From the Vineyard Gazette editions in April and May 1955:
The dial telephone system, which will be introduced to Martha’s Vineyard on May 5 in Chilmark, will need no introduction to Mrs. Janet Swift of Vineyard Haven, whose father, James Laurence McQuarrie, was responsible for its invention. One of the most distinguished engineers in the history of the telephone, Mr. McQuarrie was a summer resident here for thirty years before his death in 1939 at the age of 71. After his retirement in 1932 from fifty years as a telephone engineer, inventor, and executive, he spent the remainder of his life in Vineyard Haven as a year-round resident.
His daughter, Mrs. Swift, who now operates her late husband's real estate business, was the first woman to speak on a trans-Atlantic telephone from London to New York. She enjoyed this honor in 1925, just previous to the opening of the new transoceanic service to the public, and she elected to make her call to Mrs. William McFarlane, then Mae Briggs, daughter of Mrs. L. E. Briggs of Vineyard Haven, who was one of her Island friends.
“It was wonderful, I got caught up in all the Vineyard news,” Mrs. swift recalls.
Mr. McQuarrie, who was born in Bath, Me., and began his career in telephony as a night operator there, had no formal technical training, but in short time rose to a high and recognized position in his field. He is credited with more than a hundred inventions important to the telephone as it is known today, and in the general field of communications. In 1925 he was named chief engineer of the International Western Electric Co., and when that company was sold to the International Telephone and Telegraph Co. he became chief engineer of the latter, as well as vice president, with greatly enlarged opportunities and responsibilities.
Mr. McQuarrie was a figure universally known and respected among the telephone men of the world, and he was one of the pioneers who had known Alexander Graham Bell and had been a close friend of Thomas A. Edison. In 1920 he was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, on of the highest honors in American engineering. He was also decorated by the Emperor of Japan with the Order of the Rising Sun.
It would be no surprise to James L. McQuarrie if he could be told that his invention of the dial system had reached the Vineyard at last. He was a scientist of vision who, according to his daughter, predicted the full measure of success of dial telephones as well as of the telephone in general.
In 1903 he and a fellow engineer were working on an invention which would transmit visual images, well known today as television, but were forced to halt for lack of money and equipment.
It would seem fitting that some sort of ceremony accompany the introduction of Mr. McQuarrie’s dial system to the Island he loved so well and where he chose to spend his last years. But, on second consideration, this is not necessary. Mrs. Swift will, of course, take her daughter Karen to view the phenomenon of an automatic panel type of telephone operation. This is, in a technical phrase, the type of dial telephone system or “machine switching” which was developed under Mr. McQuarrie’s leadership. He recognized the possibilities of the dial at a time when manual operation was conventional and apparently adequate, and also saw the type of dial operation that could be developed effectively with the growth of the telephone system.
But there is no need for ceremony.
His daughter explains, “He would have preferred it this way, with no fuss and no bother.”
The Up-Island towns of Chilmark and Gay Head are now on the dial telephone system, dating from yesterday morning at 7, when the switchers were thrown and the other necessary equipment was put into service at the Chilmark central station. Present at this semi-formal ceremony were Harold R. Morris, local superintendent, telephone company officials from the mainland and a few guests who had risen early in order to witness the procedure.
Actually, however, the first official call was made over the new dial system on Monday evening, and this was quite formal in arrangement and procedure, as in keeping with such a momentous event.
Present were Mr. Morris and other representatives of the telephone company; the board of selectmen from Chilmark; F. Roger Allen, Benjamin C. Mayhew Jr. and D. Herbert Flanders; Gay Head selectmen, Edmund Cooper, chairman, Leonard Vanderhoop, and Donald Malonson, elected chief of the tribe, with Mrs. Malonson; and Napoleon Madison, tribal medicine-man, these last being in full Indian regalia.
The call was from one town office to the other, Mr. Cooper calling Mr. Allen, all of which has been recorded in pictures, which in course of time, will possess an historical value.
Compiled by Hilary Wall