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SANTA ROSA IN THE YEAR 3000

Spoiler alert: This may be the craziest thing you’ll ever read and stranger still, its author was one of the most notable men ever to live in Santa Rosa.

(Detail of Aviation magazine cover, April 1910, slightly modified)

“Santa Rosa in the Year Three Thousand–Looking Back Ten Centuries” appeared in the Press Democrat a few weeks before Christmas, 1913 and is transcribed below. Here’s a summary of what he predicted:

Around the year 1925 Sonoma county built a canal connecting the Russian river to the Petaluma river, through the Laguna, Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks. It was big enough to handle the largest ocean steamships which was a good thing because about 2700 the entire Pacific ocean seabed rose up in the “great upheaval” and capped the Golden Gate. All of this new land became part of the United States (of course) and all commerce and travel with Asia went through the Sonoma canal to the mighty river that formed and stretched all the way to China. By then, Santa Rosa was not only a major seaport but when the Queen of the East visited here as a guest of the Santa Rosa Improvement Club she declared it a great and beautiful city. An election was held in 2905 and Santa Rosa was chosen as the nation’s new capitol, to be built on Taylor mountain after it was graded down to an elevated plateau.

The great legacy of the early 1900s lived on. On the capitol grounds was a statue of Luther Burbank, the renowned scientist who revolutionized the vegetable and plant life. A mathematician at Sweet’s business college, one of the leading institutions of the country, invented a new form of math or physics or something.

A great Santa Rosa scientist discovered it was light, not gravitational forces that binds the universe together. Engineers were able to harness the mysterious, invisible force emanating from the sun and soon everyone was flying around in a light powered “palada,” which could travel nearly the speed of light. A Santa Rosa adventurer tried to go to the moon in a palada, but failing he made the journey around the world. He was gone about three days.

It’s difficult to know what to make of this. Edward Bellamy’s 1888 novel “Looking Backward” was a great success and created a new genre of fiction mixed with philosophy for predicting the future, as found in the dozens of books and articles which appeared in following years asserting human culture would become extremely utopian or dystopian if some current trend(s) continued. In those cases, the authors were always were trying to drive home a specific idea; here, there’s no point at all except “yay, Santa Rosa,” maybe. These future histories are also great opportunities for biting wit, commenting on the “backward” present day conditions; you can comb through all 1,800 words in this essay and not fear being bitten, unless one counts the passing observation it took until the year 2950 for Santa Rosa to create a public park.

Keeping a scorecard of the prediction accuracy in these early examples of science fiction is always fun. No, there was never a canal built between the Russian and Petaluma rivers, but there was talk the previous year of cutting a channel through the Laguna (see following article). Here the author did get solar power right (sort of) and may have been inspired by a presentation in Santa Rosa a few years earlier that demonstrated gee-whiz gadgetry including a little motor powered by a photovoltaic cell. That lecture was also in the form of a look back from the future, titled “In the Year 2000.”

No, instead of those serious works, this essay more resembles the Sunday newspaper cartoons of the day such as The Kin-Der-Kids or Little Nemo, where silly and fantastical things happen for no particular reason. Nemo’s Slumberland even likewise had a queen and the story of the guy who was sidetracked on his way to the moon sounds exactly like a plot from those funny pages – although sans cartoons, there’s nothing particularly amusing about someone changing course.

So who wrote this not-funny comic scenario and pointless future history?

The author was John Tyler Campbell, who was a big deal in Santa Rosa almost from the moment he arrived about 140 years ago. He was elected city attorney a year later, in 1875, and also became the county’s assistant D.A. He ran for the state assembly as a member of the “New Constitution party” – a small and short-lived political group that vowed full support of the controversial new state constitution which was narrowly approved in 1879. He served two terms in the assembly, being speaker of the house for part of that time.

Next came a diplomatic career; he was off to New Zealand to become the American consul, followed by appointment as consul to the Chinese cities of Fuzhou and Tientsin. In an unusual arrangement with the U. S. government, he also served as consul for Germany while in China. Back in America in the 1890s he lectured about China and the Chinese people; it would be interesting to learn what he thought, as the state constitution he once ardently supported was in large part meant to deny the Chinese who were here their basic rights.

Although he was usually referred to as “Judge Campbell” no history shows he actually presided over any court in California (his son was a Sonoma County Superior Court judge, however). He served on the committees that framed two city charters for Santa Rosa: 1876 and 1904, joined in the later one by his friend James Wyatt Oates – Campbell attended the Oates’ housewarming party (at what would become known as Comstock House) in 1905, then a decade later was an honorary pallbearer at Oates’ funeral. They were both respected attorneys but out of step with Santa Rosa’s lingering pro-Confederacy, “Old South” political leanings. Campbell, who grew up in the slave-holding part of Missouri, rushed to join the Union at the outbreak of the Civil War and rose to the rank of captain.

