Technology of a past age

Published 7:01 am Sunday, September 17, 2017

Communication takes place through a variety of mediums.

This column serves the dual purpose of explaining a unique communication device found in the Hormel Historic Home and announcing, through the written word, the details of an upcoming event.

Guests often ask me to explain the metal attachment that is mounted on the upstairs door trim outside the guest room. Years ago people could communicate throughout their home through the use of one or more speaking tubes which is what guests see during their visit. We have no information on when the apparatus was installed. Nor is the other end of the tube evident in the home, but through research I can tell you how it worked.

A speaking tube at the Hormel Historic Home.
Photo provided

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Each end had a mouthpiece with a flap that could be moved up and down. When a person wanted to get the attention of someone at the other end they would blow air into the tube which created a whistle sound at the other end. This alerted the person near the tube that they should open the flap and listen.

There is a lot of science behind the invention of the speaking tube dating to the early 1800s, but I won’t go into great detail here. First use dates to around 1849 when the device was referred to as an “acoustic telegraph.” Patents were issued for various components of speaking tube systems between 1860 and 1890. The technology was also used in naval vessels.

According to, “Its ability to function reliably without the need for any power source other than the human voice resulted in the installation of speaking tubes on naval vessels, as a back-up to electronic communication systems, well into the mid-20th century.”

If you want to read a funny account of how speaking tubes led to misbehavior of youth in 1900 visit

Now utilizing another form of communication, the written word, I would like to alert you to an upcoming event sponsored by the HHH, Arc Mower County, Austin Community Education, and the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM). On Monday, Oct. 2, you are invited to a free educational program to be held at The Arc Mower County. In the first two sessions professionals who encounter those with autism will be given resources to become better equipped to handle emergency situations with those on the spectrum. In the evening families and caregivers of persons on the spectrum will be instructed on how to plan and prepare for and effectively handle emergency situations.

Whether through a speaking tube or the written word, people have multiple ways of communicating. While cell phones have become the primary tool for interaction, neither the speaking tube nor handwritten notes require a charger. Which do you prefer?

Autism Emergency Preparedness Workshops

9-11 a.m.; 2-4 p.m.; 6-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2

Free at the Arc 401 2nd Ave. NE

Register at