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Houston Phone Numbers Became "numbers"


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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.

It was still like that in New Hampshire, where I grew up, into at least 1987 by my memory. When they changed it so you had to dial the whole seven digits, my dad had a conspiracy theory that it was so that we would be confused and more likely to dial a long distance number accidentally and thus pay more for the phone bill.

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I'm not trying to hijack this thread but I'm reminded of a posting I made on the subject of telephone exchange names nearly ten years ago here on HAIF.   In the days of word-prefixes on phone number

Apparently so.  According to wikip., in 1955 AT&T set up a list of recommended exchange names.  Although they did not require conversion of old exchange names, it appears that in Houston they were

If anyone is interested in the history of the phone system (more focused on the hacking of it by phone phreaks) there's a great book called Exploding the Phone. It's mainly about how the system evolve

Yes, back then there was no Caller ID/Answering Machines/Voice Mail/Call Waiting, etc. If your phone rang, you had no choice but to answer it and hope that it wasn't a bill collector. If you called someone and you heard a busy signal, you had to hang up and try calling them again later.

The only way around that was to call the operator and tell them it was an emegency, and most times they would cut into the line...............I actually never did that, but I had friends that did.

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Does anyone know when the Melrose (ME ) exchange started? I grew up in Northline Terrace, and that was Hillcrest (HI) from 1955 on. But before the area got HI, it was ME. However, when I looked in old phone books for the exchange maps, I couldn't find anything for the areas outside the city (as this area was back then) prior to 1950. I know the area did have ME at least as far back as 1935, but know how much further back it went.

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  • 3 weeks later...
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. :-/

Our phone # (in the 60's) was OR 36370 and I still never forget it. Which is weird because I was only about 6-7 years old when we moved and it changed but to this day I remember it. Of course the phone was a black very heavy rotary. I still remember how my finger would hurt from dialing.

There was a very popular song in that day too that was called " and my number is Beechwood 45789 and you can call me up for a date any old time".

Edited by Vertigo58
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Our phone # (in the 60's) was OR 36370 and I sill never forget it. Which is weird because I was only about 6-7 years old when we moved and it changed but to this day I remember it. Of course the phone was a black very heavy rotary. I still remember how my finger would hurt from dialing.

There was a very popular song in that day too that was called " and my number is Beechwood 45789 and you can call me up any old time".

Yes, "BEechwood 4-5789" was recorded by The Marvelettes back in the early 1960s. Their # 1 song was "Please Mr. Postman." ( I really don't know if the correct spelling is BEA or BEE).

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Yes, "BEechwood 4-5789" was recorded by The Marvelettes back in the early 1960s. Their # 1 song was "Please Mr. Postman." ( I really don't know if the correct spelling is BEA or BEE).

Don't forget PEnnsylvania 6-5000, which was recorded by Glenn Miller in 1940. The interesting thing is that this was the actual (7-digit) number of the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York. In Houston, during the 40s, phone numbers were only 5 digits. My grandparents' phone number was M 1165. I know this because I have my dad's U of H directory from 1945. Later on (around 1952 or so, when I was learning to dial the phone) their number was MA 1165. Shortly after I learned to dial, the extra digit was added and it became MA 3-1165.

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Don't forget PEnnsylvania 6-5000, which was recorded by Glenn Miller in 1940. The interesting thing is that this was the actual (7-digit) number of the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York. In Houston, during the 40s, phone numbers were only 5 digits. My grandparents' phone number was M 1165. I know this because I have my dad's U of H directory from 1945. Later on (around 1952 or so, when I was learning to dial the phone) their number was MA 1165. Shortly after I learned to dial, the extra digit was added and it became MA 3-1165.

Yes, even now that we push buttons, we still say that we are "dialing," not "pushing."

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Yes, even now that we push buttons, we still say that we are "dialing," not "pushing."

The first prototype for a cellphone I saw was in 1964. This guy opened up a cigarette lighter and said, "Open Channel D" Napoleon Solo even beat out Captain Kirk's Communicator.

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The first prototype for a cellphone I saw was in 1964. This guy opened up a cigarette lighter and said, "Open Channel D" Napoleon Solo even beat out Captain Kirk's Communicator.

