Monday, May 16, 2016

The Telebus Comes to the Naval Training Station

Photos of Naval Training Station Newport during World War II are always fun for us to look at, as we never know what they will teach us about the past. Sometimes they reveal bits of Newport’s history that have been forgotten, like a building that no longer stands or a course that is no longer taught. One photo we recently received shows how the Navy came up with an innovative way to ensure that its sailors stayed in touch with their friends and families back home.
New England Telephone & Telegraph Company telebus
Official U.S. Navy photograph
NTS Newport underwent an enormous expansion starting even before the United States entered the war. Funding for new construction on the base came through in June 1941. After Pearl Harbor, the Secretary of the Navy approved an expenditure of $10,000 for new housing and mess facilities. The number of recruits on base rose from 2,800 to 8,600 in little more than a month. Many of these men lived in Quonset huts that were set up as temporary housing on Coddington Point. Though they met the basic needs, Quonset huts were never meant to provide the modern conveniences of life.

Though most sailors were limited in their contact with the outside world during training, the officers in charge of NTS Newport did try to allow recruits to make occasional phone calls home. But how to do this in an age before cell phones and the internet? The answer was to bring the phones to the sailors. The New England Telephone Company had a fleet of buses with phone banks inside that could be connected to local phone lines. These “telebuses” drove to wherever they were needed, hooked up their phones, and welcomed callers to come onboard. Originally intended to support large public gatherings, events, and celebrations, the telebuses were the perfect solution to the Navy’s problem. As long as the men weren’t expecting to have a private conversation, of course!
Sailors waiting their turn to use the telebus
Official U.S. Navy photograph
Telebuses survived long after the war and were used at the Newport Jazz Festival as late as 1957. New England Telephone merged with other companies and changed names several times over the years, but its survives today as part of Verizon Communications.

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum Curator

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