Friday, January 14, 2011

The Telecommunications History Group in the spotlight

While googling some newly arrived stocks, I incidentally tumbled into this website of the Telecommunications History Group (THG).  I was surprised by the historical content it displayed on  American telephone companies with illustrations of old stock certificates. What was this organization all about? My curiosity was aroused.  I decided to do an interview article on this, and .. well eventually I found my interviewee : Jody L. Georgeson, Executive Director of THG.

After her retirement from the telecom company U S West, Jody attended the University of Denver to receive a Masters of Library Science degree, with an emphasis on archival studies and public librarianship. A perfect lead-up for her next position at THG. One of the things I learned from her, is that THG is supported by an enthusiastic staff of volunteers.

The Zenith city Telephone Company
1899, shares of $100

You are invited to read the full interview. At the end you will find some interesting links !
Please continue.

Jody, I understood multiple museums are open to the public and managed by THG. Can you tell me which and are they similar or complementary in regards of the collections that are displayed ?
Our corporate offices are in Denver, Colorado, where we maintain and operate one of the largest telecommunications archives in the U S. Our collection includes telephone directories from 1879 through the present for a 14-state region; over 80,000 prints, negatives and slides dating back to 1876; audio and video media documenting the internal, community and advertising history of regional telephone companies; and historic business records from over 500 other telecom companies. Some of the documents most popular with researchers are scrapbooks and memoirs compiled by telephone company employees, and our collection of telephone company stock certificates.

We also operate two small museums in Denver, conduct educational programs and lead tours of the historic telephone company headquarters buildings in downtown Denver. The Denver museums illustrate the history of the industry through exhibits of artifacts, photographs and other documentary materials.

In Seattle, our Museum of Communications features a large collection of working equipment, including Central Office switches, PBXs, telegraph and teletype equipment, tool transmission gear and telephone sets.

What can the virtual museum on the website offer to visitors ?
Visitors to our Virtual Museum can take on-line tours of :
  • Seattle Museum of Communications
  • The Denver Telephone Museum
  • THG Archives
  • The historic Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph headquarters building
We exhibit the history of the industry, explain the science behind telecom service and tell stories of the people who made it all possible. For example, one exhibit tells of Howard Santee, a Western Electric engineer who accompanied (and documented) President Warren Harding on his cross-country trip in 1923. We have a section devoted to “heroes” of the industry, and another dedicated to the response of telecom employees during disasters.
Of particular interest to your readers is a section devoted to various company histories, illustrated by the corresponding stock certificates.

Powder River Telephone Company
1910, Shares of $10
I understand the certificates can be seen, not only in the virtual museum, but also at the museum at Denver. Do these certificates come from the original business archives and does THG try to complete them through gifts and purchases ?
Some of our stock certificates can be seen on our web site, but we have many more in our archives in downtown Denver, Colorado. These can be viewed by appointment. Most of our certificates were deeded to us by U S West. Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company and Northwestern Bell Telephone Company acquired them in the course of doing business, as they absorbed smaller telephone companies in their respective territories. A smaller number have been given to us by private parties, and a very few have been purchased by our organization. We do try to complete the collection where possible, but we have very little funding available for such purchases.
What kind of interesting or maybe hard work is there to be done by the volunteers?
As for many non-profit organizations, the Telecommunications History Group's volunteers are its life's blood, keeping the group functioning and the archives in good order. Volunteers are essential to the building and maintenance of our archives, and perform a variety of jobs, including archival and curator functions. Some of their duties include:
  • historical and academic research
  • preservation of historical documents, photographs, video materials, etc.
  • database entry and management
  • repair of antique equipment
  • fundraising/sales
  • conducting tours
  • presenting educational talks and exhibits at schools and other organizations
  • recording and transcribing oral histories
  • developing museum and archives exhibits

Today, our world is full of Internet possibilities and instant consumption of digital products. Many adults do not know anymore about old objects such as dial phones, mechanical typewriters, stock certificates in paper, .... Some organizations, occupied with the study and collecting of such objects, say that it is difficult to attract new young people. Do you feel the same .. or do you know how to address this ?
We at THG have similar concerns. Young people are busy building their careers and raising families, so often do not have the time or inclination to reflect on the past. Our youngest volunteer, for example, is in her 50s, and our oldest is 89. People do seem to become more interested in the past as they age. People in this country are retiring earlier and living longer, so I have hope that there is a new crop of latent historians just waiting until they have more time to pursue historical interests.

We try to generate interest through outreach to the schools and the community. Our Virtual Museum contains lesson plans that teachers can use in schools, and we conduct tours of our museums and archives to classes, civic groups, scouting organizations, etc. (in fact, anyone who is the least bit interested!) I have met a number of children who are very interested in the history of technology. We need to continue to nurture that interest.

I am also encouraged by the number and quality of the young people I meet at meetings of archival and historical associations. Their talents and enthusiasm remind me that our work will continue long after we older folks are gone.

The Fulda Telephone Company
1912, Shares of $25
Besides visiting the museums, is it be possible for a collector of certificates, to do some research at THG's archives either by himself or with the help of your volunteers ?
We welcome researchers to our archives facility in downtown Denver. Staff and volunteers are available by appointment to assist you. If you are unable to come to Denver, we are happy to perform research for you. However, we must charge for these services. As a non-profit organization, one of our primary sources of support is fees we collect for research.
Jody, my last question, you are the Executive Director of THG. What THG related activity do you like the most ?
I love sharing our industry’s fascinating history with visitors, especially children. It is so exciting to see them make the connection between today’s conveniences and yesterday’s technology. They ask such interesting questions that cause me to look at our history in quite a different way.

If we were doing the interview live on television, then I’d ask a big applause from the audience in the studio for Jody and the THG volunteers sharing their knowledge to us. Thank you very much !

There is much more to be discovered about the remarkable THG, which you can find out for yourself. Here are the links :

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