Hey, totally off topic, but speaking of the Napoleon Solo, the American Life Network (which for me is on the digital tier) shows the Man From Uncle every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. Last night, they showed the unaired 90-minute pilot. There were some fairly major changes from this pilot and what eventually became the final show as we know it.

First, this pilot was entitled "Solo" not the Man From Uncle although the music and graphics were the same. Also, there was no Mr. Waverley. Another man played the head of Uncle. I think he was black, albeit light skinned. That would have been very ground-breaking for the time. Thirdly, while Ilya Kuryakin was in the show, he was not Solo's partner, but an Uncle headquarters technician. Solo basically worked solo.

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The first prototype for a cellphone I saw was in 1964. This guy opened up a cigarette lighter and said, "Open Channel D" Napoleon Solo even beat out Captain Kirk's Communicator.

That reminds me of that comedy sitcom that came on back in the 1960s called "Get Smart". Maxwell Smart had a phone dial on the sole and the speaker on the bottom of his shoe.

Hey, totally off topic, but speaking of the Napoleon Solo, the American Life Network (which for me is on the digital tier) shows the Man From Uncle every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. Last night, they showed the unaired 90-minute pilot. There were some fairly major changes from this pilot and what eventually became the final show as we know it.

First, this pilot was entitled "Solo" not the Man From Uncle although the music and graphics were the same. Also, there was no Mr. Waverley. Another man played the head of Uncle. I think he was black, albeit light skinned. That would have been very ground-breaking for the time. Thirdly, while Ilya Kuryakin was in the show, he was not Solo's partner, but an Uncle headquarters technician. Solo basically worked solo.

Here's a bit of trivia:

UNCLE--United Network Command for Law Enforcement

Their enemy agency:

THRUSH--Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesireables and the Subjugation of Humanity.

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Two more to add to the 1955 list - these were around in the mid '60's,

SU- Sunset (now 78x-)

RI - Riverside (now 74x)

Here's some more things about today's technological advances that I talk about to the students that I substitute, even the seniors:

"When I was in high school, we didn't have VCRs, DVDs, & CDs. And not only did we not have cell phones, our telephones in our houses didn't have push buttons."

"When we would call someone on the phone and we heard a busy signal, we simply had to hang up and call them back later, hoping they would hang up soon. We didn't have any features such as Call Waiting."

They all gasp in amazement!

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"When I was in high school, we didn't have VCRs, DVDs, & CDs. And not only did we not have cell phones, our telephones in our houses didn't have push buttons."

"When we would call someone on the phone and we heard a busy signal, we simply had to hang up and call them back later, hoping they would hang up soon. We didn't have any features such as Call Waiting."

And don't forget back then we had to ANSWER the phone to see who was calling. How on earth did we survive?

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MI3-7274 My parents had that number for 40years in Southeast Houston

Our's was MI3 as well...wonder why the letters help you remember the no. so well? Those rotary phones were heavy...in the 60's SWBell gave you more choices of pink or baby blue, not just black.

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There was also a number you could call (think it was 999-9999 or something like that) and you could

talk on the "grapevine" to total strangers. It allowed 5 or 6 people at a time to talk with each other. A service message would come on every few minutes asking you to hang up and redail, but it was real cool back then to get "on-line". This was like our 60's version of the "Internet".

don't foget 78 SUnset (West Houston west of Post Oak)

and 68 OVerland (Houston Heights)

in the 70s and early 80s it was the 3 numbers on the diagonal like 951 or 159 or 357, 753

I believe it was the line the technicians used to talk to the central office on before things became more high tech...we called it the party line even though a real party line was a different thing

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The clothes and women's hair styles would suggest 40s to 50s in my opinion.

 

I have some photos of my parents as young marrieds in the 40s that are similar to that picture.

 

When we moved to Houston from east Texas in the very early 50s, I believe we had a CApitol phone exchange and later a FAirfax. 

 

That puts me to wondering when a single letter was used, especially in advertising, maybe 40s and earlier?

 

 

What part of town was the FAirfax exchange?  Funny you should mention it - I was trying to find that just this morning.

