James M. Thomas

From Ohio History Central

James M. Thomas, a resident of Chillicothe, Ohio, was the first president of the United States Independent Telephone Association.

Thomas was born in 1858 near Clarksburg, Ohio. In 1893, he won election as one of Ross County, Ohio's probate judges. He held this office for two terms (1894-1900). Following his second term as a judge, Thomas retired from politics, preferring to devote his time to the telephone business.

With local businessmen Joseph S. McKell, Charles D. Duncan, and Albert H. Reutinger, Thomas established one of the earliest telephone companies in Chillicothe. The company, known as the Home Telephone Company, began operations in 1895. Previously to 1895, the Central Union Telephone Company controlled phone service in Chillicothe. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, owned this firm. Once Bell's patent on the telephone ended, other businessmen, like Thomas, could form their own companies, utilizing Bell's invention. Thomas served as the Home Telephone Company's first president.

In 1897, Thomas helped form the United States Independent Telephone Association. This organization united together phone companies not controlled by Bell and his company. Its ultimate goal was to break the Bell System's power over the telephone industry. Thomas became this association's first president.

In honor of Thomas's contributions to the telephone industry, Horizon Telcom, Inc., the major phone provider in Chillicothe at the start of the twenty-first century, operates the James M. Thomas Telephone Museum in the Horizon Chillicothe Telephone office building.