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PaulyWally
04-14-2014, 07:58 PM
From what I've gathered, rotary dialing was commonplace in the 1930s (especially in larger cities). Numbers were broken down into the following format:

Exchange + Number

In most cities, the Exchanges were 2 letters (NY had 3 for a while). I believe the Number length varied from city to city. I think 4 digits was pretty standard across the board, but 5 digits were used in larger cities.

To call someone, you could do one of two things:

1.) Pick up your rotary phone, and dial the 2 numbers associated with the Exchange followed by the 4 (or 5) digits of the Number.

or...

2.) Pick up any phone, call the operator, and tell him/her which Exchange you are trying to reach, followed by the Number.

(please correct me if any of that is wrong)

My question revolves around using method #1 of calling someone.

Just because 4 digit Numbers were used, doesn't mean someone's number *used* all 4 digits. For example, I've looked at some old phone books from the 30s, and have seen numbers listed like this:


Smith, Al . . . . . . . Orchard - 3425
Smith, Barry. . . . . . Clarksville - 4
Smith, Cheryl . . . . . Orchard - 62
Smith, Donald . . . . . Orchard - 3343


("Orchard" and "Clarksville" are the Exchanges that would have 2 digits assigned to them - probably 67 and 25, respectively)

Here's my question:

If I wanted to call Barry Smith on a rotary phone, would I have had to dial 25-4? Or would have had to dial 25-0004?

Likewise for Cheryl: 67-62? Or 67-0062?

Thanks in advance!

King Neptune
04-14-2014, 11:46 PM
From what I've gathered, rotary dialing was commonplace in the 1930s (especially in larger cities). Numbers were broken down into the following format:

Exchange + Number

In most cities, the Exchanges were 2 letters (NY had 3 for a while). I believe the Number length varied from city to city. I think 4 digits was pretty standard across the board, but 5 digits were used in larger cities.

To call someone, you could do one of two things:

1.) Pick up your rotary phone, and dial the 2 numbers associated with the Exchange followed by the 4 (or 5) digits of the Number.

or...

2.) Pick up any phone, call the operator, and tell him/her which Exchange you are trying to reach, followed by the Number.

(please correct me if any of that is wrong)

My question revolves around using method #1 of calling someone.

Just because 4 digit Numbers were used, doesn't mean someone's number *used* all 4 digits. For example, I've looked at some old phone books from the 30s, and have seen numbers listed like this:


Smith, Al . . . . . . . Orchard - 3425
Smith, Barry. . . . . . Clarksville - 4
Smith, Cheryl . . . . . Orchard - 62
Smith, Donald . . . . . Orchard - 3343


("Orchard" and "Clarksville" are the Exchanges that would have 2 digits assigned to them - probably 67 and 25, respectively)


I thought so, but I searched to be sure. "In the 1910s automatic telephone switches started to supersede hello girls who made connections manually." By the 1930's pretty much all of the numbers in the U.S. were seven digits (or two letters and five digits). As the linked page points out, The letters were used to make numbers easier to remember, or you might have CREst-3427 or CRest-3427.
http://www.artlebedev.com/mandership/91/

How numbers would have been handled in a particular location depended on a number of things, including the company that ran it. There were several reasonable large telephone companies during that period, and not all of them went to automatic switches at the same time.

Exactly where is your story set?



Here's my question:

If I wanted to call Barry Smith on a rotary phone, would I have had to dial 25-4? Or would have had to dial 25-0004?

Likewise for Cheryl: 67-62? Or 67-0062?

Thanks in advance!

In all cases where a number was direct dialed all seven digits would have been dialed. Even in the 1930's every phone was addressed with a ten digit number, except in a few places that did not have automated switching, but I don't know where automated switching had no been introduced.

King Neptune
04-15-2014, 12:33 AM
One other matter is whether the number being called was within the exchange or outside. Within the exchange only the numbers had to be dialed. The Exchange name was only dialed, if the caller was outside that exchange.

This only changed when digital switching was introduced starting in the 1970's.

Telergic
04-15-2014, 01:20 AM
As regards using all 7 digits, remember there were all kinds of quirky patterns used by non-Bell-system companies like GTE, PBXes, and so on, and in some rural areas it wouldn't have been the case that "modern" automatic electromechanical switches were available until later in the century than the 30s.

