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In the late s, the Bell interests started utilizing their patent with a rental scheme, in which they would rent their instruments to individual users who would contract with other suppliers to connect them; for example from home to office to factory. Western Union and the Bell company both soon realized that a subscription service would be more profitable, with the invention of the telephone switchboard or central office. Such an office was staffed by an operator who connected the calls by personal names. Some have argued that use of the telephone altered the physical layout of American cities.
The latter part of and the early part of saw the first use of telephone numbers at Lowell, Massachusetts. During an epidemic of measles, the physician, Dr. Moses Greeley Parker , feared that Lowell's four telephone operators might all succumb to sickness and bring about paralysis of telephone service. He recommended the use of numbers for calling Lowell's more than subscribers so that substitute operators might be more easily trained in such an emergency.
Even after the assignment of numbers, operators still connected most calls into the early 20th century: "Hello, Central. Get me Underwood In rural areas with magneto crank telephones connected to party lines , the local phone number consisted of the line number plus the ringing pattern of the subscriber. To dial a number such as "3R" meant making a request to the operator the third party line if making a call off your own local one , followed by turning the telephone's crank once, a short pause, then twice and twice again.
In the most areas of North America , telephone numbers in metropolitan communities consisted of a combination of digits and letters, starting in the s until the s. Letters were translated to dialed digits, a mapping that was displayed directly on the telephone dial. Each of the digits 2 to 9, and sometimes 0, corresponded to a group of typically three letters. The leading two or three letters of a telephone number indicated the exchange name , for example, ED gewood and IV anhoe, and were followed by 5 or 4 digits.
The limitations that these system presented in terms of usable names that were easy to distinguish and spell, and the need for a comprehensive numbering plan that enabled direct-distance dialing, led to the introduction of all-number dialing in the s. The use of numbers starting in KL ondike-5 to represent fictional numbers in U. The "" prefix was reserved for telephone company use and was only consistently used for directory assistance information , being "—" for the local area. An attempt to dial a number from a movie in the real world will always result in an error message when dialed from a phone in the United States.
This reduces the likelihood of nuisance calls.
QU incy 5— was also used, because there was no Q available. Phone numbers were traditionally tied down to a single location; because exchanges were "hard-wired", the first three digits of any number were tied to the geographic location of the exchange. The North American Numbering Plan of prescribed a format of telephone numbers that included two leading letters of the name of the central office to which each telephone was connected.
This continued the practice already in place by many telephone companies for decades. Traditionally, these names were often the names of towns, villages, or were other locally significant names. Communities that required more than one central office may have used other names for each central office, such as Main , East , West , Central , or the names of local districts.
Names were convenient to use and reduced errors when telephone numbers were exchanged verbally between subscribers and operators. When subscribers could dial themselves, the initial letters of the names were converted to digits as displayed on the rotary dial. Thus, telephone numbers contained one, two, or even three letters followed by up to five numerals.
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Such numbering plans are called 2L-4N, or simply 2—4, for example, as shown in the photo of a telephone dial of right. The leading letters were typically bolded in print. This process was complete by the early s, when a new numbering plan, often call all number calling ANC became the standard in North America.
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In the UK , letters were assigned to numbers in a similar fashion to North America, except that the letter O was allocated to the digit 0 zero ; digit 6 had only M and N. The letter Q was later added to the zero position on British dials, in anticipation of direct international dialing to Paris, which commenced in This was necessary because French dials already had Q on the zero position, and there were exchange names in the Paris region which contained the letter Q.
Until then, only the director areas Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester and the adjacent non-director areas had the lettered dials; the director exchanges used the three-letter, four-number format. With the introduction of trunk dialing, the need for all callers to be able to dial numbers with letters in them led to the much more widespread use of lettered dials.
The need for dials with letters ceased with the conversion to all-digit numbering in In the middle 20th century in North America when a call could not be completed, for example because the phone number was not assigned, had been disconnected, or was experiencing technical difficulties, the call was routed to an intercept operator who informed the caller.
In the s this service was converted to Automatic Intercept Systems which automatically choose and present an appropriate intercept message. Disconnected numbers are reassigned to new users after the rate of calls to them declines. Area codes with lower numbers that were easier to dial were given to high population and high call volume areas. The original area codes only existed in the US and Canada.
Parts of Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii were not yet included. When the phone formats we commonly use today first came into service in the s and the s, blocks of phone numbers were allocated to a phone carrier in 10, phone numbers ie. Frequently, the 10, numbers would be enough for a small town with larger towns being allocated multiple prefixes. Further, local phone carriers frequently had a monopoly on local phone service which prevented large portions of an allocated block from being unutilized.
In the s, cell phones became much more popular which created an explosion of demand for new phone numbers. Cell phones also reduced the monopoly of local phone providers which reduced utilization of allocated prefixes. Instead of a single primary phone carrier, cities had two or more carriers - each needing their own prefix.
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In addition, the rise in popularity in the internet dial up and DSL and voice over IP VOIP , local interenet service providers and cable companies started to request prefixes. Many of these prefixes included few, if any, subscribers. For decades, new area codes were created through a "split" of an existing area code into multiple regions.
Normally, the more populated region would continue to use the existing area code. The less populated areas would have all existing phone numbers reassigned to use a new area code to free up more numbers in the original area code. This process forced many into a new phone number which would require updates to letterhead, business cards, phone directories, personal contact lists, etc.
Many people would dial the incorrect area code which caused confusion. In , area code was created as the first "overlay" area code. With an overlay area code, the overlay serves the same geographic as the original to increase the pool of numbers available in the area. When the original phone systems were put in place, 7-digit dialing without the area code could be used to make local calls, and digit dialing with the area code only needed to be used for long distance calls. In , area code was introduced as the first overlay with forced 10 digit dialing for local calls.
Initially, there was substantial public resistance to overlays because of the digit dialing requirement for local calls. However, the last area code split in Canada was in with the split of splitting off and the last area code split in the US was in with splitting off No area code splits are currently proposed and both countries have agreed: without exceptional circumstances, all new area codes will be overlays.
Today, 7-digit dialing is broken in most major cities. Many areas not served by an overlay can still use 7-digit dialing. Something besides allocating more area codes needed to be done to improve the system.
After a few trials, mandatory number pooling was implemented in with a national rollout to the largest metropolitan areas. With number pooling, an entire prefix of 10, numbers is allocated to a specific area, but phone numbers are only allocated to a specific carrier in 1, block increments. While several US markets are still not required to implement number pooling and Canada has no number pooling, the effects dramatically slowed the need to allocate new prefixes and new area codes because of increased utilization.
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