A number of coincidences underscore Moore’s telephone career. He was born in Brantford, Ontario, the same town as telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, and he was a cousin of telephone co-inventor Elisha Grey. But even from childhood, Moore was a maker of what he called “gadgets.” In 1892, after talking with his cousin about the potential of the telephone, Moore started an independent telephone manufacturing company, the Moore Telephone and Cabinet Manufacturing Co., in his hometown of Caro, Michigan. Moore’s company eventually provided not only telephones, but independent telephone service to rural customers in a large swath of southeast rural Michigan.
Telephone technology came of age in 1876, when both Bell and Grey patented designs for transmitting and receiving voices. Businesses, such as hotels and rural general stores, were some of the early adopters, but demands for home service grew quickly, as did Bell’s companies. The national Bell system fought fiercely to defend its patents on basic telephone technology--and when the patents ran out in 1893 and 1894, it fought to control the phone market by providing exclusive telephone service to as many customers as possible. However, independent telephone companies like Moore’s sprang up across North America, most successfully in rural areas in the Midwest and western United States. Independent telephone manufacturers emerged to supply them. Often a Bell licensee and an independent telephone company would coexist uneasily in the same town.
Like many turn-of-the-20th century telephones, The Henry Ford’s Moore phone is a wooden box which hangs on the wall, with a bipolar receiver, internal battery, and a hand crank which powered a magneto for signaling. The phone’s one unusual aspect is its bulblike wooden transmitter. Although the powerful Bell telephone system held patents on many basic aspects of telephone technology through the mid-1890s, Moore was able to avoid any patent infringement lawsuits by inventing and patenting his own telephone with a new kind of transmitter.
The Moore Telephone System, one of Michigan’s first independent telephone companies, was very successful. It provided telephones and telephone service to Caro and several neighboring counties for decades without much competition. Moore, however, ran his telephone company absentmindedly, increasingly devoting himself instead to his “gadgets.” In addition to his many home telephones--each with a different telephone number--Moore invented ingenious door-openers and burglar alarms for his house, and installed a mechanical trapeze to convey himself from his second-floor bedroom to his swimming pool below. Moore was also an early adopter of the automobile. He had a DeDion Motorette shipped to him from France in 1899 and a Cadillac custom-made for him in 1915, which he fitted with what he claimed was the world’s first “auto-telephone.”
Moore’s rather inattentive management of his telephone company resulted in his ouster in 1948. Almost 60 years after he started the company, the Michigan Public Service Commission forced W.J. Moore to step down and let the Moore Telephone Company be reorganized under Moore’s son Andrew. W. J. Moore insisted that he was antisocial, “no company for man or beast,” and would henceforth spend all of his time working on his gadgets.
Luckily, The Henry Ford has preserved this telephone as a testament to Moore’s ingenuity and colorful life.
||-- Suzanne M. Fischer, Associate Curator of Technology