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Old 01-24-2020, 12:18 PM
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Is (or was) there anything inherently numeric about phone numbers?


Question is whether the numbers in phone numbers represent quantities of anything, or whether they’re just being used purely as symbols (similar to sodoku). If the latter, were they initially used because at some point in phone technology they did represent numeric quantities or were they always just handy symbols?

ISTR at some point there were phones where after each entry you heard a number of clicks corresponding to the number dialed, but – even if I’m remembering correctly to begin with – that may have been artificially added and not inherent to the system.

(I was contemplating the notion of a system of phone numbers where letters of the alphabet were used instead of numbers. It would be easier to remember the – shorter – phone “numbers”, but would make for a less functional keyboard.)
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Old 01-24-2020, 12:37 PM
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Wow! Somebody who has never heard of rotary dial phones. 
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Old 01-24-2020, 12:45 PM
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(I was contemplating the notion of a system of phone numbers where letters of the alphabet were used instead of numbers. It would be easier to remember the – shorter – phone “numbers”, but would make for a less functional keyboard.)
Will the system include Q and Z?
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Old 01-24-2020, 12:49 PM
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Wow! Somebody who has never heard of rotary dial phones. 
Unless there's some more meaning to this comment than is readily apparent, you appear to have misunderstood the question.
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Old 01-24-2020, 12:54 PM
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ISTR at some point there were phones where after each entry you heard a number of clicks corresponding to the number dialed, but – even if I’m remembering correctly to begin with – that may have been artificially added and not inherent to the system.
That was dialing. The clicks were voltage pulses -- actually voltage interruption pulses -- and the central office decoded the clicks by advancing a 10-position switch once per pulse. So the number you dialed equaled a number of pulses equaled a switch position to physically select a path through the central office switch frame to connect your phone to the destination phone.

Because it was a mechanical system, 10 values per dialing position were a reasonable value for a mechanical switch system to be designed. Besides, how small are your fingers? 10 positions on a dial worked from a human-factors perspective as well.

Last edited by gnoitall; 01-24-2020 at 12:57 PM.
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Old 01-24-2020, 12:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Fotheringay-Phipps View Post
ISTR at some point there were phones where after each entry you heard a number of clicks corresponding to the number dialed, but – even if I’m remembering correctly to begin with – that may have been artificially added and not inherent to the system.
You're recalling correctly.

Here's a demonstration of how you dialed a rotary phone and another video of the technology inside the phone.
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Old 01-24-2020, 12:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Fotheringay-Phipps View Post
Question is whether the numbers in phone numbers represent quantities of anything, or whether they’re just being used purely as symbols (similar to sodoku). If the latter, were they initially used because at some point in phone technology they did represent numeric quantities or were they always just handy symbols?

ISTR at some point there were phones where after each entry you heard a number of clicks corresponding to the number dialed, but – even if I’m remembering correctly to begin with – that may have been artificially added and not inherent to the system.

(I was contemplating the notion of a system of phone numbers where letters of the alphabet were used instead of numbers. It would be easier to remember the – shorter – phone “numbers”, but would make for a less functional keyboard.)
The clicks were not artificial - they were a direct representation of the interruption of the signal as the dial returned to its rest state, and the number of interruptions/clicks corresponded to the number being dialed. Early push button phones recreated the clicks as the way the push buttoning interfaced with a system expecting clicks.
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Old 01-24-2020, 01:01 PM
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Originally Posted by gnoitall View Post
That was dialing. The clicks were voltage pulses -- actually voltage interruption pulses -- and the central office decoded the clicks by advancing a 10-position switch once per pulse. So the number you dialed equaled a number of pulses equaled a switch position to physically select a path through the central office switch frame to connect your phone to the destination phone.
And if i remember correctly, there were techniques to dial using the hang-up switch by tapping it.
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Old 01-24-2020, 01:03 PM
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I was contemplating the notion of a system of phone numbers where letters of the alphabet were used instead of numbers. It would be easier to remember the – shorter – phone “numbers”, but would make for a less functional keyboard.
It was probably just an issue of functionality. It would have been more difficult to design a dialing system with twenty-six separate positions than one with ten separate positions. (IIRC there were times when phone misread a digit even with just ten of them.)

