Insulators, What Are Those Things?

Hello everyone on this beautiful, but slightly wet, day!  This post is in response to the many questions from people regarding insulators.  Very few people today even know what I am talking about, so this might help a bit and even if you are not that interested I hope you will continue reading anyway.

A selection of Canadian insulators in royal purple, the 2 on the left are telegraph and the right ones are telephone.

So what are they, what are they used for?  I will have some pictures here as well, showing some of the different kinds.  I presently have over 500, all different, had to count them again just to make sure, I thought it was a bit less actually.  Insulators were invented after the telegraph was invented, most of my insulators are telegraph types.  As wire was strung across the nations they were attached to poles, but they had to be held in place, so various ideas were tried.

lineman on pole
A lineman adding another crossarm to a pole for more insulators, late 1800s.

  Electricity is needed to relay the telegraph message, but some is lost over distance and whenever the wire comes in contact with something, such as wood, water, metal, etc.  The first insulators were metal hooks, which obviously didn’t work good. Rubber hooks were also tried but did not survive the changing temps too well.  Glass was good, but how to keep the wire attached to the glass was a problem.  Again, various methods were tried until finally they developed a way to produce the glass insulator with a ‘wire groove’.  Thus began a new industry and countless millions of these insulators were produced to hold the wires safely in place.

Telegraph insulators from the 1870s and 1880s.

And of course, there had to be a way to secure the insulator to the pole, so wood pegs were used.  The first were smooth but insulators kept popping off the pegs, until someone came up with the idea of threaded pegs that insulators could be screwed onto, thus preventing that problem.

2 wood pegs (also called pins), one for the side of a pole, the other to put on a crossarm.

The fact that so many were produced is why there are still many to be found, so value on most of these things is quite low.  There are some exceptions to that of course.  Plus, there are not many collectors of insulators so that also keeps prices down.  Fewer and fewer new collectors are joining in since younger people don’t remember them and so the thrill of collecting is just not there.

cpr eagle river
Eagle River is a small community east of here along the Canadian Pacific Railway. The building on the right is a hotel, general store and post office and was still used in the 1990s. This picture was taken about 1910-1915.

Insulators also come in porcelain varieties which was most popular in Europe until after 1930.  Just the opposite occurred in N. America where glass was the most popular until about 1920.  Here is N. America they stopped producing glass insulators around 1967, except for a couple special orders later on.  Now, wires are encased in large cables so insulators are no longer needed.

These 2 Canadian insulators are threadless, the kind used to just push onto a peg, the one on the left about late 1860s, the other 1870s.

Aside from the initial telegraph use, insulators were also used for telephone and electrical wires.  Electrical insulators were often much larger, while those for telephone were the smallest, except for some of the first telegraph insulators which were also small.

As I have mentioned before, my dad was the first to start collecting insulators and eventually he got me interested as well.  We had so many great times together walking along the railroad tracks looking for these insulators and we hauled home thousands of them, though not all different.  Dad eventually gave me most of his collection and then the remaining ones just before he died.  His favorite was an insulator produced by the California Glass Insulator Company in a beautiful dark plum color, worth about $150 now I think.  Unfortunately, when I moved to this apartment 3 years ago it broke into hundreds of pieces.

A selection of insulators from the California Glass Insulator Company.

I wanted to wait until a closer to Father’s Day before posting this, just so you know I wasn’t ignoring your requests.  I guess this is sort of a tribute to my dad and the many enjoyable times we had together.  And not just collecting insulators.  We also did a lot of hiking together, camping, and looking for old bottles for my collection, even though dad didn’t like old bottles at all, but he still enjoyed the times we had digging for old bottles.  I will be sharing more of these adventures over the coming months and I hope you will enjoy them as much as we did.

If you need more info on insulators, don’t hesitate to ask and I will try to answer any questions you might have.  I hope you enjoy the pictures as well.  For any fathers out there that might be reading, an early Happy Father’s Day to you!!  If you have a father and are able to, take some time this weekend to spend with your dad, I wish I still could.

Well, that is all for now everyone, thank you for taking the time to read and hopefully I will get one more post out today.  Enjoy your day and your weekend and God bless!

Steve and Muffin.

© 2019 Steve McLeod.

