Telephones and Exchanges from the Past

For many years I have been an amateur genealogist and spent many hours studying my family history. Both from family documents and online research, I have been able to compile a large database of both Helen’s and my ancestry. Every year more and more old documents from our past have been scanned and uploaded to the web making online research easier and more thorough each year.

Arthur Locke WWII Draft Card

Recently, while looking for my grandfather’s information, I ran into a draft-registration card that he completed in 1942. That card shows his personal information including his phone number as “Pres 1688.” That phone number’s format brought back memories of the old phone-number system from my childhood.

In the days before area codes, mobile phones and the internet, most homes and businesses had just one phone number. Those phone numbers consisted of an “exchange” and a unique number. The exchange was often represented by a word that was relevant to the town where it was located. In Quincy, Massachusetts we had three exchanges. Being the birthplace of two presidents, one of those exchanges was “President.” As an area known for its granite quarries, another exchange was “Granite.” Finally, having descendants from the ship “Mayflower” in our community, our third exchange was “Mayflower.”

Forrest family phone for many years
Phone label similar to the missing label our Family Phone photo above

 I remember our family phone that sat in the corner of our living room from the time we moved into my parents’ new home in the mid-1940s until many years later when my mother finally got a push-button model telephone. Her new phone sat in the same spot on that same desk. She gave me that old rotary phone, and I still have it to this day. Somewhere along the line, the label that was in the middle of the rotary dial was lost. Typed on the label on my parent’s phone was *”PResident 3-7050″.

Andy, Allen, & Steve in uniform in our living room with that phone on the desk on the left.

In 1959 when I came home from Navy boot camp, my dad shot a photo in our living room of me and my two brothers in our uniforms. That phone is sitting in the same place on the top of the desk in the upper left-hand corner of this photo.

With the development of dial phones, those exchange names became digitized. In Quincy, “President” became “PR3” “Granite” became “GR2,” and “Mayflower” became “MA9.” As time went on, the exchange names were dropped and just the numerals 773, 472, and 629 were used.

In 1955, AT&T (then the monopoly phone company) distributed a list of recommended exchange names that were the result of studies to minimize misunderstandings when spoken. The recommendation was intended for newly established exchanges and did not mandate any renaming of existing historical names. The number sequences 55x, 57x, 95x, and 97x had no exchange names specified, as the mappings for the digits 5, 7, and 9 had no vowels, thus making it difficult finding names with those consonant combinations. As a result, those numbers were seldom assigned to exchanges. However, KLondike was used for 55x in San Francisco and Columbus, Ohio, and WRigley 5 (975) was used in Chicago (Wrigley Field).

Fictitious phone numbers that we often see in TV series and movies originally started with 55 and used the fictitious exchange name KLondike (55). Later, they were simply shown as 555. The letters Q and Z were never used in the naming system, but Z was often mapped on the telephone dial to the digit 0 (zero).

The NumberBarn Blog provides some interesting information in its post, “History Lesson: All About Phone Numbers” where it describes the growth in the number of phones in the United States and the addition of three digits indicating Area Codes in the 1951 North American Numbering Plan. NumberBarn explains the process that area codes were numbered as: 

Area codes were selected based on the population in that city, and the areas with the largest populations received codes that were easily dialed on a rotary phone. States that needed more than 500 central phone operator offices were split into multiple areas. Each area then received its own code, with the middle digit being “1,” while area codes that covered an entire state kept the digit “0” in the middle, such as with New Jersey. District of Columbia received the second code of 202 and New York City claimed area code 212, with only five pulses, the shortest of all area codes.

Thinking about the old phone exchange names and the influence of those names on our culture, brings up reminders of the John O’Hara novel and Elizabeth Taylor movie “Butterfield 8” that takes place in 1931 Manhattan. *BUtterfield was an exchange that provided service to Manhattan’s well-to-do Upper East Side.

Those of us who are old enough to remember Glen Miller’s and the Andrews Sisters’ 1940s recordings of “PENNSYLVANIA 6-5000” will be interested to read Burner App’s blog where they write:

This phone number, immortalized in a Glen Miller song, will, to this day, connect you to the front desk of The Hotel Pennsylvania in New York. All you have to do is add on the modern area code. Let’s break it down: The Pennsylvania Hotel was located nearest the Pennsylvania telephone exchange, or PE, named for Penn Station in New York City. So, to reach the hotel in the 1930s, people would dial PE6-5000 or 736-5000, swapping in numbers for letters. Tack on the modern 212 area code and you’ve got a modern, 10-digit phone number. Not so different from what it was in the 1930s.

BurnerPhone describes the addition of emergency phone numbers in the 1960s:

The standardization of an emergency phone number did not become a reality until the 1960s. Children of the ‘60s were taught to call “nine-eleven” when they were in trouble, but the number was soon rebranded to “nine-one-one” when people realized time might be wasted by callers searching for a number eleven on the dial pad.

That site goes on to describe “vanity numbers” and how they started being sold with some of those numbers becoming very expensive:

According to The Washington Post, the most desired and expensive numbers end in -HURT or -PAIN, “since they’re desired by personal injury attorneys.”

