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Random Thoughts

Phone Tome

Hudson Cooper
Posted 8/12/22

Thanks to my smart phone I no longer have anybody’s phone number memorized. I simply go to my contacts list, scroll until I find their name and dial it up. Of course, I cannot actually …

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Random Thoughts

Phone Tome


Thanks to my smart phone I no longer have anybody’s phone number memorized. I simply go to my contacts list, scroll until I find their name and dial it up. Of course, I cannot actually “dial it up.” The days of dialing are over. Instead, I find their phone number and “click on it.” Years ago, every number was displayed in the telephone book.

In February of 1878, the first attempt of listing people with telephones was not even a book. Distributed by the New Haven District Telephone Company, it was a simple cardboard sheet that only listed the names of people who had telephones. No addresses nor phone numbers were listed. Since it only showed the community who could afford a telephone, I assume it only existed for bragging rights.

Soon telephones were appearing in more homes outside of New Haven. So, the newly renamed Connecticut District Telephone Company published the first phone book. Paying twenty-two dollars a year, subscribers had their name and addresses listed in the book. No phone numbers were included because you needed an operator to place a call. Those subscribers were limited to two calls per hour, and each could not be more than three minutes to prevent the system being overloaded.

These early telephone books, without listing phone numbers, were more like manuals. They taught customers how to reach an operator to place a call. They even had instructions about how to maneuver your rudimentary telephone between your ear and mouth to have a conversation. When you were finished with the call, the book instructed you to say, “That is all” and await the other party to respond “Okay” notifying the operator to disconnect the call.

Telephones caught on quickly. By 1910, telephone books in the United States listed over seven million numbers. The companies were ill-prepared for the volume of users. There were many incorrect names and numbers and since the internet was not even a notion, companies were constantly making corrections.

Another problem was that people were accustomed to tearing out a page of the phone book when they found the number they needed. At busy commuter hubs like New York’s Grand Central Terminal, phone books had to be replaced every 2 days.

I am sure many of my readers have not used a physical telephone book in many years. However, somebody is using them as over six hundred million of them are still published every year.

The Yellow Pages are still doing a booming business. Yearly they bring in an income of over thirteen million dollars. So obviously despite computers and the internet, some people still like to physically flip through the pages trying to find a plumber who works on holidays.   

Writing about the telephone book suggests another issue. With the advent of modern technology, the internet is a breeding ground for identity theft. Criminals try to invade your privacy on your cell phones, iPads and computers. There are hundreds of companies that charge you money to keep your personal items private.

We have all received spam phone solicitations that attempt to gain information like your Social Security Number, Date of Birth and bank information. Luckily, most of us are now learning to not answer calls from numbers we do not recognize. So, criminals have now resorted to texting. I suggest that you also ignore any text from a number that is not familiar.

Many years ago, life was simpler and not as threatening. Companies would drop off phone books at your doorstep that contained your name, address and telephone number. Mom would store the book conveniently near the phone in your kitchen. We did not fear identity theft. Grabbing the phone book from the kitchen counter, we let “our fingers do the walking” to get the number of that girl in your 10th grade social studies class. The only problem was conquering the fear of actually making the phone call to ask her out to the school dance.


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