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Peter Carl Faberge

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On this day: Russia in a click

27 February

On February 27, 1882 the Russian government allowed private individuals to install telephones.

The telephone era in Russia began on September 25, 1881 when the government authorized private entrepreneurs to construct phone lines. According to the terms of their contract, entrepreneurs received the right to build the lines and to own them for twenty years. After that, the lines were to pass to the ownership of the state.

The first contract was concluded between the Ministry of the Inner Affairs, which was in charge of telecommunications, and engineer Vladimir von Baranov. However, von Baranov did not build anything, but sold the right to do it to Bell International Phone Company.

On February 27, 1882 the Russian government allowed private individuals to install phones and in July the first Saint Petersburg and Moscow phone lines, built by the Bell Company, were put into operation. By then there were about 300 telephone subscribers in Saint Petersburg. All the original subscribers were rich and famous people who not only needed phones but also could afford the monthly fee. Being a monopoly, the Bell Company set high prices for phone users but did not do anything to improve the communication system. Sometimes the subscriber had to wait several hours for a connection.

Only young women were allowed to work as telephone operators and they were prohibited from getting married because “additional thoughts and problems can lead to mistakes in connections”. The operators had to receive the calls, connect the subscriber with the number he needed or inform him that the number was not available. In a job description this work does not seem very hard, but things are not always what they seem. “Electricity” magazine wrote in 1891 that the working conditions at the stations were very hard, and the stress caused seizures and nervous breakdowns among the operators. 

Further, the Bell phones were large and inconvenient. The equipment for the phone, and the phone itself, weighed about 8 kilos. In those days, an alternative to Bell’s devices already existed. In 1876, Lars Ericsson had invented the light and small “table phone”, but a “table phone” factory was not built in Russia until 1897.

When, in 1901, the contract with the Bell Company was over, there were about 3,000 telephone subscribers in Russia. The government did not want to be in charge of the phone lines and sold the concession to the Swedish company headed by Lars Ericsson. The new owner of the phone network decreased the monthly fee, built the Central Phone Station capable of handling 60,000 numbers in Moscow, and in 1903 connected the phone line to the Kremlin.

After the revolution, all the phone lines became state property. The Bolshevik government attached great meaning to communications so the development of the telephone network continued successfully. However, nowadays in Russia as in all other countries, mobile phones are replacing land-based telephones.