Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Stearns Telephone historic marker in downtown Detroit

Wandering through the cold down Woodward the other day, I stopped to check a text message that had come through on my cellphone.

To my side, I noticed another of those common Michigan Historic Markers that seem to be everywhere downtown. I'd been past this one dozens of times, but never noticed it before, likely because it lays awkwardly in a streetscape box in front of a yellow-glass building that I believe is empty. (I could be wrong on that...I'll have to go back sometime and check.)

Anyway, the placard marks the site where, more than 100 years ago, the Stearns Telephone was first sampled in Detroit. Here's a paraphrasing of how the sign reads.

In 1877, a Bell telephone wire was installed on this site in the drug store operated by Frederick Stearns. An iron wire strung along rooftops connected it to the Stearns Laboratory a half mile away at the foot of Fifth Street. Only 18 months after Alexander Graham Bell patented his invention, this was the first to be offered by the organization that eventually became Michigan Bell Telephone Company. A placard in the store window invited the public to stop in every hour on the hour to speak over the amazing new device. Other private lines followed but it was a year before the telephone exchange was constructed with 15 or 20 subscribers on each party line.

After reading the sign, I went back to my cellphone, checked another text message, and took the picture that you see above. Amazing.