The first regular postal service by railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia along the Main Line began in 1843. Old timers of the twentieth century remember the pouches of mail hung at the local stations to be grabbed by the trainmen of the Paoli Local. Men sorted the mail in the baggage cars while moving and delivered it in turn to the waiting hooks at the different stations.
Post offices, with the exception of Merion's, were gradually removed from the railroad stations and located in buildings designed for the purpose. In 1963 each office was assigned a zip code number, and a more central distribution system was adopted. In 1971 the U.S. Postal Service took over operations, and in 1973 rural post offices and branches were changed to "Community Post Offices." Names of small towns were retained but smaller post offices closed. Rosemont's post office, for instance, was discontinued but its name has been preserved and mail is distributed from Bryn Mawr, using the same zip code number, 19010.
Telephone and Telegraph
The first telephone came to Lower Merion sometime in the 1880s, and the first switchboard was installed in 1885 in Herman Stadelman's drugstore at Anderson Avenue and Lancaster Pike in Ardmore. Until 1895 subscribers could place calls only when the pharmacy was open. In 1895 William McCormick became telephone manager and introduced night service. In 1904 the telephone office moved to the second floor of the Merion Title and Trust Company Building in Ardmore.
In 1845, a year after Morse's first message was sent by telegraph, Norristown's Borough Council granted the Magnetic Telegraph Company permission to "erect posts" on the streets. The natural line from Washington to New York would have followed the railroad tracks but the railroad company feared the wire would reduce the need for business travel and refused permission. The wire, therefore, followed roads, crossing the Schuylkill at Norristown and passing to Philadelphia along roads of Upper and Lower Merion townships. Ardmore's Western Union office closed in 1972.
When the Delaware and Atlantic Telephone Company cane into service in 1885 it purchased the telegraph line between Norristown and Lower Merion for telephone service.
Radio and Television
The county's first FM station, WDVR (now WEAZ), began in Bala-Cynwyd in 1963. Six other stations now operate in Bala-Cynwyd: WYSP, WIFI, WIOQ, WMGK, WPEN, and WWSH.
Amateur radio began in Lower Merion in 1914 with the successful communication between Bill Sellers, a youth living on Glenn Road in Ardmore, and a professor at Haverford College using the spark created by a doorbell and anticipating by six years the birth of commercial radio at KDKA in Pittsburgh.
During World War I the government closed off the equipment of "hams," but Lower Merion operators were back on the air as soon as possible after the war. John F. Williamson put Lower Merion on the international map in 1923, when his signal was heard in New Zealand. The communications men aboard dirigibles frequently were hams who chatted with fellow hams on the ground. In September 1925 the dirigible Shenandoah was hit by a violent storm over Ohio and broke into three pieces. The dirigible's operator established contact with Barry Barker (3BTA) of Lower Merion, who received the distress call and notified police. They in turn alerted Ohio authorities to begin rescue operations.
Radio enthusiasts met at the Cassatt estate in Haverford, and later, in 1928, in the Ardmore Legion House, where about twenty hams compared notes.
In 1941 the War Emergency Radio Service enlisted amateurs across the country. The local control station was at the Township Building with emergency stations throughout the township. One such station was the tower of the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, where a longtime ham, Foster Hammonds (W3BUX), conducted drills and was on duty during alerts.
A renewed surge of interest in amateur radio communication occurred after 1945. Each June local hams meet with others around the country to conduct a field day exercise using emergency equipment to ensure that in a disaster they can quickly mobilize to help. Lower Merion has a large number of licensed amateur radio operators to call on in an emergency.
Television broadcasting arrived in Montgomery County in 1952, when CBS-owned-and-operated WCAU-TV and WCAU-AM-FM (then owned by the Bulletin Company) located their studios and offices on City Line Avenue in Bala-Cynwyd.
