In 1882 the first telephone appeared in Westport. Alexander Graham Bell had demonstrated the earliest model at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876, an event that 50 Westport residents attended, including the Lee (from Lee’s Factory) and Chapman families. In 1882 W.E.

Osborn purchased a telephone from the newly formed Bell Telephone

Co. for his general store in Westport.

According to Osborn’s son Frank, who gave an interview when he was 95in 1971,” My father was approached by the telephone company manager, who asked us to install a pay station in the store. We put it on the side wall at the rear of the store, next to the pork and molasses barrels, to keep it out of the way.”

Osborn said the user had to turn the crank to ring the bell, which contacted the closest operator in Norwalk. In the early days there were no telephone poles, so the wires were attached to trees and fence posts and hung over the rooftops.

Acceptance of the new invention in Westport and elsewhere was slow. It was used mostly by doctors, morticians and sanitariums. The telephone cost $40 a year for businesses and $30 a year for residences.

Even in 1900, Westport had only 100 telephones and one permanent switchboard at 40 Myrtle Ave. Little did people know then, that one day we would wear them on our wrists, fit them in our pockets and they would be installed in automobiles, which was yet to be invented. (Karl Benz developed the gasoline- powered automobile in 1886, the first to go into production.)

Margaret Mazer for the Westport Historical Society. For information, visit westporthistory.org