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.

I truly appreciate your interest!  Please Post Your Thoughts, Comments,
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Summer of Nostalgia: That time when Howard Johnson’s was everywhere

Beale St. Wollaston, 1980

I shot this photo of Wollaston’s Beale Street in 1980 which includes the building (then occupied by World Realty) that is roughly in the area of Howard Johnson’s 1925 newspaper and ice cream shop that is mentioned in “The Patriot Ledger” article below. My mother remembered going to Howard Johnson’s there with her father when she was growing up in Wollaston.

Many years later when I was growing up in the same area, I remember seeing Howard Johnson’s big Cadillac with his Massachusetts vanity plates, “HJ28” representing the 28 flavors of ice cream his company advertised. That was back in the days long before vanity plates became available to most of us.

The recent Quincy Ledger article “Summer of Nostalgia: That time when Howard Johnson’s was everywhere” describes the days that the orange-roofed Howard Johnson roadside restaurants seemed to be everywhere:

Howard Johnson went from owning a store in Wollaston to building a chain of almost 800 restaurants that left an enduring influence on American life.

For more than 90 years, the iconic orange-thatched roof of a Howard Johnson’s restaurant was part of the landscape near and far. The last restaurant closed in Bangor, Maine, in 2016, but the happy memories of creamy ice cream, first dates, birthday parties, summer jobs and fried clam strips still endure.

Quincy Historical Society photo of a classic facade of Howard Johnsons in 1959

Be sure to read the interesting article by Anastasia E. Lennon on The Patriot Ledger website.


Update 9/6/20:

Slim, the webmaster/photographer at Quincy Daily Photo contacted me to comment on this article. She allowed me to add this interesting photo and post from her site here. 

“HoJos” from QuincyDailyPhoto

“I saw this logo in a doorway of a building on the corner of Beale St. and Newport Ave. in the Wollaston section of this city. It once housed the accounting division of one of America’s first franchises: Howard Johnsons.

“The marker for the site of Howard D. Johnson’s first store (a drugstore), is located across the street beside the parking lot of the Wollaston train station.

“Howard Johnson lived close by on Summit Ave and had the Mayor of Boston to thank for inadvertently boosting the success of his first restaurant  in Quincy.

“Does anyone remember the orange rooftops on the restaurants and 28 flavors of ice cream?
These marketing ideas helped make this one of America’s popular icons and destination.”

Many thanks to Slim for the use of her photo and quote. Please take a look at her site at Quincy Daily Photo for some of her great photographs from Quincy, Massachusetts. Interestingly, when I was in my early teens, I had the paper route delivering Quincy Patriot Ledgers on Summit Ave in Wollaston and walked by Howard Johnson’s former residence every day.

I truly appreciate your interest!  Please Post Your Thoughts, Comments,
Corrections, and Remarks in the “Comments” Section below… \>\>\>\>\>