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I'm not trying to hijack this thread but I'm reminded of a posting I made on the subject of telephone exchange names nearly ten years ago here on HAIF.

 

In the days of word-prefixes on phone numbers, you could tell at a glance what part of town a person lived in. For example, MOhawk numbers were in Bellaire. Actually, they still are, because the letters "MO" are "66" on the dial. Even today many numerical prefixes in the 713 area code tell me where a phone number lives, because at one time, ALL Houston phone numbers were 713.

This is hardly a complete list, but here some others, with the current numeric prefixes listed first,

22 - CApital, and it was the downtown Houston area.
52 - JAckson, in the Montrose area
62 - NAtional, on the west side. It replaced the MAdison exchange in the 1960s.
64 - MIssion, on the southeast side.

65 - OLive, also on the southeast side
92 - WAlnut, on the east end.between the Gulf Fwy and the Ship Channel.

46 - HOmestead, on the west side north of Buffalo Bayou and in Spring Branch
69 - OXford, on the north side.
63 - MElrose - also on the far north side.

45 - GLendale, in east Harris County in the Jacinto City Channelview area
47 - GReenwood, in Pasadena, Deer Park and La Porte.
       Originally, this was GRand, but it was changed to GReenwood in the mid 50s. I have no idea why it was changed.
48 - HUdson, in South Houston, and later the Clear Lake Area as NASA moved in.
       This was changed to HUnter in the 1970s. Again, I don't know why.

86 - UNderwood, in the Heights.

78 - SUnset - West Houston west of Post Oak
68 - OVerland - Much of Spring Branch and parts of Memorial

 

Using words as prefixes went the way of the Dodo bird when the population grew and they needed more phone numbers, and they decided they could no longer use numbers that conformed to the first two letters of a known word. So that's why we now have "numbers only" phone numbers. Ah yes. Progress.         

 

 

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When my grandparents lived near Palm Center (and Art Grindle Dodge, sponsor of Tarzan movies on Saturdays), their phone number was in the RIverside exchange.  My dad worked in Bellaire; his office had a MOhawk number.  We moved out past Dairy Ashford in the late '60s and were assigned a GYpsy number, one digit off of Uncle Bens.  I have no idea where FAirfax might have been; I'll have to look around for an old phone book - they used to have a map of the exchanges in the front.

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About phone exchange names -- my dad worked for a U.S. government agency in the old Federal Building downtown and his office number was on the Fairfax exchange. My parents lived in the East End during the 1940's-50's and had a Wayside number that apparently was changed to WAlnut at some point.

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Maybe someone can answer this. What was the reason to have to change exchange names that have the same first 2 letters?  Why did it matter whether it was WAyside or WAlnut? The both represented the same numbers (92).  Was it just to standardize the names nationally or something?

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Maybe someone can answer this. What was the reason to have to change exchange names that have the same first 2 letters?  Why did it matter whether it was WAyside or WAlnut? The both represented the same numbers (92).  Was it just to standardize the names nationally or something?

 

Apparently so.  According to wikip., in 1955 AT&T set up a list of recommended exchange names.  Although they did not require conversion of old exchange names, it appears that in Houston they were changed.  The reason I asked about the FAirfax exchange was that I was trying to track down an older number with an 'Echo' prefix, and I figured that was the predecessor to FAirfax. 

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My grandparents lived in Shelby County in East Texas and their phone number in the very early 50s was three digits.....545.

 

And yes, they had a plain phone with no dial.  You picked up the phone, an operator said "Number please" (Ernestine anyone?) and you told her the number you wanted to call.

 

In the later 50s, here in Houston, we had the IDlewood prefix.  I've not seen it on any of the lists shown in this topic.  We lived out off South Main & Hiram Clark when that area was just beginning to develop, in 1957-58.  Some of the subdivisions were Dumbarton Oaks, Pamela Heights (but long before neighboring Brentwood was built) and others that escape me right now. 

 

As to the FAirfax prefix, I remember that it was near the downtown area. 

 

I remember when the PR was Preston but I didn't know it was changed to Prescott and Echo apparently predates my memories.  :).

