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REFUGEE SKETCHES - Mr. Holmes' Account

Mr. Edwin T. Holmes was the President of Holmes Electric Protective Co., New York and the first to offer Electronic Burglar alarms set up to the telephone in the late 1800's. See below for additional information.

The use of electricity for street lights in 1880 changed the entire scenario with people started accepting electrical models. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company bought the Holmes Burglar business in 1905 with linking it to emergency call systems for inviting police and fire fighting personnel.

After World War II, many inventions were brought in home alarm systems. It became less expensive and more versatile for use in 1980s and by the middle of 1990s the system has become a standard feature. Then wireless system came. In the most advanced technology, the use of motion detectors, surveillance equipments and electronic tracking devices are being used. Portions from Wikipedia


Mr. E. T. Holmes, President of the Holmes Electric Protective Company, was at Aix les Bains during the first days after the declaration war. He narrates:

On Monday morning, August third, I was at Aix les Bains with many other Americans, amongst them Admiral Ward, Mortimer Schiff, Cary Sanger, Daniel Guggenheim, Major Curley, and Norman Mack, of New York. We foreigners held a meeting at ten A. M., and formed the 'Association of Americans and British in Aix les Bains' with Admiral Ward as President, Mr. Cary Sanger and an Englishman as Vice Presidents, and Mr. Mortimer Schiff as Treasurer. Messages were sent to Ambassadors Herrick at Paris and Page at Rome, and to the State Department at Washington.

Since the last Friday, a vast change had come over Aix. On that evening, everything was going as usual, -- music, entertainments, and gayety; Saturday night at eleven, all had stopped. Cooks began leaving their kitchens; waiters, porters, even proprietors were departing. Sunday morning, there was hardly a native man left in Aix. The good-byes of all day Sunday and the crying of the women and children will never vanish from my mind.

No one had been able to get near a bank for three days, so that many Americans of wealth had less than twenty-five dollars in their pockets. The hotels had agreed to take care of their guests and to accept personal checks for board. Five francs seemed like fifty dollars, and no one felt like letting a single franc get away. Monday, the situation was more calm, until in the afternoon, when we were startled by big printed bulletins posted on every hotel which said that all strangers must be out of Aix by midnight, Tuesday.

The hotel proprietors rushed to the office of the Mayor and to the Chief of Police to find out what it all meant. They came back with the welcome information that strangers who could show that they had plenty of means of support could remain if they were vouched for and if the proprietors of their hotels had agreed to take care of them. Lists of all guests and their home addresses were filed with the Chief of Police. I was struck by the severity of the measure which turned all strangers out of the various European countries without providing for their means of departure. All hut Frenchmen had to leave France, all but Swiss had to go from Switzerland, and all but Germans, from Germany. Many of the Swiss who were in Aix were forced to walk from the city.

On Tuesday, the French Government took horses away from everybody, even commandeering five from a woman's private stable. They also took many automobiles, mostly cars of about twenty horse power, seeming not to want the high power machines.

On Wednesday afternoon, I received the following wire from my friend, Mr. It. A. C. Smith, whom I had expected to meet in Aix: 'Suggest that you join us in Milan where we can get to some Southern port.' I sent a fifty word reply saying that it was impossible for us to get out of Aix at the time. An hour later, I received another communication: 'We are leaving for Genoa, Hotel Miramare, Smith.'

My first thought was to go there also, so that I engaged a motor to carry us the next morning to Modane on the Italian border. However, after more deliberation, I decided that my party of seven could not afford to leave this place where we were sure of lodgings, in order to go to Genoa, when we did not know what difficulties we might encounter there, so that we settled down to await further developments.

About five o'clock Friday, I received a wire from Mr. Smith that almost took the legs from under me. 'Have chartered ship with the American Consul, sailing Wednesday. Reserving accommodations for you. Must know quick.' I immediately asked the proprietor of my hotel if I could get passports for my party the next morning at nine o'clock as soon as the Mayor's office opened. He replied that I could if we had had our pictures taken.

We had done this, for almost everybody in Aix had been having his picture taken during the last few days, since announcement had been made that the Laissez Passer permitting strangers to leave France would have to bear the holder's photograph. After receiving my information from the proprietor, I told my party to pack at once, so that we might depart the next morning at nine o'clock.

Then I rushed to the American Garage and with the great help of Mr. Nelson Robinson of West 55th Street, New York, who knew the proprietor, engaged a high power limousine car and a truck for baggage at a cost of one thousand francs ($200.00) each, giving my personal check in payment.

