Sunday, May 06, 2007

Phone Numbers

Why have no letters ever been assigned to the number 1 on a telephone key pad. Had they done this the number 7 could drop one of its four assigned letters and the number 9 could get rid of two of its four letters. It just seems more balanced if each number had a burden to share.

I'd also like it if they started using names for telephone prefixes. Where I grew up our phone was Laffyette-9 0r LA9. The next two towns were Davis 7 (DA7) and Elmwood 9(EL9).

Are there any old timers out there who remember their letter prexix?


Blogger Hahn at Home said...

Colfax 6-9093
My mom used to speak everyone's number this way, so I had to learn them. By the time I was 11, they no longer existed.

I also had a party line during the brief time I lived out in the country after parental divorce. Each phone had a special ring so you'd know if it was yours or theirs, and of course, everyone listened in. Wasn't much else to do out there.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Geez, I wish I had a mind like yours. For all the years I've looked at phones, I've never considered the #/letter assignments.
What does this say about me? Or about you?

Am I an old timer?? I can remember my mother telling us her letter prefix (it was Hudson) but I never had one.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Donna said...

My sister has had the same phone number since she moved to Kansas City over fifty years ago. It started out as GLadstone ****... GL and 4 digits. Then it became GL 2-**** as the city grew. Now it's 452 ****, but to me it's still Gladsone.

I figured I'd better not put my sister's exact number here; she wouldn't appreciate it. LOL.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Astoria's prefix was Fairfax 5. Of course you could also say FA 5, but Fairfax had more pizazz. We were on a party line with about 5 other families. Every phone on that party line had a particular ring series. Ours was three rings together. You weren't supposed to listen in on other peoples conversations but.......... By the end of the 60's everybody had a private line.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Jaggy said...

My dad tells me that here, the prefix was "ALpine 8-****" Once that wore out, they added "ALpine 9-****" I've learned that the Alpine part stood for "Alpine Junction." Where that came from, I don't know; we're on the valley floor for fuck's sake!

I think prefixes could be fun to get back into, but what about cell phones?

4:12 PM  
Blogger The One True b!X said...

And of course on old-time TV, it was "KLondike 5" -- which, of course, becomes the "555" with which we're more familiar today.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Troutdale Councilor Canfield said...

Back in the day, turn of the 20th century, before dial phones even, Ma Bell put a "central office" in each town or neighborhood. At first, before even basic switching equipment existed, each call was handled by an operator via a "cordboard". These operators worked inside the central office. Each office was given a name, for instance, PRospect, ATlantic, BElmont, etc.

To make a call,you'd pick up your phone, wind the crank, say, "Hello, central?" and ask the operator (she knew your name and you probably knew hers), to connect you to your party, say "The Jones Family out on Highway 6".

When dial phones came into being, replacing the "central" operators, the office names were included with the new number. PRospect 5-5555, for instance.

My grandmother and great aunts' first jobs when they moved from the family farm in Nebraska to Portland in the 1920's were local operators in the Belmont central office. One aunt remained with the phone company for 44 years before retiring at the age of 65.

The phone company was very strict on the "girls" who became operators. Proper dress, gloves, etc. You couldn't be married, andcouldn't smoke, gamble, or drink while off the job. (Ironic, because the Ma Bell later became famous for freely supplying its employees with "greenies"- amphetamines!)

While at your board, you had so sit up straight in your chair and your back could not touch the chair. There was strict phraseology that had to be used with callers.One mistake could be enough to get you fired. Supervisors in larger central offices used roller skates to roam the long row of cordboards.

My great aunt told me it wasn't uncommon for a supervisor to literally climb the back of your chair, screaming at you, if you failed use the proper procedure to connect calls on the cordboard, or failed to remember customers by the sound of their voice.

Of course, what was my first job? Long distance operator! (I was an affirmative action hire- one of the first male operators.)

You could say our family had "Bell shaped heads". . .

4:59 PM  
Blogger John Bartley K7AAY said...

I do remember mine, and my home phone is 503-LASTNAM (substitute my real given name, and you've got it.)

As to why "1" and "0" have no letter assignments; well, the Bell System Numbering Plan (ancestor of the current North American Numbering Plan) gave letters to numbers which would would used for exchanges (the first two digits of a seven-digit number). "1" and "0" never were used in exchanges, so they were never assigned letters.

When the number-to-letter assignments were made, telephone switches were far less sophisticated than today, and reserving the first digit "0" for calls to the Operator, and "1" for 'toll' (long distance) calls made the programming (done by hard-wiring!) of those electromechanical Strowger, or stepper, switches far, far easier.

You can listen to what the switchrooms I worked in sounded like, at

7:16 PM  
Anonymous CB said...

My grandmother was an office (?) manager of the local branch of AT&T in the 1950s & 1960s, made quite a tidy profit from stock options that were offered back then to the employees. I remember dialing "O" to talk to her.

I just read your Saturday post. I am so sorry to hear about your wife. I am so grateful for the info you guys have given regarding fibromyalgia, don't hesitate to email or give a call if either of you need anything while your away.

12:45 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

I learned a lot from these replies. Thanks everyone. I thinks it's time we go back to using Fairfax-5 when we give our Astoria phone numbers to people.

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Redfield 8 = RE 8 = 738

Before that it was a 3 character letter numeric combination. There wasn't a rotary dial, either. You picked up and waited for the operator to say "number please"

Also, remember when you could dial a number and hear a recorded voice inform you what time it was? That was great fascination for a child. You could call the number and the lady would always and in the same voice with perfect enunciation announce, "At the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be, 8:46 and 20 seconds-BEEP..At the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be, 8:46 and 30 seconds-BEEP"

I wonder how many hours of my life was spent listening to the lady on the other end of the reciever tell me what time it was? She never failed to answer-was a steady and constant, if unobtrusive, presence in our young lives. Like any kid, I initially wanted to know how it was done and an older child informed me that it was a "record" and only knowing about one kind of record, imagined a phonograph record, but a lot bigger, a whole hell of a lot bigger in fact, than the ones at home. The one the Time lady made had to be huge to play for a full twenty four hours. I also wondered if someone had to turn it over at noon to play the other side.

"Hey, anyone know the number for Time?"

"Yeah, TI 4-1212"

"Thanks, I always got to know what time it is-especially when I'm home alone."

8:56 AM  
Blogger Mom of Three said...

Right up until she died in 2001, my Granny's number in Pasadena was SYcamore 5-4133, and that's how I remember it to this day.

I remember looking at the commercials on LA television in the late 60s and they'd always use things like RIchmond 9-999.

I say we take back Fairfax.

10:53 PM  

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