Calling Old Numbers In Ads [telecom]

Reportedly the oldest continuously-operating telephone number in the NANP is (212) PEnylvania6-5000 -- which was immortalized in the 1940 hit song by that name and recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra:

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The song lyrics were inspired by the telephone number for New York's Hotel Pennsylvania, where the Glenn Miller Orchestra often played. This July 18-20 the Hotel Pennsylvania will host HOPE X -- the tenth Hackers On Planet Earth conference, where thousands of hackers and telecom phreaks and geeks and will hear approx 100 speakers, participate in many workshops, projects, and many other fun things.

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(HOPE archives at
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(It's been rumored there'll be a presentation about the history of the Telephone Digest by its editor at HOPE X...)


At 03:20 AM 6/18/2014, wrote:

The Telecom Digest >Volume 33 : Issue 109 : "text" Format > >Messages in this Issue: > Calling Old Numbers In Ads (Justin Goldberg) > >---------------------------------------------------------------------- > >Date: Mon, 16 Jun 2014 19:55:14 -0700 (PDT) >From: Justin Goldberg >To: >Subject: Calling Old Numbers In Ads >Message-ID: > >Reading the original letter (or press-release, I can't tell) of Julia-Louis >Dreyfus joining the cast of Seinfeld[1] got me thinking, does anyone have any >interesting stories of calling old phone numbers that are still working, that >were featured in ads or other documents, especially pre-internet? (besides the >ones that are now "chat lines", which probably comprises 95% of them). This is >something that I do anytime I come across old numbers in the ads in Network >World magazine on, but unfortunately, I don't have any >interesting stories to tell. > >I called the number below, and it's not working, but it does have a generic >greeting that mentions the building's main number, and another number for NBC >telemundo. > >[1]
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> > >------------------------------ > >End of The Telecom Digest (1 messages) >**********
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(212) PEnylvania6-5000 -- which was immortalized in the 1940 hit song by that name and recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra...

Minor nitpick--the number originally was PENnsylvania 5000. When NYC first went dial in 1922, it was 3L-4N. Around 1930 they realized they'd need more flexibility and converted to 2L-5N.

One can do a search in the New York Times for "dial" and "New York Telephone" in 1922-1923 and see articles about the conversion.

As an aside, it took until the early 1950s for the outer reaches of NYC (Queens and Staten Island) to go dial. When there was a telephone strike, they pleaded with subscribers to make only emergency calls since there were few operators to handle them. Also, it appeared the inner suburbs of Nassau County, Long Island, were mostly manual in 1950.

Note that the panel switch allowed dial users to directly dial into a manual exchange--the desired number appeared on a screen in front of the manual inward operator. In this way dial users didn't have to know the mode of the exchange they were calling, a feature of the panel switch.

Also, manual exchanges could have 10,500 numbers, meaning someone's phone number could be HOllis 5-10546. The community of Hollis, Queens, was like this, probably due to heavy postwar housing and population growth. The panel switches in NYC accomodated eight digits.

I know of a church whose number in the 1920s directory was "23", and today its number is NPA-NXX-0023. There are probably other old institutions that have a similar ancient number still in use, just zero filled with an area code and exchange on it. FWIW, I know of someone still living in his family home, built in 1948, and still using the original number.

I'm not sure I agree with the practice, mentioned above, of calling old numbers to see if they're active. The number could be reassigned and this would be an unnecessary annoyance to someone else.

TCI recently posted a 1971 telephone directory for Santa Catalina Island, which at the time was still served by a manual exchange. It had 2, 3, and 4 digit numbers, plus letter suffixes for party lines. A check on Google of some listings didn't find too many still in existence today. Some businesses were still in the same location, but with a new name and new phone number.

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