The first networks in the province
At the beginning of 1880, the S.G.T. was doing market research with a view to setting up networks
in various provincial cities. The S.G.T. successively introduced networks in :
- Lyon, on 15 October 1880,
- Marseille, on 15 December 1880,
- Nantes, on 15 January 1881,
- Le Havre, on 15 April 1881,
- and Bordeaux, on 30 June 1881.
Le Havre agency
In Lyon, the network quickly developed and by 1881 subscribers could contact the main police station in an emergency thanks to the connections between the fire brigade and the S.G.T.
In Nantes, the telephone was immediately successful. In May 1881, the network covered 20 kilometres and had more than forty subscribers. A telephone was placed at the disposal of the general public in the Stock Exchange building and another one in the Préfecture.
In Le Havre there were soon 100 subscribers.
In Bordeaux, the network had more than 50 subscribers by the end of 1881. The Chamber of Commerce had a special office equipped at the Stock Exchange where people with a subscription card could call other subscribers. Because of the rapid spread of the network, the S.G.T. opened a 24 hour service from 15 November 1881.
The Universal Exhibition in Paris 1881
In 1881, the S.G.T. increased its operations by buying up Rattier, one of the biggest French manufactories of cables and electrical equipment. However the telephone did not enjoy much success with the general public who continued to regard it as a mere toy without any practical use. It was not until the 1881 Universal Exhibition in Paris, that France finally discovered it.
The Universal Exposition Exhibition in Paris 1881
The S.G.T organised the major telephone event. It set up in the Industry Pavillon a central control room connected to some 30 extensions identified by numbers and disseminated throught the Pavillon. To reduce ambiant noise, each device was placed in a sort of oak booth with padded insides (they were in a way the first public telephone booths). But the most popular feature consisted of telephone recitals from the Paris Opéra house. A contemporary observer describes these recitals as follows.
"Inside the Pavillon, two rooms were each divided into two compartments fitted out with some dozen sets of headphones, thanks to which visitors could hear the music from the Opéra House. The effect was magical ! In these austere dimly lit rooms, equipped with a row of headphones placed along the walls, absolute silence reigned. Then, as soon as you lifted the two earphones to your ears, you seemed to be transported directly in front of the Opéra stage. If you closed your eyes, the illusion became complete. It was as if you were in the audience, listening to Lasalle and the great Krauss, hearing the orchestra and the applause of the spectators. All those who heard these recitals were struck with amazement. "
The S.G.T. with a capital of 25 millions francs
This exhibition was a huge advertisement for the S.G.T. which increased its capital to 25 million francs in november 1881. But it was not easy to manage the growing popularity of the telephone and the S.G.T. could no longer satisfy public demand ! On 31 December 1881, 911 subscribers were impatiently waiting for their lines. The company blamed the delays on the government departments which had reserved the construction of the lines and the lack of cables which the manufacturers could not supply in sufficent quantity. Despite all these problems, the S.G.T. ,with its comfortable industrial capacity, continued to develop its networks in the provinces. In February 1882, it set up the Lille network only to face a new and unexpected rival : the French State !
The State networks
From 1882, the State decided to set up its own telephone networks, as was already the case in Germany and Switzerland. In July 1882, the Post Office and Telegraph Minister obtained a credit of 250 000 francs to carry out an experimental operation of telephone networks in some provincial cities. The licence granted to the S.G.T. in 1879 being due to expire in 1884, this experiment aimed to supply important information about the different systems of operation.
The regulations controlling the State-run networks were also laid out in a decree dated 1st
January 1883. To reduce State funding, the government accepted the principle of a contribution
paid by the subscriber for the installation of the line. The subscriber was to pay a certain
sum and there after the State would not charge him an annual subscription rate. The subscription
was cheaper than for the S.G.T. network. It was 200 francs for networks with less than 200
subscribers and 150 francs for other networks, but unlike the S.G.T. which supplied the actual
telephones subscribers to State networks had to buy the apparatus. The State installed the
phone and supplied the batteries and other fittings for a supplement of 75 francs. In the same
service in a network of over 200 subscribers, the cost for an S.G.T. subscriber was 400 francs
compared to 425 francs for a State network subscriber.
The first networks put into place by the State were in Reims and Roubaix Tourcoing on 1st April
1883, followed by Saint-Quentin on 31 December 1883. The first network in Normandy was set up
in Elbeuf on 25 November 1884 with 46 subscribers.
Meanwhile the S.G.T. was setting up its last networks
- Calais on 1st July 1883,
- Rouen on 15 July 1883,
- Alger on 26 July 1883,
- and Oran on 10 August 1883.
The Rouen Agency
The reneval of the licence
The licence granted to the S.G.T. in 1879 was due to expire in 1884. The Post Office Minister
decided to prolong the licence by 5 years, since the results of the State-run networks were too
recent to draw any useful inferences. The terms of the new licence were drawn up in July 1884,
reproducing the main clauses of the 1879 licence :
- the licence is granted for 5 years,
- the licence holder will pay the State 10 % of gross earnings, in exhange for the licence,
- the State will build and service the networks at the licence holder's expense and can at any time buy up all the private-owned equipment.
The licence holder is responsible for placing the telephone lines within buildings, installing the telephone in subscriber's houses and providing a telephone service by setting up exchanges and paying telephone engineers and switchboard operators : "les demoiselles du téléphone".
Judging the situation to be somewhat precarious, the S.G.T. reduced its investments. It ceded its Lille network to the State and set up its last network in Saint-Etienne on 15 july 1884.
On the other hand, the State-funded operations prospered and in 1884 networks were put into service in Halluin, Troyes, Nancy, Dunkerque and Elbeuf.
Public telephone booths
The first public telephones appeared in Paris and in some cities in the provinces in 1884. These booths were at first placed in some Post Offices and in the main offices of the S.G.T.
A telephone booth
The service was opened on 1st January 1885 under the following conditions :
- Non-subscribers paid 50 centimes for 5 minutes conversation
- S.G.T. subscribers received a telephone card giving them the right to telephone free of charge from all public telephone in S.G.T. offices.
- People wishing to subscribe to the public telephone service received an annual subscription card costing 40 francs. With this card, they could telephone from any public telephone, State or S.G.T.