Telstar 50th Anniversary - July 26, 2012

Modern technology connects the people of the world in ways that were unimaginable a half century ago. Today ordinary citizens carry smart phones capable of making video phone calls to any location on the globe. Free internet services like Skype allow people to speak face to face with friends and family members on other continents without any concern about the cost of each second they are connected.  A half century ago, voice calls and telegrams had to be routed through transoceanic cables with results that were often unsatisfactory and universally expensive. Five years after the Soviet Sputnik started the race to space, the United States launched the first telecommunications satellite, Telstar, on July 10, 1962.

The satellite was capable of relaying both telephone and television signals. On July 23rd, 1962 the satellite carried its first telephone call and President John F. Kennedy’s televised press conference. Three days later it made history when it was used to link twenty-three American cities with their European sister cities. The lone northwest city chosen for this honor was Medford, Oregon. Medford’s Mayor John Snider spoke with Osvaldo Cagnasso, the mayor of Medford’s sister city, Alba , Italy. Medford and Alba were at that point only two years into what has become one of the longest and most successful sister city unions.


A crowd of over 5,000 people gathered in Alba’s Piazza Risorgimento to hear the historic phone call over a public address system. The plaza, like most of the city, was decorated with American flags for the occasion. The Eugene Register Guard reported that, “The crowd was silent during the conversation but broke into a loud cheer when it ended.” Sixty people gathered in Medford’s council chambers to witness the event.

Neither of the two mayors, who were later to become great friends, spoke the other’s language. Sandra Giglio, an English teacher in Alba’s schools, sat next to Mayor Cagnasso to translate the conversation. The photographs of the event show her straining to hear each word. She later admitted that the quality of the sound was not very good. Years later she and Mayor Cagnasso were married and in 1974, then Senator Cagnasso and his wife visited Medford for the first time.

Five days after the Telstar call, Mayor Snider welcomed Alba’s first ambassador to Medford, Giusseppe “Pino” Dutto. Pino became a part of the Snider family and made many trips to Medford over the next fifty years. In 2010 he joined the fiftieth anniversary delegation to Medford. He is now hosting John Snider’s youngest grandson, Sean, who has been teaching in Alba since the first of February.  The telephones that were used for the history making conversation were  reunited in Alba’s city hall after Mayor Snider died in 1994. Only then did it become apparent that the two phones, one Italian and one American, were an identical shade of green.  When the delegation from Medford visited Alba in 2010 on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the sister city connection, one of the first to greet them was Sandra Giglio Cagnasso.


Ceremonies are being planned to commemorate the event that sealed the ties between Alba and Medford. On July 26, 2012, Mayor Maurizio Marello of Alba will speak via Skype with Medford's Mayor Gary Wheeler. Ceremonies will take place simultaneously in the council chambers of both cities.

"That fact after fifty years may seem minor but it undoubtedly helped to strengthen among the people of Alba the knowledge and appreciation of the significance of the partnership. It must now be remembered as it deserves to be. It gives to the people of Alba again, on the one hand, the correct dimension of the advancement of communications technology and praises it on the other hand as the source of an unbroken stream of institutional relationships and personal friendships. Today there are communications systems faster and more efficient and less expensive than there were in 1962 but they still convey the same sentiments of friendship and fraternity that bind our two cities. To remember the call of fifty years ago means to once again renew those feelings."

Maurizio Marello, Mayor of Alba



"The partnership between Medford and Alba is a unique example that I have been able to find, from 1952 to today, a very special dimension, supported by an institutional enthusiasm and intensity of human and professional relations, there really is no comparison. In retrospect, the conversation via "Telstar" between the then Mayors of Medford and Alba, Osvaldo Cagnasso and John Snider, July 26 fifty years ago, has certainly contributed to this dimension. This milestone in the history of telecommunications, "the famous phone call" which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, has inextricably linked the inhabitants of two towns, perpetuating for future generations the need for cordial relations. Happy Anniversary."

Anna Maria Saiano, U.S. Consular Agent, Genoa, Italy


"In 1962, Alba and Medford were chosen to perform the first, historical, satellite telephone call between Italy and the U.S. as they had been assessed to be a model for sister city programs. Well, that model, after fifty years, endures and continues to bear fruit. So that choice, in hindsight, proves to be very timely and apt.

