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The Ridge Telephone Company
and the
Cal. Elec. Works
CD 130.1 Cobalt Blue Insulator

Content by
Christopher Wolff

Insulator and Original Photos obtained by Jack Wolff

Insulator photos and content editing by Matthew Barkee

The insulator shown was used by California’s Ridge Telephone Company on the world’s first long distance telephone line. It was in operation in the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains in late November 1878 using telephones designed by Thomas Edison.

The line was ultimately 60 miles long and had 22 phones uniting French Coral in Nevada County, California, with Milton in Sierra County. This region was central for three large hydraulic gold mining companies: the Milton Company, The Eureka Company, and The Bloomfield Company. The three companies realizing the possibilities of this new “speaking phone” funded the building of this line and named it the Ridge Telephone Company.

Quick communication was vital to control mountain reservoirs miles from the mining areas so the new “speaking telephones” were employed.

This insulator was found inside a tree by a woodcutter in the 1930’s and given to my grandfather, Jack Wolff, who lived locally and was known collector of that area’s history. Trees were commonly used for poles in those days although poles were also used. The poles were single poles with a single insulator attached at the top with the wire attached.

The Ridge Telephone Line was in operation for many years, using the “Edison Speaking Telephone.” All could, for a fee, call and leave a message at whatever location was closest to the person they were trying to contact. The Ridge Phone also connected with the Western Union Telegraph. The next year, 1879, Edison invented his light bulb and Bell won his famous lawsuit over the telephone.

In the early 1880’s hydraulic mining was banned, but that didn’t keep the mines from doing it. The Ridge Telephone was instrumental when government agents would occasionally inspect the mines. These agents were referred to as “slickers.” Someone would call ahead on the phone and tell the mine that the “slickers” were on the way, the mine would be shut down, and everyone would go home. The mines appeared to out of operation. When the “slickers” left, the mine started back up.

This insulator sat on my grandfather’s desk when I was a child.

The photo below shows a single pole Ridge Telephone line crossing over first transcontinental telephone line built by Bell and opened between New York and San Francisco January 25, 1915. [Comment: Several ICON people state that the route of the Ridge line was nowhere near the route of the transcontinental line; so the above statement is probably not correct]. The Bell people raised the Ridge Telephone line so its single wire could pass over their line, where America’s first transcontinental long distance line crossed under the world’s first long distance line built 37 years before. The photo was taken by Harry Peterson who was a friend of my grandfathers and the curator of the Sutter’s Fort Museum.

Ridge Telephone Line

The photo below shows an original Ridge Telephone Company message sheet dated September 5th, 1879 at 8:40 p.m. with content referring to two murderers’ descriptions that were thought to be in the area of Nevada City. They also apparently stole grub from a miner’s cabin.

Ridge Telephone Company message sheet

This is another original message message sheet. (courtesy James Doty)

Ridge Telephone Company message sheet

More photos and content will be included in a forthcoming book on the subject of my grandfather and the Ridge Telephone Company.

All content and photos Copyright © 2007 Christopher Wolff and the Wolff Collection

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Created: Tuesday, March 13, 2007; Updated Monday, June 23, 2007