Do You Remember Life Before...

...area codes and all-digit dialing?
all-digit dialing
Until the mid-1960s, the first two digits of a U.S. phone number were expressed as the first two letters of a name, such as JUpiter, MElrose, PLaza, MUrray Hill, PRimrose, etc. in order to make them easier to remember.

Area codes were devised under the North American Numbering Plan (NANP) in 1947 in order to facilitate direct long-distance dialing, and area code 201 (New Jersey) was the first one implemented in the U.S., in 1951.

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There are 17 comments for this item.

Posted by CJ at 7:54 am (PDT) on Sat June 8, 2024   
A couple weeks ago, my son and I was going through some boxes that were in my attic for decades and came across an old personal phone book (from the early 70's) which prompted a discussion about "remembering numbers". My son decided to quiz me. I tanked badly on numbers for things like Dr's office, cab company, etc... but for friends and family phone numbers I scored well over 90% (not bad for a 73 yr old geezer.) Oddly enough, in 2024 I have no clue what my son's number is.... all I know is go to Contacts and swipe right on his name. LOL
Posted by SeltzerGal at 9:57 am (PDT) on Mon June 19, 2023   
@Goose "I'll get it" my laugh of the day!  Can't ever forget our original phone number nor my Grandmother's.  Ours was WEbster-3-3380 and hers was LUdlow-3-4708.  You could usually tell the area where a person lived by the the exchange code in their telephone number.  Where I lived the popular exchanges were WEbster, GEneva and PRescott.
Posted by Goose at 3:12 am (PDT) on Mon June 19, 2023   
It's been over 60 years, but I will never forget our first phone number (back in the days when, when the phone rang, folks yelled, "I'LL GET IT!"): PIoneer 7-4728, and EVERY phone was a Bell Telephone made of indestructable BAKELITE!
Posted by notsteve at 7:07 pm (PST) on Thu December 28, 2017   
I get more reliable service from my Verizon cell than I did with my AT&T landline. One time I had it go out for 5 days, took them forever to figure it out. Once it failed after an earthquake, but my cell still worked. And virtually every incoming call was a solicitor. The only reason I kept it was to call my cell when I couldn't find it, til I figured out that I could use Google on my desktop to make my cell ring for 5 minutes straight, even when it was on silent. And I like having an extra $40 or so every month that used to go to AT&T.
Posted by ozarkbob at 12:11 pm (PST) on Thu December 28, 2017   
having been a phone repairman for many years, I believe that landlines are best
phone companies have back up power so phones still work during emergancies.
Iave an old style hard wired phone, and cordless, cordless doesn't work when power is out. I am retired from AT&T, so I get a discount, but people a landline even if is the minmum
Posted by GlenEllyn at 4:31 pm (PST) on Tue December 26, 2017   
@notsteve -- Nope, I get my internet via my landline. And I still think landlines are more reliable than cell phones. Don't forget that there are still dead zones for cell reception in some parts of the US. I have a cellphone, but not a smart phone, and I don't carry it around the house with me. Heck, half the time I don't bother to take it with me when I leave the house. The only time I make sure I have it is on long-distance trips.
Posted by Duff at 10:12 pm (PST) on Mon December 25, 2017   
@notsteve - I dunno... I don’t think I would like carrying my cell phone with me all over the house, and I would miss having extensions and the ability for other people in the household to be on the same call. Also, I believe that landline phones are more reliable in emergencies and power outages. And, to be clear, by “landline” I do not mean VoIP.
Posted by notsteve at 7:55 am (PST) on Sun December 24, 2017   
With the advent of cell phones, isn't it time to get rid of your land line?
Posted by GlenEllyn at 6:08 pm (PST) on Wed November 29, 2017   
With the advent of cell phones, isn't it time to get rid of long distance? I can understand it for international calls, but here in the U.S? My phone has an area code of 612 (Minneapolis area). My son has an area code of 701 on his cell phone. It seems silly that he can be standing in my kitchen but if I call him from my 612 number I have to dial 1 for long distance and I get charged for long distance. True, most cell phones have free long distance but those of us with landlines need to have a long-distance service plan. Hm. I know, I know. I'm a luddite.
Posted by LoyalTubist at 6:44 pm (PDT) on Sat July 30, 2016   
I don't go back that far; only to the mid 1960s that I can remember using the phone.

So, except for operated assisted calls, we could dial most places directly. But it wasn't that easy: Many of the numbers in an area code were long distance. You couldn't simply dial the number. Pacific Telephone required us to dial 112 before long distance calls. I lived in Colton, which was in area code 714. My grandparents lived in Montclair, also in the 714 area code. But it was long distance. So I had to dial 112+629-XXXX. The reason for dialing the three extra digits, was because it was long distance. Many business phones would not allow long distance calls. So the phones wouldn't allow anyone to dial more than seven numbers. (To call my music teacher in Hollywood I dialed 112+213+460-XXXX.)

