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Telephone exchange names

Telephone exchange names

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During the early years of telephone
The telephone , colloquially referred to as a phone, is a telecommunications device that transmits and receives sounds, usually the human voice. Telephones are a point-to-point communication system whose most basic function is to allow two people separated by large distances to talk to each other...

 service, communities that required more than 10,000 telephone number
Telephone number
A telephone number or phone number is a sequence of digits used to call from one telephone line to another in a public switched telephone network. When telephone numbers were invented, they were short — as few as one, two or three digits — and were given orally to a switchboard operator...

s, whether dial service was available or not, utilized exchange names to distinguish identical numerics for different customers.

When dial service was introduced (typically during the period of 1910 to 1970), in such multiple exchange communities, customers would normally dial the first two or three letters of the exchange name, followed by the numeric digits.

Exchange name formatting in Europe

Two of the most notable cities using the first three letters, four digits system, known as 3L-4N or the Director telephone system
Director telephone system
The Director System was a system which made it possible to call subscribers at other telephone exchanges without operator intervention in large multi-exchange cities, and to have a mixture of automatic and manual exchanges within these cities...

, were Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 and London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, which introduced it in 1922. Telephone directories showed the first three letters of the exchange in bold caps; for example, a subscriber's number on London's Whitehall
Whitehall is a road in Westminster, in London, England. It is the main artery running north from Parliament Square, towards Charing Cross at the southern end of Trafalgar Square...

 exchange was shown thus: "WHItehall 1212" (the number of Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service of London, UK. It derives from the location of the original Metropolitan Police headquarters at 4 Whitehall Place, which had a rear entrance on a street called Great Scotland Yard. The Scotland Yard entrance became...


The other main UK conurbations followed suit, namely Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

 in 1930 (e.g., DEAnsgate 3414, the number for Kendals
Kendals, Kendal Milne, Kendal, Milne & Co, Kendal, Milne & Faulkner or Watts' was the name of a department store in Manchester, England.-History:...

 department store), Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

 (in 1931), Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...

 (in 1937), and later Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

 and Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

. While Director automatic switching was being rolled out across the major cities, some exchanges in their areas were still manual, and the subscriber's directory entry had the exchange name in caps but not bold. For example, when dialing "SANderstead 1234", the caller then dialed the "SAN" and asked the operator for the number (1234 in this case).

The switchover to all figure dialling
All figure dialling
All-figure dialling refers to the change in the UK telephone numbering plan in 1966when the three-digit numbers for local telephone exchanges in director areas began to be assigned without reference to any correspondence to the letters on the telephone dial...

 began in the UK in 1966 following the successful conversion of telephone numbers in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, in 1963, which until then had also used the 3L-4N combinations—famously for example at POMpadour (which represented the numbers 706), LOUvre (later 508), and PIGalle (which was replaced by 744).

Exchange name formatting in the United States

The United States used a similar but slightly different variation. New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, Philadelphia, Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 and Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

 first used the 3L-4N system but replaced that with the so-called "2-5 numbers" or 2L-5D, two letters and five digits (for example a number on the Pennsylvania exchange would be shown as PEnnsylvania 6-5000
PEnnsylvania 6-5000
PEnnsylvania 6-5000 is claimed by its owner, the Hotel Pennsylvania, to be the oldest continuing phone number in New York City. The telephone number is based on the old telephone exchange name system. The first two letters "PE" in PE6-5000 stand for the rotary dial numbers 7 and 3, making the...

). This became the North American standard as customer-dialed long distance service (Direct Distance Dialing
Direct distance dialing
Direct distance dialing or direct dial is a telecommunications term for a network-provided service feature in which a call originator may, without operator assistance, call any other user outside the local calling area. DDD requires more digits in the number dialed than are required for calling...

) came into use through the 1950s.

As demand for phone service grew, the supply of assignable phone numbers began to dwindle and several North American area codes were split to enable reuse of numbers. As the growth accelerated, the decision was made to switch to All-Number Calling
All-Number Calling
All-number calling is a telephone numbering system that was introduced in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.Until the 1950s, local telephone numbers consisted of an exchange and a 5-digit phone number...

 (ANC), since there were several unpronounceable letter combinations that were not being used. This allowed more efficient use of the number supply; only two area code splits were necessary between 1962 and 1981. All-Number Calling was phased in slowly from 1958. Most areas had adopted it fully by the late 1960s, though it did not become universal until the 1980s.

The standard format for displaying telephone numbers that used exchange names was to capitalize the first few letters if they were dialed. Some European examples were given above; in the US, examples include:
  • MUrray Hill 5-9975 (one of the Ricardos' numbers on I Love Lucy
    I Love Lucy
    I Love Lucy is an American television sitcom starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley. The black-and-white series originally ran from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957, on the Columbia Broadcasting System...