Two years ago, when, first in Medford and then in Alba, we celebrated a half century in the life of our partnership, we expressed our joy for an experience so beautiful and alive. Today we can only repeat that. While we exchange words, more or less beautiful, our fellow citizens will exchange visits, gifts, friendship.  It is, in my opinion, the sign of a perfectly successful gemellaggio, that it has also impacted very much - at least among many of Alba - the mentality of people. In this process of consolidation of our relations, the ease of communication has undoubtedly had, and continues to have a decisive influence.

Today, here in Alba, just so we wanted to remember the technological tools that fifty years ago made possible the first phone call and to say thanks  in some way to all the people who, through their work and their ingenuity created them and, then, ever renewed until we have applications that allow our conversation tonight.

The economic crisis that torments, albeit in different measures, a bit all over the world,certainly does not seem to favor the opening of intensified relations between their peoples. Unfortunately there is an increase in the selfish temptations, isolationist and nationalistic instincts to take care only of themselves, drives to close one's eyes to the difficulties of others. I think it is the time to understand that we are all involved in a global reality that can no longer ignore that we can only move forward and save ourselves all together. These reflections, I believe, must be valid for the more powerful nations linked by shared values ​​and centuries-old relations of brotherhood, as is the case in the U.S. and Italy. Our gemellaggio  is but one small tile of that mosaic of brotherhood. However, it is the tile that is our job to care for, and we do not intend to fail in our duty. Viva Medford, Viva Alba , Viva our gemellaggio." Maurizio Marello's Address in Italian

Maurizio Marello, Mayor of Alba, speaking to Medford via Skype (July 26, 2012)


"Illustrious Mayor Wheeler, representatives of the City Council and the sister city committee, all friends,

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to address you and  your city on a day that is as joyful and full of meaning as this, a day which gives us a sign of the success of this sister city program.

I have had the opportunity to know the program since its inception and I have observed with pleasure during my sixteen visits to Medford the viability of a program that, despite its considerable age, shows no signs of decay. It is clear to me that the seed of fifty years ago was good and that the earth was suitable to ensure, through a mutual curiosity without prejudice, the warmth of the affections and depth of the enrichments.

In particular, this program has provided me the opportunity to first know  and then cultivate a deep affection for the then mayor, John W. Snider.   A man with a demonstrated expertise in all spheres of action. A gentle and wise man , but who also had a great sense of humor. A man who was never attracted by the false lights of the limelight, but was always driven by a curiosity to understand.

Many in Alba maintain that the sister city program would not be the same without him. That is why Mayor Marello, speaking of this sentiment, proposed and obtained from City Council the dedication to John Snider of a street located in one of the most prestigious areas of the city. The city of Alba has therefore paid a just debt of gratitude. We are now confidently waiting to see that the saying "never a prophet in his own land" does not apply to Medford.  Let me conclude by saying that I have found comfort and pleasure in seeing the face of Doug Snider. The legacy of John Snider and  the torch he passed are in good hands, and together with others, he can make a crucial contribution to the continued success of the program. " Pino Dutto's Address in Italian

Pino Dutto, Alba's first ambassador to Medford, speaking to Medford via Skype (July 26, 2012)


"I often ask myself what was the spring that has enabled the sister city program that unites Alba and Medford to not only overcome powerful barriers such as space, time, the diversity of their cultural patterns, social and economic, but also to maintain its dynamism and efficacy

The fact is that from a beginning that can be defined as "random" has sprung a solid and lasting experience despite everything that has changed over half a century. The program has always proved its capacity to adapt to the changed scenarios, finding each time new reasons and stimuli for success.

Alba was in the early 60's a city that lived a quiet and quite sleepy life. The call via Telstar was the pebble in the pond, the epiphany of something new and dynamic that would soon be expressed also as a result of the boost imposed by some of its eminent citizens that had set in motion a process that would lead to support, along with the traditional agricultural sector, some significant activities within the sectors of industry and tourism that have achieved heights of absolute excellence.

The documentation submitted appears to demonstrate how the council, from the words of the then Mayor, Senator Cagnasso, and the population had perceived from the phone call the change of pace the city would undergo.

