Museum of Independent Telephony

412 South Campbell
Abilene, KS 67410
(785) 263-2681

For further information:

Museum Exhibits
Museum Schedule
History and Founding (see below)

The original patents granted to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 included exclusive rights to make and distribute telephone instruments and components for a period of 17 years. It was barely enough time to establish a foothold in major U.S. cities.

By the time the patents had expired, people in small cities, towns and rural areas were clamoring for telephone service, too. As a result, nearly 6,000 non-Bell telephone companies, known as "Independents," came into being.

Usually undermanned and almost always underfinanced, the Independent telephone companies survived the competitive wars largely through the loyalty, determination and inventiveness of their employees. While the number of Independent companies decreased as a result of many consolidations and mergers, several major national telecommunications companies have come from the ranks of the Independents. The January 1984 divestiture of American Telephone and Telegraph ended the distinction between Bell and Independent telephone companies. The telephone companies formerly known as Independents continue to serve half of the geographical area of the United States and about one out of five of the nation's telephones.

The Museum of Independent Telephony was established in 1973 in honor of those men and women whose early efforts on behalf of Independent telephony continue to contribute to the social, political and economic health of today's suburban America.

Why Abilene?

The Museum of Independent Telephony shares a building with the Dickinson County Historical Society and Museum, located in Abilene, KS. It was in Abilene that Cleyson L. Brown, a local youth, built and operated a telephone exchange in 1898, later expanding into other communities. He called his system the United Telephone Company.

Although the original telephone properties eventually were sold, United continued to maintain executive offices in Abilene until 1966 when the headquarters were moved to Shawnee Mission, Kansas.

Brown pioneered many other businesses in Abilene. At one time the Brown enterprises employed about 25% of the wage earners of Abilene, including David Eisenhower and his son, Milton, the father and brother of the 34th President of the United States.

The late Carl A. "Skip" Scupin, former president of United, helped to establish the Dickinson County Historical Society and Museum.

Today, nearly a century after the first United exchange was established, the United Telephone companies form the local division of Sprint Corporation, an international leader in the telecommunications industry.

Related Sites:

Antique Telephone Collectors Association
Historic Telephony
Old-Time Telephones (a book)

Source: Information for this page was supplied from a brochure produced by the Museum of Independent Telephony and the Dickinson County Historical Society and appears in this format with their permission

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