In 1955, MA BELL ,which was AT&T/Bell came out with a list of “preferred” names for local phone companies to call their exchanges. This was a way of standardizing phone numbers. Each customer had Two Letters and Four Numbers.
Here is a list of a few of the “official” exchanges.
In the early days you would tell the operator what exchange you wanted followed by the number. You could pay extra and get a telephone exchange answering service. Elizabeth Taylor won an Academy Award for her role in “Butterfield 8.” Buttrfield 8 was her telephone answering exchange.
Before technology arrived in the telephone business, there were over 350,000 telephone operators.
My parents exchange was in the SHerwood exchange and their assigned four numbers were 2623. They kept those numbers from 1955 until we just shut Mom’s phone down last year (60 years with the same phone number) Sherwood 2623.
Before 1955 it was a mish-mash. Some cities had Three Letters and Four Numbers. Some had Two Letters and Three Numbers.
But as the population grew we needed more numbers so a fifth number was added after the exchange. My parents’ number became: SHerwood 2 -2623.
Finally, in the early ‘60s, we didn’t have to go through an operator and an exchange…we just dialed the numbers in place of the letters. My parents number became 742-2623.
We could direct dial by adding the #1 and then the 10 digits. If it was a long-distance girl-friend call and her line was busy, it was easy to get finger and hand cramps by the fourth try. It was also real easy to dial wrong numbers and you never knew if you didn’t bring the “zero” all the way around or you just grabbed the wrong hole….or the stupid phone company did it.
Some people went nuts when the exchange names were stopped. Two large groups formed: The ADDL (The Anti-Digit Dialing League) and the Committee of Ten Million to Oppose All-Number Calling. I kid you not. Rallies, marches and thousands of letters opposing dropping the Exchanges. They faded as fast as they were formed.
For me, the only cool thing about a phone exchange was the big music hit of the Glenn Miller Orchestra “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” It would have never been written if it had only been what it became “ 736-5000. Anyway you try to sing it, it’s just not right.
In Indiana in the ‘50s, we heard that the “big” cities were adding “area codes.” By the mid-‘60s it was implemented around the country. We now had a 10-digit systems with the three new “area-code” numbers in front.
We now have 293 area codes, 30 in California. We have surpassed 500 million phones, two per adult. Why? Not sure. BUT…anyone of those 500 million numbers can be reached by just touching the person’s name or picture in my smart phone.
And don’t we get pissed when it sometimes takes five or six seconds before it rings?
There is something nostalgic thinking about talking to operators and exchanges. One of the great songs by someone who left us to soon is called “Operator.”
Here is a video of the great Jim Croce.