Telephone Number History

Why do we dial telephone numbers? Have you ever thought about it? Probably not. It's something that's always been there and most people take them for granted. And telephone numbers all started because of the measles. True story!

The very first use of telephone numbers were developed and first used in late 1879 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Physician, Moses Greeley Parker, realized that if all four of the city's telephone operators were incapacitated by the measles epidemic of the day, their replacements would have trouble learning the assignment of subscribers to the 200 jacks on the switchboard. So he recommended the use of numbers instead. Local telephone company management protested it at first fearing a customer revolt, but they also saw the logic of the suggestion and followed it. Subscribers embraced the plan and with that telephone numbers were born.

As the telephone network expanded and added more subscribers, phone companies tried to make it easier on people by using Telephone Exchange Names. So if you needed to reach us at Chromis, you would call ELmwood-78070. If you wanted to call Jenny you would have dialed UNderhill-75309. But over time, this got too complex and presented limitations. Usable names that were easy to distinguish and spell were in short supply, and the need for a comprehensive numbering plan that enabled long distance dialing, led to the introduction of all-number dialing in the 1960s. So this is what we now use in North America. We all know a telephone number to be a three digit area code (NPA), a three digit central office code (NXX), and four digits for the line number.

Remember when you only had to dial 7 digits of the 10 digit number? You still can today but it's hit or miss depending on where you live. The dial plan in some areas permits dialing numbers in the local calling area without using the area code. But given that there are 339 area codes in use (out of a possible 800, remember we can't start an area code with a 0 or a 1) and there's more than just one phone carrier, ten-digit dialing is almost mandatory.

So that's how we got here. But it's not necessarily where we'll stay. Can you send a text message to your business phone number? Probably not. However that's one of the problems we're tackling with So if you want to chat about how we're going to make that happen, call me at 602-FLanders-78073.