Locally, here in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, we have Wilson & Wilson Optical whose phone number ends in 2020 as in “twenty-twenty vision.” Many tax preparers around the country have phone numbers ending in the number of the most well-known tax form, “the 1040.” In the early 1980s when I opened my first tax and accounting office, I waited several years for the number 246-1040 to become available. That has been my business number ever since.

If you would like to see what your phone number spells, take a look at the PhoneSpell website where you can enter a phone number and find all the word combinations that it spells. Also, you can search there for a vanity number that is for sale.

Do you have any interesting phone-number stories to share? If so, I’d love to hear them Please feel free to post them in the “Comments” section below.

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At Last !!! Computer Plate Umps Allowed in New Labor Deal

I shot this photo of a sign on an outfield wall at McCormick Field, home of the Asheville Tourists, South Atlantic League (Class ‘A’) Minor League Baseball

As a lifetime baseball fan, I have watched thousands of hours of Major League Baseball. (Take a look at my earlier post Baseball Fan For Life.) I remember watching Boston Red Sox games in my parents living room on a ten-inch black and white television back in the early 1950’s. As technology has improved over the decades since, I (like most sports fans) have been impressed by how we can watch games on our home TVs and see the action even better than the folks in the ball parks. Also, like other baseball fans, I have become more and more frustrated at baseball’s umpires ball and strike calls being inconsistent. Those calls aren’t just inconsistent between umpires, but even a single umpire’s changing strike zone during a game. I have felt for the past few years that is was finally time for a technology-based solution. 

Now, it seems that may actually happen. From AP Exclusive: Computer plate umps allowed in new labor deal:

NEW YORK (AP) Computer plate umpires could be called up to the major leagues at some point during the next five seasons.

Dec. 21, 2019, By BEN WALKER and RONALD BLUM

Umpires agreed to cooperate with Major League Baseball in the development and testing of an automated ball-strike system as part of a five-year labor contract announced Saturday, two people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. The Major League Baseball Umpires Association also agreed to cooperate and assist if Commissioner Rob Manfred decides to utilize the system at the major league level. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because those details of the deal, which is subject to ratification by both sides, had not been announced.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game on July 10. Plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket and relayed the call upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar.

The Atlantic League experimented with the computer system during the second half of its season, and the Arizona Fall League of top prospects used it for a few dozen games this year at Salt River Fields.

MLB has discussed installing the system at the Class A Florida State League for 2020. If that test goes well, the computer umps could be used at Triple-A in 2021 as bugs are dealt with prior to a big league callup.

Read more at AP Exclusive: Computer plate umps allowed in new labor deal


Reading the AP article got me excited by the prospect of actually watching the umps get the ball and strike call right (or consistent, at least.) So I did a little research around the web and found this article on The Atlantic League website that describes the test.  

TrackMan, or “robot ump,” sits up above home plate (at all eight Atlantic League ballparks), and looks like a black box from afar. In reality, the box is a 3-D Doppler radar dish that analyzes each pitch thrown. Using a three-dimensional strike zone, TrackMan is able to calibrate each batters’ size and stance, adjusting the strike zone accordingly. So, the system works so that it doesn’t allow a 6-foot-7 player to have the same strike zone as a 5-foot-7 player.

Now, here’s how and when the umpire gets involved. Once TrackMan identifies a ball’s location, it’s recorded and then the call is communicated to the umpire via a coiled tube earpiece. The Atlantic League had previously tested the system using Apple AirPods, but they kept encountering issues with low battery life before the game was over. They’ve since switched to an earpiece, which is connected to an iPhone that’s clipped into the umpire’s belt buckle. It’s no longer wireless but there’s no battery issues to worry about. The iPhone is the connecting device to TrackMan’s data, and how it gets relayed to the umpire. Next, the umpire will hear a single syllable via a male voice: “ball” or “strike.”

The Atlantic League website article goes on to say

1. Pitch gets thrown
2. TrackMan tracks and identifies the pitch’s location
3. Phone tells umpire whether it’s a ball or strike
4. Umpire physically makes the call behind the plate

Writing out the process step-by-step, and reading it over makes it seem like it could be something that’ll slow down the pace of the game, but when I saw the system in use during the Somerset Patriots’ game, it was ran seamlessly.

From the pitch getting thrown to TrackMan’s identification to the umpire’s final call was almost instantaneous with the ball hitting the catcher’s glove. If there’s an obvious error on the system’s call (the wrong call on a bounced ball for example), the umpire is allowed to override and make his own call.

All the while, up in the press box sits a TrackMan tech crew sent by MLB. They man the equipment: A laptop, which shows the strike zone graphic for each batter, adjusting ever so slightly to the specific height and stance. In terms of what the TrackMan software looks like, it’s awfully similar to the GameTracker appearance seen when following along with a game online.

Read the rest of the interesting article about the Atlantic League test on their website at

It seems that it may take a few more years to actually happen. However, I am excited and really looking forward to it!

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