The first telephone to be installed in North Dakota was on the Bonanza farm managed by Oliver Dalrymple. The telephone was purchased in Philadelphia and installed in the Headquarters Farm in 1876. The telephone was battery operated and was used to facilitate communication between the main farm and its various divisional farms.
The first Fargo telephone exchange began operation on June 7, 1881. Known as the Fargo Moorhead Telephone Exchange, the company was incorporated in 1880 with $5,000 in capital by R. H. Hankinson, H. W. Carpenter, J. B. Inman, H. C. Stevens, G. J. Kissner, and A. L. Stevens. The company was purchased by the Northwestern company in May 1883.
The exchange's switchboard, about the size of a piano, was installed by Inman in the attic of the Headquarters Hotel. Originally there were 25 connections. The first residential telephone installed in Fargo was in the home of James Holes, Sr. on his farm at what is now 1233 Broadway. Among the first subscribers were the Headquarters Hotel, White Brothers, Crockett & Shotwell, Roberts & Perkins, Republican Office, Stephens & Sears, Hadley's livery, McCauley & Reynolds, Raymond & Kingman, Hibbard Grocery, NP dispatcher's office, freight house and round house, F. J. Haynes, Daily Argus, Briggs & Elder, Fargo and Moorhead Gold Mine, Haggart office, courthouse, J. J. Brook's residence, Goodman & Yerxa, the water works, and Dr. Rolph's office. Others were added as wire was strung. By the end of June 1881, ten miles of wire were strung and 100 telephones were connected, including Moorhead. In 1881, the telephone rates were $4.98 per month for a private line, $41.0 for a two-party line, and $3.51 per month for a four-party line, including Federal tax.
Inman hired Bella Thompson, age 15, as the first telephone operator in North Dakota. Ms Thompson (later Mrs. C.E. Webster) was paid $25 per month. Inman hired a female because it was his experience "back east" that "boy operators often indulged in practical jokes and many times talked back to customers." By the end of 1881, Inman had also hired Cora Bliss and Mrs. George Cooper.
The first "long distance" call from Fargo occurred in 1887, when Fargo and St. Cloud, Minnesota, were connected.
The telephone exchange moved a number of times. From the Headquarters Hotel, it moved to where city hall now stands. It was later moved to a three-story brick building on the corner of Roberts Street and Second Avenue north. Prior to 1902, the exchange was briefily housed in a store on Front Street (Main Avenue) where was Moody's was later located.
In 1902, the exchange was moved into a building built for that purpose at 504 First Avenue North, where the Chamber of Commerce was later located. That building is shown right in a photograph form the 1906 Fargo Souvenir Book. The photograph looks southwest with Fifth Street going to the left and First Avenue to the right. The rear of the Webster Hotel at NP Avenue and Fifth Street can be seen on the far left.
When the Fargo Forum opened its new building on January 22, 1927, the third floor was rented to Northwestern Bell Telephone Company was its North Dakota headquarters.
On July 11, 1939, dial service was established in Fargo. Until that time, all calls required an operator to establish the connection.
When divestiture of the Bell System took place January 1, 1984, there were 22 Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOC's). Northwestern Bell was one of the RBOCs. It became US West which merged in 2000 with Qwest, a long distance and fiber optic company.
In July 2002, Gladys Sannes of Fargo traded in her rotary telephone for a push button. She had the last party-line in Fargo.