BayouCityGirl

Houston Phone Numbers Became "numbers"

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In the 1960's my dad said Houston had a unique dialing code (like a bunch of letters instead of numbers) can someone give me any more info on what that was like. I'm REALLY curious!

He found an old menu from "Juniors" and when the Astrodome opened which had these "letters" instead of numbers. I hope someone knows what I'm talking about. Its hard to explain. :-/

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Guest danax   
Guest danax

Oh sure. All cities had this system, I believe. It was one phase of the ever-evolving phone # system. The word prefix that proceeded the number was known as the exchange. I remember in CA in the 60s my grandmother's was Andover 13978, and you would use the numbers on the dial that corresponded to the first 2 letters of the prefix. I think it was phased out pretty much universally sometime in the 60s.

If you go into the Julia Ideson library (the old library building next to the Central Library, very beautiful 1926 interior, by the way) they have old City Directories where you can look up the old exchanges by street address. You can also see which houses on each street had phones year by year and what the phone # was. My house got a phone for the first time in, I think, 1939 and the exchange was Wayside.

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editor    670

My grandmother in Brooklyn was GE-9-5325.

I never found out what the GE was for.

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tomv    11

Oh my God you have made me feel OLD!!!! Growing up in the Memorial area our # was HO5-7175. HO stood for Homestead. That's why there's letters on the phone-it wasn't always so you could dial 1-800-gimme a pizza or whatever. Later of course it was changed to 465-7175.

Here's another bit of phone craziness. At one time, you didn't have to put in an area code like 281 or 713. But that's going WAY back....(Just teasing)

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I remember when we didn't have to put in area codes!! (that ages me!!) but I wasn't born yet before the Letters were numbers thing. Was this a nationwide thing or just a Texas thing?

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travelguy_73    15

As an aside, I recall watching cartoons as a child where anytime they mentioned a phone number it was KL5-something ("Klondike 5"). I guess that is the equivalent to today's "555" prefix, a generic prefix that perhaps never existed in real life.

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dalparadise    2

It's been awhile since I looked in a real paper-based phone book, but as recently as about 5-6 years ago, all the exchanges were still listed in the front pages of the residence pages. They'd list the name of each exchange, then the prefixes that went along with it.

The system remains pretty much intact, allowing you to identify an area of town by just the prefix, though realignment of area codes has mixed things up a bit. For instance, an 864 or 868 prefix means The Heights, 666 has always meant Bellaire area and so on. About 10 years ago, I was pretty good with the prefixes inside the loop. I could tell where someone lived by their phone number prefix. I can't do it anymore.

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ssullivan    4

The small town I grew up in had some very old phone switching equipment until about 1992 or 1993. Every phone in town was in the same exchange, so the way we dialed local calls was by just dialing the last five digits. If you dialed all seven digits for a local call, the call would not connect because the equipment was set up with every line on the same exchange. For example, my home number was 283-5968 and Dad's work number was 283-2231. To dial him at work from the house, you'd just dial 32231. Touch tone phones would also not work on that system -- just about everyone had the old rotary dial phones (Dad's store still has one that they still use!) or a push button phone set to the pulse setting. After SBC installed new phone switching equipment shortly after I graduated high school, touch tone phones could be used, and you were forced to dial the 2 and 8 for local calls. It took a long time for many people to break the habit of not dialing those two numbers.

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Duce    0
The small town I grew up in had some very old phone switching equipment until about 1992 or 1993. Every phone in town was in the same exchange, so the way we dialed local calls was by just dialing the last five digits. If you dialed all seven digits for a local call, the call would not connect because the equipment was set up with every line on the same exchange. For example, my home number was 283-5968 and Dad's work number was 283-2231. To dial him at work from the house, you'd just dial 32231. Touch tone phones would also not work on that system -- just about everyone had the old rotary dial phones (Dad's store still has one that they still use!) or a push button phone set to the pulse setting. After SBC installed new phone switching equipment shortly after I graduated high school, touch tone phones could be used, and you were forced to dial the 2 and 8 for local calls. It took a long time for many people to break the habit of not dialing those two numbers.

What town was that?

If you remember in the Godfather, Michael calls home after his dad was shot by asking for "Long Beach" and a number.

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dbigtex56    172

My hometown had the same setup as ssullivans (only 5 digits required for a local call). For long distance you'd dial the number, then an operator would cut in and ask "What number are you calling from, please?". This was for billing purposes. Fraud didn't seem to be a problem.

Also, many people had party lines. Two or more people would share the same line, and each household had its own distinct 'ring' (e.g., the phone might ring one long ring, followed by two short rings). You might pick up your phone to make a call and discover that someone else was already talking. The polite thing to do was to hang up and try back later; the fun thing was to listen to neighbors' gossip.

I still have the traditional Montrose exchange (JAckson). A friend was very disappointed that he didn't get the "52" number when he moved to Montrose. Guess they'd run out. I've heard that in Manhattan people compete to get the traditional 212 area code.

