March 5, 1955 – Rotary dial telephone service arrived in Mendocino. Although local phone service had been established between a few businesses in 1878, and new telephone lines connected Mendocino to the outside world in 1897, the Mendocino switchboard still required human operators to connect calls until 1955. Following the switch to dial phones, operators still handled long distance calls, answered phone number lookups, took repair requests, and provided the time of day.

Black Rotary Telephone

A Western Electric model 500 telephone made in the 1950s

Construction of a new telephone building to house the dial equipment had begun the previous July on an empty lot on the southeast corner of Pine and Howard streets. The original one-story frame and stucco building measured 19 feet by 22 feet in size, although additions were added later. The total cost of bringing dial telephones to Mendocino was nearly $160,000, which included the property and building, the dial equipment, a new switchboard for toll and assistance calls, and the replacement of every telephone in town with a rotary dial phone.

Installation of the new phones began in January, but telephone users were told not to use the dial phones until the service change occurred. Pacific Telephone manager Frank Phelan warned, “These phones aren’t completely dead. They are just alive enough to cause trouble on your line if you should leave the receiver off the hook or practice turning the dial.”

On February 5th, representatives from the telephone company held a public meeting at Kellieowen Hall on the southwest corner of Lansing and Ukiah streets. They explained how the new telephones worked and demonstrated how to operate them. Attendees were told that they would know their dial telephone was ready to operate when they “hear the hum of dial tone when they lift the receivers of their dial instruments. This is the dial telephone’s way of asking ‘Number, please.’ If dialing is started before the tone is heard, the new equipment cannot complete the call.”

At 11 pm on March 5th, the new dial telephone system was switched on, and telephone operators were no longer needed to make a local call.

New Exhibit! Mendocino Whale War – Visit the Kelley House Museum during March to view posters, photographs, and news clippings in an exhibit about the 1975-1976 protest against illegal whaling. 45007 Albion Street, Mendocino. Friday-Sunday, 11am – 3pm. Now until March 31.