Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Anti-Digit Dialing League

[Update: There’s now a post with excerpts from Phones Are for People.]

[Lewis Banci and Milburn Smith, The Ten O’Clock Scholar (1969).]

The Anti-Digit Dialing League was a short-lived movement that arose in 1962 and faded, it would seem, in 1964. Founded in San Francisco, the ADDL opposed “creeping numeralism” and fought a losing battle to preserve the use of telephone exchange names. I came across the group’s name while exploring the 1940 New York City telephone directories earlier this month. Among the ADDL’s members, the semanticist S.I. Hayakawa, a co-author of the group’s pamphlet manifesto Phones Are For People (1962). Here is what Hayakawa told Time (July 13, 1962):
“These people are systematically trying to destroy the use of memory. They tell you to ‘write it down,’ not memorize it. Try writing a telephone number down in a dark booth while groping for a pencil, searching in an obsolete phone book and gasping for breath. And all this in the name of efficiency! Engineers have a terrible intellectual weakness. ‘If it fits the machine,’ they say, ‘then it ought to fit people.’ This is something that bothers me very much: absentmindedness about people.”
The same Time article reported that the Bloomington, Indiana chapter of the ADDL had turned to a mild form of sabotage:
Interpreting the area code and seven digits as one huge number, they place calls by saying, “Operator, give me S.I. Hayakawa at four billion, one hundred fifty-five million, eight hundred forty-two thousand, three hundred and one.” Growls Chapter Leader Frederick Litto, “If they want digits, we’ll give them digits.”
I remember when grown-ups used to growl about automation and “computers.” I remember owning a button with the younger statement of those sentiments: “I am a human being: do not fold, spindle, or mutilate.” I salute the ADDL’s affection for exchange names. Sign me up.

[Life, February 8, 1963.]


Update: I have obtained a copy of Phones Are for People.

Related reading
Other exchange name posts

[Befuddled at memory frenzies? You can pick an exchange name for your telephone number from a 1955 list of Bell Telephone’s recommended exchange names, available from The Telephone EXchange Name Project.]

comments: 26

Laura Walizer said...

Hello from a new reader! I hope you don't mind my dropping by.

That's quite a fascinating story. I am way too young to remember the exchanges personally, but I've seen references to them in movies. In the days when you can just program everybody's number straight into your cell phone, the threat to memory is probably worse than ever. Heck, I can barely remember my own cell phone number--after all, *I* never call me....

Michael Leddy said...

Hello, Laura. I recognize your last name. Thanks for dropping by — I only wish I’d been able to neaten up the place first. :)

The only exchange name I remember from real life is GEdney, from early childhood. But I especially like seeing them in movies (as you can tell from other posts).

Berit said...

I felt largely baffled by the whole system (Though I've seen characters in movies using it.) due to some of the numbers having 2 choices of which of the 26 letters begin the word.

Then, while puzzling over the chart at this link:

I asked Dear Marc (a computer programmer), and he promptly pointed out that they correspond to "T9" and the assignment of letters to the telephone buttons.

Just wanted to point that out in case you had missed it (unlikely), and also to put forward the idea that one could theoretically declare ANY word which bears one of the three (or four in the case of "7" and "9") letters imposed upon it on a telephone dial pad in their respective positions.

(I'd like to apologize for the second half of that sentence. Shamefully, I can do no better. Please humor me as I try an illustration instead to make my point.)

If your telephone number is 867-5309, the exchange word you pick could begin with the letters T, U, or V. The second letter of the word you choose can be M, N, or O.

Regrettably, "JEnny" is not an eligible exchange for the aforementioned number under this system.

Thanks for the wonderful post, and apologies if I've taken up a large space to do a poor job explaining what is apparent to everyone!

Stephen said...

Michael, a nice find!

This reminds me of a pamphlet I recall reading at the public library in my teens. It was from (I think) the "American Duodecimal Society", who advocated counting by twelves rather than tens. An online search reveals the cause is still around.

Michael Leddy said...

Berit, keep in mind that back in the day, there were no first two numbers. A telephone number began with the exchange name. In other words, the exchange name wasn’t something that people had to substitute for numbers. I couldn’t say without looking what numbers the G and E of GEdney stand for. Come to think of it, I never memorized what they stood for. (Does this explanation address your bafflement?)

Stephen, I will have to look into counting by dozens. I love the way the Wikipedia article begins: “Not to be confused with Dewey Decimal Classification.” By the way: bravo for your most recent Pencil Talk post.

Berit said...

Are you certain? I know that customers placing calls did not use them, but for example what do the following five words which are recommended by Ma Bell to be used for "77" have in common?


The first two letters of each one appear on the "7" key of your phone pad.

