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Telegraph, Telephones, and Television in Salem

Telegraph: Earliest Communication
Salem briefly had telegraphic communication of a sort before Oregon attained statehood.  On April 17, 1863, messages from Portland were received here over a line that was built to address a specific business need.

Demand by a Portland newspaper and the Oregon Statesman newspaper for fresh news about the Civil War encouraged rapid development of a reliable telegraph system.  But loss of the ship Noonday off San Francisco with wire aboard delayed the line's extension from Salem to the Yreka, California, termi-nal of the transcontinental communication system on the Pacific Coast.

Stages delivered dispatches from Yreka to Portland in about six days.  But that was not fast enough for the Oregonian newspaper.  For a time, that newspaper employed its own pony express riders who got the news through from Yreka to Salem in about 36 hours.  From here the telegraph transmitted dispatches to Portland.

On March 9, 1864, Oregon's Governor A. C. Gibbs wired President Lincoln in Washington to say that the transcontinental line was completed and open.

By consolidations, Western Union gained control of various telegraph systems before 1870.  In that year the Salem office was associated with Wells Fargo located in the Chemeketa House (Marion Hotel).

Fred Zimmerman, a retired Capital Journal newspaper staff and telegrapher, recalls that, in 1910, he received press dispatches by telegraph for the Capital Journal newspaper.  Then this newspaper was located in the Old Post Office Building, westward across Commercial Street from the Marion Hotel.  News was received into the paper's own office by wire until 1928.

In 1877, Oregon State fairgoers were invited to see two of the latest inventions, Thomas Edison's gramophone and Alexander Graham Bell's telephone.  A very limited telephone service was introduced to Salem during May, 1884,  when the phone was first used by the Capital Journal newspaper about the business of collecting news.  Likely, it was around 1890, when the exchange was in Lee Steiner's drug store.  Demonstration of the Collins wireless telephone was reported in Salem on March 17, 1910.

The Capital Journal newspaper acquired membership in the Associated Press in 1896, when Hofer Brothers owned the Salem newspaper.  In 1927, United Press service was acquired.  Both Associations used telephone wires to trans-mit images and news.

Television was first seen in Salem at the Oregon State Fair on September 30, 1932.  Tests reported here on September 18, 1952, indicated that local ow-ners of television sets might hear and see the 1952 World Series baseball games through Portland's new ultra-high frequency station.

Compiled by Al Jones

Capital Journal, special section of Salem's highlights for its Sesquicentennial celebration, 1990/91.


Music listeners Salem Carnegie Library 1939
Music lovers listening group, Salem Carnegie Library, 1939
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