Campbell often contributed stories to magazines and newspapers according to profiles in the county histories, although this is the only one currently found. In 1906 he completed writing a book about dueling (!) but the manuscript, along with his other papers, were destroyed in his downtown office during the great earthquake and fire.

One wonders why the Press Democrat agreed to publish this odd essay when it could only serve to damage Campbell’s esteemed name. It appears unedited; the nutty ending about the Queen of the East and paragraphs about Atlantis and the Tower of Babel were apropos of nothing and should have been red-penciled out. The typeset article was clearly not proofread as it is rife with typos, which was unusual for the PD. Perhaps editor Ernest Finley, who could nurse a grudge for decades, disliked Campbell as much as he hated his friend Oates and was glad for the chance to embarrass the old man. Campbell was 73 when this essay was published and lived until 1935, dying at 94.

MIDDLE: Detail of 1912 portrait of John Tyler Campbell, courtesy Sonoma County Library
BOTTOM: Detail of 1902 drawing by Albert Robida predicting the year 2000

Santa Rosa in the Year Three Thousand–Looking Back Ten Centuries

The year two thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine is gliding away and will take its place with the past. It soon will be numbered with the things that were “a schoolboy’s tale, the wander of the hour.”

The year three thousand is near the door and Father Time will introduce her to the coming ages. She will be received with happy smiles and glorious expectations. At the threshold of the coming year let us recount some of the most striking events of the past ages.

The Tower of Babel

The confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, as recorded in the Book of Books, gave to the world the varied languages used by the human race. At the time it came suddenly and without warning, and it is difficult to full realize the great confusion and entanglement that came to the workers on the great tower.

Atlantis

Away back in the dim past the continent of Atlantis was suddenly engulfed, completely swallowed up and became lost to the world. Then in its place appeared the Atlantic ocean. Milton wrote “Paradise Lost” but he afterwards wrote “Paradise Regained,” a similitude for the lost continent Atlantis was followed by a continent regained in the Pacific ocean. Less than three hundred years ago a great upheaval occurred in the Pacific ocean and a new continent was thrown up along the west coast of North America, and it extended out westerly in the Pacific ocean more than two thousand miles, but it became contiguous territory attached to the west side of the continent of North America, and after these years it cannot be determined where the old land ends and the new continent begins. The upheaval that gave to the United States and so it remains to this day.

Following the upheaval the progress of the country surpassed all dreams and all expectations. River of the old continent forced themselves over the new territory and out to the Pacific ocean. Fruits and vegetation and in fact all products of the soil, grew in the greatest profusion and the greatest abundance. The horn of plenty poured its wealth out in the new territory. Immigration flocked in from all over the world and soon great cities, towns, and villages sprung up everywhere. Mills and factories were constantly in motion and the hand of industry brought in a constant stream of gold. In the hundred years following the acquisition of the new land America had more wealth than all Europe put together. The population far exceeded all Europe. About this time the name “United States of America” was changed to “Columbia.” This was done in honor of the great discoverer, and it is the name it should have had all the time.

Santa Rosa, the Capital City

The capital of the country had always been in Washington City, but it became in time far from the center of population. So about the year two thousand nine hundred and five Congress submitted the question of the removal of the capital to a vote of the people. A number of well located and populous cities entered the race, but when the election was over and the votes were counted it was found that Santa Rosa, California, had won the capital. People who had given the matter consideration were not surprised. At the time of the voting Santa Rosa had become one of the largest and most attractive cities in the world. Its population was nearly a million.

Away back to about the year nineteen hundred and twenty-five, the County of Sonoma constructed a canal from the mouth of [the] Russian river, through Russian river, the Laguna, Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks, thence on to Petaluma creek, thus connecting the waters of the ocean through to San Francisco bay, and the largest ocean steamers passed through the canal. The canal was a simple matter for nature had almost made it, and it required but little extra work to send the waters of the ocean through Sonoma county.

When the great upheaval came and closed up the [Golden Gate] the Sacramento river passed its way through Petaluma creek and through the Sonoma county canal out to where was once the Pacific ocean, and thence it continued to cut its way through the new-made ground of the new continent to the Pacific ocean, now well over to China. The commerce of the world entered the Sacramento river at its mouth near the continent of Asia, and in time came to be one of the greatest and most important rivers in the world.

Santa Rosa has been the capital of the republic for nearly a hundred years. In all of these years it has been the county seat of Sonoma county, and its importance as one of the great cities of the world is a sufficient justification for giving some of the leading events of its history.

Occurrences in the Past

Back in the twentieth century Santa Rosa was the home of the renowned scientist, Luther Burbank, conspicuous in history as the man who revolutionized the vegetable and plant life. He not only changed existing products of the soil and doubled their size, but he greatly increased the variety and quantity of the necessaries and luxuries of life. His productions were superior to any ever known before, and hence they were eagerly sought for by the people over the world. It is impossible to overestimate the great benefit realized by humanity from the Burbank productions. His statue has a conspicuous place in the great hall of fame in the capital grounds in this city.