By 1981 at least half the population of Montgomery County was covered by cable TV. Comcast of Bala, which was granted franchises for the Abington, Jenkintown, and Lower Merion areas, is the giant of this communications system. It won the franchise for Lower Merion by promising special programming for children, ten thousand dollars to maximize library related programming, an intern program for students, a feasibility study for home security service, and a large commitment for the production of locally oriented programming. Comcast's office is near Belmont Avenue and Levering Mill Road.
The Bryn Mawr Home News began in 1877 in an office on Bryn Mawr Avenue. After it was consumed by flames the business was operated by the Howers, father and son, from Norristown, in an ancient bungalow nearly opposite the offices of the water company. A stuffed white horse, once the paper's trademark, was in 1980 tethered outside a hardware store on Lancaster Avenue near the firehouse. From 1890 to 1893 the paper was known as the News and Home News. It was revived in the 1930s and again in 1972 but died after a brief period.
The Ardmore Chronicle, now the Main Line Chronicle, first appeared in 1889. In 1953 the Chronicle was bought by Bernard "Uncle Ben" Kramer, who became editor and publisher. He sold the paper in 1974. In 1980 the owner was Chester County Communications, Ltd.; the publisher, Irvin S. Lieberman, and the editor, Charles E. Montgomery.
The Merion Review and Advertising began publishing Gladwyne news in 1891, just when the changing of the name from Merion Square to Gladwyne was in hot dispute. This publication, much smaller than a tabloid, printed at least three issues.
In the early 1920s appeared the Ardmore Main Liner, the Merionite, and about 1923 the Bala Cynwyd and Merion News, sponsored by the Cynwyd Neighborhood Club and published at first by Philip A. Livingston. A political newspaper, the Record in Haverford, was the mouthpiece of Dirigo Hall, a political organization in Ardmore. Dirigo Hall was Jeffersonian and echoed the sentiments of the farmers' Tammany Hall at Merion Square. In January 1920 Francis "Red" Stiffler began the Main Liner, a publication on the latest doings of the mustang set. Ladies riding sidesaddle were featured regularly. The date of the paper's demise is about 1948.
About 1929 the Main Line Daily Times began under the ownership of Milton Baker, Gordon Crilley, Frederick Dryer, and Ledyard H. Heckscher. It's offices were in the Times Building in Suburban Square. The paper went into bankruptcy under new owners and it, was rescued in 1933 by a Midwesterner, Ainslie Hickerson, who bought it with his brother J. M. Hickerson, T. F. McDonald, and W. E. Underwood. Publication began again in 1934. It remained a daily until 1938 and became a weekly, known as the Main Line Times, in 1939. In 1980 it was a weekly of seventy-two pages with a circulation of about eighteen thousand. Hickerson sold out to Ingersoll Publications in 1966, when the corporate name was changed to Acme Newspapers, Inc. Joseph R. Burt, a native of Brooklyn, became publisher and served until 1977. Thomas O'Leary was editor under Burt. In 1980 the publisher was David Carr; Joan Connor Toenniessen was managing editor.
One of journalism's greats was Bernard Kramer, associated with both the Times and the Chronicle over a period of thirty-two years. "Uncle Ben" Kramer came to work for the Main Line Times in 1948 and introduced the features for which he became well known. He wrote local stories about landmarks, people, animals needing homes, and the way of life in the Main Line of the past. He also wrote a "Dining Out" series, guiding his readers to the best restaurants and warning them of the mediocre or poor.
In 1953 Ben Kramer and his wife, Ethel McDuffee Kramer, purchased the Main Line Chronicle, in which he continued his famous features. He was a severe critic of politicians and politics, never bowing to pressure, always acting in what he saw as the public interest, and occasionally was sued for libel. His critics charged that his news reports read more like editorials than straight news, but he never altered his style. Although Kramer sold the paper in 1974, he continued as a columnist and restaurant reviewer four years longer. After he terminated his work at the Chronicle in 1978, he rejoined the Times, writing a weekly opinion column, "Ben's Page," devoted to local history, and, with his wife Ethel, his restaurant column. He died at the age of eighty-three in 1980.