63 Comments on “Insulators, What Are Those Things?

  1. Oh well now I understand 😊 thank you Steve for taking time and provide us with such detailed and important information about insulators 👍 such great devices and they played a big role and they are also beautiful 😊
    It’s certainly a great tribute to your father and I’m sure he’s happy from where he is 😊 here we celebrate Father’s day on June 21st which is the summer beginning 🌞 looking forward to more adventures with your father and I know it’s sad to break such valuable device but nothing can be done and I’m sure the collection you have is really amazing 👌
    Hope the day will be more warm and sunny 🌞 enjoy your weekend 😸😸😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for reading Huguette! Glad that cleared things up a bit. They do have a lot of history behind them. June 21st, that’s interesting, ours is always the third Sunday of June. It has become a rather hot and humid day here, kind of nice!🌞 Muffin disagrees.😾It hasn’t even started to warm up in here yet and she is already stretched out!😂Enjoy your weekend also Huguette!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes indeed a long history!
        Ah so it’s this Sunday for you 👍🌞
        Muffin is disagreeing these days 😂 not comfortable hahah she’s smelling something 😁
        It was a very good and informative read and hope your weekend will be great 🌞😸😸

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, she knows alright. She’s restless, doesn’t sleep long like she normally does. And she just stole my chair again, pretending she wanted food. 😹😹 Have a great weekend also Huguette!!😁🌞

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve, I thoroughly enjoying reading about this! I think I mentioned before that my mother collected a few of these, back in the day. Hers were brown and I think some were clear—nothing as beautiful as these. I’m not even sure who has them now, as both my parents have passed. My Aunt Ruthie has a few on her front fence post, I think. This post reminded me of my mom and her collections. I’m so glad you are your father had those special times together! Thanks so much for sharing those times with us!😄


  3. Great Share steve! Well explained, Thanks for that. This is a tribute to your father. i am sure he is always with you and watching you all the time. Do share more adventured we are eagerly waiting for that. Happy Weekend ✨👏👍

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for the info. Never seen them before. Love the colors but… sorry… but my mind was a bit malicious, so my first thought was totally different before reading. 😂 I need some brain cleaning.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Very beautiful!! This is really very informative and well explained..
    Have a wonderful day!!😊💕

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks so much for reading! Insulators were used in every country and some still use them though they are almost gone everywhere now. Actually I’m not sure there is such a thing as a silly question. Hope you have a great weekend!😃😺


  6. Good afternoon lovely Steve, have never seen anything like that before, looks very interesting, i like your collection, i love purple ones, seems you have a lot of old interesting unusual and unique items at your house, i’m very surprised, also i have no idea how can you fit all at your house, i’m stocked with my collection, gotta buy new furniture, because there are no space, anymore, but you seems are able to fit them all, you got a talent on it for sure as i have seen already huge part of your collection, i can just say one word, WONDERFUL, hugs❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Ilona! Nice to have you stop by today and thank you so much for all your kind words! I have learned how to use every available space in my apartment. And there is still much more of my collections I have not shown yet! And to think I used to have 3 times more than I have now! The purple insulators are beautiful and look better in person than in the picture and are especially nice in a sunny window. Glad you had some time to stop by, I hope you are having a great day!!😃💗😸🌞

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Michelle! Now it’s more of the memories of times with my dad than the insulators themselves, but they are a great reminder of those times. Enjoy your weekend!😃😺

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My parents and I used to gather them in my hometown. The town was so small they couldn’t afford to remove them and they make such a charming decoration. I don’t know when or why my parents stopped collecting them, but like you I will always have a soft spot in my heart for those intricate insulators.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Keep being you, my friend

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for stopping by Alexander! I imagine you would have a lot of different varieties where you live, ones we don’t have. It’s more the memory of times with my dad than the insulators themselves now, but they are a great memento of our times together. Enjoy your weekend!😃😺

      Liked by 1 person

      • You enjoy your weekend too, Steve!
        These days there are hardly any of them around. But I’ve seen them in purple, blue, green, red, and even orange!

        I hope you can cherish those memories of your father, though it seems you already do!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent and interesting post. I had an idea what they are used for but not a clear explanation like you provided. I find it fascinating you collect them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much Eugenia for your kind words! It is an interesting hobby, though a little hard to add anything new without buying from other collectors, but postage is often more than the insulator is worth! Enjoy your weekend!😃😺

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m sorry, I thought your Dad is still with you. Now I understand why these insulators are so close to your heart. Your best memories with your Dad is probably the times when you and him are hunting insulators. You are lucky you had an amazing relationship with your Dad. Not everybody have that luck with parents. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Pingback: Winter Insulators! Part 1. – Steve`s Country

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