Monday, May 12, 2008

Direct Dial? Hello, Central?

As we worry about new area codes splitting communities and overlays, here's a bit of history to prove that nothing ever stays the same.
In April 1956, Angelenos were informed that Pacific Telephone--Ma Bell--was implementing a newfangled service called Direct Distance Dialing.

Soon, 22 million phones across the US could be called direct--without dialing an operator first! San Diego and Escondido would get the service that month, but Los Angeles would be added within the next three years.

The downside was that all phone numbers had to be seven digits long. What a pain!

I remember that my Dad wrote our phone number--which began with "FAirfax"--right onto the dining room wallpaper. He underlined the last digit, because that had just been added and it was important for us all to remember that last "8" when we recited our phone number.

So in a 1956 Los Angeles Times story, a Pacific Telephone Co. VP named James S. Cantlen patiently explained that the whole country was broken up into dialing areas, each with its own special "area code". Most states only had one dialing area, but California had 5 "area codes" making things very complicated. Nevertheless, we were assured, a long distance call would take no more than 20 seconds to complete. And if the change was too complex for your fingers, operators would still be available to put through the call for you.

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