It remains now, as it was then, essentially an American achievement. Other nations have their telephone systems, but it is only in the United States that its possibilities have been even faintly realized. It is not until Americans visit foreign countries that they understand that, imperfect as in certain directions their industrial and social organization may be, in this respect at least their nation is preeminent.
The United States contains nearly all the telephones in existence, to be exact, about seventy-five per cent. We have about ten million telephones, while Canada, Central America, South America, Great Britain, Europe, Asia, and Africa all combined have only about four million. In order to make an impressive showing, however, we need not include the backward peoples, for a comparison with the most enlightened nations emphasizes the same point. Thus New York City has more telephones than six European countries taken together--Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the Netherlands. Chicago, with a population of 2,000,000, has more telephones than the whole of France, with a population of 40,000,000. Philadelphia, with 1,500,000, has more than the Russian Empire, with 166,000,000. Boston has more telephones than Austria-Hungary, Los Angeles more than the Netherlands, and Kansas City more than Belgium. Several office buildings and hotels in New York City have more instruments than the kingdoms of Greece or Bulgaria. The whole of Great Britain and Ireland has about 650,000 telephones, which is only about 200,000 more, than the city of New York.
Mere numbers, however, tell only half the story. It is when we compare service that American superiority stands most manifest. The London newspapers are constantly filled with letters abusing the English telephone system. If these communications describe things accurately, there is apparently no telephone vexation that the Englishman does not have to endure. Delays in getting connections are apparently chronic. At times it seems impossible to get connections at all, especially from four to five in the afternoon--when the operators are taking tea. Suburban connections, which in New York take about ninety seconds, average half an hour in London, and many of the smaller cities have no night service. An American thinks nothing of putting in a telephone; he notifies his company and in a few days the instrument is installed. We take a thing like this for granted. But there are places where a mere telephone subscription, the privilege of having an instrument installed, is a property right of considerable value and where the telephone service has a "waiting list," like an exclusive club. In Japan one can sell a telephone privilege at a good price, its value being daily quoted on the Stock Exchange. Americans, by constantly using the telephone, have developed what may be called a sixth sense, which enables them to project their personalities over an almost unlimited area. In the United States the telephone has become the one all-prevailing method of communication. The European writes or telegraphs while the American more frequently telephones. In this country the telephone penetrates to places which even the mails never reach. The rural free delivery and other forms of the mail service extend to 58,000 communities, while our 10,000,000 telephones encompass 70,000. We use this instrument for all the varied experiences of life, domestic, social, and commercial. There are residences in New York City that have private branch exchanges, like a bank or a newspaper office. Hostesses are more and more falling into the habit of telephoning invitations for dinner and other diversions. Many people find telephone conversations more convenient than personal interviews, and it is every day displacing the stenographer and the traveling salesman.
Perhaps the most noteworthy achievement of the telephone is its transformation of country life. In Europe, rural telephones are almost unknown, while in the United States one-third of all our telephone stations are in country districts.