Last week I showed some newspaper ads of Chattanooga businesses in 1933. My friend Miriam noticed that several of the businesses had telephone numbers from a couple different telephone companies and she wondered why they did this.
I do not know for certain but I came up with a couple good ideas.
Over the years Chattanooga has had access to at least four telephone exchanges—Rockford Telephone Exchange Company, Wabash Mutual Telephone Company, Willshire Telephone Company, and an Indiana exchange.
If a business subscribed to several different telephone exchanges they could probably attract more customers. They could attract customers from out of town, from miles away, and the customers could call them without having to pay a long distance charge.
The business would also benefit because it could call a larger area without having to make a long distance call.
In 1933 two Chattanooga doctors used three phone companies: Wabash Mutual, Rockford and Willshire. Dr. Metcalf had strange numbers by today’s standards: Wabash 16-31, Willshire 109-R11, Rockford 258.
According to the Wabash Mutual Telephone Company’s website, in 1911 their monthly rate was 40 cents. A long distance call to Celina was 10 cents. One toll call was 1/4 of the base rate! The cost of long distance calls would add up quickly for a business and would be quite expensive for the customers. Allowing customers to make toll-free calls would have been a good business move.
The Wabash Mutual Telephone Company began in 1905 and subscribers had to string their own telephone wire on poles that they cut from nearby woods. The company was incorporated in 1911 and they provided long distance service to Celina. By 1924 Wabash Mutual offered long distance service to Coldwater and Fort Recovery in Ohio, and to Bryant and New Corydon in Indiana. 
In 1916 quite a few Mercer County residents had an Indiana telephone. Among them was my great-grandfather Jacob Müller, a farmer in Blackcreek Township with a Willshire address.  An example of a Chatt resident with an Indiana phone: P.B. Gibbons, saloon-keeper in Chattanooga, Liberty Township, Rockford.  Indiana phone service extended to most of Mercer’s townships, not just those that bordered Indiana, in 1916.
The phone numbers back in 1933 seem unusual to us today: A.J. Hone, Celina, gave his phone number as “Mutual Phone 21 on line 4.”  Or how about “Telephone No. 45.”  J.R. Desch, Coldwater funeral director gave his number as phone no. 38.  S. Dixon, Oak Grove Stock Farm, R.D. 7, Celina, had a Wabash phone. No number was given; just that he had a Wabash Phone. 
Those were the days when a person rang for an operator who sat at a switch board. The operator would then connect the caller to the proper party by using a patch cord.
My Miller grandparents lived a couple miles north of Chatt and in the 1920s their Willshire Telephone Company number was 33-IL-3S. Their December 1927 bill for “Rental of instrument and Telephone Exchange Service for month of Dec 1927” was $1.75. On 8 November 1927 they were charged 20 cents for one toll call to Dr. Dailey Jones in Berne. There was a 25 cent discount on the bill, for a total bill of $1.70. The receipt was signed by L.L. Strickler.
What could they have been calling Dr. Dailey about? Maybe they were calling the doctor to deliver a baby. My aunt Kate was born the next day.
I remember when my Miller grandparents had a hand crank phone in the late 1950s. Their number was 121F14 and grandma went through a strange series of crank turning to call someone.
Did Chattanooga ever have a phone exchange? A 1916 ad: “A.J. Fisher, Live Stock & General Auctioneer, Speaks German and English, 12 Years Experience, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Celina, Ohio, R. D. No. 7, Celina, Telephone Wabash or Chattanooga, O.” 
There were only five Mercer County telephone companies listed in the classified section of the 1916 Mercer County Directory: The Celina and Mercer County Telephone Co., The Fort Recovery Telephone Co., The Marion Telephone Co., The Rockford Telephone Exchange, and The Rockford Toll Line & Telephone Co.  Wabash was not included.
How things have changed. Today many households no longer have a land-line but rely on a cell phone instead. This may not be the trend in Chatt, however. There are no cell towers close to Chatt and it is usually difficult to get a good signal there.
 Wabash Mutual Telephone Company History (http://www.wabash.com/company.php : accessed 26 December 2013).
 The Farm Journal Illustrated Directory of Mercer County Ohio (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wilmer Atkinson Company, 1916), 117.
 Ibid., 78.
 Ibid., 177.
 Ibid., 178.
 Ibid., 168.
 Ibid., 178.
 Ibid., 185-186.