So I'm putting forward that when one said, "Operator, please give me 'Prospect 5-8263'.", you were actually asking for 775-8263 all along, only that fact was not transparent to the caller. The Exchange Name is part of a system not unlike the NATO Phonetic Alphabet (e.g. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot) wherein words are used as a stand-in for characters. (Arabic numerals and our alphabet, respectively.)

I suppose the final bit of research I would need to prove this theory is to find out the origin of the assignment of the alphabet to the telephone numerals.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, you’re asking for what after all is that number. But to the best of my knowledge, people knew numbers with the exchange names.

Elaine said...

Michael, I think the exchange names actually helped us recall numbers. SUnset 2-4689 was our phone # in Ft. Smith, Ark., in the mid-Fifties. It's the only one I remember.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, they are an aid to memory. But did you memorize all seven digits of your number, or just the last five?

Neal McLain said...

Berit said...

So I'm putting forward that when one said, "Operator, please give me 'Prospect 5-8263'," you were actually asking for 775-8263 all along, only that fact was not transparent to the caller. The Exchange Name is part of a system not unlike the NATO Phonetic Alphabet.

Correct. A 7 by any other name is still a 7.

I suppose the final bit of research I would need to prove this theory is to find out the origin of the assignment of the alphabet to the telephone numerals.

Twenty-four of the 26 letters of the English alphabet are used, with three letters assigned to each numeral 2 through 9. Letters Q and Z are not used because of their relative lack of use in the language in general (furthermore, Q is almost always followed by U, which would impose a severe restriction on the choice of exchange names).

Letters are not assigned to 0 or 1, and to this day, telephone numbers never start with initial zero or one. Initial zero was reserved for calling the operator (furthermore, early telephone engineers believed that numbers beginning with zero would be confusing to users).

Initial one was not used for a technical reason too complicated to explain here. (But as a happy result of this fact, initial 1 was thus available for use a prefix for dialed toll calls when nationwide direct distance dialing was introduced.)

Of course, these restrictions on 0 and 1 also meant that the second digit of a 7-digit phone number could not be 0 or 1 either (another happy result: three digit combinations with 0 or 1 as the second digit were thus available for use as area codes when nationwide direct distance dialing was introduced).

Taking all of the above into consideration, the 2L+5D (two letters + five digits) numbering system allowed a theoretical maximum of 8x8=64 possible exchange names. But even some of those combinations might not have been popular among users. How about KLondike (55), KRemlin (57), KRykpton (57), or XYlophone (99)?

Switching to all-number calling made it possible to use these oddball combinations as exchange codes.

Sometime around 1975, some large cities began using exchange codes with 0 or 1 as the second digit. Los Angeles, for example, was using 213-314 and 213-305 as early as 1980. Obviously, two-letter exchange names would not have been possible for these codes.

When nationwide direct distance dialing (DDD) was introduced circa 1953, area codes were introduced in the following format:
- First digit: 2-9
- Second digit: 0-1
- Third digit 0-9, but not the same as the second digit.

These rules allowed the use of 144 area codes, and about 90 of them were put in service in the 1950s. By the end of 1994, all 144 area codes were in service. On January 1, 1995, the area code format was changed to:
- First digit: 2-9
- Second digit: 0-8
- Third digit 0-9, but not the same as the second digit.

Note that the second digit of an area code cannot be 9. Several other combinations were reserved for other purposes. The number of possible area codes increased from 144 to over 600.

Simultaneously, the exchange code format was changed to remove the restriction on 0 or 1 as the second digit everywhere, not just large cities.

These changes greatly increased the numbering capacity of the North American Numbering Plan. Since 1995, the number of active area codes has more than doubled. Florida, which started out with one area code (305) in 1953, now has 16. California, which started with four area codes, now has 25.

-Neal (aka Texas Cable Guy)

Michael Leddy said...

Neal, I am wowed by your knowledge and your willingness to share it here. Would you say that the Anti-Digit Dialing League’s claim that ample numbers were available without seven-digit-dialing a dubious one?

Neal McLain said...

"Dubious" is hardly the word for it.

Consider the following:

******* 2L+5D dialing *******
Calculate the maximum number of exchange codes in one area code
- First digit 8 possibilities (2-9)
- Second digit 8 possibilities (2-9)
- Third digit 10 possibilities (0-9)
Therefore 8*8*10 = 640 possible exchange codes per area code (including the weirdos like KLondike, KRemlin, and XYlophone).

******* 7D dialing *******
Calculate the maximum number of exchange codes in one area code
- First digit 8 possibilities (2-9)
- Second digit 10 possibilities (0-9)
- Third digit 10 possibilities (0-9)
Therefore 8*10*10 = 800
However, exchange codes cannot be 211, 311, ... 911
Therefore subtract 8 codes
Result: 792 possible exchange codes per area code.