And I question whether the mnemonics would have been that much better. You still would have had to remember a random string of characters. It would have been a shorter string with twenty-six characters rather than ten but you would have had more characters to confuse together.

Diving into the issue of psychology, it may be easier to remember a string of numbers rather than a string of letters because we don't associate strings of numbers with words and that minimizes the possible confusion. If we were memorizing strings of random letters, our brains might end up getting them mixed up with our memorized vocabulary.
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Old 01-24-2020, 01:20 PM
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Up until the 60s and we went to all digit dialing. Phone numbers were things like Klondike 4-3246. Klondike meant 55 because both K an L were associated with the 5 dial position (or later button). KL4 was called the exchange and was usually associated with a particular telephone "office". Pretty much everyone in your neighborhood had a number that started KL4. Next neighborhood over might be YEllowstone 2. You knew approximately where your friend lived by knowing the exchange
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Old 01-24-2020, 01:28 PM
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Up until the 60s and we went to all digit dialing. Phone numbers were things like Klondike 4-3246. Klondike meant 55 because both K an L were associated with the 5 dial position (or later button). KL4 was called the exchange and was usually associated with a particular telephone "office". Pretty much everyone in your neighborhood had a number that started KL4. Next neighborhood over might be YEllowstone 2. You knew approximately where your friend lived by knowing the exchange
This is (apparently) a “US thing.”
I once worked for a company that listed their phone number as 1-800-444-CRAP. One of our contractors in England had to get is kid’s Fisher-Price toy telephone out to figure out what “CRAP” meant in numbers.
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Old 01-24-2020, 01:33 PM
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Before touch-tone (tone dialing) pulse was simpler- it could be done with relays and 1910's technology instead of fancy electronics. Determining number pressed by tone required some moderately fancy electronics - in the phone and the switch office. That tech would cost serious bucks. IIRC some of the smaller more stodgy regional phone companies had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century in the early 90's. By then switch technology was a LOT cheaper.

Then over the 90's and 00's, most phone companies stopped allowing pulse dialing. Also, most do not support the power required 48V mechanical bells any more.
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Old 01-24-2020, 02:15 PM
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And if i remember correctly, there were techniques to dial using the hang-up switch by tapping it.
I used to "dial" that way, just for fun! I had trouble with 8, 9 and 0 (actually 10). My '9' might be interpreted as '63', say, or '81' since even a slight pause meant 'end-of-digit.' Nine rapid clicks without pause were needed, but that was hard for clumsy me.
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Old 01-24-2020, 02:44 PM
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The clicks were not artificial - they were a direct representation of the interruption of the signal as the dial returned to its rest state, and the number of interruptions/clicks corresponded to the number being dialed. Early push button phones recreated the clicks as the way the push buttoning interfaced with a system expecting clicks.
No data to back this up but I was told by someone who worked for the phone company back in the 60's-70's. The reason the numbers are laid out top to bottom on a phone is so they are opposite of a 10 key adding machine. The reason was when they first started designing the push button phones (that still used the pulse/clicks), they found that secretaries who were used to operating adding machines would key the number in too fast and overload the pulses. They reversed the number layout so they would have to slow down when dialing.
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Old 01-24-2020, 02:56 PM
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I used to "dial" that way, just for fun! I had trouble with 8, 9 and 0 (actually 10). My '9' might be interpreted as '63', say, or '81' since even a slight pause meant 'end-of-digit.' Nine rapid clicks without pause were needed, but that was hard for clumsy me.
I used to do it for fun when I was about ten years old.

A few years later I had a friend who worked at the ticket booth of an old rundown movie theater. There was a phone in the booth for answering show-time questions and such, but ticket sellers got real bored on slow days(there were a lot of them) and tended to want make phone calls to friends. The theater didn't want customers to get a busy signal while an employee was catching up on gossip, so there was a lock on the dial.