I can tell you little of that phone call because fifty years ago, precisely in those days, I was involved in the journey that would take me to our sister city, a trip that was repeated in the following year by my dear and unfortunate friend Enrico Demaria. A long and noisy flight of the Super Constellation had brought me to Washington where I started the crossing of the United States aboard a Greyhound bus: five days, with one stop for the night in Chicago. A kind of cine-panettone* ahead of its time, one of those legendary Coast to Coast journeys, of which the young are always  dreaming.

It was a long and arduous journey, but it was one of the most significant experiences of my life. The trip that I made revealed a new world of tastes, smells, technology, lighting, air conditioning, scent of cinnamon, landscapes, colors, and then a gallery of multiethnic people, dialects, clothes, habits. The vast horizons which we were not used to. Another planet. In other words, the American Dream seen from a Greyhound bus. Strong stuff for the then young man from the province of Cuneo that, despite his love for jazz, had still not overcome the scale of the segmentation of the world then prevailing.

To this day, I remember in particular the crossing of the salt lake at the end of which is Salt Lake City, the city of the Mormons, chased by a dark and threatening storm combined with the rays of the sun at sunset helped to dramatize the colors and the feelings of the crossing. And finally, after the Rockies, here finally Medford, where I arrived August 1, 1962, the first citizen of Alba to visit our sister city.

Here I was able to closely study the administrative structure of the city, its business, its shopping centers that for us were still to come. The families, however, were the best vantage point for my observation. I was able to interact with them openly with an open exchange of ideas between people wanting to understand and learn.

Here perhaps I found the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of my speech about the continued success of the program. For me Telstar is proof of the prophetic value of the choice made by then mayor of Medford, John W. Snider, seconded in Alba by Senator Cagnasso, to identify the values to be followed with the sister city program and one of the main reasons for its success.

In a world of wounds suffered in World War II, and in which tools of communications were still limited, it laid on top of communication research a means of exploration, experimentation and understanding of various forms and patterns of human existence, not intended to assert the superiority and diversity, but to break the constraints and prejudices fueled by ignorance." Pino Dutto's Address to the Audience in Italian


*Cine-panettone or cinepanettone is the Italian term coined to indicate some zany Italian comedy films that usually come out in theaters during the Christmas season.

Pino Dutto, Alba's first ambassador to Medford, speaking to the Audience in the Alba City Hall (July 26, 2012)


"Honorable Mayor of Medford, Mr Gary Wheeler, dear friends Brent Barry and Doug Snider,

it’s fantastic to be here today and to watch ourselves on a screen, with the new technologies. Once upon a time as in a marvelous tale, on July 26, 1962, two mayors far more than 6.000 miles, spoke to each other by a frail spherical object “ the Telstar”.

Two towns twinned in 1962 heard the voices of John Snider and Osvaldo Cagnasso, two towns were between the first protagonists of the dawn of the space age. John strongly wanted to be part of this new technology and Osvaldo was happily involved in this marvelous conversation.

After the operators told him “go ahead”, John explained why the two towns became sister cities,” my friend “told to Osvaldo, “amico mio” echoed the Mayor of Alba speaking about his town with the help of an able interpreter: Mrs Sandra Giglio. She passed away some months ago and I want to remember her to the people of Medford too. She wanted to be here two years ago to celebrate with us our 50th anniversary and the man who became her husband after the phone call.

In 1962 a lot of people were in the squares that day, in the afternoon in Medford and after midnight in Alba.The hearts of the two mayors passed over the Atlantic with their voices. The mayors took the purpose of 50 years ago and keep alive the dream of John Snider and Osvaldo Cagnasso, as me, my friend Brent and all the people involved in the exchanges between our towns. I want remember to the Medford friends our honorary president Pina Toppino who had some health problem wishing to get well soon.

A big hug to the Mayor Gary, to my friends Brent and Doug  and all the people of Medford.

God Bless Medford and Alba." Giorgio Sordo's Address in Italian

Giorgio Sordo, Chairman of the Alba Meford Sister City Committee, speaking to Medford via Skype (July 26, 2012)


"Today is a momentous day for both cities of Medford and Alba to celebrate.  Today is important to our cities because of our long-standing relationship, but also because of what satellite technology and subsequent technological developments have meant to communications and the global community at-large.

I speak on behalf of all citizens of Medford when I say that the Alba Sister-City relationship is dear to our citizens and I am honored today by being joined by representatives of the past for the Sister Cities organization, with Doug Snider, the son of the Former Mayor John Snider, and the future with Brent Barry, Board President for the Alba Sister Cities Committee.

