By Alec Switzer
From the “I’ve Heard That Tune Before” Department
The telephone, like many other technological innovations, has been celebrated in song from its beginnings in 1876
to the present day. The first songs, such as “Bell’s TelephonePolka’ in 1877,
celebrated professor Bell’s “Speaking Telephone” simply for what it was, the great miracle of the
Once the newness wore off and we began taking the telephone for granted, it’s social value became more apparent.
Songs like “Hello My Baby” written in 1899 centered around romance “by wire”. The first verse
is interesting in that the author refers to the operator as “he”.
“Ev’ry single morning you will hear me yell
Hey central, fix me up along the line
He connects me with my honey and I ring the bell
And this is what I say to my baby mine…”
In the earliest days of the telephone (late 1870’s early 1880’s) most of the operators were boys 10 to 15
years old. By the time this song was written, however, women had for the most part replaced these boys who had developed
quite a reputation for being rude and insulting to the callers!
In our collection are several pieces of telephone sheet music, some meant to be real tear jerkers in their day. Pieces
like “Hello Central, Give Me Heaven” about a little girl attempting to cal her deceased mother,
dates from 1902 when sad songs were the rage. There was also “Hello Central, Give Me No Man’s Land”
from 1917, again featuring a little girl (do you see a pattern?) trying to call her daddy who was off fighting in
World War I.
Not all telephone songs were hearts and flowers. “Then The Phone Bell Rang” billed by
the publisher as “The Great Telephone Comic Song” tells of an office romance interrupted at the critical
moment by a telephone call. Innocent by today’s standards, this was pretty racy stuff back in 1906. “All Along”
circa 1908, again modestly promoted by it’s publisher as “Harry Von Tilzer’s Great (they liked that word)
Telephone Song!” was a “hurry over cause the folks are away” kind of love story.
In 1915 when the east and west coasts were connected by telephone, “Hello Frisco,
Hello!” celebrated the event. (The reply in the next verse was, of course, “Hello NewYork,
Hello!”) Another telephone tune that year, “On the Party Line” dealt with the trials
and tribulations of rural telephone service. It refers to the telephone as “the only instrument the neighbors
play by ear”.
There have been literally hundreds of telephone songs written between 1876 and today. Our collection,
which spans several decades, not only consists of sheet music but several of the old, heavy 78 RPM records
of these very songs, and then some. If you ever want to experience “low fidelity” sound, listen
to one of these recordings! Much of this music is an interesting document of a different time when life and
certain telecommunications were much simpler.