But in a big city like New York that was covered by the monopoly, even before the 70s there was some lengthy period of time in which you had to enter all 7 digits even for local calls, and moreover all phone numbers were a full 7 digits. This would have been true in the 30s in NYC because there would even then have been at least hundreds of thousands of telephones in the city.

By the way, in case there is some question, there was no pause between entering the first 2 "exchange" digits and the rest of the number. After a while many people didn't even know the letters of the exchanges they were using anymore, which generally abbreviated the town or city neighborhood. You couldn't be absolutely sure that a given number in a given exchange was actually in that region, however, as central offices would run feeder cables to supply "foreign exchange" numbers to other areas, either as a commercial service for prestige, or when a given exchange just ran out of assignable phone numbers.

So you might as well use 7 digit dialing with no operator assistance (unless you dialed 0 and asked for it) as a standard in the US throughout most of the middle of the century. Most of the rest of the world lagged long behind in deployment both of automatic electromechanical switches and later in digital switches. It was only when GSM cell phones became a thing that the rest of the world surpassed the US in terms of telephony because the US investment in land lines was vastly superior to everyone else's.

SophieB
04-15-2014, 09:32 AM
Up until the late 1970's, in most of small-town Rhode Island and parts of rural Maine (both Ma Bell), you could skip dialing the FIRST two digits of the 7-digit number if you were on the same exchange. For example, if I was dialing 567-8899 from 567-0011, I only dialed 7-8899. If I called from outside the 567 exchange, I had to use all seven digits. Mind you, these were SMALL towns. (I still remember those long-lost numbers, too, though I have to look up my kids on my cell phone!)

King Neptune
04-15-2014, 03:57 PM
Up until the late 1970's, in most of small-town Rhode Island and parts of rural Maine (both Ma Bell), you could skip dialing the FIRST two digits of the 7-digit number if you were on the same exchange. For example, if I was dialing 567-8899 from 567-0011, I only dialed 7-8899. If I called from outside the 567 exchange, I had to use all seven digits. Mind you, these were SMALL towns. (I still remember those long-lost numbers, too, though I have to look up my kids on my cell phone!)

That was true throughout the country until digital switching was introduced; it wasn't just those two places.

WriteMinded
04-15-2014, 07:01 PM
The first phone I used was later than the 30s and it didn't have a dial. You just picked up the receiver and gave an operator the number you wanted to call. Our phone number was GReenwood - 4465. When we got a phone with a dialer, we dialed GR4465. That was in the 50s.

AHunter3
04-15-2014, 10:36 PM
In the 1960s in Los Alamos NM we still had a five-digit phone number. I think the first two digits of what would normally be the 3-digit exchange prefix were the same for everyone in town or something. We moved away when I was 7 so I'm a little unclear on the details and don't remember explicitly what our phone number was.

Duncan J Macdonald
04-18-2014, 06:55 PM
To add in to the confusion --
Growing up in the 1960's - 1970's, in Bedford Village NY, we had a local exchange. Everyone was BEdford 4. (The little label that you placed in the center of the dial was typed BE4-xxxx) To call anyone else in BE4, we just dialed the last four digits.
To dial any other number (like the town of Mount Kisco, eight miles away) we had to dial a "1" to get the long-distance line, then the seven digit number (MO6-xxxx). You only added the full ten digit number when you crossed area codes.

WriteMinded
04-19-2014, 05:02 PM
To add in to the confusion --
Growing up in the 1960's - 1970's, in Bedford Village NY, we had a local exchange. Everyone was BEdford 4. (The little label that you placed in the center of the dial was typed BE4-xxxx) To call anyone else in BE4, we just dialed the last four digits.
To dial any other number (like the town of Mount Kisco, eight miles away) we had to dial a "1" to get the long-distance line, then the seven digit number (MO6-xxxx). You only added the full ten digit number when you crossed area codes.
Ohhhh. You just made me remember correctly. Our phone number was GReenwood 5 - 4465. GR5-4465) I'd forgotten the 5. There was only one other local exchange: GArden 3.

Thanks for the memories. :)