The Power of Light

The theory that motion counteracts the laws of gravity and keeps the heavily bodies in their orbits in the revolutions had always been accepted as true. The law of gravitation is the tendency of all bodies toward the center of the earth. If motion were to cease the bodies obeying the law of gravity would all fall together in a crash. About fifty years ago Prof. Herr von de Reido of Santa Rosa, after long investigation, made the assertion that light and not motion kept the heavily bodies in their orbits–that light counteracted the law of gravity. It was twenty-five years before his discovery was accepted as true.

The sun is the center of the universe and there is a mysterious, invisible force emanating from the sun, and by the means of machinery and appliances this force is now conserved and used in propelling airships and other contrivances used for transportation. The palada is the vehicle for transportation of people or freight now in general use, and the motor power that propels it is light. Travel is now almost entirely in the air, and the palada is made for one person or for any number of persons. It is easily set in motion and its speed can be increased almost to the velocity of light. It is also used for freighting and for running all kinds of machinery.

In the days of Jules Verne, Phineas Fogg went around the world in eighty days. Hans Patrick Le Conor of Santa Rosa, filled with adventure, tried to go to the moon in a palada, but failing he made the journey around the world. He was gone about three days.

When Santa Rosa won the capitol, Taylor mountain was selected as its site. The capital grounds contain one thousand acres and were graded down to an elevated plateau by machinery propelled by the power of light, and the work was done in the short space of thirty days. Under the old system it would have required ten years.

The grounds are ornamented with the Burbank productions and are the most beautiful in the world. They surpass in grandeur and loveliness the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The capitol is the most picturesque building in the world.

Another New Discovery

The universe is too vast for the humanmind to grasp, or to comprehend. There are stars so far away from the earth that it would take a million years for them to reach the earth even if they traveled with the velocity of light, which is one hundred and ninety-two thousand miles per second. An eminent astronomer had published that the rays of light from the star Nova Geronimo started to the earth the same year that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in sixteen hundred and ten, and although they had been over three hundred years speeding toward the earth they have not reached their destination, and the problem as to the length of time required was considered in the well known commercial college established by Prof. J. S. Sweet of Santa Rosa, then as it is now, one of the leading institution of the country. One of the students in the college, Alamon del Marsoni, a born mathematician, undertook to figure out the problem, but after many months of constant work he gave up, but he made a new discovery in figures, and with the new principle which he had worked out he was enabled in a few minutes to give the true answer to the problem. Under the new theory any problem of mathematical question can be unerringly worked out with one-tenth the figures and in one-tenth of the time required under the old system. The new theory is now universally accepted.

The Famous City

The fame of Santa Rosa as a great and beautiful city spread over the world, and people of taste and culture came from everywhere to see it.

The Queen of the East, the lineal successor of the Queen of Sheba of King Solomon’s time, was one of the number who came to the great and beautiful city of Santa Rosa, and she viewed the city and gave forth the following words: “It was indeed a true report which I heard in mine own land. Howbeit, I believed not the words until I came and mine eyes had seen it and behold, the half was not told me.”

The queen while in Santa Rosa was the guest of the Santa Rosa Improvement Club, the oldest club in the State, having had a continuous existence for more than a thousand years, and during a great part of that time had faithfully and diligently worked for a public park in Santa Rosa, and fifty years ago victory crowned their long, faithful service. They actually acquired the park and dedicated it to the city forever.

The Queen of the East said goodbye to the thousands of people who gathered about her, and in a moment of time she and her train of paladas disappeared over the Sierras and were lost to view.

Conclusion

The world is nearer perfection tan ever before. It has been one hundred and fifty years since the last war, and when it closed the gates of Mars were shut and they have remained closed ever since. The reign of the Prince of Peace is universal and eternal.

– Press Democrat, December 7, 1913

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THE FUTURE PROJECTED

Here’s everyday life in the near future, according to the 1912-1913 Santa Rosa newspapers: Someone in your family might go to the theater after supper to catch the latest blockbuster, but the rest of you will probably watch a movie or something in the living room. As a special treat there may be an occasional trip to San Francisco to see a much-hyped film only playing in certain theaters because it required special movie equipment, which made the audience feel the movie was almost real.

That may not seem much different from today, except: The movie at the local theater would be black and white but have sound synchronized from a recorded cylinder. Being watched at home would be a silent, flickering image shown by a hand-cranked machine. And what made the movie in San Francisco worth the trip was it being in color, made possible by the theater having a special color projector.

