Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

What would you do if you didn’t have your telephone?  It seems as if we are constantly connected to our family and friends through our cell phones.  How often do you see people, young and old alike, talking on their phones?  I feel that half the people I see on the road or in the stores are talking on their cell phones.  

When F & S Construction began building homes back in 1955, the fast pace of construction was difficult for the telephone company to keep up with.  With their own construction yards on site, F & S could put up a home in just a few days.  Cell phones would have come in handy back then but of course we hadn’t invented them yet. 

The early Hoffman Estates residents who moved into their homes in the spring of 1956 had phones installed with 16 people on a party line.  For those who are too young to know what a party line is, it’s like having one cell phone shared by 16 people.  Imagine having to wait your turn to use the phone.  If one person talked too long you had to politely ask them to “get off the phone, I need to make a call”.  Everyone worked together to make sure no one got angry with long winded talkers.  The 16 party line didn’t last more than a few months.  It changed to a more convenient 8 party line. 

Illinois Bell Telephone had to come up with a way to supply phone service to the homes that seemed to spring up over night.  Hoffman Estates became the home to the first trailer-mounted telephone exchange.  Illinois Bell developed the portable equipment at their garage in Lisle, Illinois.  The van type trailer could handle a phone system for 800 homes.  Illinois Bell planned for a permanent exchange building for the summer of 1957.  The portable phone equipment could be used in other locations with rapid growth or in case of disasters or fire in the exchange building.  The first phone exchange would be Twinbrook 4. 

The early phone subscribers could dial directly to Roselle and Bartlett.  Out-of-town calls would be made by operators in Arlington Heights.  We’ve had many changes to the phone service.  Party lines became a thing of the past.  Many of our residents have never used one.   We went from letters and numbers to all numbers and we kept adding more numbers to dial when cell phones and portable devices became so popular.  The round dial on a phone is also long gone.  Touch Tone was to replace that. 

Now we can tell our phone who we want to call, what we want it to take a picture of and who we want it to send it to.   Our home phone is called our land line; our other phones are called our cells.  Those land lines are also rapidly disappearing and many of us rely on our cells.  Don’t forget to keep it charged and enjoy the freedom it gives us.   We’ve come such a long way from those party lines.  

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian

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