The first telephones were installed in South Dakota about 120 years ago. That’s about the time Mitchell was beginning to challenge Pierre’s status as South Dakota’s capital.
Pierre survived an election challenge a few years after the first phones were installed and retained its status as the state capital. The riverside community in the middle of South Dakota continues to be widely perceived today as neutral turf in ongoing rivalries between the eastern and western halves of the state.
The telecommunications industry, meantime, has never stopped changing.
Phones with button-tap dialing gave way to rotary and touch-tone dialing. Candlestick and desk phones evolved into cordless devices and cellphones.
The quest for faster and more reliable service continues today, too, with the transition from copper to fiber transmission lines. So does the development and improvement of wireless technologies.
The history of the telecommunications industry in South Dakota is currently one of the featured exhibits in the South Dakota Hall of Fame in Chamberlain. The exhibit displays the history and growth of telephone services, from party lines to video conferencing.
Visitors can see the equipment that makes those connections possible, examples of the infrastructure that is often buried in the ground or hidden behind walls and how it has evolved over time.
Interactive quiz boards engage students and adults alike and a table-top-sized map identifies where broadband companies have coverage across the state. Display cards tell the story of how the industry has impacted communities for decades.
The Telecommunications Industry Excellence exhibit opened Sept. 13 and will remain for two years. Then it will transition to an online display and a traveling exhibit.
Contributors to the museum display include:
- Midstate Communications in Kimball
- Venture Communications in Highmore
- Kennebec Telephone Co. in Kennebec
- The South Dakota Telecommunications Association
- SDN Communications
In addition, Golden West Telecommunications in Wall parked its trailer exhibit, Fence Posts to Fiber Optics, at the museum for the opening weeks of the display. Golden West created the mobile exhibit in 2016 to celebrate its 100th anniversary, said Greg Oleson, director of member services for Golden West, and the trailer was received well across the state.
The opening of the telecommunications exhibit at the Hall of Fame building, which includes a visitor and education center, coincided with this year’s induction ceremony. Since 1974, the Hall of Fame has honored more than 700 South Dakotans for achievements.
The display tells the history of rural broadband and telecommunications services in an interesting and engaging way, said Rich Coit, executive director of the South Dakota Telecommunications Association, or SDTA.
“The entire display is exceptional. And SDTA congratulates the South Dakota Hall of Fame Staff on creating an excellent exhibit,” he said.
Companies affiliated with the SDTA and SDN have been important contributors to the development of the telecom industry in South Dakota. Most of the 18 telecoms that currently belong to the SDTA are also investor owners in Sioux Falls-based SDN. Companies with dual membership include Midstate, Venture, Kennebec, and Golden West.
SDN was created in 1989 when the independent telephone companies of South Dakota connected their networks so that they could offer their customers better long-distance phone options.
Today, SDN’s 17 member companies serve about 80 percent of South Dakota’s geography and about a third of the state’s population with an array of telecom services.
SDN’s network crisscrosses South Dakota and reaches into eight states to connect with other regional and national networks. In recent years, partnerships with several other companies have expanded SDN’s network deeper into southern Minnesota and Iowa.
SDN serves as a hub for member company services. SDN also focuses on providing broadband and cybersecurity services to businesses in cities such as Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Worthington.
The SDTA supports its members’ efforts to deliver state-of-the-art communications to the communities they serve.
The history of the industry is difficult to document, but the display at the Hall of Fame does a good job.
The public is welcome to drop by the museum during business hours to check out the telecom display. A donation of $5 per person, or $15 for a group of three people or more, is suggested, said Greta Chapman, CEO of the Hall of Fame.
Check it out.
South Dakota Hall of Fame
1480 S Main St
Chamberlain, SD 57325
Monday – Friday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.