Tonight’s post is another in my Vintage Stories series. The featured item rests on one of my bedside tables, a unique lamp that did not begin its life as an illuminator. Its original purpose was to magically connect people, allowing them to communicate even though they were miles apart.
Greg’s dad, Bob, gave me this unusual piece shortly after Leta Moore passed away. My children used to play with the lamp that was a telephone, when they visited their grandparents, talking into the mouthpiece to imaginary friends.
My grandchildren, in turn, played with the lamp. Although to them a phone was a device small enough to fit into their hands, and had fun games downloaded on it, they instinctively knew to place the receiver to their ear and lean forward to speak into the mouthpiece.
I knew a little bit of history about the lamp. Bob acquired the phone from the Noel Telephone Exchange, in the tiny town of Noel, Missouri, and repurposed it into a lamp, in the late 50s or early 60s. When the receiver is lifted, the lamp lights up. When the receiver is hung up, the light goes off. Clever, huh?
Tonight I removed the lampshade and studied the heavy phone. I was excited to find a company name engraved around the top of the receiver: Stromberg Carlson Telephone Company. I had something I could research! And, engraved on the back of the mouthpiece were these dates: November 26, 1901 March 19, 1907 April 14, 1908 with the additional words, Patent Pending. I’ve never noticed this vital information before. It was time to Google.
The Stromberg Carlson Telephone Company was founded in 1894, in the US, by Swedish inventors Alfred Stromberg, on the left above, and Androv Carlson, on the right. The company was one of five that controlled the national supply of telephone equipment, until after World War II.
Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patent expired in 1894. These enterprising men, employees of American Bell Telephone Company in Chicago, seized an opportunity. Stromberg and Carlson each invested $500 to establish a firm with the purpose of manufacturing telephone equipment to sell to independent telephone companies.
The model I have is a Stromberg Carlson Kellogg Candlestick Telephone, made in 1908. This 110 year old telephone is vintage, indeed!
Stromberg and Carlson are credited with bringing communication to rural America. This advertisement is for one of their wall models.
So how did Bob Moore acquire this old phone? Greg remembered that the Noel Telephone Exchange, which no longer exists, was owned by Fred Cartwright. Back to Google we went, with a Greg now caught up in the hunt for info.
He discovered that the Cartwrights purchased the Noel Exchange in 1947. On May 27, 1955 the Cartwrights installed a dial telephone system in Noel…the first in the county…after losing their contract with Stromberg Carlson in late 1954. The old phones, with ear and mouth pieces, were no longer needed.
The Moores moved to Noel in 1956, after the dial system was installed. Bob and his dad, Bill, opened a drive in, south of Noel, that featured hamburgers and barbecue sandwiches. They drew hungry customers from McDonald County and the neighboring Arkansas county of Benton. The Cartwrights were patrons of Moore’s Drive-In. At some point, Fred gave, or sold, one of the old Stromberg Carlson phones to Bob.
The part of the story that I don’t know is how Bob came up with the repurposing idea. Greg, who was just a toddler when his family moved to Noel, can’t remember the transformation from phone to lamp. He and I both believe Bob did the work.
We had Dad Moore with us for a good long time. He passed away three years ago, at the grand age of 94. I talked with him for hours, in his twilight years, as we sat together in his porch swing. I tried to ask him the questions that I knew I’d want answers to later. However, I did not at that time know what I was leaving unanswered. Why didn’t I ask him to tell me again the story of the telephone lamp?
The lamp sends a soft glow into my room at night, chasing away darkness. I think of Bob and Leta Moore when I look at the lamp, and I think of my kids and grandkids who have playfully enjoyed the lamp as well. It sparked their imagination, as it has mine. And apparently, long ago, the telephone inspired Bob as well.
In its former life, the lamp was a communication device, allowing people to talk…and ask questions…across great distances. Perhaps as I lean in close to the mouthpiece, I can ask Bob about creating the lamp. Hello, can you hear me? I will listen for a reply.