The Centennial Exposition was a huge to-do, held in Philadelphia at the United States’ Centennial Celebration (100 years old) in 1876.

Mass-produced products and new inventions were on display at the 1876 World Fair, many found within the walls of Machinery hall. Some of the main inventions on display included sewing machines, typewriters, stoves, lanterns and guns, plus horse-drawn wagons, carriages and agricultural equipment.


…The exposition also featured many well-known items of today such as; Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone which was set up on opposite ends of Machinery Hall to demonstrate the transfer of human voice through wires, the Automatic telegraph system and electric pen by Thomas Edison…



SNIP of collectors weekly quote telephones since 1876 centennial

Quote source: Collectors Weekly

Use of the word “telephone“, historically, looks like this:

Use of the word "telephone", per Google search

Use of the word “telephone”, per Google search.

Use of the word “phone“, historically:

Phone. Use of word over time

Use of the term “phone”, over time, per Google search.



Silver City, Idaho (now a ghost town, but once a thriving mining city in south-western Idaho).

The settlement grew quickly and was soon considered one of the major cities in Idaho Territory. The first daily newspaper and telegraph office in Idaho Territory were established in Silver City. The town was also among the first places in present-day Idaho to receive electric and telephone service. [source]

TELEPHONE Idaho Hotel in old check-in area


In 1897 and 1898 editions of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue, the same category header for “TELEPHONES” was printed. Curiously enough, this preface references developments in technology “in the past year” but the text wasn’t updated in 1898.

Telephones header Sears 1897

Telephone Header in Sears, Roebuck, & Co., 1897 (catalog no. 104)

Telephone Header Sears 1898 (catalog no. 107)

Telephone Header in Sears, Roebuck, & Co., 1898 (catalog no. 107)

The “coffin” style telephone (so named because of the long, box-like appearance) decreased in price a whopping (almost) $3.00 in the one year between ’97 and ’98. Note that the item number changed, but the details of the telephone itself remained constant. While offered in ’97 for an “each” price of $13.50, by ’98, the “each” price had dropped to $10.70 and a remarkable discount of $1.80 for the “pair” at $19.60.

no 6810 Sears Telephone

Item no. 6810 in Sears, Roebuck, & Co. catalog no. 104, 1897.

No 18232 Sears 1897 catalog no 107

Item No. 18232 in Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue no. 107, of 1898.

no 6311 for wall and desk. phones by Sears 1897 p 480

Item No. 6311 for wall and desk phones by Sears, Roebuck, & Co., catalogue #104, year 1897.

Note that item No. 6312 is referenced as a “Desk ‘phone” (with the apostrophe indicating the dropped letters/syllable). It’s safe to say the shortened term “phone” appeared in the American use of the English language in or reasonably before 1897. See Google search, near the beginning of this article, with a “frequency of use” graph for both “telephone” and “phone“.

No 18233 Sears telephone and receiver. Sears 1898

Item No. 18233 in Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue no. 107, year 1898.

Phone transmitter and switches. Sears 1897

Phone transmitter and switches for sale in the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue (no. 104) in year  1897.

Receiver 1898 Sears

Receiver for sale, item No. 18235 in the 1898 Sears, Roebuck, & Co. catalogue (No. 107)

Wire for telephones Sears 1898

Wire for telephones for sale in the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue (no. 107) year 1898.


For some reason I’ve not yet found, Sears, Roebuck and Co. ceased selling telephones after the 1898 catalog and prior to the 1902 catalogue (no. 111), at which time absolutely no telephones were available in the “Wish Book”.

NO Telephones in 1902 book no 111

NO Telephones in 1902 book no 111

Do you know why Sears, Roebuck, & Co. ceased selling telephones at the turn of the century? We’d love to hear!

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Other Victorian-era Inventions:

Nineteenth Century Ice Cutting, Part 2 Old West Mason Jars Stereoscopes: Victorian Photograph Viewing Victorian Yeast Bread… Easier after the Centennial Victorian Lawn Mowers Shave Ice, and milk shakes–in the Old West? Victorian Refrigerators (a.k.a. Icebox) Luxury Travel 1890-Style Screen Doors, a new invention! Speaking Trumpet: The Bullhorn of the 19th Century–on Sweet Americana Sweethearts Victorians at the Seashore (Victorian Bathing Machines) Indoor Plumbing in Victorian America Victorian Era Feminine Hygiene BOOK REVIEW: The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-Line Pioneers Victorian Fountain Pens 19th Century Washing Machines


Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt, LC