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John Muir's Telephone Number

by Harold Wood

From the John Muir Newsletter, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter, 2001/2002

There is a common misconception that Muir was not fond of technology after his youthful accident which caused temporary blindness. But his early adoption of the telephone, along with other technology like electricity (including an electric fan!) tends to belie that notion.

John Muir was in fact an early adopter of the telephone. The first Telephone Directory of the State of California was published in January, 1897. (Yes, there was a single telephone directory for the entire state, listing some 28,000 subscribers!)

Among them, under the listing for the town Martinez where Muir lived, you will find this telephone listing:

Prof. John Muir, Res.
Red 63

This listing shows that Muir must have been one of the first to acquire a telephone once they became available in his area.

An early newspaper, the Contra Costa Gazette , reported on April, 20, 1895, "Upwards of 40 subscribers have been received and the new system will be in operation in a few weeks... here will be four party lines and three individual lines."

The new telephone service became operational by the end of July 1895. The fact that John Muir shows up in the 1897 telephone directory shows that he must have acquired a telephone within the year.

Perhaps his publishers and admirers pushed him to obtain a telephone? We can only speculate. It seems unlikely that he appended the title, "Prof" in front of his name, but in fact he was often given that honorific title by the writers of the newspapers and magazines of the day. Maybe the telephone company felt the same kind of need to recognize the greatness of one of their early telephone subscribers!

Update August 16, 2002:

According to Charlene Perry of the Martinez Historical Society, it was not Muir but his father-in-law Dr. John Strentzel who installed the telephone in what became the John Muir National Historic Site.

It was installed, in fact, much earlier than the listing in the 1897 State Telephone Directory -- the telephone in the Strentzel-Muir house was operating in 1884! The Contra Costa Telephone Company in that year reported it owned 54 miles of telephone lines and 34 instruments, after three years of operation. "One mile of that line served the railroad, while one and a half miles gave Dr. John Strentzel contact with the downtown from his new home, now the John Muir National historic Site."

(Source: "A Look Back 100 Years" by Charlene Perry, Martinez Historical Society, Martinez News-Gazette, December 28, 1983.)

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