Federal Telegraph Company, Palo Alto

Federal at Home in Palo Alto

Douglas Perhams' house in Palo Alto
Federal Telegraph’s first location at 913 Emerson, Palo Alto (Perham Collection of Early Electronics, History San Jose, 2003-37-81)

In 1909, Doug Perham rented his Palo Alto cottage and garage at 913 Emerson to Cyril Elwell. Next to the cottage was his 75-foot tall radio antenna, built around 1908 for his radio experiments. The galvanized iron shed, on a concrete slab, was substantially expanded to provide “factory” space for fabrication, as seen in this 1913 photograph, taken by H. B. Van Etten. (Perham sold the property to Federal in 1912). A small cottage behind Perham’s house was added soon after, and served as a development lab.

Inside Federal Telegraph factory, Palo Alto
Federal Telegraph’s Palo Alto facility, 1929 (Perham Collection of Early Electronics, History San Jose, 2003-37-75)

Federal Telegraph thrived with US Navy contracts during World War I. Growing rapidly, in 1916 Federal moved to a new facility, a long corrugated iron building located between El Camino Real and Alma Street, not far from its original location.  At its peak in 1917, the company employed more than 300 engineers, technicians and other staff. Absorbed by International Telegraph and Telephone (IT&T) in the mid-1920s, the Federal facility was moved from Palo Alto to New Jersey as a cost-saving measure in 1931.

2003-37-168
Doug Perham (at right) with fellow technician C. Albertus of Denmark on Federal’s “factory floor” in 1909 (Perham Collection of Early Electronics, History San Jose, 2003-37-168)