Cudmore: How old phones became widespread; carpet laying school


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Modern smart phones are versatile tools for all kinds of tasks, far beyond making a simple phone call.  But the old-fashioned telephone itself also was a game-changer.

Undertaker and local historian, W. Max Reid, is credited with being among the first to install a telephone in Amsterdam.

Reid visited the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, according to historian Hugh Donlon, and was fascinated by the telephone exhibited there.  On his return, he strung wires from his casket plant in Amsterdam to a store in Broadalbin.

There was no signaling system and the telephone was used by prearrangement.

Newspaperman Earl Stowitts wrote, “Twice a day at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., the persons at each end of the line, by a process of shouting into the telephones, and then moving the same instruments to their ears to hear what was shouted back, were able to carry on a conversation over the intervening ten miles.”

Other pioneer phone lines were installed between New York Central Railroad’s freight office and Sanford’s carpet mill and Kelloggs & Miller’s linseed oil plant. 

Early phones connected the homes of linseed oil magnates John, George and Lauren Kellogg.  Another early user was William Charles, a cotton and wool broker.  Reportedly he had telephone number “1.”

Donlon wrote, “By 1881, the Amsterdam Telegraph and Telephone Company, locally organized, was operating a switchboard of 50 lines from a central office at East Main and Church streets.”

Several companies competed for telephone customers in Amsterdam initially but competition cut the number of competitors to two — the locally based Automatic Telephone Company and Hudson River Telephone, part of the Bell system’s national network.

By 1910 the battle was over and New York Telephone — successor to Hudson River — took over phone service to some 1,500 Amsterdam customers.

In 1916, to promote more long-distance calling, the phone company invited 200 people to a public phone conversation at the Elks Lodge between Amsterdam Mayor James R. Cline and Mayor James Rolph of San Francisco.  George Scott, exalted ruler of the Amsterdam Elks, conversed with the exalted ruler of a San Francisco lodge.

Donlon wrote, “Despite the ballyhoo, cross-country talk failed to gain immediate popularity with frugal townspeople.  Rates were comparatively high and it was more economical to write a letter when speed was not particularly important.”


Mohawk Carpet Mills in Amsterdam started a two-week carpet laying school in 1947.

During World War II, manufacturing rugs took a back seat as Mohawk turned out blankets, canvas and other products for the war effort.  After the war, though, the company was promoting the purchase of wall-to-wall carpet “in place of the nine by twelve rug,” according to the company magazine Tomohawk.

Carpet school director John Pollard said that proper installation would make wall-to-wall carpet look “as though it were poured into the room.”

The technique was the Roberts Smooth-Edge Method, invented by Roy Roberts of Georgia who founded a company that made floor covering tools in 1938.  A narrow wooden tack strip with needle-like spikes was laid down along the outer contour of the room.  Carpet was secured to the strip and stretched to fit the tack strip on the opposite side of the room.

The students were taught how to overcome obstacles such as doorways, heat registers, radiators and stairways. 

They finished the course installing carpets in “model rooms attractively and realistically decorated in delicate pastels.”

One of the students had traveled from Norfolk, Virginia to Amsterdam by motor scooter.  When it rained, Albert Rose said, “I stopped for a quart of oil and a gallon of beer.”

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].

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