The old tap-on-the-hook trick easily bypassed the intent of the lock. My buddy also figured out that it was easier to do a quick ten taps to get the operator than to successfully tap out a full seven digit number. Operators were happy to place a call for you. My friend didn't work there long. He was fired for receiving too many personal calls. They never figured out that he was making them.
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Old 01-24-2020, 04:26 PM
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Question is whether the numbers in phone numbers represent quantities of anything, or whether they’re just being used purely as symbols (similar to sodoku). If the latter, were they initially used because at some point in phone technology they did represent numeric quantities or were they always just handy symbols?
Nowadays they are generally just symbols. However, originally, although the numbers didn't have any intrinsic technical meaning, they were found to be very useful for organizing manual switchboard plugs.

The earliest manual switchboard telephones systems were used to connect together the wires leading to the two callers. In a small setting, say a business' internal telephone system, it would be possible to label the plugs by name, so if someone called for "Mr. Big" there would be a plug with his name. But this would quickly become cumbersome in a municipal system, and the natural solution was to come up with some sort of numbering scheme. An analogy is that a small bed-and-breakfast can organize its rooms by descriptive names, but a hotel needs a numbering scheme.

Another example is bank accounts, which long ago were organized by owners' names, instead of account numbers.
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Old 01-24-2020, 05:18 PM
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This is (apparently) a “US thing.”
Nope, my childhood phone number in London (1960s/1970s) was "Tudor 1087" TUD was 883 and that's how Mum answered the phone.

Finchley (down the road) was FIN or 346, Highgate (up the road) was HIG or 444.

There is a list of them HERE.

Last edited by MrFloppy; 01-24-2020 at 05:20 PM.
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Old 01-24-2020, 05:31 PM
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In a small setting, say a business' internal telephone system, it would be possible to label the plugs by name, so if someone called for "Mr. Big" there would be a plug with his name. But this would quickly become cumbersome in a municipal system, and the natural solution was to come up with some sort of numbering scheme.
Apparently, numbers were used from the very start, the moment phone lines were constructed.

According to this:

Quote:
When the operator answered we heard her ask for the number we wanted, which of course we said....

Our operator knew everyone on her exchange by name and number because there were so few subscribers. At first there were only eight. The post office itself was number one and the local police station was number two. My grandparents' home was number three and we were number four. The numbers were allocated in the order in which householders subscribed, and they were connected in that order. Another number was for the next exchange which was used for routing calls to remote exchanges.
The numbers already existed at the time automated dialing was invented.

The original automated dialing tech, using those large 10-position relays was developed precisely to work with the existing system of telephone numbers consisting of digits between zero and nine.
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Old 01-24-2020, 06:03 PM
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We can't discuss this without at least a nod to a Kansas undertaker called Almon Brown Strowger. It was he who invented the Strowger switch, which made automatic dialling possible.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almon_Brown_Strowger
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Old 01-24-2020, 06:28 PM
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Nope, my childhood phone number in London (1960s/1970s) was "Tudor 1087" TUD was 883 and that's how Mum answered the phone.

Finchley (down the road) was FIN or 346, Highgate (up the road) was HIG or 444.

There is a list of them HERE.
Interesting, because our consultant was in the London area, and his phone didn't have letters on it. I wonder if it got phased out by the 90's.
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Old 01-24-2020, 07:27 PM
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Interesting, because our consultant was in the London area, and his phone didn't have letters on it. I wonder if it got phased out by the 90's.
Officially, the GPO did away with the mnemonics in 1966 but it took a long time for folks to lose the habit.

I would say by 1980 it was gone altogether. I started work around then for a company in Archway, London (ARC, or 272) but I don't ever remember giving out the number to customers as "Archway 3400".

The phone numbers didn't change BTW. My parents had TUD-1087 and then 883-1087 for 30 something years.
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Old 01-24-2020, 07:30 PM
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Those mechanical exchanges didn't just have a ten-position rotary switch. They had a whole room full of banks and banks of them.