 

 

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I grew up in SE Houston, Meadowbrook (1945 to 1963) and first number I remember was OLive - 3817. Later a 4 was added after the OL. Friends that lived in the area had MIlby exchange that was later changed to MIssion. Seems like two different numbers were added to MI, but I don't remember the numbers. 

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My grandparents lived in Shelby County in East Texas and their phone number in the very early 50s was three digits.....545.

 

And yes, they had a plain phone with no dial.  You picked up the phone, an operator said "Number please" (Ernestine anyone?) and you told her the number you wanted to call.

 

In the later 50s, here in Houston, we had the IDlewood prefix.  I've not seen it on any of the lists shown in this topic.  We lived out off South Main & Hiram Clark when that area was just beginning to develop, in 1957-58.  Some of the subdivisions were Dumbarton Oaks, Pamela Heights (but long before neighboring Brentwood was built) and others that escape me right now. 

 

As to the FAirfax prefix, I remember that it was near the downtown area. 

 

I remember when the PR was Preston but I didn't know it was changed to Prescott and Echo apparently predates my memories.  :).

I picked up the Echo exchange from an old postcard referring to Houston and I was trying to track down the location.  It must be really old, since the phone number following Echo only has three digits, like your grandparents number.    

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Great thread.  I have an elderly aunt who lives in the 5th Ward and has had the same number now for over 60 years!  OR-3 prefix, later known just as 673.  I knew back in the 50's (by looking at the ads in my mother's high school yearbooks) that at that time Houston phone number were only 6 digits,  I've often wondered how her number changed when then digits were expanded to 7 numbers (since I've heard she had the same number all those years) and have found my answer in this thread, really love this site!  Apparently her number used to be OR-xxxx and was modified to OR3-xxxx as it remains today. 

 

One of my aunts lived in the East End and I recall her number starting with CA.   Another aunt lived near the Heights (Cottage Grove actually) and her number started with UN.  I understand those prefixes Capital and Underwood.  However one I don't understand is growing up (in the newely established Southwest Houston, south of South Main & Hiram Clarke) our phone number was ID3-0558 (I will never forget our first phone number, this was in the late 1960's)  I believe the ID stood for Idlywood which confuses me because I know there is an older subdivision in the East End (Lawndale/Wayside area) called Idlywood.  As "gruffbear" 'grandparents lived in Parkview (just north of where we grew up), the PA (72) prefix makes sense but again ID3 (433) still does not makes sense to me since the Hiram Clarke area is no where near the Idlywood subdivision!

Edited by EspersonBuildings
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I too lived off Hiram Clarke (in late 50s & early 60s) and our number was ID3 xxxx.  I also lived in Idylwood subdivision where our number was 926 xxxx. 

 

Idylwood subdivision dates back to the late 20s & early 30s. 

 

Pamela Heights dates to at least 1957 when our family moved there.  The new subdivision had only 3 streets at that time, four if you counted Melcher.  Beran was not developed through initially, there was only Ebbtide, Trail Lake and Knotty Oaks.**

 

I don't know how the prefix was established for a given area but if I had to guess, I'd say that "whomever" just searched for a two letter combination with the corresponding two numbers that were not already in use and then found a word that began with those two letters.

 

**This is off topic but want to share.  We moved to southwest Houston in 1957 yet when I looked at the HCAD record for our house, the "date built" shows 1961. 

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thanks for the reply little frau,

 

The dates HCAD list for a year a home is built is often off.  The home my parents bought in 1964 (when I was 1 year old) is listed as being built in 1962, which sounds about right because they said their home was only a year or so old.  This was in Meredith Manor/South Glen directly in front of Montgomery Elementary.  Those houses were demolished by the Harris County Flood Control District about 12 years ago.  The houses on the back side of the school (Simsbrook) my parents were told were a few years older than ours (probably built around the same time as Pamela Heights), however HCAD list them as being built in 1965. 

 

Again, off topic, if you grew up in Pamela Heights, your elementary school probably was Hobby, right?  Or could it have been Montgomery, since Montgomery was built in 1960, the first of the elementary schools in the area.  I went to Montgomery, then Dowling Junior High, then Madison High.