Just by going to 7D dialing, we gain 152 exchange codes per area code.

As it turned out, even 152 new exchange codes wasn't nearly enough to accommodate the exponentially-increasing demand for telephone numbers. And that in turn led to the creation of numerous new area codes.

When direct distance dialing was first introduced in 1953, about 90 area codes were needed. The numbering plan included the lower 48 states (including DC) plus most of Canada.

As of today (02-11-2013), there are 364 area codes in service, covering all 50 states, DC, US territories in the Pacific, all Canadian provinces and territories, and a hodgepodge on US territories, British territories, independent nations, and one Dutch territory (Sint Maarten) in the Atlantic and the Caribbean.
Source: "Geographic NPAs In Service Sorted by Number." Neustar

Another side affect of all this has been the introduction of overlay area codes. In overlays, 10 (or 1+10) dialing is mandatory. Some states (notably California, Illinois, and New York), in a futile effort to retain 7D dialing, fought overlays to the bitter end, and opted for area code splits instead. In the end, after all those splits, they've ended up with overlays in many area codes anyway, with 1+10D local dialing.

Meanwhile, states like Maryland and Texas recognized the inevitable, and opted for overlays, with 10D dialing, early in the game.

For a case study of this issue, see my article "PSC adds overlay area codes in 715 and 920" in the January 2009 issue of SBE Chapter 24 newsletter.

The ultimate irony: the states that fought overlays for the longest now have ELEVEN-DIGIT (1+10D) dialing, while the states that embraced overlays early on now have TEN-DIGIT dialing.

Brought to you courtesy of your local Citizens Utility Board.

Neal McLain
Brazoria, Texas
aka Texas Cable Guy

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that exchanges go back to the early telephone days when you called an operator who then got your number for you. For example in San Francisco there was physically a building that hosted the switchboard for the "EVergreen" exchange or the "BAview" exchange. My fathers first phone number was EVergreen-7231, later expanded to EVergreen 6-7231.
Another advantage of the exchange was that it told you what part of the city the subscriber lived in. If you lived in the BAview exchange you wouldn't have much to do with a YOsemite subscriber as they would be geographically undesireable because they lived all the way on the other side of San Francisco

Anonymous said...

One more word on Area Codes - original area codes were assigned based on the size of the city. Why did that matter? Remember people were using rotary phones. If you dialed 9 you had to turn the dial to 9 and wait for it to click back into place (18 clicks). If you dialed a two there were only 4 clicks. That is why New York City was assigned 212, LA was assigned 213 and the rural parts of Northern California was 707.

S F Pete (also author the EVergreen exchange comment)

Michael Leddy said...

Pete, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I never realized that population density had something to do with area codes.

Neal McLain said...

Pete is correct in noting that the largest metro areas got the "shortest" area codes. One correction, however: when the dial is turned manually, it does not send clicks; it just winds up the spring. When the dial is released, the spring unwinds, returning the dial to its normal position at a fixed speed controlled by a mechanical governor. Thus, for example, dialing 2 would transmit only two clicks. They would be transmitted on the dial return.

Note that zero transmits ten clicks. So if, for example, you dial 202, the dial transmits 2+10+2, or a total of 14 clicks. But 212 transmits 2+1+2, or a total of five clicks.

Area codes were first introduced circa 1947 for operator use only. They were introduced to the public around 1953. A copy of the original 1952 area code map is posted at:
[Source: W.H. Nunn, "Nationwide Numbering Plan," Bell Labs Technical Journal, September 1952, 851-59.]

Of the original 144 possible area codes, about 90 were assigned in 1953. They were all "short" codes (fewest clicks). Thus:

212 = 5 clicks = New York City

213 = 6 clicks = Los Angeles
312 = 6 clicks = Chicago

214 = 7 clicks = Dallas
313 = 7 clicks = Detroit
412 = 7 clicks = Pittsburgh

215 = 8 clicks = Philadelphia
314 = 8 clicks = St. Louis
413 = 8 clicks = Western Massachusetts
512 = 8 clicks = Austin, San Antonio, San Angelo

But note: 413 = Western Massachusetts? The exception that proves the rule.

As for the "longest" codes, they were not assigned in 1952, but were subsequently assigned to less-populated areas. By the early 1990s, we were running out of area codes, so the remaining long codes were assigned even to populated areas like California and New Jersey.


909 = 28 clicks = unassigned (later California)

908 = 27 clicks = unassigned (later New Jersey)
809 = 27 clicks = Caribbean islands

907 = 26 clicks = Alaska
808 = 26 clicks = Hawaii
709 = 26 clicks = Newfoundland and Labrador

Of course, since 1947 many area codes have been split. Florida, which started out with one area code in 1947, now has 17. The grand champion is 809 (originally assigned to hodgepodge of USA territories, British Territories, and sovereign nations in the Caribbean and the Atlantic) now has 23 area codes and now includes a Dutch territory (Sint Maarten). For small island nations, having its own area code seems to be some sort of badge of honor.