Now what about when local calls crossed area code lines? No problem. Back then all locals had seven digits (or fewer). If you called from Needles and you had a girlfriend across the Colorado River in Mohave Valley, Arizona, you would simply dial 768-XXXX and she would dial you at 326-XXXX. I'm not sure if it would work if you dialed 112+602+768-XXXX. Now the Needles area code was also 714. And there was a (714) 768-XXXX. To get it you would have to dial 112+714+768-XXXX. People in Needles today probably think to dial that number as a local landline call as 1+928+768-XXXX is more complicated, dialing four more numbers.

What is complicated today in Needles is that, despite still only having one prefix and a population of only 5,000 people, when we dial any number in the city on a landline phone we must dial 1+760+326-XXXX because of the 442 area code overlay on top of the 760.

Every area code of my example phone numbers here has changed. 714 was broken off from the 213 area code about 60 years ago. It was 714. Then it was 619. Now it's 760. And maybe later we will see some action from the 442.
Posted by Michael Giffey at 10:27 pm (PDT) on Sat October 26, 2013   
I know in Michigan in the 50's and 60's in small towns, for local calls you only had to dial 5 digits. Our telephone number was 723-1323, but you only had to dial the last 5 digits. But it made a problem with people calling long distance to Flint, Michigan. The area code for Flint was 313, but if you didn't dial a one in front of it, you would call Owosso, where I lived. I remember at 3 years old in 1963, telling people "No, you have to dial a 1, then 313 and then your number." My mom worked for General telephone and she taught us that from the time we could talk.
Posted by dtdavis2012 at 10:47 am (PDT) on Sat May 18, 2013   
Here in rural south Alabama, we had General Telephone and were the last on the list to enjoy private lines, direct distance dialing, and, for that matter tone dialing. GTE was also the one who touted the advanced services, LONG before they came to our area. Better late than never, I always say :)
Posted by Duff at 1:08 am (PST) on Fri December 28, 2012   
Concerning area codes... We're at risk of running out of them soon. Population growth, plus the advent of fax machines, mobile phones, and devices like the iPad that get assigned a mobile number for data purposes have used up all the numbers in various areas, so new area codes were created for the overflow, but there's only so many 3-digit area codes.

By the way, did you ever notice that the original area codes were assigned based on the number of phones in the area, such that the lower numbers (212: NYC, 213: LA, 312: Chicago, etc.) went to the largest cities? This was because those numbers could be dialed the quickest on a rotary-dial phone. Hawaii's area code, on the other hand, is 808.

I have a modest proposal for how to deal with the large number of devices that need phone numbers. (For instance, there are three members in my family. We have two houses and a total of 10 phone numbers; 4 voice landlines, 2 fax/DSL lines, and 4 mobile devices, counting my iPad.) I suggest that households with several phone-type devices should be assigned one main 10-digit number, and that an 11th digit could be dialed to reach the other devices, kind of like extensions. If the 11th digit was not dialed within a short time, the call would be routed to the main number by default. Anyone see any flaws in this approach? Of course, it'd mean tons of software and database fields would have to be modified to accommodate longer numbers.
Posted by ozarkbob at 10:16 am (PDT) on Mon September 24, 2012   
I remember AC1 as the for the town I lived in growing up Academy,, I went to work for Southwestern Bell Telephone in 1969, the town was Eastgate4, and it had 8 party lines I had to work on, When we put phones on an 8 party line, you had to put a tube inside the phone and wire it so the phone would get the right party number ring, then you had to test it to make sure it was wired right,,sometimes it was hard to get the line clear so you could test it, especially just after school was out! I did that work for about 7 years, in the late 70's they cut it down to 4 parties, and in the 80's elimnated that and everyone had private lines,by the mid 1990's all swtiching was computerized, st Louis M. now has 3 area codes to itself before one area code for whole eastern half the state, cell phone created a mess
Posted by Duff at 5:18 am (PDT) on Mon September 24, 2012   
Our number was GEneral 7-XXXX, and I DO remember saying "G E 7" and not "General 7". So I guess that varied.
Posted by SeltzerGal at 5:44 pm (PDT) on Sun September 23, 2012   
I live just outside NYC in Jersey and our number was WEbster-3-XXXX. Two other exchanges in the area were PRescott-7 and GEneva-8. I can't believe how quickly the 7 and 8 just came back to me! For those too young to remember the name exchanges, "Webster", etc. was just how we said the number; not "W" and "E". I don't recall my friend's number, but I remember she had a party line and we had great fun with that ; )
Posted by Duff at 5:16 pm (PDT) on Sun September 23, 2012   
I still remember the pre-digit-dialing phone number of a friend I haven't called since I was 14. He lived in Great Neck, NY, and his number was HN 6-xxxx. Since the prefix/exchange letters were the first two of the name, and not the initials of a two-word name (e.g., Murray Hill was MU, not MH), I've never understood where the HN came from.

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