One rotary switch, once set into a position, held one digit of a phone number. A bank of seven of them, set one at a time as you dialed, held the entire number. As you dialed the first digit (more precisely, when you let go of the dial and it turned back to its home position), the first switch got set to its position, then some other relay connected your phone to the second rotary switch.

When you dialed the second digit, that got set into the second switch, and then some relay connected your phone to the third switch. And so on.

A phone exchange consisted of a room full of rows of banks of seven switches to accommodate multiple phone calls being in progress at once.

It's possible you could see an exhibit of such a set-up in a museum somewhere. The Pioneer Museum in Paso Robles, CA had such a display once. (I kind of think it's not there any more ) One full wall of the exhibit was full of rotary switches. There was a desk in the middle of the room, with a rotary telephone on it. You could dial a number on the phone and see all the switches getting set.
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Old 01-24-2020, 07:42 PM
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As noted above, pulse dialing continued to be available for some time after tone "dialing" took over, eventually to be phased out.

And in case you had a touch-tone phone but your phone company only supported pulse dialing, phones had a "TT/DP" switch on them. Set to DP (dial pulse), your phone would emit clicks instead of tones.

And if a tone-driven exchange received a call in pulse mode, it would convert that, effectively, to the equivalent tones.

In those senses, pulse dialing became an artificial contrivance. The phone, instead of having a mechanical dial that sent electrical pulses, generated fake pulses. And the exchange, if it wanted tones but received pulses, artificially did the reverse conversion (as opposed to having mechanical rotary switches). So once that began happening, pulses did become artificial as OP thought. But it wasn't always that way.

My phone has a TT/DP switch. I never tried dialing with pulses to see if my phone company still can handle it.

"Dialing" a number used to mean, very literally, dialing a number. Phones no longer have dials, and we no longer literally dial numbers, but dialing is still called dialing, and always will be.
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Old 01-24-2020, 08:15 PM
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As noted above, pulse dialing continued to be available for some time after tone "dialing" took over, eventually to be phased out.

And in case you had a touch-tone phone but your phone company only supported pulse dialing, phones had a "TT/DP" switch on them. Set to DP (dial pulse), your phone would emit clicks instead of tones.

And if a tone-driven exchange received a call in pulse mode, it would convert that, effectively, to the equivalent tones.
When I was at university, our local Bell Canada network had the reverse situation: your phone could emit DTMF / Touch-Tone sounds, then you heard the exchange at the other end tediously converting those sounds into sequences of clicks. This didn't happen in other towns, only there. I think this is what the OP was referring to.

At one point it became even more ridiculous: Bell Canada made Touch-Tone mandatory and billable, but they still hadn't upgraded that particular exchange. So when you dialed with your mandatory Touch-Tone, which you were paying for, you still had to wait for the click-click-click-click-clicks before your call could be routed.

Last edited by Heracles; 01-24-2020 at 08:16 PM.
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Old 01-24-2020, 08:26 PM
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In the early days of touch-tone, at least in areas where I lived, touch-tone was optional and cost more.

I first lived fully independently in 1973. Applying for a phone account, the service rep asked me if I wanted pulse or tone, and noted that tone dialing cost more.

In those days, the Phone Company (it was AT&T, or Ma Bell, everywhere) really wanted to convert the world, the universe, and everything to touch-tone. They pushed is incessantly and vigorously. Yet it remained optional, and they charged more for it.

So I asked the service rep why they did that. No answer was to be had.

I got the rotary phone account.

(Note, this was long before you could do any kind of electric business or data entry by touch-tone, which is of course a routine thing now.)
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Old 01-24-2020, 08:59 PM
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In the early days of touch-tone, at least in areas where I lived, touch-tone was optional and cost more.
I seem to recall a touch-tone surcharge on phones here in Chicago up until the late 80s at least, but I feel it was more like the early 90s. And pulse dialing worked fine through at least the mid-90s, as my grandfather had only owned a rotary dial phone.

