In the late 1800s the telephone network was growing rapidly. The Bell company had introduced the convenience of the telephone to thousands of users, and small independent (non-Bell) companies were serving local areas that Bell could not or would not service. Many manufacturers sprang up to support the independents, but the economics of telephone production were changing. Large scale manufacturing meant lower cost per telephone and the big firms like Kellogg or Stromberg Carlson would come to dominate the independent market. The telegraph companies were feeling the pinch as more users swapped over to the new telephone.

The Federal Telegraph company in Palo Alto, California, was one of these. It was well supported by local capitalists and began expanding by buying out some of the smaller telephone companies and including them in its network. One such was the Century Telephone Construction Company who produced most of their telephones in the early years. The companies retained their identities but Federal was building a large and useful network from them.
















Left: 1902 Century wall phone

Centre: 1905 candlestick

Right: Triplet unit


In 1899 or 1900 Federal amalgamated with the United Telephone and Telegraph Company, a company financed from Baltimore. The purpose was to establish long-distance telephone communication linking various parts of the country, to compete with the Bell network. United brought into the merger the Maryland Telephone and Telegraph Company, Pittsburg and Allegheny, and a number of manufacturing plants.(3)

In 1907 the company's ownership changed to the Williams-Abbott Electric Co, who were based in Cleveland. The new owners left the Federal company substantially unchanged, but in 1909 the company name was changed to Federal Telephone and Telegraph to reflect the change of emphasis from telegraphs. The change of name also included merging the Century Telephone Construction Company, their main supplier, Frontier Telephone Company, and InterOcean Telephone and Telegraph. In 1910 the following telephone companies were also merged into Federal:
Corning, Watkins, Ithaca, Springville, Marilla, Canisteo, Wellsville, Hornellsville, Conewango Valley Home, Cohocton Valley, Elma Telephone Exchange, Citizens Telephone Company of Bath, Attica Home Telephone, Citizens Telephone Company of Akron N.Y. and Valley Telephone. (2).

Another area of interest was the new science of wireless, and the firm made tentative steps in this area (1) with first patents in 1906. Initially they produced crystal receiving sets, but were to become better known for their production of powerful practical wireless transmitters using Poulsen's arc system. They were so successful that in 1910 a new holding company was formed, the Poulsen Wireless Company of Arizona (registered in Arizona for economic and tax reasons, but still essentially West Coast-based). This company held all stock of the then Federal Telegraph Company. They also hired Lee De Forrest, the inventor of the radio valve, to design wireless receivers for their broadcast stations. By 1912 they were producing equipment for the U.S. Navy as well.

Century continued making telephones for the company, with its manufacturing centralized in Buffalo. Telephones of the period were becoming copies of the proven Western Electric products, with the aim being faster, cheaper manufacturing with the minimum of adornment. Radio development continued in the West and a succession of leading engineers gave Federal a strong place in the radio market. They were producing transmitters and audio equipment now as well as radio receivers.










Left: Century candlestick, 1915

Centre: Century / Federal magneto wall phone in the style of the Western Electric 317, 1917

Right: Same model. simplified in the early 1920s


In 1908 L M Ericssons opened a new factory in Buffalo. Although unconfirmed, it appears that the factory may have been next door to Federal's factory. Federal started buying in Ericsson telephones and parts. There were three main groups of telephones purchased. The first group was the big steel wallphones, the second was the steel desk set as shown on the new Federal logo on the left. The third was Ericsson's version of the little desk set that Kellogg was successfully selling as the Grabaphone. In some cases they rebadged the Ericsson phones with their own name, but in most cases the phones were unbranded or marked with the name of the company they were being resold to. Whether the change from Century was economics-based or to obtain better telephones is unknown. Certainly telephones were becoming a lesser part of the company's business and radio was growing strongly, and factory space was needed. When Ericssons closed their plant in 1918, Federal bought the surplus phones and some of the manufacturing plant. They continued making Ericsson-pattern telephones for some years, but when stock ran out in the early 1920s they reduced telephone production in favour of expanded radio production. The Ericsson plant was providing steel phones to countries like New Zealand, and Federal continued to supply these countries for some years. In 1920 the company was bought by Corwin Electric Co. The radio stations were sold to Mackay Radio.(6)










Left: Small steel-cased CB wall phone usimg Ericsson transmitter, 1920s.

Centre: Ericsson AC500 rebadged by Federal

Right: Grabaphone by Ericsson for Federal. There are minor differences between the Ericsson version and the Federal but these could well be due to Federal making some parts (such as the base) themselves.



Left: Ericsson AB2300 model, one of the steel Ericsson wall sets rebranded by Federal. New Zealand versions of this telephone are usually fitted with a sanitary handset with an enclosed mouthpiece. Federal also produced them in a white painted finish for use in hospitals.







The firm continued until the mid 1940s, when it was bought out by the ITT multinational. Its main areas of production were now commercial transmitters and military equipment, under the new name Federal Telephone and Radio Corporation, based in Newark N.J.


Federal briefly entered telephone production again with a small range of bakelite and metal telephones during and after the Second World War. ITT was previously servicing its operating companies in South America with telephones from Europe. With this source cut off by war, it opened manufacture at the Federal factory in Clifton, New Jersey where it produced ITT's Rotary switchgear, a bakelite desk phone and wall phone, and a metal cased magneto phone. The bakelite phones were fairly conventional designs, but the magneto phone (a convertible wall or desk model) had to be one of the ugliest phones ever built. As well as South America some of these phones were sold to other countries such as Australia until peacetime production resumed. A notable point is that many of the circuit diagrams are in both English and Spanish.(5)











Left: FTR803A wall phone, rare.

Centre: FTR803 desk phone, simliar to Western Electric's 302 but with redesigned internals to make it more trouble-free in tropical climates.

Right: FTR804 magneto desk/wall convertible phone


In 1951 ITT bought the Kellogg company, one of the longest-lasting independent telephone producers. Kellogg was renamed ITT Kellogg and the remainder of Federal was merged into it, eventually becoming ITT Telecommunications.(4)




1. Newman,Nathan S "Net Loss: Government, Technology and the Political Economy of Community in the Age of the Internet" University of California, 1998

2. Reported in New York Times, July 21, 1910

3. Reported in New York Times November 26 1899.

4. Coe. Lewis "The Telephone and Its Several Inventors"

5. Conklin, Roger "FEDERAL TELEPHONE & RADIO CORPORATION'S Simplified Subscriber Telephone Set" from "Singing Wires" December 2003

6. "Ocean Beach Wireless Transmitting Station" http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist/poulsen.html ( from The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco" website)

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