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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
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.