Perry. The booklet goes on to relate that after that first half-century, telephone communication then was possible over 17 million telephones and 46 million miles of telephone wire, linking the nation into one vast neighborhood. Any way you look at it, the facts are astonishing. But, that was a period of intense industrial growth throughout this land. Incidentally, the semi-centennial dinner menu included fruit cocktail, roast turkey with dressing, gravy and mashed potatoes, string beans, cranberry sauce, hot rolls, perfection salad, angel food cake with ice cream; and coffee. There, is no information about the speaker(s) or other entertainment. But the local newspaper had a detailed story after the dinner.

The story and factual details about our local telephone service were contained in this newspaper on September 14, 1953, when the sixtieth anniversary of the land run was celebrated. We'll be relying heavily on that information and quoting from it frequently as this series of columns unwinds. Other reliable sources also are available and as many as possible will be laid before you. For now, let's hear some more about that "semi-centennial" celebration of the phone company in December 1926. The following is a portion of an article that appeared the next day in The Perry Daily Journal. The story was headlined:

PIONEERS TELL HOW THEY MARVELED THAT PERRYS FIRST TELEPHONES EVER WORKED

The reporter began his story in this fashion: "If you were invited to the Telephone's party at the Presbyterian church Thursday night and didn't go, then you lost out, not only lost out but were probably talked about if you were one of the first subscribers to the telephone services in Perry and they told, things that you possibly wish you might have been there to dispute for all the secrets were let out.

"Old timers of Perry, those who have seen the city grow from a barren waste to one of the most prosperous little cities in the northern part of the state, numbering more than 100, were in attendance at the semi-centennial celebration observing the invention of the telephone at the Presbyterian Church."

You may be struggling as you try to read this portion of the newspaper account, but remember, that is exactly how it first appeared and styles of writing were somewhat different then. More is coming.