Michael Leddy said...

Neal, thanks for sharing more of your knowledge. My wife is now wondering how Boston ended up with the fairly high 617.

Neal McLain said...

Total population wasn't the only factor considered in the decisions. Other factors included geographic area and population density. When 617 was assigned to Boston, it actually covered the entire eastern half of the state. Even if Boston was the largest metro area in eastern Massachusetts, the population density of the entire area code apparently didn't justify a lower click count.

As we move up (increasing click count) the list of area codes, the number of possible combinations expands. In the 14-click group, there are eight possibilities:

202 = 14 clicks = District of Columbia
301 = 14 clicks = Maryland
419 = 14 clicks = Toledo, northeast Ohio
518 = 14 clicks = Albany, northeast New York
617 = 14 clicks = Boston, eastern Massachusetts
716 = 14 clicks = Buffalo, southwest New York
815 = 14 clicks = Rockford, northeast Illinois
914 = 14 clicks = White Plains, Westchester County

But 202 and 301 (like all N0X combinations) were reserved for single-area-code states like CT, NH, RI, and VT. Massachusetts needed two area codes, so that leaves six possible combinations. I suppose any one of those six codes could have been assigned to eastern Massachusetts. Exactly why Bell chose the final assignments is not part of the historic record.

Neal McLain

Michael Leddy said...

Neal, thanks again. It’s amazing how much there is to learn about these things.

Neal McLain said...

As I noted in a previous post (February 10, 2013), on 01/01/1995 the area code format was changed to:
- First digit: 2-9
- Second digit: 0-8
- Third digit 0-9, but not the same as the second digit.

This change opened the way for vanity area codes, often codes that spell something. Lexington, home of the University of Kentucky, is now in UKY, while Knoxville is the home of University of Tennessee’s VOLunteers. Canada’s northern territories are at the TOP of the world. Daytona Beach has FUN while Miami gets SUN and Cape Canaveral does the 321 countdown.

But Nevada couldn't get 777, so it had to settle for 775. Two cherries and a lemon.

Several Caribbean entities have commemorated themselves: Anguilla (ANG), Antigua (ANT), Bahamas (BHA), British Virgin Islands (BVI), Dominica (ROS, named for Roseau, its capital city), Grenada (GRE), Puerto Rico (PTR), St. Lucia (SLU), St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), and Trinidad and Tobago (TNT).

And then there are unintentional vanity codes. VIPs in Chicago's northern suburbs carry BAGs, while Vero Beach has lots of SPAs. Redmond Washington is home to a famous computer software company, but you can't blame them for HAL! Utah's new area code (385) is a favorite among High School students because it spells ... uh, I'll let you figure that out.

Michael Leddy said...

I didn’t know that area codes had become a form of marketing (aside from, say, the prestige of 212) . Neal, thanks again.

Neal McLain said...

Hey ... EVERYTHING is marketing these days! Gaming interests in Nevada were so determined to get 777 that they even got their United States Senators to lean on the FCC. But the FCC doesn't control area code assignments; that's the job of the North American Numbering Plan Administration.
NANPA allocates area codes to dozens of countries, not just the USA, so it can't appear to favor one country over any other. NANPA has set aside all "YYY" (222, 333, etc.) combinations for some unspecified future use (or at least that's the official story -- I suspect the real reason is that they don't want to get caught in the middle of a big political squabble).

Anonymous said...

The Houston area will be getting a fourth overlay area code next July. It will be the second quadruple overlay in the entire North American Numbering Plan:
- The first was 347, 718, 919, and 929, in NYC's outer boroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island).
- The second will be 281, 346, 713, and 832, in the greater Houston area (most of Harris County and portions of nine adjacent counties).

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for sharing that information.

Betz said...

I'm late to this party, but I just had to add: some of those exchange names helped advertisers to get future customers to remember their company's numbers. For instance, I grew up in Chicago where a carpet company would end their ad by playing an "Indian" drum and "Indian" music while singing "Mohawk 4-4-100, Mohawk 4-4-100." It was definitely catchy enough to stick in My mind! I can still remember my childhood phone number which began with TOwnhall 3, and my friend's number beginning with GUnderson 4. For some reason, it really IS easier to remember phone numbers that have a name in front of them. Nice conversation: thanks!

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for your comment and the exchange names. The party is still going. :)

As you may already know, YouTube has some commercials with the MOhawk number, which the uploader calls “memorable”. Yes, exactly. Nothing with music though.