Bryant Pond hand-crank phone display opens today

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AUGUSTA – The Maine State Museum’s newest exhibit, “Call Your Mother: Communication and Community in Bryant Pond,” will feature a telephone switchboard, pay phone booth with a hand crank phone, memorabilia from the “Don’t Yank the Crank” campaign, and other items related to the nation’s last hand-crank telephone system, the Bryant Pond Telephone Company in Bryant Pond.

For 32 years, the Bryant Pond Telephone Company was centered around the switchboard in Elden and Barbara Hathaway’s living room. When the Hathaways sold the company to Oxford County Telegraph and Telephone Company (now Oxford Networks) in 1981, their hand-crank (magneto) phone system had 529 subscribers living within a 50 square mile area.

Oxford Networks began plans to update the area to a dial system following the purchase of the Bryant Pond Telephone Company.

Almost immediately, a grassroots organization sprang up to save the hand crank phone system, the last of its kind in the country.

This group, “Don’t Yank the Crank,” gained national attention. TIME magazine featured an article about it in its August 30, 1982 edition.

More than 30 television crews filmed the switchboard in operation.

Elden and Barbara Hathaway appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in September 1982.

Despite the efforts of “Don’t Yank the Crank,” the last hand-crank phone system in the United States completed its final call on Oct. 11, 1983 as dial phones took over, and Bryant Pond became a symbol of changes in community life nationwide.

In 2003, Oxford Networks donated the Bryant Pond Telephone Company switchboard, along with many other items, to the Maine State Museum. Members of the Hathaway family also donated photographs and other objects to round out this story of communication and community. All of these items are on exhibit for the first time.

The exhibit opens today. Admission to the museum is free and on Mother’s Day, May 14. Special events scheduled for today include: “A Telephone Company in my Living Room”- talk by Susan Glines, the Hathaway’s daughter, at 2:30 p.m. She and her sister Linda were the operators on duty when the system switched to dial-up in 1983.

The Telephone Association of Maine and other groups will exhibit telephone technology, past and present from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. “Remember When” – From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., oral historian Erica Risberg (Maine Folklife Center) will interview visitors who recall using hand-crank phones in Maine.

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