Erik Heerlein’s Weblog

Zip Codes and Area Codes

Posted in Factoids/Trivia by erikheerlein on September 16, 2008

I’ve never bought any furniture as there have always been relatives or friends who have had furniture that they no longer needed. As such, most of my furniture is older than I am and comes with a story. The oval coffee table that recently made it’s way into my living room used to belong to my great-uncle Kurt, and had a little story of it’s own to tell.

It’s not like an episode of “Antiques Roadshow” where I found out that it once belonged to Thomas Jefferson and he might have written a draft of the Declaration of Independence on it. Nay, this story is a little more mundane.

In one of the drawers was a receipt for the marble top that my great-uncle had ordered in 1962 for the table, which he had made himself (he was a furniture-maker).

The interesting thing to note is the phone number and the zip code, or rather, the lack of one.

I know from old movies that phone numbers were not always ten digits long. “Operator, get me Brentwood 6997”. And I know that the post office didn’t always have the zip code system but what struck me as odd was that I thought both of those systems were in place way before 1962.

The Post Office started issuing “postal zones” for large cities in 1943, which explains the “New York 9”.

By the early 1960s a more general system was needed, and on July 1, 1963, non-mandatory ZIP codes were announced for the whole country.

Area codes too, were not common place until the 1960s.

In order to facilitate direct dialing calls, the NANP was created and instituted in 1947 by AT&T, also known as the Bell System, the U.S. telephone monopoly. At first, the codes were used only by long-distance operators; the first customer-dialed calls using area codes did not occur until November 101951, when the first directly-dialed call was made from Englewood, New Jersey to Alameda, California.[2] Direct dialing was gradually instituted throughout the country, and by the mid-1960s, it was commonplace in most larger cities.

I guess this receipt was printed a couple of years before it was used, or in 1962, you could still place a call by getting the operator and asking for “Canal 8-1110”.

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