There were several methods of adding color or sound to movies in the early 1900s, but this isn’t cinema technology history 101; the topic here is limited to what was mentioned in the local papers, and in the spring of 1912 the excitement in Santa Rosa was the opportunity to see movies in “natural color.”

(Your obl. Believe-it-or-Not! factoid: 1912 was also the year when the word “movie” first appeared in the papers, and it was almost always used in quotes to show it was slang. The origin of the word is unclear, but the first use I can find is in a 1911 Central Valley newspaper where it was mentioned as being coined by “a bright El Centro youngster.”)

“Kinemacolor” movies were quite the rage that season; the Cort theater in San Francisco sold out for a month (including most matinees) with a three hour Kinemacolor spectacular showing the pageantry of the coronation of King Edward VII as emperor of India. The film itself was 150 minutes – the longest movie produced up to then – with the show padded out with a live speaker and “orchestra rendering Oriental melodies” (a fragment can be seen here). Also produced were Kinemacolor travelogues along with hundreds of short comedies and melodramas with titles like, “Dandy Dick of Bishopsgate” and “Detective Henry and the Paris Apaches.” In New York J. P. Morgan’s daughter threw herself a party showing Kinemacolor home movies of the hostess colorfully prancing around the family’s Italian villa. Editors at both Santa Rosa papers were clearly excited such a high-falutin’ event was coming to town – and it would be free admission, too!

The Kinemacolor films were shown in the Native Sons of the Golden West ballroom (that impressive red brick building which still stands at 404 Mendocino Avenue). The big Columbia theater in town couldn’t be used because a special Kinemacolor projector was required. The film – which ran through the projector at twice the speed as normal – was still black and white, but alternating frames were captured through a red or green filter and the projector had a synchronized red and green color wheel. More about the process is explained in a BBC documentary (the five minute section on Kinemacolor begins at 13:23) and in a video showing how the frames were merged. The result is awful; when there is any movement onscreen red or green fringing follows like a ghost. How anyone could watch such a thing for more than a couple of minutes without suffering a ripping headache is a mystery, as is why Kinemacolor was widely praised for its “natural color.”

But even if the color effect was far from perfect (far, far, far away) at least it was a free evening at the movies; perhaps there would be scenes from exotic lands or an exciting yarn about those “Paris Apaches.”

“There were pictures, true to life in color, of aeroplane flights, of automobiles busy about the factory,” promised an ad disguised as a Press Democrat news item. “Views showed the process of molding brass castings. The lighted furnaces and the men pouring the metal made the scenes seem real. They showed improved machinery turning out its products. Then there were views of the men and women at work, and leaving the factory.” As exciting as it might be to watch factory workers shuffling home at the end of their shift, the movie was actually an industrial film produced by a company to sell cash registers. “All the residents of Santa Rosa, especially the business men, are invited,” chirped the advertisement.

Okay, so maybe color movies with actual entertainment weren’t in Santa Rosa’s immediate future – at least there would soon be sound movies in the theaters and films to watch at home…right?

The movie projectors mentioned for home and local theater were versions of Edison “Kinetophones,” which were also called Phonokinetoscopes and Kinetoscopes, the latter also being Edison’s name for the peep show cabinet he had introduced twenty years earlier (old Thomas Edison may have been a maniac for inventing things, but he certainly fizzled when it came to naming them).

Like many papers nationwide, the Press Democrat in January 1913 ran a front page story on Edison’s announcement that he was about to revolutionize the entertainment industry. Where there had been earlier gizmos which played music on a phonograph while a movie was shown (including some of Edison’s peep-show boxes), his Kinetophone “delivers at the exact instant of occurrence on the film any sound made at the moment such action took place. Every word uttered by the actors is recorded and delivered in time with the action,” Edison boasted. A segment of the short sound film made to introduce the system can be viewed on YouTube and it’s still impressive to watch, once you keep in mind it is over a century old.

Edison should have ended the press conference with the demo; regrettably, he went on to say that thanks to his Kinetophone, performers would no longer have to tour – they could make “talkies” at the studios, which would probably be located in New York. “Entire operas will be rendered,” Edison told reporters. “Small towns, whose yearly taxes would not pay for three performances of the Metropolitan Opera company, can see and hear the greatest stars in the world for 10 cents.” The press twisted those egalitarian visions into a doomsday prophecy. “EDISON SEE FINISH FOR STAGE” was the PD headline, and the San Francisco Call warned the Kinetophone “Will End ‘Legitimate’ Careers.”

“Legitimate” performers soon discovered they had nothing to fear (although you gotta love how the SF Call put the word between cynical quotes). It may have worked flawlessly with engineers back in the lab, but real projectionists in real theaters struggled to keep the record and film in synchronization and often failed. Having never seen such a screwup before, audiences howled. Remember the end of “Singing in the Rain”?

