Telephone Lineman circa 1959 AFL-CIO

Channel: Jeff Quitney


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The daily work of a telephone lineman is described in the union-produced film.

Public domain film from the Prelinger Archive, slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and/or equalization (the resulting sound, though not perfect, is far less noisy than the original).

A lineman (American English) or linesman (British English), also occasionally called a lineworker or a powerline technician (PLT), is a tradesman who constructs and maintains electric power transmission and distribution facilities. The term is also used for those who install and maintain telephone, telegraph, cable TV and more recent fiber optic lines.

The term refers to those who work in generally outdoor installation and maintenance jobs. Those who install and maintain electrical wiring inside buildings are electricians...


The occupation began with the widespread use of the telegraph in the 1840s. Telegraph lines could be strung on trees, but wooden poles were quickly adopted as the method of choice. The term 'lineman' was used for those who set wooden poles and strung the wire. The term continued in use with the invention of the telephone in the 1870s and the beginnings of electrification in the 1890s.

This new electrical power work was more hazardous than telegraph or telephone work because of the risk of electrocution. Between the 1890s and the 1930s, line work was considered one of the most hazardous jobs. Approximately 1 in 2 linemen were killed on the job,[citation needed] mostly from electrocution. This led to the formation of labor organizations to represent the workers and advocate for their safety. This also led to the establishment of apprenticeship programs and the establishment of more stringent safety standards, starting in the late 1930s. The Union movement was led by a lineman Henry Miller.

United States

The rural electrification drive during the New Deal led to a wide expansion in the number of jobs in the electric power industry. Many power linemen during that period traveled around the country following jobs as they became available in tower construction, substation construction, and wire stringing. They often lived in temporary camps set up near the project they were working on, or in boarding houses if the work was in a town or city and relocating every few weeks to months. The occupation was lucrative at the time[citation needed], but the hazards and the extensive travel limited the appeal.

A brief drive to electrify some railroads on the East Coast of the U.S. led to the development of specialization of linemen who installed and maintained catenary overhead lines. Growth in this branch of line work declined after most railroads favored diesel over electric engines for replacement to steam engines.

The occupation evolved during the 1940s and 1950s with expansion of residential electrification. This led to an increase in the number of linemen needed to maintain power distribution circuits and provide emergency repairs. Maintenance linemen mostly stayed in one place, although sometimes linemen were called to travel to assist repairs. Also during the 1950s, some electric lines began to be installed in underground tunnels, expanding the scope of the work...

Work on outdoor tower construction or wire installation are not performed exclusively by linemen. A crew of linemen will include several helpers. Helpers assist with on-the-ground tasks needed to support the linemen, but may not[citation needed] work above ground or on electrical circuits. Telephone linemen install cables above and below ground but, since telephone cables have many more conductors than power cables, cable splicers splice them.

Telephone and cable TV lines may sometimes be placed on the same utility poles as electric distribution circuits. They are placed below the electric lines so that chance of personnel contact with high-voltage electricity during maintenance is reduced...