At nine-twenty the next morning, we had our Laissez Passer's and at ten o'clock we were off, much to the amazement of the other guests in Aix, who were astounded that we should take a chance at getting through to Italy. Their wonderment was not unfounded, for the town had been full of moving troops for two days and we had constantly heard reports of the confiscation of automobiles and gasoline, yet I decided to try my luck.

During the seventy-five mile drive from Aix to Modane, we were stopped seventeen times by soldiers, who on two occasions pointed their guns directly at me. Our little French flags at the windshield and our passports served to get us through, however, without difficulty every time, especially after our French maid had exchanged a few jovial words with the guards.

At one place, the soldiers had barricaded the road with logs, and in two other places, with chains. Three times we became entangled with regiments of moving cavalry and supply wagons. Once we passed a train made up of twenty-eight coaches full of Italian refugees who were fleeing from France. They were crowded in coaches of all kinds, -- second and third class, and even in box cars provided with boards for seats.

We arrived in Modane at three thirty, and there discovered that the next train would leave for Turin at six. After the customs officers had examined our baggage and we had had this checked to Genoa, we purchased first class tickets to this port, paying out good money, of which we had very little. The railroad officials told us that the train would be made up there, but six o'clock came without any evidence of a train.

A little later, we were told that one would soon come along, and at six forty-five, the terrible train of twenty-eight coaches full of Italian laborers pulled into the station. I could not believe that this was the one we were to take, but the officials insisted that it was the last and only one going to Turin that night, and since Modane was even a worse proposition than that train, we boarded it bag and baggage and went into a compartment -- seven of us -- already filled.

Five of my party finally succeeded in finding seats, but the other two of us had to sit on our baggage in the corridor. Six hours spent in the worst Italian settlement in New York could be no worse than the six hours spent on that train. Our only meal that night consisted of a few rolls left over from luncheon and a bottle of water -- a fare just as plain as that of the peasants all around us. We finally arrived at Turin at two o'clock in the morning.

From Turin, we proceeded to Genoa under usual conditions. Here I made connections with Mr. Smith and secured a passage on the Principe di Udine.

During this anxious week, I had heard from one sister in Lucerne and another in London, but I could not get in communication with a young lady cousin who was traveling with a party of ten in charge of an Italian courier. I had met her in Venice, and I knew from her itinerary that she must be somewhere between Interlaken and Genoa, and I was worrying about her continually, since I did not think that I could possibly sail without her.

As fortune would have it, at dinner that first night in Genoa, a woman came up to me and asked if I were Mr. Holmes. Upon learning that I was Mr. Holmes, she asked if I had lost trace of a cousin. I at once replied that I certainly had. Then she said, 'Well, she is within forty minutes of this hotel; I was talking with her this afternoon at a bathing beach, and she told me that she wished that she could find a cousin of hers, a Mr. Holmes of New York'.

I had the porter call up the Hotel at Pegli and ask for Miss Holmes. She came to the telephone, and within five minutes, I was talking with the person about whom I had been worrying for a week. The next morning, she was at my hotel ready to sail with me. I felt heartily glad to know that all my relatives in Europe were safe at last."

More about Holmes and his Electronic Burglar Alarms

When the first infant exchange for telephone service was born in Boston, in 1877, it was the tiny offspring of a burglar-alarm business operated by E. T. Holmes, a young man whose father had originated the idea of protecting property by electric wires in 1858.

Holmes was the first practical man who dared to offer telephone service for sale. He had obtained two telephones, numbers six and seven, the first five having gone to the junk-heap; and he attached these to a wire in his burglar-alarm office. For two weeks his business friends played with the telephones, like boys with a fascinating toy; then Holmes nailed up a new shelf in his office, and on this shelf placed six box-telephones in a row.

These could be switched into connection with the burglar-alarm wires and any two of the six wires could be joined by a wire cord. Nothing could have been simpler, but it was the arrival of a new idea in the business world.

The Holmes exchange was on the top floor of a little building, and in almost every other city the first exchange was as near the roof as possible, partly to save rent and partly because most of the wires were strung on roof-tops. As the telephone itself had been born in a cellar, so the exchange was born in a garret. Usually, too, each exchange was an off-shoot of some other wire-using business. It was a medley of makeshifts.

Almost every part of its outfit had been made for other uses. In Chicago all calls came in to one boy, who bawled them up a speaking-tube to the operators. In another city a boy received the calls, wrote them on white alleys, and rolled them to the boys at the switchboard.

There was no number system. Every one was called by name. Even as late as 1880, when New York boasted fifteen hundred telephones, names were still in use. And as the first telephones were used both as transmitters and receivers, there was usually posted up a rule that was highly important: "Don't Talk with your Ear or Listen with your Mouth."

-- Excerpt from The History of the Telephone by Herbert N. Casson


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