Questions about the alphabet on a phone

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by MarkHastings, Nov 18, 2004.

  1. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    Ok, it's obvious now-a-days why there are letters on a phone (especially a cell phone), but I have a few questions that hopefully someone can answer.

    1) Were there letters on rotary phones?

    2) When was the alphabet originally put on? and Why?

    3) Why doesn't the 1 have any letters?

    4) Why were Q and Z left off?


    [​IMG]
     
  2. MarkMel

    MarkMel Screenwriter

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    I can only answer #1

    Yes.

    Don't know about the others.

    I do know that phone numbers used to start with letters in the prefix then the four numbers. The letters were related to the town or area.
     
  3. Jeff Gatie

    Jeff Gatie Lead Actor

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    Just guessing, but the #1 always denoted a long distance call, so assigning letters to it for local calls would confuse people.
     
  4. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    Actually only two letters were used for exchanges. We used to be in the "Davenport" prefix when I grew up in Palo Alto. Our phone number was DA2-1557, "Davenport two, one-five-five-seven". (I wonder who has that number now.)
     
  5. Eric_E

    Eric_E Supporting Actor

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    The Simpsons still make jokes about this. Ever heard Homer say that his phone number is "Klondike five, ..." ? Of course KL5 = 555, so it's a joke on all the imaginary 555 numbers you see in movies and tv shows. I'm only 24, but I'm still surprised more people haven't heard of this.
     
  6. Dave Poehlman

    Dave Poehlman Producer

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    I'm guessing, since each number was originally assigned 3 letters.. and only 2 through 9 were being used (1 was being used for long distance.. and 0 for the operator).. they had to cut out 2 letters. So, they cut out the two least common.
     
  7. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    Yes, I've heard the KLondike 5, which I knew was 555, but had no idea what the KLondike stood for (but it makes sense now after the replies).


    ps. I believe the Simpsons have also used Murray Hill 5?
     
  8. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    There are very specific reasons for all these decisions made by the telephone pioneers.

    I don't claim to know them all, but have always been intrigued by this.

    Telephone numbers started out as three digit numbers in some areas...and then, because of demand, they had to add two digits as a prefix. Then as demand continued to increase, the powers-that-be decided more numbers needed to be added, but they figured noone would ever be able to remember a seven digit number, so they used the localized exchange names (HObart, KLondike, PEnnsylvania, BUtterfield, IVanhoe, etc.)

    The earliest phones, of course, had no dials as operators did all the switching. The earliest dials only had numbers. Then, dials included the letter combinations to accomodate the alpha-exchanges. Even though we don't use the alpha-exchanges anymore, we still need the letters on the dial as companies try to use letters in telephone numbers as marketing tools (1-800-FLOWERS, for example).

    If you never noticed, all three digit area codes used to have either a "1" or a "0" as the middle digit. This was, again, part of the switching process. For a long distance number, after the first "1" was dialed, the switchboards would know it was a long-distance call by the middle digit of the area code. The second number of the seven-digit phone number was always two or greater. This is not the case anymore. With the explosion of cell phones, modems and fax machines, you will often find phone numbers that have three digit prefixes that look like area codes...406, for example. As they changed the switching systems, the "1" also became used for the various "short-hand" systems we are familiar with today...911, 411, 311, etc.

    The "1" didn't have any letters because it was used solely for the long-distance switching purposes and never at the beginning of an actual phone number. The'0" was also assigned no letters because it was designated to dial "Operator".


    Since that left eight numbers at three letters apiece, two letters were doomed. I think I read once "Z" was left off because it was last and might have been confused on occasion with "2". I know people who have this problem commonly with e-mail addresses and software ID key numbers. I guess they used the "O" since there are so many communities that had the letter "O" in their place names. It always seemed that would have avoided a bunch of confusion with the number "0". And, finally, I believe it may have been an arbitrary choice to lose "Q" instead of say "X".

    I still have a number of working rotary dial phones in my house (simply a matter of novelty/collectability) and I am amused that my son has had guests come over who do not know how to "dial" a phone. They have actually stuck their finger in the dial who and wondered what to do.

    Time marches on.
     
  9. RichP

    RichP Second Unit

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    More than you probably wanted to know can be found right here. [​IMG]
     
  10. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Not that it's the most important thing in the world, but this is another thing that being a classic movie fan lets you in on. People who don't watch old movies will probably never know about this.
     
  11. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    I've heard all this before but had no idea what it meant and how it related to phones.

    As Eric mentioned, I've heard the KLondike 5-type referneces before, but assumed they were made up like the 555- exchanges in tv and movies.

    RichP, thanks for the link. There was a link on that page which was pretty interesting:
    http://ourwebhome.com/TENP/TENproject.html

    I used their search engine and found out my exchange:
    COlony [​IMG]
     
  12. JustinCleveland

    JustinCleveland Cinematographer

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    A telephone? Is that like an old-fashioned cellphone?[​IMG]
     
  13. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    Whippersnapper!
     
  14. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Sure, they never explained anything about it in old movies, for the obvious reason that it was the standard way of talking on the phone back then. I was just pointing out that people who don't watch old movies would likely be unaware that there was ever any sort of different way of calling people from today.
     

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