But even at its best, Edison’s Kinetophone was a not-ready-for-primetime invention. Sound was recorded on large Edison cylinders which offered six minutes of playback (instead of the usual four) so forget the option of watching those entire operas Edison promised – most of the Kinetophone productions were of vaudeville acts. As the amplified loudspeaker was still years away, sound came out of a big metal horn behind the screen, making dialog hard to hear in all but the smallest theaters; one of the most popular Edison films was a comedy where two characters thought the other was deaf, causing the pair to continually shout at each other.

The Kinetophone wasn’t the only half-baked Edison invention Santa Rosa learned about in 1913. Just a few days before the Kinetophone announcement, the front page of the Press Democrat displayed the ad at right for the “Edison Home Kinetoscope.” It had no sound because there was no ability for it to synch with a phonograph, but it could show a film nearly twice as long as a Kinetophone, thanks to the bizarre, non-standard film it required.

Although the arc lamp was electric, the person standing in the silhouette was turning a crank which advanced film containing three streams of images side-by-side. The person acting as the, um, designated cranker, turned it one direction until the film stopped after about six minutes; the film gate was then shifted to the middle position and the projectionist cranked backwards – the images on the middle strip of film were printed in reverse. After another six minutes the film stopped again and the film gate was shifted to its final position, with the machine to be cranked forward. A photo of this ingenious layout can be seen here.

The ad proclaimed it was “not a toy,” but despite the high price (it cost up to $100, or about $2,500 in today’s dollars) it really couldn’t be taken seriously, either. Each image on the film was merely about 6mm wide so resolution wasn’t nearly as good as a 35mm film shown in a theater; nor was there pin registration to pause the film for a fraction of a second while it is being projected, resulting in vertical “motion blur.” And although the owner’s manual claimed it could throw an image thirty feet and a promotional photo shows a bright, clear image at about half that distance, the low resolution images and teensy arc lamp (with no reflector, either) meant that 3-4 feet was probably all that was practical.

As the Press Democrat ad noted, Home Kinetoscope owners could watch the same movies as were being shown in theaters – limited, of course, to titles produced by Edison’s studio. About 250 were listed (amazingly, copies of most still survive) and sold at prices from $2.50 to $20. A service was available to exchange your boring old films for others by mail, using pre-paid coupons purchased from dealerships such as the one on Fourth street.

The Home Kinetoscope was a flop, with only about 500 sold in the U.S. Nor did the sound Kinetophone system last very long; Edison and his staff continued tinkering with it for the next two years and in 1914 a magazine wrote, “Mr. Edison is at work now on some vital problem dealing with the synchronism effect and has promised that the day is near when the world’s greatest singers will be heard in grand opera scenes, with voice and action concretely reproduced.” But when a fire later that year swept through Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey complex and destroyed all Kinetophone negatives, Edison created no further talkies. Shortly after that he also discontinued making motion picture equipment of any kind, despite having ads running for a new, top-end theatrical “Super Kinetoscope.”

And at about the same time, the last Kinemacolor film was made. Public interest in the odd system still remained high; they were starting to produce feature films and much-desired footage of early WWI battlefields and armaments. But their undoing was their constant drumbeat about displaying “natural color.” A competitor challenged this on their patent claim and Kinemacolor lost, because it could not, in fact, display any form of the color blue.

MOVING SCENES IN NATURAL COLOR
Unique Entertainment Will Be Given Here on Monday Afternoon and Evening

Much interest is taken in the public moving picture entertainment that will be given at Native Sons’ Hall next Monday afternoon and night. The pictures will show the famous Kinemacolor process.

Kinemacolor, the new motion picture process in nature’s colors, is an English invention and was developed in all its details by an American. The process is fairly simple and somewhat similar to the three-color process in printing.

The camera taking the subject resembles the ordinary moving-picture camera, save that it operates at double the speed and interposes alternate red and green colored filters by means of a rapidly revolving wheel operated by a very nicely timed mechanical device, 1-32 or a second is devoted to the production of each picture, of which there are sixteen to the foot of film. This film is remarkably sensitive to the colors of nature, is produced by an American concern.

The films are developed in absolute [illegible microfilm]  reproduction of the colors on the screen, the picture made through the red filter is projected through a similar red filter, and the green picture through a green filter. These appear upon the screen 32 to the second, too rapidly for the eye to detect the color changes that take place. As a consequence, the colors blend harmoniously, giving the remarkable effects which you are about to witness.

120 feet of film moves through the delicately adjusted apparatus starting and stopping 1920 times in one minute. You can readily see from these figures that it would be absolutely impossible to hand color or tint this enormous quantity of film with such gorgeous hues as are shown by this marvelous process, Kinemacolor.

– Press Democrat, March 8, 1912
Rare Treat for Santa Rosans
Wonderful Moving Pictures Are Shown in Natural Colors At Business Show
THE FIRST TAKEN IN AMERICA

Scientists and photographers have worked for years on processes for photographing in Nature’s own colors. The solution of their problem has been found.

