In 1894, the technology didn't exist to amplify one voice enough to simultaneously send it down all the telephone circuits of an exchange. Thus, as described in this article, in order to distribute the election reports in Chicago, each of 150 telephone operators were connected to between 12 and 20 subscriber lines. Election reports received by the telephone company were quickly duplicated and, from 7:00 PM to midnight, 100 "line news bulletins" forming "a sort of verbal newspaper" were read by all the operators simultaneously to their respective group of listeners. (Although the subscribers were supposed to only listen, some couldn't control themselves, and, because each of these blocks was set up as a kind of "party line", within each group of lines all the subscribers could overhear each other's comments as well those of as the operator).
1894 was not a presidential election year--Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, was in the middle of his second term--so the election results given were for local and state races, plus House of Representative campaigns. In the national election, the Democrats lost 116 seats and control of the House of Representatives. (At this time, U.S. Senators were still elected by the state legislatures).
Electrical Review, November 21, 1894, page 259:
TELEPHONING ELECTION RETURNS.
SUBSCRIBERS IN CHICAGO BUNCHED ON THE LINES AND LISTEN WITH GREAT EAGERNESS--SOME OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF KEEPING TELEPHONE NEIGHBORS FROM TALKING IN THE WINDY CITY--GENERAL MANAGER HIBBARD'S INTERESTING COMMENTS--A DEMOCRAT'S SURFEIT OF BAD NEWS.
The daily press of Chicago has complimented very highly the Chicago Telephone Company for the excellent manner in which the election returns were reported over its system Tuesday, November 6. The ELECTRICAL REVIEW interviewed General Manager A. S. Hibbard, of the Chicago Telephone Company, and the result presented below will interest every telephone man.
"This," said Mr. Hibbard, "was our first experiment in the general transmission of election news throughout the telephone exchange. In many respects the work was entirely new and different from anything we had attempted before. This was especially so in bunching together parties consisting of from 12 to 20 subscribers, who, of course, didn't know each other, but to whom the bulletins were read off by the operator. Naturally, all these people simultaneously hearing the operator were able to talk to each other if occasion arose, and although we endeavored just as much as possible to keep them down and not let them do any talking, there were many amusing cases in which this was broken into. Probably the larger part of these little items will be lost; just a few of them, however, have already been reported to me.
The Chicago Herald said:
"One lady, on being put on the bulletin circuit, directed the operator that if the returns were favorable to the Democrats she was to be immediately cut off, but that if they were Republican she would remain at the telephone all night if necessary. It is needless to say she remained taking the bulletins until the final number (100) had been read to her.
"On another circuit one or two Republicans were inclined to hurrah as the bulletins were read, when a number of irate Democrats shouted out that those interfering Republicans must be cut off the wire.
"On another a lady interrupted very frequently with the statement that she did not care how New York had gone, she wanted to know right off whether Mrs. Jones was elected here in Chicago, and it took the continued efforts of an unknown man with a bass voice to hold her down so that the others might hear the bulletins. Another lady rang in upon the circuit at a tremendous rate, in this way, of course, ringing up everybody else on the wire, and proceeded to 'go for' the operator in a very irate manner, saying: 'Where are those election returns? I have not had a bulletin for a whole minute.' The operator naturally asked her to wait a minute, and was at last assured that the lady would wait exactly one minute more.
"One man, having an idea that the news would be transmitted over his business telephone, invited a large party to his office prepared to entertain them with the returns. He was very much disturbed when he learned that we had not taken any business places on our lists, and begged so hard on behalf of his friends that we finally put him on. His thanks for the service have taken the shape of making a number of people connected with the company presents in the shape of articles of his own manufacture.
"On another line I hear that we had a lady who was very anxious to find out from the operator if the returns were accurate, and on being assured for the third or fourth time that they were, informed the operator--and, of course, all the other people on her circuit--that it was very important that they should be accurate, because she had bet a sealskin coat on the result.
"Another gentleman--a Democrat--in expressing his thanks to us, said he never heard so much bad news in such a short time in all his life.
