HALEYVILLE, Ala. (AP) - Because of something that happened 50 years ago today in a small Alabama town, a telephone is headed to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
The world’s first 911 call was placed in Haleyville - a burg of about 4,000 people in Winston County and home to U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt.
That call was made on Feb. 16, 1968.
Aderholt announced in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that the bright red phone used to place that first 911 call would be on temporary display at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.
“This pioneering phone call remains a source of great pride in our city and in our state,” Aderholt said.
According to the archives at the University of Baltimore, Haleyville made an end run around the larger 911 system to be the first to have it.
“B.W. Gallagher, president of the Alabama Telephone Co., who decided to beat AT&T to the punch and install the nation’s first 911 system,” an article from the archives said. “He read about AT&T’s plan in the Wall Street Journal in January and worked to obtain the necessary approvals for installing the system in Haleyville.”
A report from a Fayette newspaper, via North Carolina 9-1-1, provided more detail:
“According to a report in the Fayette, Alabama Times Record commemorating the 25th anniversary of the historic event, B.W. Gallagher, President of Alabama Telephone Company, said he was inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal. He read that the president of AT&T and the FCC had announced that 911 would be the nationwide emergency number. Being a bit offended by the fact that the views of the independent telephone industry had been overlooked in this decision, Gallagher decided to make the Alabama Telephone Company the first to implement 9-1-1.
“Gallagher consulted with Robert Fitzgerald, inside plant manager for the Alabama Telephone Company, who examined schematics of the company’s 27 exchanges. Fitzgerald chose Haleyville because its existing equipment was best suited to be quickly converted to receive 9-1-1 calls. Fitzgerald then designed the circuitry and installed the first 911 system in less than a week. Working with Fitzgerald to achieve this goal were technicians Pete Gosa, Jimmy White, Al Bush and Glenn Johnston.
“In the early stages, the city fathers were skeptical of 9-1-1 calls being answered at the police station. They, like persons in Congress, were afraid that the city might not have the personnel qualified to answer “all out emergency calls.”
“Haleyville, Alabama introduced the nation’s first 9-1-1 system which was located at the police station. Alabama Speaker of the House, Rankin Fite, made the first call from another city hall room. It was answered by Congressman Tom Bevill on a bright red telephone located in the police department. Also on hand were Haleyville Mayor James Whitt, Public Service Commission President Eugene (Bull) Connor, and B. W. Gallagher. So on February 16, 1968, the first 9-1-1 call was made.”
As Aderholt said, it’s a source of pride - particularly for Haleyville. Each June, the town holds a 911 Festival.
The dates this year are June 1-2 and features two days of musical entertainment as well as a parade, arts and crafts, kids’ zone, food vendors, a 5K fun run, car show and antique tractor show.
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