By the Kinemacolor process, moving pictures are now taken in colors and thrown on the screen with the motion and tints of actual life. The Kinemacolor film differs from other moving picture films in that it is not colored by hand nor by chemicals.

The first Kinemacolor pictures made in America were taken at the plant of the National Cash Register Company, Dayton, Ohio.

While A. J. Strayer, the local representative of that concern, was attending a business efficiency convention at the N. C. R. plant, he saw these pictures.

There were pictures, true to life in color, of aeroplane flights, of automobiles busy about the factory, of scenes at the N. C. R. Country Club, where baseball, tennis, running races, horseback riding and games are enjoyed Saturday afternoons during the summer.

Views showed the process of molding brass castings. The lighted furnaces and the men pouring the metal made the scenes seem real.

They showed improved machinery turning out its products.

Then there were views of the men and women at work, and leaving the factory.

Fireless locomotives drew their loads to and from the receiving and shipping platforms.

The green grass, the shrubbery and the vines clinging to the walls, made pictures in color which no artist could equal.

Mr. Strayer asked that the film be shown in this city at the earliest opportunity. His request was granted.

These beautiful pictures in natural colors will be shown in the Native Sons’ Hall, March 11th at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p. m.

All the residents of Santa Rosa, especially the business men, are invited to see these Kinemacolor views.

Admission free.

– advertisement in Press Democrat, March 8, 1912
NO ADMISSION TO SEE PICTURES
First Kinemacolor Entertainment Tonight

Everybody is invited to attend the lecture and exhibition of the Kinemacolor pictures at the Native Sons’ Hall this evening, and the entertainment is absolutely free. The pictures to be shown are the first to be taken by a new process of moving pictures, that show nature in all of her wonderful moods and colorings. Flowers are shown in their original tints without any hand coloring.

The lecture is delivered by H. C. Ernst, who arrived here on Monday with his operators of the moving pictures. A. H. Walker and E. C. Deveny.  included in the entertainment are many beautiful scenes of landscape gardening and suggestions for the beautification of homes, and the adornment of the exterior and interior of residences. The progress of the past twenty-five years in machinery is graphically shown, it being greater than all the progress of the ages preceding that time.

The reproduction of flowers and nature in the original colorings is the latest thing in the moving picture world and these pictures are the first to be taken and the first that have come to this city. They are interesting, educational and instructive, and should attract a crowded house to the Native Sons’ Hall this evening. No admission is charged, the expense being defrayed by the National Cash Register Company. Arthur J. Strayer is the local representative of the company, and he has arranged for the entertainment of the people of Santa Rosa by his company.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 11, 1912

EDISON SEE FINISH FOR STAGE
Says His New Invention, the Kinetophone, Will Put the Legitimate Actor Our of Business and Reduce Prices to Minimum

New York, Jan. 6–Thomas A. Edison, in an interview today declared that he believed the legitimate stage doomed as the result of the completion of his “Kinetophone.” The success of its operation in the last few days was such as to make him believe that the $2.00 theatre must give way to the cheaper show with the better talent. He was sure that there would be no more barnstorming companies. The inventor declared that not one out of fifty had the right to spend the price of a theatre ticket. He believes that the legitimate action must leave the stage as more money is to be made acting for the new machines.

– Press Democrat, January 7, 1913
COLUMBIA WILL PRESENT EDISON’S KINETOPHONE

Morris Meyerfeld, Jr., head of the Orpheum Circuit, announced Wednesday that the Orpheum and affiliated theatres have secured the American rights for Edison’s latest invention, the kinetophone, by which talking motion pictures are presented, and that it will be put simultaneously in all the playhouses of the circuit in about three weeks. The kinetophone recently was demonstrated successfully and promises to revolutionize the career if the stage profession in some respects through its ability to transmit not only the actions, but the voice of the performer. The inventor has declared it will result in the stars leaving the legitimate stage to work for the “movies.”

Manager Crone of the Columbia Amusement Company has arranged to have the kinetophone at one of his amusement houses in the near future, which will give the lovers of “movies” a chance to see this latest invention by Edison.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 20, 1913

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GREAT-GRANDPA, THE PHONE HACKER

Imagine not being able to make a phone call because your neighbor is out feeding her chickens or chopping wood. Welcome to rural Sonoma County – or pretty much anywhere else in rural America – during the first years of the 20th century.

A reoccurring theme here has been describing how modern Santa Rosa began to appear in 1910 and 1911, as seen through its newspapers. There were several auto dealerships downtown showcasing next year’s models, and at least a portion of downtown was as brightly lit after dark as any big city; the Columbia Theater on the corner of B and Third had a big marquee dazzling with light bulbs “so as to show on Third, Fourth, and Fifth streets for blocks in either direction,” according to the Press Democrat. Santa Rosa merchants began running ads in both local papers promoting the latest conveniences (hot water heaters in bathrooms, electric washing machines and gas stoves, for ex) as well as coveted high-tech gadgets (Edison phonographs and Kodak cameras).

