Princeton expatriate Tim Huelster occasionally comments on Facebook about his memories of growing up in Princeton in the 1950s, as I did.

Several months ago he posed a question I could not answer. When did Princeton get dial telephones?

I recently jumped ahead a few years in my research to get some details on the St. John’s Catholic Church’s annual picnic, which is discussed in a previous post. Well, in those meanderings, I came across the answer to Tim’s question.

Princeton got rotary dial telephones in 1957. It was a big deal, the culmination of several months of preparation by the Wisconsin Telephone Company, which estimated it would cost $135,000 to upgrade Princeton’s system.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 31, 1956 – “The Wisconsin Telephone Company this week started construction of a new telephone building to serve Princeton. The new structure will represent an initial step toward ultimate changeover of Princeton telephone system from manual to dial operation, according to manager Robert J. Ledvina. Site of the new telephone building is the north side of Wisconsin Street. The site measures 66 feet on Wisconsin Street and extends 132 feet in depth.”

The project also included installing about 575 new dial-type telephones in the city’s homes and businesses. The switching equipment was installed in the telephone company’s new building on Wisconsin Street.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 9, 1957: “‘How do you dial a telephone call?’ It’s easy. Just how easy will be demonstrated in Princeton in a number of ways by the Wisconsin Telephone Company. Starting next week, a series of ‘dial demonstrations’ will be presented in public and parochial schools in the Princeton area. ‘Young people of school age use the telephone frequently, and acquainting them with the correct use of the dial telephone is essential to the success of the new dial system,’ said Manager George L. Lepak.”

Princeton Times-Republic, May 16, 1957: “A new look in telephones – a dial-equipped instrument has made its initial appearance in Princeton. The first instrument was installed in the Mrs. Henry Emmerich home on First Street.”

Princeton Times-Republic, June 27, 1957 – “Dial telephone service came to town Tuesday, June 25, at 7 a.m. bringing with it a new era in telephone communications. Approximately 575 telephones ‘went dial’ as the cutover was accomplished quickly and smoothly. … Coincident with the introduction of dial service, new telephone numbers for all Princeton telephone subscribers became effective. The numbers consist of the central office name ‘AXtel’ and five numerals. They are listed in the new, gray-covered telephone books.”

Here is an example of the new numbering system introduced with the dial telephones.

“I remember the day the dial system went live,” Tim told me. “For some time before that, the Bell System techs were busy with the switch over. On the corner of Water and Fulton, just across from ‘Slugs,’ lived the Warnkes. There was a barn on the property, and that is where all the removed telephone equipment was unceremoniously piled as it was replaced by the dial phones. I remember the old crank style phones, the candlestick and wall phones that today would be valuable collectables. The batteries that were labeled The Bell System or Western Electric fascinated this 6-year-old. I was the king of the block knowing about that big pile of treasure. I never found out who absconded with all that treasure as one day, it was all gone!”

The next question is, when did they drop the AXtel and go strictly to numbers?

The answer is 1962.

Princeton Times-Republic, April 12, 1962 – “Three new features for Princeton telephone subscribers will be placed in service this Sunday, April 15, at 1 a.m., Manager Dick Sherman of the Wisconsin Telephone Company announced. At this time, Princeton customers will be tied into the nationwide Direct Distance Dialing network, will receive toll-free extended area service to Green Lake, and will convert to the new seven-numeral telephone numbers.”

The telephone company published a new directory with the new numbers. Dr. Frank McNutt’s office number in the new system, for example, was 295-8801.

Touch-tone phones came out in 1963.

I have not gotten to area codes in my research, but will update this file when I do. Thanks for reading and caring about local history.

One comment

  1. I’m not sure the change from AX 5-#### really amounted to anything as A=2 & X=9 on the old rotory dials as in 295…. it was likely just a conversion to a numbering system.

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