    . Note that the H in Hill, although not dialed, is still capitalized)
  • GRamercy 5-1234 (typical North American, in New York or continent-wide after about 1950)
  • BALdwin 6828 (typical urban North American before move to two-digit exchange names)
  • MArket 7032 (typical urban North American six-digit phone number, phased out in 1950s)

If they were not dialed, it was more common to capitalize only the first letter of each part of the exchange name (e.g., "Metcalfe 6000" or "Fairmont 3335").

Such numbers could be of non-standard length, simply because they were not dialed, but quoted to an operator who plugged into the appropriate line.

During the 1950s, cities using six-digit numbers migrated to seven-digit. Typically, several six-digit exchanges were co-located in one building already, with new ones added as old ones had filled up. They were then combined into a new seven-digit number exchange.

Exchange name formatting in Canada

An example from Montreal, Quebec, on August 4, 1957:
  • WIlbank became WEllington 2
  • WEllington became WEllington 3 (a rare example of keeping the exchange name)
  • FItzroy became WEllington 5
  • GLenview became WEllington 7
  • VEndome became DUpont 7
  • HEmlock became POntiac 7
  • TRenmore became POntiac 8
  • HArbour became VIctor 5
  • MArquette became VIctor 9

The use of letters in exchange names resulted in the placement of letters on the telephone dial, even outside the areas using the letter/number combinations. Some areas at first used original letter schemes (notably Calgary
Calgary is a city in the Province of Alberta, Canada. It is located in the south of the province, in an area of foothills and prairie, approximately east of the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies...

, Alberta) until later standardization within North America. In Europe and elsewhere, other standards applied, notably in the placement of the letters O, Q and Z.

Phase-in of All-Number Calling

All-number calling was intiated as the number of private telephone lines and numbers began to increase in the post World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 period. AT&T anticipated that with the introduction of direct long distance dialing with the aid of area codes, it would be difficult to continue to come up with usable exchange names. As area codes were introduced in the mid 1960s AT&T tried in earnest to switch over to an all number system. However, the switch was very slow in its implementation, taking the better part of the 1970s and even into the early 1980s to complete. Thus, telephone exchange names were still be given out with telephone numbers well after the introduction of area codes.

AT&T employed a gradual strategy to ease the transition for the customers. Originally, directory listings were printed with the exchange names spelled out in full, e.g.
  • Jones John 123 Anystreet............BUtterfield 5-1212
  • Jones John Paul 5 Revolution Rd......ANdrew 3-2368

First stage was to print only the dialed letters:
  • Jones John 123 Anystreet....................BU 5-1212
  • Jones John Paul 5 Revolution Rd..........AN 3-2368

Second stage was to assign an unpronounceable combination in communities being converted from five- or fewer dialed digits to seven; no name was associated with the letters:
  • Ramsay Betty 12 Connecticut Rd...........RK 3-5225

Third stage was to assign ANC to smaller communities converting to seven-digit numbers.
  • Appleby Charles 1210 MacGill Lane.........553-0086

AT&T then proceeded to convert existing named exchanges to ANC, starting in smaller communities. No significant opposition arose until conversion began in major cities. In some cities such as San Francisco, opposition was organized; the opposition group in San Francisco was called the Anti Digit Dialing League, of which S. I. Hayakawa
S. I. Hayakawa
Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa was a Canadian-born American academic and political figure of Japanese ancestry. He was an English professor, and served as president of San Francisco State University and then as United States Senator from California from 1977 to 1983...

 was a notable member. The opposition forced AT&T to slow down the conversion, and names did not totally disappear in major cities until 1978 (New York City). Philadelphia had named exchanges in the Bell of Pennsylvania
Bell of Pennsylvania
Verizon Pennsylvania, Inc., formerly Bell Telephone Company of Philadelphia, The Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, and Bell Atlantic - Pennsylvania, Inc., who traded as Bell of Pennsylvania, is the Bell Operating Company serving most of Pennsylvania...

 telephone book as late as 1983, long after AT&T had hoped to complete the conversion. Even today, however, it is not uncommon in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 to see a new panel truck
Panel truck
A panel truck is a windowless cargo van built on a truck chassis.Similar in function to its smaller cousin, the sedan delivery; which is a station wagon with no backseat, and no side windows aft of the front doors...

 with a telephone number such as "JA 6-xxxx" painted on its side. A company in Philadelphia still letters its dump trucks with the DE 3 exchange as of 2009. Also, a company in Kansas City, Missouri still shows commercials using the WE Westport exchange in its phone number.

