1978 >> February >> George Solon Ladd  

George Solon Ladd
by Fritz Kettenburg

Reprinted from "INSULATORS - Crown Jewels of the Wire", February 1978, page 4

One of the most varied and creative careers in electricity on the west coast belonged to George S. Ladd. He was especially well known in the field of electrical communications beginning with the telegraph, and finally by firmly establishing the use of the ultimate invention of his time: the telephone. 

George S. Ladd was born in Marshall, Michigan, on August 26, 1841. When George and his parents moved to Iowa Hill, California, he had already finished high school and had qualified as a telegraph operator. He began his telegraph career as an operator for the Alta Telegraph Company at Iowa Hill when only fifteen years old. The telegraph was new to California in those days, and advancement was rapid for young men of Ladd's caliber and ambition. The year 1857 found him tapping out messages for the California State Telegraph Company at Sacramento, later transferring to Stockton, and then into the big city of San Francisco where more opportunities awaited. During the latter part of 1860 the Northern Telegraph Company, Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company, and the Placerville and Humboldt Telegraph Company were merged into the California State Telegraph Company, which was now ready to proceed with the construction of the western half of the first transcontinental telegraph line. George Ladd became assistant superintendent under James Gamble in the new organization. 

Upon completion in October 24, 1861, Ladd personally handled the first telegraphic messages exchanged between San Francisco and Salt Lake. Steadily advancing up the ladder of success, he was elected in April 1862 to the position of secretary with the California State Telegraph Company, and later to superintendent in 1865. When in 1867 the Western Union Telegraph Company leased all the main lines on the west coast, George S. Ladd was secretary-treasurer of the California State Telegraph Company, which then became known as the Pacific Division of the Western Union Telegraph Company. 

In 1868 Ladd and Stephen D. Field, nephew of Cyrus W. Field of Atlantic Cable fame, organized a telegraph supply house specializing in the construction of telegraph lines. They called it the Electrical Construction and Maintenance Company of San Francisco, and it was incorporated December 28, 1870. It was the only company of its kind on the west coast at that time having the necessary hardware to construct private and commercial telegraph lines. It was this company that supplied the CD-123 insulators embossed E. C & M Co S.F. 

In 1871 Ladd became engaged to Elizabeth Patterson Miller, and the two were married the next year. 

Mr. Ladd was a very busy person, so in 1873 he resigned Western Union to engage more fully in his business activities with the E. C & M Co S.F., Kabath & Ladd, Importers, and agent for Laflin and Rand Powder and Mining Supplies. 

In 1875 the American District Telegraph Company was incorporated in San Francisco with Ladd, Field and Gamble as incorporators and directors. The purpose of the Am. Dist. Tel. Co. was to provide telegraphic service to the business, civic and private sectors of San Francisco. 

California Electrical Works at 134 Sutter St., San Fransisco

To use the Am. Dist. Tel. Box, the pointer was placed on the name of the service desired (for instance, Fire, Hack, Police, etc.); then by pulling the lever, the needed service was immediately recorded at a central office where the dispatch of the service took place. 

The San Francisco Box, as it came to be known, was the invention of George Ladd and from Stephen D. Field. It was a great improvement over the old box, which had the capacity to send only three messages The boxes were manufactured by the E. C & M Co S.F., and later by the California Electrical Works, and were shipped to many other cities to replace the old style boxes where district telegraphs were used, even as far east as New York. 

On June 15, 1877, the E. C & M Co S.F., California Gas Lighting, and the Pacific Electro Depositing Works were consolidated to form the California Electrical Works, with Ladd elected president. Just one month later he brought the telephone west; and soon after, he, Field and John I. Sabin formed the American Speaking Telephone Company using the Edison patent telephones. The California Electrical Works constructed the first long distance telephone line on the west coast. It was a little over 58-1/2 miles long and became known as the Ridge Telephone Company. Most of the CD 130.1 cobalt insulators now in collections across the United States were used on that historic line.

The invention of the central switchboard, or west coast exchange, is credited to George Ladd, and was first in use in San Francisco February 18, 1878. It was located at 222 Sansome Street and was, according to telephone historians, the third exchange in use in the entire world. San Francisco was beaten by New Haven and Meriden, both in Connecticut, their exchanges having opened January 28 and January 31, 1878, respectively.

About this time Mr. Ladd was also president of the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company, which brought the stock market information from the east to the west coast, and president of the United Carriage Works, an affiliate of the American District Telegraph Company. The United Carriage Works provided the hacks, coupes, and wagons dispatched through the offices of the Am. Dist. Tel. Co.; and through the use of the latter company, the United Carriage Works was at that time the most efficient and organized company of its kind in the world. The telephone was soon to improve this system many times over, but at the time it was an example to companies everywhere as to the advantageous use of the telegraph in business.

On February 6, 1879, as a director of the Western Electric Light Company, Ladd conducted the first test of electric street lighting in San Francisco, using Gramme Electric Generators and Jablockoff Candle Lights. Also that same year Ladd and Field made the first successful application of the magneto-electric machine as a substitute for galvanic batteries to furnish regular electric current for telegraphic purposes.

In 1880 the Pacific Bell Telephone Company was formed, and George S. Ladd was unanimously elected the first president. The Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company was formed in 1883 to take care of long lines expansion for Pacific Bell, and again the president was George Ladd. He also became president of the Edison Electric Light Company in 1884.

Besides his work in the electrical field, Ladd found time for civic, social, and fraternal activities. He was a prominent member of the Union Club in San Francisco (now the Pacific Union Club).

On July 28, 1889, George Solon Ladd died. He was a real pioneer and inventive genius in electrical communications and the electrical business generally. In Ladd's honor the George S. Ladd Chapter 27 of the Telephone Pioneers of America was named.

Many thanks to Mr. Norman Hawker of the Telephone Pioneers of America, George S. Ladd Chapter 27 for assisting me in my research on George Ladd. Also a special thank you to Elaine Gilleran and her staff at the Wells Fargo History Room in San Francisco for many favors and invaluable assistance.

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