But it was a different world for their country cousins. There was no coal gas service outside of town, so the kitchen range was fired by oil or wood and the stove also had to heat water for a hot bath. Unless the farm was on a major road there probably was no electricity either, so the house was lit at night by kerosene lanterns and lamps and dirty clothes were scrubbed by hand.

Far worse than the lack of conveniences could be the sense of isolation on the farm, particularly during rainy, cold winters. Trips to town were no impetuous thing when it involved harnessing up the ol’ grey mare for a slow buggy ride, and when mr. farmer arrived in the city it was difficult to find a place to leave the buggy; the hitching posts around Courthouse Square had been removed to accomodate parking. The farm family could try to stay in touch with the community and world by subscribing to the Press Democrat but there was no home delivery in the country; three days’ editions arrived twice a week by mail, rolled up in a brown paper wrapper. Too bad you missed your friend’s funeral.

For these outlying country people, having a telephone was a necessity – but the phone companies only served urban areas, so anyone outside of city limits was out of luck. Thus was born the wild ‘n’ wooly world of the tiny rural telephone companies.

Here’s how it usually worked: An enterprising farmer or a group formed a business which contracted with the local phone company to connect (for Santa Rosa it was first Sunset then Pacific Telephone & Telegraph, called hereafter just PT&T – see sidebar). The farmer then built a little network, and here “build” is meant in the most literal sense; he put up his own telephone poles, strung the wires and climbed the poles again when something went haywire. From the phone company office the line usually went directly to his home where it was attached to something like the 1910 switchboard shown at right, which could serve up to twenty lines fanning out to customer’s homes. A small system like this probably only operated between dawn and dusk, or whenever the farmer or another family member was around; larger switchboards that handled 50 or more lines came equipped with night buzzers to wake somebody up. To have the service a neighbor generally paid $12-30 a year plus up to 10¢ per call, out of which PT&T took a nickel.

There is no known list of the “independent” companies (as they were called) that offered rural service around central Sonoma County, but its a safe bet that there were dozens. Here are some names: Russian River Light & Power, the Sonoma Valley Co., the Valley Telephone Co., the Cotati Co., the Mark West and Santa Rosa Telephone Co. (which went as far west as Mt. Olivet, currently the intersection of River Road and Olivet Road) and the Kenwood Rural Telephone Co. Some were not even named, such as the one that served Fulton. The biggest and best known was the Guglielmetti Telephone Company of Petaluma, which reportedly had nearly a thousand customers.

Also unknown is how many of these operations were run in a businesslike manner or were more of a break-even hobby. We know they could be very territorial; Guglielmetti filed a complaint in 1912 against Chileno Valley Telephone Company for encroaching on Chapman Lane with its very few residences. The Chileno Valley company also got in trouble for offering a five year contract with an up-front payment of $25, which would have been significantly below actual cost. But truth is, almost all of these independents were borderline legal, in that only Guglielmetti and a couple of others were properly registered with the state of California.

       
THE MAKING OF A MONOPOLY

Everything in this story orbits around “The Telephone Company,” which was then often viewed as a predatory leviathan that offered barely satisfactory service and nickel-and-dimed its customers with confusing rates and myriad special charges. Thank goodness everything is different today.

To be accurate, our story involves three telephone companies: Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co. (PT&T) was the big boy on the block, being the West Coast tentacle of AT&T which controlled most telephone and telegraph service elsewhere nationwide. PT&T grew in the decades around the turn of the century by buying controlling interests in its competitors. One of these rivals-turned-puppets was Sunset Telephone and Telegraph, which provided service in Santa Rosa and much of the Northwest, and another was San Francisco-based Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph. This semi-independent arrangement might have rolled along indefinitely if not for the troubles of 1906.

Just weeks before the earthquake struck, San Francisco newspapers were howling because the Board of Supervisors had awarded an exclusive telephone franchise to a competitor of Pacific States. Once the city somewhat regained its footing after the disaster and the ongoing graft investigations resumed, it came out that Pacific States and its competitor were both shoveling enormous bribes to the Supervisors. The grand jury indicted a Pacific States vice-president and a lobbyist on a combined 23 counts. The company possibly might have weathered that storm, but it could not survive without income – and it lost over 90 percent of its subscribers immediately after the earthquake. Rebuilding infrastructure would be a long and expensive process. It was decided that as of Jan. 1, 1907, both Pacific States and Sunset would disappear into PT&T. It was completely a shell game; the old president of Pacific States was now president of PT&T. (The older companies survived in name until 1917, probably in part because of unsettled lawsuits.)

