When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, people were certainly intrigued and the use of his new invention spread quickly between government offices, businesses and the homes of the rich and their offices in larger cities, then into the rural communities.
In the early days, thick heavy telephone wires were strung individually, side by side, on poles. The lines were expensive and the quality of the phone call was often poor. But soon creative entrepreneurs developed methods of producing finer strands of wire which were stronger, less-expensive and, with the addition of an outside coating to insulate the wires from the weather, produced high-quality sound transmission.
By the early 1900s, telephone service had reached far into the rural areas of the country, including Michigan’s Thumb area.
While Pigeon Telephone Company was still a few years away, there was an organized system for telephone service in the area. Then, in 1908, local druggist and county road commissioner, John J. Campbell, officially established Pigeon Telephone Company. Thirteen years later, in 1921, a salesman named James Spence acquired the utility.
The early years of the telephone company saw quick expansion to outlying areas as farmers strung their own individual telephone lines on poles, fence posts and trees in order to communicate with each other and the village.
A vicious sleet storm in 1922 damaged many of the poles and lines and James Spence devoted many long hours in repairing the system. Maintenance of the lines was difficult, never-ending work and as the years passed, many farmers sold or gave their lines to Pigeon Telephone Company in return for proper upkeep of service.
Spence’s sons Crawford “Ham” (a watchmaker & jeweler) and Robert (an optometrist), took over the business when James died in 1933. Their individual businesses were housed in a building on the east side of South Main Street (just south of the railroad tracks). The rear of the building housed the telephone company switchboards and business offices as well.
In 1960, the operator directed phone system was replaced by a totally automated “cross-bar relay system” which replaced up to six operators and their relief crew.
Ham died in 1969, but his wife and children, along with Robert and his wife, continued ownership until 1972 when the company was purchased by local businessmen John E. Eichler and Willis "Bill" Hengy.
During the early 70s, a rising demand for “private” single party lines and the need for expanded long distance service prompted the new owners to overhaul the system. In June 1975, construction on an all-buried weather-safe cable plant began. In October of that year, ground was broken for a new central switching office complete with the latest state of the art switching equipment.
Cutover to the new facility and equipment took place just after midnight on March 26, 1977.
During the 70s, Pigeon Telephone continued to grow with the purchase of the Twining Telephone and Alba Telephone Companies. They were later merging them with Pigeon Telephone Company.
In 1981, Eichler and local farmer James J. Christner purchased all of Hengy’s company shares and he left the company.
Changes in communication technology made rapid advances in the late 70s and early 80s. And Pigeon Telephone stayed at the forefront of those advances, continually modernizing its facilities and service offerings.
In 1986, John’s eldest son, Edwin H. Eichler, took over as President and CEO while his youngest son, Neal B. Eichler, joined the company as vice president.
John Eichler died in August of 1988, but the legacy he set in motion continues today.
Pigeon Telephone Company has always been the cornerstone of the communications operations in Pigeon. Over the years it has created various additional communication companies – Thumb Cellular and Agri-Valley Services – that continue to advance the economic development of communities it serves.
Over the years, the company has continued to reflect the changing telecommunications scene with the goal of providing city-like service to the rural communities.