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jpcampbell    0
The small town I grew up in had some very old phone switching equipment until about 1992 or 1993. Every phone in town was in the same exchange, so the way we dialed local calls was by just dialing the last five digits. If you dialed all seven digits for a local call, the call would not connect because the equipment was set up with every line on the same exchange. For example, my home number was 283-5968 and Dad's work number was 283-2231. To dial him at work from the house, you'd just dial 32231. Touch tone phones would also not work on that system -- just about everyone had the old rotary dial phones (Dad's store still has one that they still use!) or a push button phone set to the pulse setting. After SBC installed new phone switching equipment shortly after I graduated high school, touch tone phones could be used, and you were forced to dial the 2 and 8 for local calls. It took a long time for many people to break the habit of not dialing those two numbers.

When I lived in Pennington, TX, we had a similar thing. To call anywhere in Pennington, you just dialed the last 4 digits. To call to another town nearby, you just dialed a prefix digit + the last 4 numbers. Crockett, for example was like 5+1234.

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Guest danax   
Guest danax
Also, many people had party lines. .

I still have the traditional Montrose exchange (JAckson). A friend was very disappointed that he didn't get the "52" number when he moved to Montrose. Guess they'd run out. I've heard that in Manhattan people compete to get the traditional 212 area code.

Yeah, the party lines. I'd forgotten about those. And I just realized I have the traditional prefix for this area too, "92" or, WAyside. Cool.

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Talbot    10

In San Antonio atleast in the parts where my family lives(Shirts and Universal City) you don't have to dial the area code. Although if you call them from here in Houston you need an area code.

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editor    670

Part of northern New Jersey and upstate New York still have option five-digit dialing. The Warwick Valley Telephone Company spans the state line, and people who live there can just dial 4-xxxx to get 973/764-xxxx or just dial 9-xxxx to get 845/986-xxxx. And calls across the state line are free in either direction. Last time I was there was about five years ago, and they still had payphones that only cost a dime for local calls. I found out the hard way because even with a tri-band (analog, CDMA, TDMA) cell phone there was absolutely no service.

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editor    670

Sorry to reply to myself, but I just checked the phone company's web site, and they seem just as quaint as I remember.

If you don't have a fax machine, you can use theirs!

Just call the phone company office and let them know you're expecting a fax. When it arrives, the operator will call you to let you know you can come pick it up.

Eat THAT, SBC!

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Subdude    1286
Part of northern New Jersey and upstate New York still have option five-digit dialing.  The Warwick Valley Telephone Company spans the state line, and people who live there can just dial 4-xxxx to get 973/764-xxxx or just dial 9-xxxx to get 845/986-xxxx.  And calls across the state line are free in either direction.  Last time I was there was about five years ago, and they still had payphones that only cost a dime for local calls.  I found out the hard way because even with a tri-band (analog, CDMA, TDMA) cell phone there was absolutely no service.

It has always struck me as odd how US landline phone numbers work. In some places you dial 7 digits, only for some calls you have to dial a "1" first. In other places you dial 10 digits, and in some cities you have to dial 11 digits (1+the 10-digit number). Now we learn that in other places you dial 5 digits! Could it be any more confusing? I kind of like the way it works on cell phones. Every number is 10 digits, everywhere. You would think the landline companies would pick up on this.

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Sharpstown's exchange back then was Preston (77). My phone number is still on that exchange.

By the way, I also requested a 713 number on my cell phone when I moved to Houston so that I could have the in-town area code. Dorky, I know.

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LTAWACS    65
It's been awhile since I looked in a real paper-based phone book, but as recently as about 5-6 years ago, all the exchanges were still listed in the front pages of the residence pages. They'd list the name of each exchange, then the prefixes that went along with it.

The system remains pretty much intact, allowing you to identify an area of town by just the prefix, though realignment of area codes has mixed things up a bit. For instance, an 864 or 868 prefix means The Heights, 666 has always meant Bellaire area and so on. About 10 years ago, I was pretty good with the prefixes inside the loop. I could tell where someone lived by their phone number prefix. I can't do it anymore.

I can do it for most 713's and some 281's still. :)

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SusanM    0
I can do it for most 713's and some 281's still. :)

Mine was GREENWOOD 2-0970. So that's 472-0970, I guess.

Geez I can't believe I can remember that! I can't even remember my son's cell number!

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sevfiv    1344

and don't forget jimmy stewart in "the glenn miller story"

where he sings "pennsylvania 6-5000"

:rolleyes:

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Ashikaga    2
In the 1960's my dad said Houston had a unique dialing code (like a bunch of letters instead of numbers) can someone give me any more info on what that was like. I'm REALLY curious!

He found an old menu from "Juniors" and when the Astrodome opened which had these "letters" instead of numbers. I hope someone knows what I'm talking about. Its hard to explain. :-/

The only letter exchange that I remember in Houston was NAtional.

Chet Cuccia

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