ETA: Heck, I see a Boston Globe article from 2003 that mentions touch-tone fees, so it looks like they went on for far longer than I thought. (Unless they made touch tone mandatory and just charged a fee anyway for it.)

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Old 01-24-2020, 09:03 PM
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When I was growing up, the town next to us didn't have either touch tone or pulse dialing -- they still used operators. Phones had no dial; you'd pick it up and say the number. Many of the phone only had three-digit numbers -- you'd tell the operator "467, please" and they'd connect you. I've seen evidence that one business had a phone number of "2."

When they did get an exchange, a leading zero was added to the number.
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Old 01-24-2020, 09:49 PM
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To get back to the OP, the early exchanges were manned by operators. The exchanges were named, often by locales. My grandmother's exchange was SHErbrooke, which was the name of her area. Ours was GRAnite, which probably didn't represent anything. At any rate you didn't dial, you picked up the phone and the operator asked, "Number please". If you were calling a number in the same exchange you gave him (in the really early days, the operators were mostly men as they tended to have a longer reach. If you asked for 3277, say, he would take the phono plug (google if you want to see what one looks like) and plug it into the socket that was in the 77th position of the 32nd row of the 100 by 100 plugboard he was facing. He would also press a button that would ring that number, until it was answered. That 100 by 100 plugboard was what required the long reach. If you needed another exchange, the operator would use a "trunk line" to call the other exchange and route the call through that. When long distance calling became possible, you operator would call one in the next town over, who would call one in a further town who would call one... Well you get the idea. If you called, say, NY to LA, it could take an hour to set it up and you would be called back when your call was finally through.

Then came dialing and it was all automated. But long distance calls still required lots of time and effort and the charges were proportional. Then direct distance dialing and it all was easy. But the last four digits go back to those 100 by 100 plugboards. As for the first three, Well, our GRA became GR2 and then GR4 and GR6 were added, those numbers having no particular significance AFAIK. Finally it changed to 472, just the numerical equivalent of GRA, but these no longer represented distinct exchanges. When direct distance dialing came in, the area codes were assigned arbitrarily, but the largest population centers got the easiest to dial ones. So NY was--and still is--212, and my hometown of Philly was 215. I suppose Chicago and LA must have been 213 and 214, but I don't feel like checking. Later on everything changed as the need for more area codes arose. And ease of dialing stopped mattering with touch tone phones. I still have an old dial phone in my house and it still works fine. So the phone companies still support the dials although probably not using the old relays that were the first automated exchanges.
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Old 01-24-2020, 10:02 PM
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I suppose Chicago and LA must have been 213 and 214, but I don't feel like checking.
Close. Chicago is 312; LA is 213; Detroit is 313; St. Louis 314. 214 is I think Dallas/Ft Worth, lemme look it up ... yeah. Now, of course you have many more area codes for those cities, and what was, say, 312 in Chicago and its environs has been split off into tons of area codes, but those were the original ones for the metro areas.

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Old 01-24-2020, 10:23 PM
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No data to back this up but I was told by someone who worked for the phone company back in the 60's-70's. The reason the numbers are laid out top to bottom on a phone is so they are opposite of a 10 key adding machine. The reason was when they first started designing the push button phones (that still used the pulse/clicks), they found that secretaries who were used to operating adding machines would key the number in too fast and overload the pulses. They reversed the number layout so they would have to slow down when dialing.
I don't think this story is accurate. The tone signal timing is only 40 milliseconds; I doubt that even the fastest secretary could key numbers faster than 125 numbers in one second.

The company story was that the early touch-tone buttons had both the number and the 3 letters on them, and to arrange the buttons like an adding machine would have had the alphabet out of order, which they thought would confuse people.


