NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — One might think the world’s first long-distance telephone line would have been between places like New York and Boston, but it was actually in the gold hills of California.
Hydraulic mining in California was a massive industry following the early days of the gold rush. In Nevada County there were dig-ins all across the mother lode.
Hydraulic mines operate by blasting pressurized water into a hillside to reveal gold beneath the topsoil, meaning water was very important to the process.
The Milton Mining and Water Company were looking for a way to improve communications between their reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada and their mining sites, which were more than a day’s travel time apart.
When Alexander Bell patented the telephone in March 1876, mine operators saw the potential this technology could have. In 1877, the Ridge Telephone Company built the world’s first long-distance telephone line.
The line ran 58 miles from alpine French Lake to the now-ghost town of French Corral with connections to North San Juan, North Bloomfield and other mining locations down the line. This new technology allowed the mining companies to better communicate their water needs from the 100-mile-long ditch that fed their hoses.
When the mines were closed in the 1880s due to new environmental laws, this telephone line allowed the mines to continue operations without government inspectors knowing.
When one of these agents would arrive in town, the mine operator would call up and down the line to let the other mines know to shut down and send everyone home to make them look non-operational.
Today there is a historical landmark in French Corral memorializing this technological feat that found its place in the wild west.