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I grew up in SE Houston, Meadowbrook (1945 to 1963) and first number I remember was OLive - 3817. Later a 4 was added after the OL. Friends that lived in the area had MIlby exchange that was later changed to MIssion. Seems like two different numbers were added to MI, but I don't remember the numbers. 

 

In Oak Meadows, in the '60's, ours was MI 3 or 713.

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If anyone is interested in the history of the phone system (more focused on the hacking of it by phone phreaks) there's a great book called Exploding the Phone. It's mainly about how the system evolved as a response to hackers, but it has a lot of really cool info on how the system was built.

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I moved to Houston about 1951 when my dad went to U of H.  We lived first in a Military trailer and then in the Military style barracks set up for Korean war vets.   I remember that the Alphabetical exchanges were set up for each part of town.  Downtown Main St was CAPITOL, off Main businesses were CENTRAL.   Bellaire people Were MOHAWK, and when we moved to the Heights We were UNDERWOOD,  I just looked up a old directory and found about 36  Exchange names.  You used the first two (2) letters of the Exchange Name and then a third number followed by four (4) numbers.   For instance   UN2 5759 would be an Underwood number in the 713 Area exchange.  My friends in Bellaire were always 666 exchange numbers or part of the MOHAWK exchange.    Back then going into another city one could tell where people were logistically situated by their Exchanges.

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My Grandparents lived in the Woodland Heights 67 years.

In those years from the late 1920s they had the same 4 last phone numbers.

First ##41, then T##41, then UNderwood ##41, and lastly 861-##41.

 

Papa also reserved (They set it aside for him) his address number for his license plate number

many years with the help of the service counter folks at the grocery store.

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On 11/13/2017 at 5:17 PM, 6thgentxn said:

I am wondering when the phone number went from six to seven  places in Houston.

1

 

It appears to be sometime in the mid-1950s. I am looking at a March 10, 1955, edition of my school's newspaper and one ad for Bob's Typewriter and Adder Clinic (a repair shop) at  8917 Jensen has a phone number of ME-9621. Yet there is also an ad for KAE Film Service at 2817 Luell (about two blocks south, at Luell and Jensen) and their number is given as OX4-7853. 

 

About half the ads have 6-digit phone numbers and the other half has 7-digit ones. In 1955, north Houston outside the city limits was just kind of massed into one large exchange with several different prefixes: MElrose, MUlberry, MYrtle and OXford. But there was no rhyme or reason. Aldine ISD's offices on Aldine-Westfield had a MElrose number, but the junior high next door had a MUlberry number.

 

Sometime in 1955, that whole area became HIllcrest (442 and 447) or HIckory (443 and 444). There is one business with an HI listing in this paper and it has a 7-digit number. Perhaps as exchanges were created, they were converted from 6-digits to 7-digits?

 

Unfortunately, I was at the Metropolitan Research Center a few weeks ago looking up when the HIllcrest telephone exchange started. But I didn't think to look at 6- vs 7-digit numbers, only the two-letter prefixes. If only I had seen your post before going!

 

While I'm on the subject of phone numbers, if anyone is interested, starting in 1963 HIllcrest's HI2 is noted on phone book maps as Aldine and HI7 as Airline. For HIckory, HI3 is shown as Bammel while HI4 is called Westfield. I noticed as a kid my parent's phone bill said Airline on it. 

 

In 1964, 449 is added to Aldine. In 1967, 448 is added to Airline. 445 is added to Airline in 1972. 440 is added to Bammel in 1972. 

 

This is another subject entirely, but 77037 (my old zip code) was one of the original codes assigned in 1963. 77088, however, was not added until 1972. If anyone knows when 77396 (Humble) began, or where I can find out, I'd be appreciative. The Houston phone books never listed this zip code.  It's north of IAH and west of Humble along FM 1960. 

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On 5/21/2005 at 3:29 PM, BayouCityGirl said:

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. :-/

Our old phone number on Cedar Lane (now Blalock) was HO5-----

My aunts house on Key St. in the Heights as UN2----

 

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