It Was Made of a String and Tin Can and ran

from Wick Avenue to Phelps Street

Youngstown Vindicator - September 19, 1909

John H. Nash told the Vindicator last week of the first telephone in Youngstown. It was away back in the seventies, probably ‘77 or ‘78 and resembled the toys which Dan Beard tells how to make.


All there was to it was some stout cord of the kind known as broom cord, and two tin cans, picked up from the dump. Charles Bowers had been away on a trip and brought the idea back with him. As soon as he came home, he got the boys of the old Diamond mills, in the building now occupied by the John H. Fitch company, to help him put up a string between the office of the mill, on Wick Avenue, and Frank Leroy’s photographic gallery over what is now Page’s Drug Store. Instead of a pole they fastened the string to Wards livery stable which stood where Gillen’s now is. The tin served as both transmitters and receivers. The line worked perfectly. By tapping on the can with a stick the boys in the mill could call Leroy and when he tapped back they found they could9 make themselves understood. In high spirits over their discovery they called in all who passed the mill and Leroy answered as many calls that morning as a newspaper man does now on election night.

Harry Bonnell was the first. He was coming in from the Valley Mills and Bowers hailed him.

Want to talk to a man a block away?”, he called.

Mr. Bonnell inquired what he meant. Bowers told all about the telephone he had seen in New York and described his home-made invention. “Come in and try it,” he said, and Mr. Bonnell, skeptical and prepared for a practical joke, saw the string stretching down Phelps street and went in.

He followed Bowers’ instruction to rap on the can and waited with the can at his ear. His rap was returned and he held the tip up in wonder. “Say a few words,” Bowers suggested, and Mr. Bonnell called “Hello.”

Hello Henry,” the answer came, and Mr. Bonnell stood amazed.

Why!”, he cried, “That’s Frank Leroy.”

Mr. Bonnell learned all the details of the improvised telephone and was so taken with it that he put a line at the Valley Mill, using wire instead of string. There it proved a great convenience, for the men in the office had never been able to communicate with the mill except by walking back and forth.

Other men took up the idea and not long after Mr. Nash saw it employed at the mines in Carbon, near Lowellville. There the disks were of copper and carried sound more distinctly than tin cans. Strings tied to the rim of the drum held them in place and the drum carried his voice quite clearly.

County Treasurer Chase Truesdale, who heard Mr. Nash tell of the first telephone told of one which Homer Baldwin rigged up a year or two later. The line was of wire and ran from the City Mills at Baldwin’s dam, to Mr. Baldwin’s home at the corner of Wood Street and Belmont Avenue. The receivers and transmitters were much more elaborate than Charles Bowers. Instead of being old tin cans they were made especially for telephone use; they were shaped like a funnel and filled with wires to increase their power to carry sound. Mr. Baldwin, like many since, found that the disadvantages of his telephone outweighed the conveniences and one day in a fit of exasperation had it taken out.

These early experiments prepared the way for the Bell company. People were ready when it came to Youngstown in ‘78 or ‘80 and Henry Bonnell was one of the first, if not the first of the subscribers.