"Around 1900, though, some rural Americans — specifically those who, at the time, were typically outside the coverage area of a telephone company — found a way to use the phone without going though Ma Bell. They simply used the wires around them — the barbed wire fences, that is. […] A phone without the underlying infrastructure or the switchboard operator isn’t all that useful, though – until someone realized that the barbed wire fences could carry a phone signal just fine. The system was free — there weren’t even long-distance charges — and made for an easy way to alert others (who were often not very close by) of emergencies or to request help. It also allowed for typically isolated families to be part of a larger community – one account talks about how people would commiserate when bad news came back from the war front during World War II, or how children would celebrate when news came over the wires that snow led to a school cancellation. And of course, the novelty of the device and its promise of inter-connectivity made the phone the center of many households, just like it did for those on Ma Bell’s system."
Now I Know – Barbed Bells
23 January 2014