The people who built and operated those small independent telephone systems had more than a little in common with today’s computer hackers. They loved the tech of it; there were magazines breathlessly reviewing the latest equipment and offering anecdotes and photos from readers, expert tips, and emotional editorial essays barking or sighing over small matters. In short, they had the same passions as Apple or PC fanboys demonstrate today.

And just as Internet users can be heard speaking with contempt about the cable companies that provide their network connectivity, the independents regarded with fear and loathing the telephone companies upon which they likewise depended. They had reason to worry; after all, the phone company could put independents out of business overnight by expanding its service area outside the cities, which was something bound to happen eventually. But that was more of an existential threat; what really had the independents upset was the possibility of the phone company shutting down their sole equipment provider.

Independents purchased most of their gear from a company named Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Company. Kellogg stores sold everything they needed and provided instructions on how to put it all together – they even had the sort of crookneck electric lamp that was the perfect size to perch above your switchboard. In a pair of large display ads that appeared in the 1911 Press Democrat (shown below) Kellogg didn’t so much promote their brand as the wonderfulness of having a phone at all, which would be so very simple to set up, guided by their friendly illustrated booklets. It would not be too much of a stretch to call it a kind of Apple Computer for its day.

But in 1903, Western Electric – the hardware side of AT&T – quietly arranged to buy controlling interest in Kellogg. Once this became known, rumors began flying – either it was a conspiracy to shut down Kellogg and create a monopoly, or maybe Kellogg was in cahoots with the phone company to screw over the independents by price-fixing. Telephone Magazine offered a cartoon showing Mr. Kellogg holding down “the Kellogg customer” while the “Bell Company” roots through his pockets for change. In the same issue, an editorial hysterically called AT&T the “arch enemy” and insisted “buying of the Kellogg company is treason; it is furnishing ammunition and sympathy to the enemy in time of war.” Kellogg’s reputation was redeemed because minority stockholders sued to block the deal, but the lawsuit rumbled through the courts until the sale was finally prevented in 1909, causing five years of anger and turmoil in the little industry.

Even if the Kellogg stock battle hadn’t happened, the independents had reason enough to despise the phone company for how they were treated. In 1907 Santa Rosa, customers paid $21 a year to share a two-party line; although PT&T did no maintenance on the “farmer lines” or had other expense (aside from the few seconds needed for the operator at the central exchange to connect callers), the company charged the independents high per-user rates which meant rural customers paid about the same as city dwellers – except the country people had to share the line with twenty others, or however many were hooked to that independent switchboard. And even if you had a telephone in your farmhouse, you couldn’t make a long distance call; a farmer on Todd Road, for example, still had to go into Santa Rosa to call someone in Petaluma. There apparently was no technical obstacle preventing the call being made from an independent line; as part of the deal to settle the government anti-trust suit in 1913, the Bell System dropped the rule preventing long distance. It looks like they restricted the service simply because they could.

Independent operators were also required to collect PT&T’s 5¢ per-call fee. An internal company newsletter, Pacific Telephone Magazine from the years 1907-1909 shows the company often suggested better ways for them to pry those nickels loose from their neighbors. It urged independents to require a deposit from each subscriber, but no advice on how to handle any uncomfortable situation that might arise from demanding payment in advance – which a tight-fisted farmer might regard as an interest-free loan. But that’s a common refrain in the newsletter; any person or business with PT&T service was expected to have foremost consideration for the company’s wants. Drug stores were singled out as being particularly bad actors for letting just anyone walk in and use their phone free of charge. In a particularly rancid screed, the editor argued people with a telephone shouldn’t let others use it unless they could first verify the person was also a bonafide PT&T customer.

Sometime around WWI Pacific Telephone & Telegraph finally began adding more rural service, which was the death knell for some. That followed the 1911 purchase by California Telephone & Light Co. of the Healdsburg Telephone Co. and several other local independents. The longest to survive was rural Petaluma’s Guglielmetti Telephone Company, which was around until 1949.

A final word of caveat lector; there is no previous research into this topic – at least, that I can find.  A few books have sketched a bit about the Kellogg suit and the overall independent history but no local historian has touched the topic; there’s lots available on the Sonoma County phone scene from about WWII onwards, but no mention of these interesting early days. There are not even any surviving regional telephone books prior to 1928. This article has been cobbled together primarily from old State Board of Equalization reports, legal notices, trade magazines and materials placed online by telephone equipment collectors. If anyone has more, I’d love to know.

Although there are no surviving early regional telephone books, some kind soul has made available the complete 1898 directory for the greater Bay Area. the section for Santa Rosa shows only 26 residences in town had telephones. Followers of this Comstock House blog will not be surprised to learn that one of those lines went to the home at 431 Tenth street owned by James Wyatt Oates, the man who loved having the latest technology and had to be in the center of everything.

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