Northwestern Bell

Northwestern Bell
Northwestern Bell Telephone Company
Industry Telecommunications
Fate Dissolved
Successor US WEST Communications
Founded 1896
Defunct 1991
Headquarters Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
Products Local Telephone Service
Parent AT&T (1899-1983)
U S WEST (1984-1990)

Northwestern Bell Telephone Company served the states just north of the Southwestern Bell area, including: Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska.



Early beginnings

1897 map of service area

Northwestern Bell's earliest roots begin in Deadwood, South Dakota. The haze of history has clouded the exact date when the Northwestern Bell seed began to grow, but there is strong evidence that the Bell-licensed Deadwood exchange opened between March and August 1878, just two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and several months before President Rutherford B. Hayes could use his phone in a little wooden booth outside of his office in the White House.

The earliest documented telephone exchange in Northwestern Bell territory was opened by the Western Union Company in Keokuk, Iowa, on Sept. 1, 1878. Using superior equipment designed by Thomas Edison and Elisha Gray, Western Union was in a competitive shoot-out with local licensee of the National Bell Telephone Company in Boston. On Nov. 10, 1879, Western Union settled a Bell patent infringement suit by getting completely out of the phone business and selling all of its exchanges, including the Keokuk exchange, to the Bell Company.

In the fall of 1878, the Northwestern Telephone Company opened an "experimental" exchange in Minneapolis-located in City Hall, it served the city government as well as the Nicollet Hotel and Pillsbury Mills*. This exchange was the forerunner of the Bell-licensed Northwestern Telephone Exchange Company which was incorporated on Dec. 10, 1878.

The earliest record of telephones in the Northwestern Bell service area was a two-telephone intercom circuit used by a Little Falls, Minn., druggist and his clerk in 1876.

When the Northwestern Telephone Exchange Company was organized, it had authorized capital stock of $10,000.

Building Northwestern Bell

Northwestern Bell logo, 1984-1988

Telephone companies in the Northwestern Bell Group included the Tri-State Telephone Company, the Dakota Central Telephone Company, the Iowa Telephone Company, the Nebraska Telephone Company and the Northwestern Telephone Exchange.

Casper E. Yost served as the president of all the companies. It was a confusing arrangement to regulators, employees and even to the parent company, AT&T. In a letter to AT&T, Yost explained that when he was answering a question, making a proposal or discussing a problem in his correspondence with AT&T, he would use the letterhead of the particular company to which the question, problem or proposal related. One problem with this arrangement, especially for local telephone staffers and historians, is that the carbons of Yost's letters contain no letterheads.

Things became less confusing when the Tri-State and Dakota Central companies were folded into the Northwestern Exchange Company. In 1909, a single general office staff for the Iowa, Nebraska and Exchange companies was established in Omaha.

On Dec. 10, 1920, the Iowa Company changed its name to Northwestern Bell Telephone Company. On Jan., 1921, the Nebraska and Northwestern Exchange companies were merged into the new company. While the new company was incorporated in Iowa, its headquarters remained in Omaha.


The Northwestern Bell headquarters, now the AT&T Building (Omaha), was located at 1314 (DOTM) Douglas Street in Omaha, Nebraska.

Name usage

The Northwestern Bell name is still licensed for use today on telephone equipment produced by Unical Enterprises; otherwise, the NWBT name has disappeared. Dex Media white pages lists a customer service number under the Northwestern Bell name (which connects to Qwest).

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