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Salem Telephone Exchange Circa 1915
1st Salem Telephone Company Early 1900s Wooden Phone

Current home of CenturyLink
Corner of Sixth Street (Rolla Road) and Jackson Street – Clarks North Edition
601-603 N. Jackson Street

In the early 1880’s a young couple came to Salem from Fredericktown, Missouri.  That couple was Mr. and Mrs. Thomas A. and Mary E. Bruce.  Mr. Bruce worked for Louis Fischer’s General Store.  Mrs. Bruce worked as a seamstress making wedding gowns until after 10 years of living in Salem her eyesight began to fail her.  On one of Mrs. Bruce’s many trips to St. Louis she became acquainted with Mr. D. A. Kusel who manufactured telephones and telephone equipment.  He explained the operation of a telephone service system and instantly she became interested.  She came back to Salem but only received discouragement from the local businessmen.  She refused to give up.  Mr. D. A. Kusel had told her if she could get 30 customers she would succeed in the telephone business.  Her switchboard started in her dining room but she soon had to move it to an enclosed porch of her home.

At first Mary asked for $2.00 for phone service but later settled for $1.00 per month for residents and $2.00 for businesses.  An additional 25¢ could get you a desk phone.  The subscriber would turn a crank on the side of their wooden phone box that would ring a bell. The operator would answer the switchboard and ask for the telephone number.  The operator would connect the person to the number called.  Often times residents would call the operator to find out baseball scores and local news.  Mrs. Bruce operated the switchboard until her eyesight became much worse then she hired Tista Russell to work as an operator.  She also hired Ms. Maude Maledy who later married John Bryson.  The linemen were Mr. Bill Seay who remained until 1904 and Mr. Stevenson until 1906.  Mrs. Bruce hired Charles B. Jeffries who stayed with her until she sold the company in 1928 to some businessmen from Rolla, Missouri.  She died at the home of Charles Jeffries on May 8, 1942.

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