Bell Canada
Bell Canada
Bell Canada is a major Canadian telecommunications company. Including its subsidiaries such as Bell Aliant, Northwestel, Télébec, and NorthernTel, it is the incumbent local exchange carrier for telephone and DSL Internet services in most of Canada east of Manitoba and in the northern territories,...

, Alberta Government Telephones
Telus is a national telecommunications company in Canada that provides a wide range of telecommunications products and services including internet access, voice, entertainment, video, and satellite television. The company is based in Burnaby, British Columbia, part of Greater Vancouver...

 and B.C. Tel
BC Telephone and later BC Tel was the legal operating name for the province wide telephone company operating throughout the province of British Columbia, Canada....

 completed most conversions of existing numbers during the first half of the 1960s. Typically in larger communities, conversions would be timed with issues of the telephone directory.

For example, in London, Ontario
London, Ontario
London is a city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, situated along the Quebec City – Windsor Corridor. The city has a population of 352,395, and the metropolitan area has a population of 457,720, according to the 2006 Canadian census; the metro population in 2009 was estimated at 489,274. The city...

, three conversions took place starting in February 1962 and completing in September 1963. GEneral 2, 3 and 9 were converted first; later GLadstone 1 and 5, and finally GEneral 4 and 8.

Telephone exchange names in popular culture

George Clooney's character, Jack Taylor, in the movie One Fine Day explains that his mobile number is "PEnnsylvania 3317".

At least four popular songs use old telephone exchanges in their names: "PEnnsylvania 6-5000
PEnnsylvania 6-5000
PEnnsylvania 6-5000 is claimed by its owner, the Hotel Pennsylvania, to be the oldest continuing phone number in New York City. The telephone number is based on the old telephone exchange name system. The first two letters "PE" in PE6-5000 stand for the rotary dial numbers 7 and 3, making the...

" (PE 6-5000), recorded by Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
Alton Glenn Miller was an American jazz musician , arranger, composer, and bandleader in the swing era. He was one of the best-selling recording artists from 1939 to 1943, leading one of the best known "Big Bands"...

, "BEechwood 4-5789
Beechwood 4-5789
"Beechwood 4-5789" is a 1962 single released by Motown girl group The Marvelettes on the Tamla record label.-Original version:Written by Marvin Gaye, William "Mickey" Stevenson and George Gordy, the lyrics are about the narrator wanting a man she just met to call her number in order to "have a...

", by The Marvelettes
The Marvelettes
The Marvelettes were an American singing girl group on the Tamla label. Motown's first successful female vocal group, the Marvelettes are most notable for recording the company's first #1 Pop hit, "Please Mr...

, "LOnesome 7-7203
Lonesome 7-7203
"Lonesome 7-7203" is a 1963 single by Hawkshaw Hawkins, written by Justin Tubb. It was the final single release of his career, released in 1963 on the King label.-History:...

 by Hawkshaw Hawkins
Hawkshaw Hawkins
Harold Franklin Hawkins , better known as Hawkshaw Hawkins, was an American country music singer popular from the 1950s into the early 60s known for his rich, smooth vocals and music drawn from blues, boogie and honky tonk...

 and "ECho Valley 2-6809" by The Partridge Family
The Partridge Family
The Partridge Family is an American television sitcom about a widowed mother and her five children who embark on a music career. The series originally ran from September 25, 1970 until August 31, 1974, the last new episode airing on March 23, 1974, on the ABC network, as part of a Friday-night lineup...

. PEnnsylvania 6-5000
PEnnsylvania 6-5000
PEnnsylvania 6-5000 is claimed by its owner, the Hotel Pennsylvania, to be the oldest continuing phone number in New York City. The telephone number is based on the old telephone exchange name system. The first two letters "PE" in PE6-5000 stand for the rotary dial numbers 7 and 3, making the...

 was later spoofed in the Bugs Bunny
Bugs Bunny
Bugs Bunny is a animated character created in 1938 at Leon Schlesinger Productions, later Warner Bros. Cartoons. Bugs is an anthropomorphic gray rabbit and is famous for his flippant, insouciant personality and his portrayal as a trickster. He has primarily appeared in animated cartoons, most...

 cartoon Transylvania 6-5000
Transylvania 6-5000 (1963 film)
Transylvania 6-5000 is a short Merrie Melodies animated film directed by Chuck Jones and starring Bugs Bunny. Bugs demonstrates how to handle a pesky vampire with six simple magic incantations...


