The History Of Phone Numbers

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While listening to an old time radio show (a nightly pastime), I began thinking about the phone numbers they had back in the 40's where people used a word as mnemonic for the first few numbers of a phone number (the exchange) leaving only the four digit body of the number to be memorized.  So, often I went into Google World to see what I could dig up on the history of the phone number.

Prior to the early 20's, phones did not have dials.  You picked up the phone and an operator (sometimes called a "hello girl") connected you to your party.  The very first phone numbers were not numbers at all but the name of your business or just your name. Even when phone numbers were first introduced the operator still made the connection.  It was literally a physical connection between a wire in your house that ran to the phone company and a wire that ran to the house of the party you were calling.  The switchboard was full of sockets and your socket was connected to your party's socket with a black cable.  Easy as pie.

In the mid to late 20s AT&T began installing phones with rotary dials and customers could now directly dial their party without the aid of an operator (though long-distance calls still required an operator). Instead of a phone number like 662-3285, the phone company would designate it as NOAh 3285.  They reasoned there would be fewer dialing errors this way.  This practice continued until the mid 60s when the supply of pronounceable words that began with only three letters per number was close to being exhausted.

Once names were no longer used everyone had to remember the three digit exchange that indicated the part of the city the caller was from and the four digit body of the number.  As the popularity of the phone grew and people began making long-distance calls on a regular basis, there were not enough three digit exchanges so area codes were developed.  A small state like Maryland was covered by a single area code in the 70s and a larger state like California had multiple area codes.  Now you could use the same seven digit phone number at least once in every state because the phone number had a three digit area code to distinguish it from it's identical cousins.

That's it.  Not a whole lot to it but something interesting to know.






erick99 posted Mar 30, 2012
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11 Comments
VirginiaPeanuts
Interesting page! Plus'd! I love classic movies and both of my grandmothers worked as switchboard operators when they were young adults. I never really took the time to look up phone # history so I'm glad you wrote this
VirginiaPeanuts (rep: 11.4k) posted Mar 30, 2012
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erick99
Thanks Peanuts! I love old time radio, especially Sherlock Holmes. I have an internet radio on my nightstand and I live to several hours of night of old shows. They use the old style phone numbers and it got me thinking last night and seemed like a good topic for a short article.
erick99 (rep: 17.8k) posted Mar 30, 2012
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erick99
Well that didn't take long! lol I have a person that follows my article and has thumbs downed all 36 of them. I don't think he/she gets it that I don't care. I enjoy the comments and we get credit by the number of views not the thumbs up or thumbs down. Eventually, generous people provide the thumbs up anyway. If it helps you get through your day you are welcome to mod me down to your hearts content. As a therapist I am guessing you have reasons to be mean-spirited and if you ever want some online counseling just message me. Take care and good luck to you.
erick99 (rep: 17.8k) posted Mar 30, 2012
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MaryRolle
Good article! Here's a thumbs up to help offset the thumbs down you got :)
MaryRolle (rep: 23) posted Mar 30, 2012
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toast
I was always fascinated by how in some I Love Lucy episodes, when she would say a phone number, it would start with "circle" followed by some numbers like mentioned in the article. We've come a long way from that!
toast (rep: 5.54k) posted Mar 30, 2012
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fluffy
I remember my first trip to Manhattan in the late 70's where I saw those mnemonic phone numbers everywhere - on taxis, delivery trucks, and in the phone books. They only had the first two digits replaced with letters at that time. I was quite puzzled by it at first, then I finally found out what the letters on a telephone dial were there for.
fluffy (rep: 2.17k) posted Mar 30, 2012
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rd995
nice interesting article, erick just keep writing you have lots of people that read your post so for every thumb down you will get thumbs up.
rd995 (rep: 107k) posted Mar 30, 2012
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heyimdennise
Great article! Like always :)
heyimdennise (rep: 7.87k) posted Mar 30, 2012
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heyimdennise
+'ed!!
heyimdennise (rep: 7.87k) posted Mar 30, 2012
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Azura89
Great article!Very interesting~
Azura89 (rep: 10) posted Mar 31, 2012
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shimisi
Good reading. Thanks for that. As an aside, rotary phones are such classics.
shimisi (rep: 82.4k) posted Apr 02, 2012
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