"When it is appreciated that just 100 of the telephone bulletins were transmitted in the five hours, it will be seen that there was very little waiting. One prominent Republican rang up the office manager early in the evening to say that he had a party of friends at his home, and that as they were engaged in playing cards he thought that a little batch of the bulletins read off about once in a half hour would accommodate them very nicely. Upon hearing the first batch and ascertaining that they were coming in at the rate of one every three minutes or oftener, he said he guessed they would postpone the card party and take the bulletins as they came.
"It was certainly very interesting to realize that we were able to write a brief bulletin stating the news at that moment and have it transmitted to upwards of 1,000 different distant points in the city, where it was immediately read off to parties who were present at these points, and that thus, within three minutes, we reached probably upwards of 15,000 people. It was naturally gratifying to me to find that our telephone exchange arose to the emergency and that our employés in every rank in their co-operation and good work made this widespread transmission so successful."
One hundred and fifty young women, each with what looked like an earmuff over their left ear, sat at the tables in the Central Telephone Exchange nearly all of last night telling the news of the election to the thousands of subscribers. They were kept quite busy also sending out bulletins to the clubs and headquarters of the various parties in the city. It was no light task that the telephone company had set for itself, and it was with a general sigh of relief that the 150 young women laid aside their peculiar headgear and went to a well-earned rest.
The Chicago Evening Journal complimented the effort quite enthusiastically, saying:
The girls told the story in the peculiar nonchalant and irritating monotonous drawl which has earned the telephone girl a distinct position in the realms of vocalism. None of them evinced surprise or embarrassment when saluted with choice selections from the vocabulary of some disappointed listener. All preserved the same indifference to what was said, and calmly turned to the next bulletin with the same aggravating persistence that has always marked the telephone girl.
The experiment, for such it was, of handling election news exclusively by telephone was far more successful than the managers of the local exchanges expected. In many cases accurate bulletins were laid before the people earlier than the same news could be received and sent out by telegraph. The arrangements embraced every portion of the territory covered by the Chicago exchanges, and special attention was given to the reception and transmission of news from distant points. The result in New York was made certain by this means an hour earlier than was possible by wire.
It was an interesting sight to see the girls at work. Here was one with 24 wires connected with her earmuff quietly reciting the news over the whole batch of wires and telling two dozen clubs and other subscribers the state of affairs every three minutes and sometimes much oftener. It was the aim of the managers to send supplementary dispatches at least that often; but it sometimes happened that while a girl was still talking the last one a new one would be placed on the board and she would get to work again.
About 15,000 people in Chicago homes and clubs last night received news of the election returns by telephone. By special arrangement of General Manager Hibbard of the Chicago Telephone Company a sort of verbal newspaper was kept in circulation throughout the city from seven o'clock till midnight. It was the first time that bulletins of the election were transmitted throughout the telephone exchange. Special wires to and from New York, from Milwaukee, Detroit, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and other cities were used for the purpose. Also special wires were connected with the city hall, the Republican and the Democratic headquarters. The news was taken at the telephone building at the corner of Washington and Market streets from workers at the city hall and elsewhere and by the special wires. There the matter was edited and "line news bulletins" were dictated and transmitted to each of the 10 "exchanges" in the city. At each branch office the bulletin was manifolded and a copy was handed to each of the 80 operators in each branch. Each operator re-transmitted the bulletin simultaneously to 12 different telephones in residences and clubhouses in all parts of the city.
The news was heard at 1,000 different points of the city in two minutes after it was received at the telephone company's headquarters. Just 100 bulletins were sent. At all times the bulletins were from 15 minutes to half an hour ahead of those received by telegraph. Not one error was made (intricate figures were avoided); the scheme was a great success and the many people, both those in their own homes and those who were clubmen, thanked Manager Hibbard for the new and pleasing innovation in the transmission of election returns.
Captain George N. Stone gave the returns to the telephone subscribers in Cincinnati. In almost every home in the city, where telephones are in use, there were little parties of interested folk gathered on election night, receiving from the "main office" bulletins as fast as they were received. About 30 operators were on duty, and the most important of the bulletins were chalked upon a blackboard, and, without any undue disturbance, the entire force could take in at a glance the news that hundreds of subscribers were so anxious to hear. Cincinnati was on the circuit with Indianapolis, Columbus and Pittsburgh. The long distance telephone's invasion of the field of political statistics scored an instantaneous success among Captain Stone's subscribers.