Small Towns: Footville Telephone Museum preserves history

FOOTVILLE, Wis. - In the Village of Footville, an old-timey brick building off of Center Street is holding a piece of American history intact for the next generation.

"It's part of their life and they should know how communication started," said Kay Demrow, who works for the Luther Valley Historical Society, which owns the museum. 

The former telephone company building, equipped with switchboards that were manned by an operator, originally connected just 10 local landlines to one another.

Today, the building has been transformed into a telephone museum.

"The early history of it is what makes it important to me because knowing what I found out in researching the telephone history, I marvel at how anything like that ever got invented," Demrow said. 

The phone was created back in 1876, and it was just locals calling locals at first. By 1915, calls were being made coast to coast. By 1927, we sent the first call across the Atlantic Ocean. All of these calls had to be connected by an operator who would line you up.

"If a person had a phone in their house before the dial system came in, they would ring the crank and call the operator, tell them what number you wanted to call and they would connect you to that telephone," Demrow said.

But hold the phone. It wasn't until 1954 that Footville cut the operator out and folks could start calling friends and family directly.

"It changed communication entirely with not needing to have a switchboard or somebody to connect you to a phone," Demrow explained.

In the 60 years since we started communicating by dialing numbers ourselves, the telephone has morphed into an entirely different beast.

"They didn't realize how important this invention was," said Demrow.

So if you want to impress your kids with how complicated, even time-consuming, just making a call used to be, check out the more than 60 phones on display at the Footville Telephone Museum. 

For more information, visit their website here.

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