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Nowadays they are generally just symbols. However, originally, although the numbers didn't have any intrinsic technical meaning, they were found to be very useful for organizing manual switchboard plugs.
The number DID have some significance in the 1940s, when the Area Code system was designed: the pulse dialing system timing varied by digit -- it took 9 times longer to dial a 9 than a 1. So they assigned big population centers area codes that took the shortest time for the dial system to process (212=New York City, 213=Los Angeles, 312=Chicago, 313=Detroit).
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Old 01-24-2020, 11:12 PM
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Party lines. Two or more homes shared the same line; different ring-tones informed us who was being called. If you picked up the line to dial out and heard voices you hung up real quick. We had a party line circa 1960; when did they finally go away?
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Old 01-25-2020, 01:25 AM
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That was dialing. The clicks were voltage pulses -- actually voltage interruption pulses -- and the central office decoded the clicks by advancing a 10-position switch once per pulse. So the number you dialed equaled a number of pulses equaled a switch position to physically select a path through the central office switch frame to connect your phone to the destination phone.
And that's the reason you never have digit '1' as the leading number in either area codes or exchange numbers (the 1st 3 digits) -- with pulse dialing, the equipment couldn't tell a random interruption on the line from a dialed '1'. And random clicks are frequent in a system with thousands of miles of wires on poles, and hundreds of technicians fixing wires every day, etc. So all the telephone numbers start with a non-1 digit (2-10 clicks) -- this told the system that this was a phone number coming, so after that '1' could be used as part of the number.

Originally, all area codes had '0' or '1' as the second digit. This meant that by the time the 2nd digit was dialed, the system could tell if it was a local call or long distance, and could begin setting up the switching route while the customer was still dialing the remaining 5 or 8 digits. The few seconds saved on each call really adds up on the thousands of phone calls dialed each hour.
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Old 01-25-2020, 01:56 AM
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I used to "dial" that way, just for fun! I had trouble with 8, 9 and 0 (actually 10). My '9' might be interpreted as '63', say, or '81' since even a slight pause meant 'end-of-digit.' Nine rapid clicks without pause were needed, but that was hard for clumsy me.
We used to make calls on the old MIT dormline system that way all the time.
These pulses were a problem for me. I used to tape albums, and my recording of the long piano chord at the end of "Day in the Life" was marred by clicks from the phone on the other side of the wall my needle picked up.
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Old 01-25-2020, 02:07 AM
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I
In those days, the Phone Company (it was AT&T, or Ma Bell, everywhere) really wanted to convert the world, the universe, and everything to touch-tone. They pushed is incessantly and vigorously. Yet it remained optional, and they charged more for it.
And to make this even more ironic, touchtone was cheaper for the phone company than pulse dialing. A significant part of the cost of a call was setup, which used the switch. Since it took less time for the customer to dial a pulse call, it cost more. And remember back then many calls were no answers or busy for which the phone company paid in terms of switch time but couldn't charge for.

Why did Bell do it? Because they could. I used to work there.
  #35  
Old 01-25-2020, 02:45 AM
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that and phone menus is what really pushed touch-tone over the top i mean could you imagine trying to navigate your cc company or bank on a pulse phone?
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Old 01-25-2020, 04:20 AM
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that and phone menus is what really pushed touch-tone over the top i mean could you imagine trying to navigate your cc company or bank on a pulse phone?
I never heard of phone menus or any kind of telephone data entry until long after touch-tone was well established. I suppose there were some early systems experimenting with it. I'm sure the designers of the whole touch-tone protocol had it in mind from the beginning that it could be used that way, and foresaw a future for touch-tone data entry. Note that the * and # keys were on touch-tone phones from the beginning even though they weren't initially used for anything; they had some kind of plans for that.

Does anybody know any of the history of phone menu systems or phone data entry? From what I know, that didn't become available, or at least not common, until years later.
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Old 01-25-2020, 07:27 AM
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And that's the reason you never have digit '1' as the leading number in either area codes or exchange numbers (the 1st 3 digits) -- with pulse dialing, the equipment couldn't tell a random interruption on the line from a dialed '1'. And random clicks are frequent in a system with thousands of miles of wires on poles, and hundreds of technicians fixing wires every day, etc. So all the telephone numbers start with a non-1 digit (2-10 clicks) -- this told the system that this was a phone number coming, so after that '1' could be used as part of the number.