In addition to these individuals, supporters of this bond fill the room here in City Hall in order to witness this momentous occasion.

With so much in common in terms of environment, agriculture, cuisine and wine, we have the potential to share much.

I have been speaking with the Sister City Committee and in addition to the student exchange we would like to see an adult exchange as well.  If you are willing, we should both explore what it would take to facilitate such an exchange.  Both cities and individuals would be enriched professionally, personally and culturally.

I am proud and fortunate to be the presiding Mayor during the occurrence of this anniversary.  50 years ago, we celebrated a voice to voice telephone call between our twin cities.  The connection was audible, but far from today’s standards in terms of quality. 

Today we are able to speak via Skype face to face.  Though I most likely will not be the presiding Mayor fifty years from now, I can only imagine how we may be able to communicate during that hundred year mark.

I will conclude by wishing you, your city, and your country the very best over the next fifty years of our twin city relationship.  I envision our bond growing even deeper on the individual and the city level.  The future of the Alba Sister Cities Committee is alive and well here in Medford and we are all excited about what we may accomplish and experience in the next 50 years.

Medford wishes you the best." Gary Wheeler's Address in Italian

Gary Wheeler, Mayor of Medford, speaking to Alba via Skype (July 26, 2012)


"Honorable Mayor Marello, Assessore Cervella, distinguished members of the council, the junta and guests of the city of Alba. I wish that there were enough time to personally greet all of our friends gathered in the council chambers this evening

My first thought is for Gianni and Pina Toppino. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Toppino family. This comes from my family that knows well the power of prayer. I received an email this morning from Francesca Toppino saying that Pina is recovering and that Gianni is able to join us this evening in the council chambers. Ciao, Gianni.

Thanks to Pino Dutto, who preserved a tape recording of the Telstar call, we have been able to hear the voices of my father, John Snider, Mayor Osvaldo Cagnasso and the interpreter Sandra Giglio who later became the wife of your mayor and senator. Sadly none of them are with us to celebrate this remembrance of what took place fifty years ago today. Hearing those voices is very emotional for me. When my father spoke to the people of Alba, he was much younger than I am now.  In 1974, I had the pleasure of meeting the Cagnassos in San Francisco and driving them to Medford. I will never forget what a marvelous trip we had and how wonderful it was to become instant friends with these delightful people who seemed unaware of their own importance.

Those voices remind us that the wondrous technology of Telstar was a fleeting thing while the good will and friendship that its signal carried have grown richer and stronger over five decades.

This is truly a year of anniversaries to celebrate. Five days after the historic Telstar call, Alba’s first ambassador, Pino Dutto arrived in Medford. Twenty years later my good friend Giorgio Sordo made his first trip to Medford. Both Pino and Giorgio have been frequent visitors to Medford proving that no technology can replace friends being together with friends.

Now that we are fifty-two years into our very special partnership, I hope that today’s ceremony and conversation will mark an even stronger bond between our two cities and the beginning of a more lively dialogue between our communities, our families and our many friends. My son Sean is with us today. He has just returned from five months teaching in your beautiful city. Sean represents the third generation of the Snider family to make a very special connection with the people of Alba. His experience and the wonderful hospitality he received has assured me that our gemellaggio is alive and well and will continue to enrich the lives of generations to come. On behalf of the Snider family, I thank you for all that your friendship has meant to us. Although it is still morning in Medford, I wish you a good evening because, as always, my heart is with you in Alba."

Doug Snider's Address in Italian

Doug Snider, speaking to Alba via Skype (July 26, 2012)


Telstar Slide Show


Gazzetta d'Alba Article with Photos
RAI Italian Network News Coverage

Newsreel Video from Italian Media  Newsreel Translation

Excellent Article from the 7/22/12 Mail Tribune

La Stampa Article, July 27, 1962

KOBI TV Coverage 7/26/12

Doug Snider interviewed on KOBI TV

Smithsonian - Embassy of France Telstar Anniversary Program

Video on the Launch of Telstar

President Kennedy's Press Conference Via Telstar

Listen to the Telstar conversation audio and Download the July 29, 1962 issue of Epoca, Italy's Life Magazine and the program for the July 26, 2012 ceremony in Alba.
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