The First Telephones in Michigan

Cornelia Chynoweth Hoatson, the wife of Capt. Thomas Hoatson,  was born in a little town called Rockford, Michigan. Her father, Benjamin Chynoweth, made a name for himself in 1879 with four friends and a new invention by Alexander Graham Bell called the telephone.


From the Detroit News, September 14th, 1930 “Four Men Laugh Last”..

The first telephones in Michigan were installed in Rockland in 1877 when Linus Stannard installed them in his home and general store and in the home of Benjamin Chynoweth. Linus had first been introduced to the telephone by Andrew Graham Bell’s lecture at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in June, 1876. Benjamin Chynoweth of Rockland, Lawrence Collins of Greenland, and James Mercer of Ontonagon gave Linus moral, as well as financial support to the project. The highlight of the Rockland social season was to gather in the Stannard and Chynoweth homes in the evening to talk back and forth over the telephone. The instrument was described as a six inch square box with a hole in the center into which you spoke.

Larry Collins, a merchant in Greenland and James Mercer, owner of the docks in Ontonagon, saw greater promise for the telephone. Plans were made to extend the necessary wire lines from Rockland to Ontonagon, via Greenland. This project was bilt and completed during the winter of 1877-1878 and consisted of iron wires strung on cedar poles.

In 1879, the four good friends (Stannard, Chynoweth, Collins, and Mercer-original stockholders) organized their dream into a going concern and on October 27th, 1879, the State of Michigan granted the company its corporate charter as the Ontonagon Telegraph Company. Evidently, the term “telephone” was not formally used at the time. Thus the four early pioneers “have the last laugh”.



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