Today, making a phone call is a little bit like performing a magic trick. You pick up your cell phone, press a button and suddenly you are talking to your mother in Philly, your grandma in Florida or your best friend in New York. There aren't even any wires or cords!
The Comporium Telephone Museum in Rock Hill takes you back to a time where there were wires and cords, and plenty of them. But seeing the amazing assortment of machinery that made early telephones possible made the old technology seem just as magical in its own way.
The newly renovated museum is full of hands-on (and ears-on) exhibits to help you understand the history of telephone and the Rock Hill Telephone Company (now Comporium) in particular. Exhibits cover the full range of telephone history, from early switching systems to modern caller ID.
As I was walking through the museum, a phone nearby started ringing. It was one of those old, Depression-era phones with a separate earpiece and speaker. I picked it up and heard my husband's voice. Around the corner I could see my husband on another old phone smiling as he repeated "Hello!" like a kid with a can pressed to his ear.
Actual kids seemed to be having almost as much fun as we were, although it was a little terrifying to see the look of absolute astonishment in one boy's eyes when he put his finger in rotary-dial phone for the first time and heard its unfamiliar clicking as went round.
But, of course, that is the real genius of the museum. Those of us old enough to remember rotary dial phones also remember our grandparents talking about switchboards, telephone operators and telephone numbers like Pennsylvania 6-5000. The kids in this museum, having been raised with emergency cell phones in their pockets and email accounts, might as well have been looking at ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. But the museum has provided excellent descriptions for each exhibit to explain how all the pieces work together.
The Comporium Phone Museum is located at 117 Elk Ave. in downtown Rock Hill. It is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Admission is always free.