Originally, all area codes had '0' or '1' as the second digit. This meant that by the time the 2nd digit was dialed, the system could tell if it was a local call or long distance, and could begin setting up the switching route while the customer was still dialing the remaining 5 or 8 digits. The few seconds saved on each call really adds up on the thousands of phone calls dialed each hour.
This explains why, since 1935 in the UK, we have 999 as our emergency number. '0' was already used to call the operator. which ruled out 000. 111 would have enabled faster dialling which would have been a good thing in some circumstances, but it would have been more prone to misrouting. 222 was already used by the Abbey local telephone exchange (ABB=222), so 999 was chosen as the best option.

I remember being taught how to dial it in the dark by using two fingers - one in the '0' and the next in the '9'.
  #38  
Old 01-25-2020, 09:48 AM
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And that's the reason you never have digit '1' as the leading number in either area codes or exchange numbers (the 1st 3 digits) -- with pulse dialing, the equipment couldn't tell a random interruption on the line from a dialed '1'. And random clicks are frequent in a system with thousands of miles of wires on poles, and hundreds of technicians fixing wires every day, etc. So all the telephone numbers start with a non-1 digit (2-10 clicks) -- this told the system that this was a phone number coming, so after that '1' could be used as part of the number.

Originally, all area codes had '0' or '1' as the second digit. This meant that by the time the 2nd digit was dialed, the system could tell if it was a local call or long distance, and could begin setting up the switching route while the customer was still dialing the remaining 5 or 8 digits. The few seconds saved on each call really adds up on the thousands of phone calls dialed each hour.
I'm not convinced. Your story doesn't explain why 1 or 0 was never used as the second digit of an exchange. And the answer seems simple. Exchanges were originally two letters and a digit, and there were no letters associated with 1 or 0. Once direct long distance dialing was enabled, long distance was signaled by an initial 1. Remember calls within your area code could be long distance, and calls to a different area code might not be long distance.
  #39  
Old 01-25-2020, 11:07 AM
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Party lines. Two or more homes shared the same line; different ring-tones informed us who was being called. If you picked up the line to dial out and heard voices you hung up real quick. We had a party line circa 1960; when did they finally go away?
The last one I personally knew of was in the 1980s. I did a bit of googling to see if any still existed. I figured there had to be at least a few oddballs out there.

According to AT&T, there are still thousands of "party lines" out there, but most only go to a single user these days (hence the quotes). All of the other users have dropped off of the service, but there is at least one customer still using the original party line.

I also found a reference to a camp with a bunch of cabins in California that still uses a party line.
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Old 01-25-2020, 11:22 AM
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There was a push to get rid of the remaining party lines in the 80s/90s as local communities started creating 911 systems that could trace calls.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 01-25-2020 at 11:26 AM.
  #41  
Old 01-25-2020, 11:30 AM
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The last one I personally knew of was in the 1980s. I did a bit of googling to see if any still existed. I figured there had to be at least a few oddballs out there.

According to AT&T, there are still thousands of "party lines" out there, but most only go to a single user these days (hence the quotes). All of the other users have dropped off of the service, but there is at least one customer still using the original party line.

I also found a reference to a camp with a bunch of cabins in California that still uses a party line.
I think my folks had a party line into 1977 or so. They were happy to be rid of it.
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Old 01-27-2020, 08:05 PM
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In this paper, we being the study of a class of mathematical expressions of the form x1 x2 x3 - y0 y1 y2 y3, x,y E [0,1,2...9]. Such expressions are generally known as the phone numbers. They involve the subtraction of a four digit number from a three digit number. These numbers are compiled annually and published by the local phone companies that were at one time associated with Bell Labs.
Opening paragraph to "The Mathematics of Telephone Numbers", from the Annals of Improbable Research 1:5 (Sept/Oct 1995).
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:42 PM
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My friends had a party line at their house in the Cape Cod National Seashore until about 1980.