The title of BUtterfield 8
BUtterfield 8
BUtterfield 8 is a 1960 Metrocolor drama film directed by Daniel Mann, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Harvey. Taylor, then 28 years old, won an Academy Award for her performance...

, the 1935 John O'Hara
John O'Hara
John Henry O'Hara was an American writer. He initially became known for his short stories and later became a best-selling novelist whose works include Appointment in Samarra and BUtterfield 8. He was particularly known for an uncannily accurate ear for dialogue...

 novel whose film adaptation won Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor
Dame Elizabeth Rosemond "Liz" Taylor, DBE was a British-American actress. From her early years as a child star with MGM, she became one of the great screen actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age...

 an Academy Award for Best Actress
Academy Award for Best Actress
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role is one of the Academy Awards of merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry...

, refers to the exchange of the characters' telephone numbers.

Comic singer Allan Sherman
Allan Sherman
Allan Sherman was an American comedy writer and television producer who became famous as a song parodist in the early 1960s. His first album, My Son, the Folk Singer , became the fastest-selling record album up to that time...

 includes a song, "The Let's All Call Up AT&T and Protest to the President March" on his 1963 album "My Son, the Celebrity
My Son, the Celebrity
My Son, the Celebrity is a musical comedy album by Allan Sherman, released in the United States by Warner Bros. in January 1963.The album was the second of three straight albums by Sherman to reach #1 on the Billboard album charts. It reached #1 on Billboard's Top 150 Best Selling LPs chart for...

." In this song he suggests that people take their protest against all-digit dialing straight to the top.

Satirist Stan Freberg
Stan Freberg
Stanley Victor "Stan" Freberg is an American author, recording artist, animation voice actor, comedian, radio personality, puppeteer, and advertising creative director whose career began in 1944...

 included a sketch on the conversion to all-number calling on his 1966 album "Freberg Underground Show #1" (Capitol Records T/ST-2551), with the song "They Took Away Our Murray Hills."

The number RIchmond 9-5171 was the box office number for the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

 for most of the arena's existence.

In the 1980 film The Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers are an American blues and soul revivalist band founded in 1978 by comedy actors Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as part of a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live...

, several examples of "old style" exchange numbers can be seen, such as on the business card
Business card
Business cards are cards bearing business information about a company or individual. They are shared during formal introductions as a convenience and a memory aid. A business card typically includes the giver's name, company affiliation and contact information such as street addresses, telephone...

 handed to the men's-only hotel clerk by a police officer. This suggests either that even as late as the early 1980s, the move away from exchange names was not yet 100% complete, or that the film's director sought to convey an 'old-school' atmosphere to the film.

In the movie American Graffiti
American Graffiti
American Graffiti is a 1973 coming of age film co-written/directed by George Lucas starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips and Harrison Ford...

, disc jockey Wolfman Jack
Wolfman Jack
Robert Weston Smith, known commonly as Wolfman Jack was a gravelly voiced US disc jockey who became famous in the 1960s and 1970s.-Early career:...

 mentions phone number "DIamond-3132".

The Simpsons
The Simpsons
The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

often shows the title family's number as KL-5 xxxx (it has been quoted differently in various episodes), which follows the convention of using 555 numbers in fictitious TV and film portrayals. In at least one episode, the phone book is shown to have all numbers listed as KLondike 5-xxxx.

Similarly, in Seinfeld
Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, lasting nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself...

the characters often give telephone numbers beginning with KL-5.

The song "Promised Land
Promised Land (song)
"Promised Land" is a song lyric written by Chuck Berry to the melody of "Wabash Cannonball", an American folk song. The song was first recorded in this version by Chuck Berry in 1964 for his album St. Louis to Liverpool. Released in 1965, it was Berry's first single issued following his prison term...

", written by Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry
Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry is an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter, and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as "Maybellene" , "Roll Over Beethoven" , "Rock and Roll Music" and "Johnny B...

 and also performed by Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is widely known by the single name Elvis. He is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "the King"....

, has the Los Angeles operator being asked to connect to Norfolk, Virginia number TIdewater 4-1009 (sung as Tidewater four ten oh nine).

In the film “The Godfather
The Godfather
The Godfather is a 1972 American epic crime film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, based on the 1969 novel by Mario Puzo. With a screenplay by Puzo, Coppola and an uncredited Robert Towne, the film stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard...

,” Michael Corleone
Michael Corleone
Michael Corleone is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novels, The Godfather and The Sicilian. He is also the main character of the Godfather film trilogy that was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, in which he was portrayed by Al Pacino, who was twice nominated for an Academy Award for his...

asks an operator to connect him with Long Beach 4-5620, presumably the number for the main house on the Corleone compound.

External links