This week’s “museum spotlight” artifact can be found in the Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine: a Western Electric wall telephone, model 317 (introduced around 1909).   This phone was donated to us in 1973 by the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company, for display in the newly-opened Stonestreet Medical Museum (as it was then called). 

Why do we have a telephone in a 19th century doctor’s office?  The museum shows the many changes in medical knowledge and technology that took place during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet (it’s his office) practiced medicine in Rockville and environs from 1852 until his death in 1903; a lot happened in those 51 years, not the least of which was the invention of the telephone.  For most of his career, Dr. Stonestreet was summoned in person: Run, Timmy, go find the doctor!  (Or maybe, Run, Lassie?  For some reason, my tours of the museum always involve Timmy or Lassie running for help… and I’ve never even seen “Lassie.”)  However we know that before his death, Dr. Stonestreet had a telephone installed in his Rockville home, making him a little easier to find. 

This particular telephone’s history, prior to its donation, is unknown.  It is a model 317, patented in 1907, but with a few design details that indicate it’s a ‘2nd generation’ introduced by 1909.  Ours has had some work done – it’s almost certainly been refinished, and there are a few shiny new screws through the door that might mean it was put together from a variety of old parts.  That’s okay, though; it’s meant to serve as an example, something to spark our visitors’ interest, to make them ask “why is there a telephone in a 19th century doctor’s office?”

Interested in learning more about the career of Dr. Stonestreet, and medicine in the 19th century?  Visit the Stonestreet museum on the 2nd Sunday of each month when Dr. Stonestreet holds “Office Hours” (in the person of interpreter Clarence Hickey), or stop by the shop to purchase Mr. Hickey’s new book on the good doctor.  [Hey, I’ve gone almost a year without plugging our merchandise, and it’s a great book!]

This schematic phone diagram wants you to call your mother on Sunday.