The Charles Williams Jr House – The Site of the World’s First Home Telephone Line
Charles Williams Jr was born on March 2ND, 1830, in Middlesex Village, which was part of Chelmsford and in 1854 was annexed to Lowell
If there were a map showing naturally occurring synergies of proximity, Lowell would be a major nexus point for telephony.
While Lowell native Charles Glidden is known as an American telephone pioneer and Moses Greely Parker is credited with inventing the telephone number directory system, another well-known telephone pioneer, Charles Williams Jr, may have actually been born in the Middlesex Village area of Lowell. I say 'may have' because to the best of my knowledge, his birth certificate has not been found.
In 19TH century Massachusetts, new towns were being created by subdividing existing ones. When Charles Williams Jr was born on March 2ND, 1830, Middlesex Village was part of Chelmsford and in 1854 was annexed to Lowell.
Dick Howe, Register of Deeds, provided a preponderance of evidence showing Charles Williams Jr was born in Chelmsford. Passports, membership cards, marriage records, business ownership documents, all refer to Chelmsford as Williams’ birthplace. His death certificate however, states his birthplace was Clermont, NH. As Dick described, “Since he could not have been the provider of that information, it seems clear that whenever he had to identify his place of birth, it was Chelmsford”.
In 1832, Williams’ father, Charles Williams Sr., moved his family to Claremont, NH. In 1846 he moved his family once again to Somerville, MA. Charles Williams Jr was then 16 years old and continued to live in Somerville until his death in 1908.
Because Charles Williams Jr was the manufacturer of the World’s first telephones, was born within a geographical area (now Lowell) which is also home to Massachusetts’ first telephone exchange - the Lowell Telephone Dispatch Co., and the birthplace of the world’s first telephone numbers, I believe that Lowell is a naturally occurring telephone synergy nexus.
Background on the First Phones Ever Made
Early in 1877, Thomas Watson gave Charles Williams Jr the first production order of 25 box and 50 hand telephones. Up until this time, Watson had built all of Bell's phones. On April 4, the first private phone line for practical use was installed between the Williams shop and his home in Somerville. Bell said "I went into his office this afternoon, and found him (Williams) talking to his wife by telephone". The reported success in the press stirred public interest. Inquiries and orders started to pour in and within a month a leasing plan became practice.
The first customer was a friend of Williams', Roswell C. Downer. On May 1, 1877, Downer rented two phones that were put on a private line between his State St. office and Downer's home in Somerville.
By August 1, 1877, 778 phones were in operation without failure. Williams was manufacturing phones at the rate of 25 a day. That month, Williams promised to increase his production from 25 to 50 daily, although he was incurring significant production expenses. The Bell Company, short of capital, relied heavily on the credit extended by Williams.
The manufacturing arrangement between the patent holders and Williams had been informal to this point. A formal agreement was not drawn up until August 1, 1878 giving Williams exclusive rights of manufacture. It consisted of a three page hand written contract. The Bell Telephone Company agreed to purchase all their telephones from Williams, paying him $1.60 for each hand telephone, and $2.45 for each box telephone. Each was subject to inspection by the company's superintendent, Watson. Williams numbered the instruments in series, the leases were closely monitored, and Watson personally shipped all the instruments.