George Willard Coy

Carriage Bolts and teapot handles become First Telephone Switchboard

Had George Willard Coy not been wounded in the Civil War, he may not have invented the telephone switchboard, the first great advancement since the invention of the telephone. He would settle in Milford after his important invention in nearby New Haven.

Coy was born in Freedom, Me. November 13, 1836, the next to youngest of seven children. His mother died in 1843, and he was raised by his oldest sister, Olive, in Bridgewater, Mass. He attended public school until 1852 then he went to sea. Returning in 1857, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker in Rockland, Mass. at the home of another sister, Mrs. Eunice Keane, but broke his shoemaking contract to enlist as a private in the Army in 1858. His five-year term carried him through some early campaigns of the Civil War until his discharge on March 17, 1863. In November 1863, he re-enlisted, again as a private, for three years during which he saw action in major battles at Antietam, Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg.
At Petersburg, Va. on June 17, 1864 he was severely wounded by shell fragments in the left arm and shoulder. For the next 10 months he was treated in Army Hospitals in Washington and Baltimore. With his arm permanently incapacitated, he was honorably discharged June 5, 1865 in Baltimore. He returned to again live with his sister, Olive, and her husband in Rockland. There he established a newspaper and tobacco store. He left in 1867 to study telegraphy at a school for disabled veterans in Albany, N.Y.

Completing the course in Albany, he found a job in New Haven as manager of the local office of the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company. On April 27, 1877, Coy attended a demonstration at New Haven's Skiff’s Opera House of an exciting new communication invention, the telephone, given by its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell. Bell’s discussion of the implications of the telephone for business and trade, accompanied by music transmitted over a three-way New Haven-Middletown-Hartford connection, spurred Coy to action. On Nov. 3, 1877, Coy applied for and received a franchise from the Bell Telephone Company for New Haven and Middlesex Counties. With Herrick P. Frost and Walter Lewis who provided the $600 capital, on Jan. 5, 1878 he established the District Telephone Company of New Haven, the world’s first commercial telephone exchange.