When I was young, in my grandparents' tiny village in upstate NY, all you needed to dial for a local call was the last 4 digits

I was once working on developing an audio-text system that used touch tones as the commands. We'd upload audio recordings from focus groups about various market-research topics (eg, press 1 to hear about cheese, press 2 to hear about crust on a project for Pizza Hut). I was really frustrated when one clip could not get uploaded completely - it would always cut off. It turned out that one of the respondents' voice exactly mimicked the tone combination for whichever was the command for "stop recording" so we had to get a special filter to eliminate just the frequencies that corresponded to the key tones (which are actually combinations of the tones in the 3 columns and 4 rows, as I came to understand it).
  #44  
Old 01-28-2020, 08:28 PM
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I was once working on developing an audio-text system that used touch tones as the commands. We'd upload audio recordings from focus groups about various market-research topics (eg, press 1 to hear about cheese, press 2 to hear about crust on a project for Pizza Hut). I was really frustrated when one clip could not get uploaded completely - it would always cut off. It turned out that one of the respondents' voice exactly mimicked the tone combination for whichever was the command for "stop recording" so we had to get a special filter to eliminate just the frequencies that corresponded to the key tones (which are actually combinations of the tones in the 3 columns and 4 rows, as I came to understand it).
There are 4 columns, not 3, in the specification, giving a total of 16 buttons. Only 12 buttons are used in the civilian version of Touch-tone. The other 4 signals were intended for other uses, for example, signaling security & encryption levels on military phone systems. I don't know how much they wer actually used for that in practice. Possibly the extra 4 are used now for internal phone system signaling? Or are they just abandoned as an archaic, unused feature?
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Old 01-28-2020, 11:35 PM
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(I was contemplating the notion of a system of phone numbers where letters of the alphabet were used instead of numbers. It would be easier to remember the – shorter – phone “numbers”, but would make for a less functional keyboard.)
Do you **really** think it would be easier to remember "QpTXd"
than "555-1047"?
  #46  
Old 01-28-2020, 11:42 PM
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a 5-character alpha word could replace an 7 or 8 digit numeric.
but...
In addition to the difficulty of memorizing random string of characters(goodness we suffer enough with computer passwords already!), you would need to eliminate a vast amount of potential "numbers" to avoid offense.
Or would you want your number to be "whore","chink","farts", or any other of many million possibly negative word-lookalikes?
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Old 01-28-2020, 11:57 PM
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There are 4 columns, not 3, in the specification, giving a total of 16 buttons. Only 12 buttons are used in the civilian version of Touch-tone.
Imagine my surprise to see that the wall phone Young Sheldon's Meemaw was using in a recent episode had a 16-key Touch-Tone pad. I didn't know anyone ever made a 16-key 2554 set—at least, not one in yellow!
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Old 01-29-2020, 01:11 AM
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I have encountered 16-key DTMF keypads featuring "A", "B", "C", and "D" keys, but definitely not on a wall phone. Now I wonder what would have happened had I dialed various numbers incorporating those tones...
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Old 01-29-2020, 01:26 AM
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Imagine my surprise to see that the wall phone Young Sheldon's Meemaw was using in a recent episode had a 16-key Touch-Tone pad. I didn't know anyone ever made a 16-key 2554 set—at least, not one in yellow!
Did you get a close-up enough view to see how those extra keys were marked?

My phone has four rows and four column. The fourth column has two special-purpose buttons (redial and mute) and the other two positions have little slide switches. One switch turns the ringer on or off. The other selects tone dial or (simulated) pulse dial.

My phone is beige.
  #50  
Old 01-29-2020, 01:28 AM
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I have encountered 16-key DTMF keypads featuring "A", "B", "C", and "D" keys, but definitely not on a wall phone. Now I wonder what would have happened had I dialed various numbers incorporating those tones...
There would soon come an ominous knocking on your door . . .
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