Romance of Omaha, Chapter XVIII

If a citizen of Omaha in the year 1854 had predicted that the time would come when messages could be sent around the world by wire, he probably would have been pronounced "cracked."

If he had prophesied that the day would arrive when men would carry on conversation with each other over wires, though hundreds of miles apart, he would have been regarded as a fit subject for the asylum.

And if he had been so rash as to forecast that a resident of Omaha would some day be able to turn a dial and "tune in" on stations hundreds and hundreds of miles distant without even so much as any wires at all, he would have been locked up as violently insane.

Back in the '50s communication was slow. The early settlers found it difficult to get news of the day while it still was news.

Most "News" Was Old

Many things could happen in the world, without becoming known in Omaha for quite some time.

Weeks often passed between deliveries of news from the outside world.

Even when the steamboat era arrived, there was considerable delay in communicating with other points. Not until the first telegraph line was built into Omaha was this city placed in a position where it could communicate with other cities without long delay.

The first time Omaha was connected by wire with the rest of the world was in 1860, when what was known as the Missouri and Western Stebbins line was constructed by Edward Creighton, noted pioneer and builder of the west. It connected Omaha with St. Louis.

"Daily" Press Dispatches

The daily newspaper of that time boasted in large headlines of its "constant" telegraphic service and sometimes ran as many as six short dispatches in one issue.

The following year the Illinois and Mississippi telegraph line was built into Council Bluffs from the east, extended across the river to Omaha, and Robert C. Clowry, later president of the Western Union, came here as manager of the first office.

During the same year construction of the telegraph line from Omaha to Sacramento, Cal., began.

Edward Creighton, founder of Creighton university and the famous builder of telegraph lines, was again called upon. He constructed the line from Julesburg, Colo., to Salt Lake City, in spite of Indians, storms and hardship.

Then Came Telephone

For several years Omaha was content with telegraphic communication with the outside world, but in 1879 the first telephone system was put into operation.

On July 10, 1879, the first telephone directory was issued. It contained the names of 121 subscribers.

Telephone instruments and systems were crude in those days. The individual instruments were fastened on the wall and the user had to turn a crank and ring a bell to summon the operator. They came into common use but slowly. Once established, however, Omaha took to the telephone enthusiastically.

Today there are more than 62,000 telephones, over which 500,000 calls are transmitted daily.

Leads in Phone Use

This city ranks second among the larger cities in the world in the number of telephones per capita, there being one telephone for every 3.4 persons.

Nebraska boasts of more than 300,000 telephone subscribers, a greater number than in all of Great Britain.

The investment of telephone companies in the state is more than $40,000,000. They own more than 500,000 miles of wire and transmit 550,000,000 or more calls annually.

Telegraph service has grown in proportion and Omaha is served by the Western Union and Postal.

The latter company came into Omaha in 1886.

Amazing as has been the development of both the telephone and telegraph in Omaha and Nebraska, the development of the radio or "wireless," as it was first called, has been far more remarkable.

Radio With a Rush

Boys and girls of Omaha remember the days when there were no radio sets and recall how slowly the use of them grew until quite recently.

Amateurs of this city, most of them boys, did more to develop radio and interest people in it than even the dealers or manufacturers. Home-made sets were "tuning in" on far away stations before the adult radio fan come into existence.

The first general broadcasting station in Omaha was established by The Omaha Daily News, later merged into the Omaha Bee-News, about seven years ago.

The first program broadcast from this city was put on the air from the home of John O. Yeiser in Dundee. John O. Yeiser jr. was the operator and also the builder of the broadcasting station.

Living Room Studio

The Yeiser living room was the studio and some very attractive programs were broadcast. Several singers in Omaha theaters made their radio debut from Omaha's little studio.

Even seven years ago, the most enthusiastic radio addict would hardly have imagined that the public would take to the air as it has or that so many "bugs" could be found.

At the present time Nebraska has 16 broadcasting stations, large and small.

The best known are WOW, Omaha; KFAB, Lincoln, and WJAG, Norfolk.

Across the river in Council Bluffs is KOIL. Two stations at Shenandoah, Ia., WHO at Des Moines and several stations in the middle west are almost as well known.

Estimates as to the number of radio sets in use in Omaha differ. They range from 30,000 to 38,000. In Nebraska the estimate runs from 75,000 to 100,000.

Omaha is very advantageously situated for radio reception. It is approximately equdistant from the two coasts.

Reception is good from the west and east. The southern stations come up the Missouri valley in full force. Canadian stations are easily received.

Omaha and Council Bluffs together, to all intents and purposes one community, have another advantage. WOW on this side of the river is on the National Broadcasting company chain and KOIL on the other side is on the Columbia network. Few cities in the country have stations that are on the two networks.

Listens and Talks

Not only is Omaha one of the "talkingest" cities over the telephone, but it is also one of the best "listening" cities over the radio.

Omaha has come a long way in the matter of communication in the 70 odd years of its existence.

Perhaps in a few more years it will be able not only to hear what its neighbors are doing, but will be able to see what they are doing - all by machinery and without the aid of spooks, witchcraft or magic carpet.

Chapter XIX
Return to Table of Contents
HistoricOmaha.com Homepage