Area Code Day by Charlie O'Shields

Today we celebrate Area Code Day, which pays homage to a now bygone era where area codes actually mattered. The area code system was developed by AT&T and Bell Laboratories in the 1940’s, and went into effect in 1947. It was called the North American Numbering Plan and included the United States and Canada.

Back when phones had rotary dials, lower numbers had shorter “dial pulls” and were therefore easier to call. This is why areas with high population often had lower numbers, like New York’s famous 212 area code. Before mobile phones, moving to a new city meant changing your number and well, your whole identity really, by adopting a new area code.

When I was a kid we still had a rotary dial phone for a time and I thought they were fun. It felt like you were actually doing something magical in order to create a call. Of course if you messed up on the final bit of the number it was frustrating because you had to start all over or risk calling the entirely wrong person. Since I didn’t like to actually talk to anyone on the phone, even back then, I would just dial short and wait for the horrible tones that signaled you’d just messed up.

The push button phones came and killed that magic. But they came with one of the greatest inventions at the time – the extra-long curly cord. It was all the rage to raid Radio Shack and get the absolute longest cord available so you could freely move throughout your house while talking on the phone. Long before smart phones we were already trying to figure out how to do something, anything else, while talking to another person.

The extra-long curly cord was probably more dangerous than yard darts as it was often circling the furniture, tripping people on their way to the kitchen, and nearly strangling the family dog. If you wanted “privacy” for your important call, you’d simply pull the curly cord as far as you could and into the bathroom. There, you could finally take your call in peace and, of course, do something else while talking to another person.

It was a huge deal when we finally got a cordless phone in the house. It looked like something from the Jetsons, and we were all excited to leave the horrors of the curly cord behind us. We quickly learned that without a cord, there’s no reliable way to keep track of the phone and it would often be lost entirely behind couch cushions or left sitting on the bathroom sink. But it was so cool.

Soon after college, I got my first mobile phone. These were less impressive. They were the size of a regular handset which made you look like a crazy person who had wandered into the street with your cordless phone. If you were not of the persuasion to carry a purse, then figuring out what the hell to do with it in transit was particularly worrisome. So I just left mine in the car and used it only for emergencies, which is still the only way I tend to make personal phone calls.

But as mobile phones evolved into smart phones, long distance calls became a thing of the past, and people could keep their number even when they moved, the poor area code has lost it’s ability to geolocate you. While those who remember these times still throw parties when securing a coveted New York 212, the next generation just shrugs, says a name into their earbuds and starts talking to someone. They didn’t have to memorize the number that they’re calling, and couldn’t tell you any of the digits, much less the area code.

For some of us, though, we can celebrate Area Code Day with memories of how life once was. Back in the days of the curly cord, when telling someone your area code was as revealing as telling them where you went to college. Three amazing little numbers that changed the world as we knew it. Little numbers that we never suspected could lose their magic, until the world would change once again.

Posted by:Charlie O'Shields (doodlewash)

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world!

61 replies on “Area Code Day

  1. I still have a phone with the loooong curly cord! The kitchen phone has it and is comfortably big enough that I can talk with it under my ear while doing things in the kitchen. The fact that there are only 3 people I ever talk to on the house phone is a different matter entirely….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember the rotary phones! And I don’t miss them or the extra long curly cords! I remember my dad timing our calls because we had one line and there was no call waiting. Between my sister and me, we really did hog the line!!

    The doodlewash is wonderful!! And thank you for the information about area codes! And now, who remembers area codes or phone numbers, I couldn’t tell you what my kids’ cell numbers are.. Lol. My husband has a Michigan area code, my oldest two and I have Houston area codes (although they are different) and my youngest has a Phoemix area code which is different than our house area code.. Crazy!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fabulously nostalgic post! We homeschool and in one of my children’s workbooks was a phone, like you doodlewashed….he asked…”What’s that?” LOL…. STELLAR doodlewash🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love your turquoise phone with the push buttons. I remember having a black rotary wall mounted phone with a 212 area code. It was no big deal at the time cause everyone I knew had 212 area codes!

    I also remember when you didn’t have to dial an area code in NY….just the 7 digit number if you were calling within the city….all 5 boroughs! And, a little off topic of area code day were the old exchanges. One of my numbers as a teen was UL8….for Ulster 8…or PE6-5000 for Pennsylvania 6 for the area around Penn Station. Now everyone has crazy area codes and you can’t figure out where they are from. NYC has about about 5 or 6 area codes.

    Ah, those were the days. 🙂 Again, I love your telephone doodlewash.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah…the exchanges… I think the Pennsylvania 6-5000 is the only one I remember, but that was because of the Glenn Miller song. And now I just read that NYC is running out of numbers again and will have to add another area code within the next couple years. Things have certainly changed!! And thanks…hehe…glad ya liked my doodlewash, Carol! 💕😃


  5. I do love the colour of that telephone! Another wicked Doodlewash.

    I used to play around on the telephone as a child, pressing random numbers and calling people I really shouldn’t have, and it got me into *a lot* of trouble! Since those escapades were snuffed out, my love affair with the telephone ended and I’ve really had it in for them ever since…

    I still have a curly-cord dealie here. I often get to thinking that I’d like an old rotary phone, with all its retro appeal and I suppose seeing a similarly ‘magical’ concept… then I go into a shop and play around with one and realise it really isn’t as much fun as I imagine. It’s a let down😦

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There were a few, but the one I’m not allowed to forget is when I dialled 999. Apparently I was caught telling them about my day out and asking what they were doing.

        Worse still, two cops actually turned up at the door and my parents got me out of bed to apologise to them… indeed, I haven’t rang them for a chat since!😮

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe…you’re quite welcome Sharon. Like I mentioned, I’m learning all kinds of things with this project. I would probably still have one if we actually had a land line. It just looks like home. Now we have empty plugs in the wall that don’t have a real purpose anymore. Poor plugs. 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Great drawing and a very educational post: I never knew that about 212 and other short codes. Here in England in the 1960s we had so-called party lines, where you shared a line with another house. It was therefore possible to pick up the receiver and listen to a neighbour’s entire call.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks friend!! 😊This month the topics are randomly choosing me as I’m just grabbing one from a days of the year calendar and then writing and illustrating it. Lol No clue what will come out when I start! In previous months, I was just random. I either had a story first I wanted to tell and then would illustrate it, or some random thing I wanted to draw and then wrote whatever story came out. But yeah…random is a requirement. I don’t like to plan things 😊😊lol


  7. Charlie, you’ve opened a whole box of memories for everyone! Seems like it might be a good topic for a book.
    I still use a phone just like that (OK it’s beige) from RadioShack. I do not carry a cell phone around, so anyone that knows me knows to call the “house phone” in my office if I’m working. And I’ve been told that young people don’t have a clue on how to use the phones in their office, and often refuse to make phone calls when asked to. If they can’t do it digitally, they don’t do it. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe…thanks Kerfe!! ❤️😃 I don’t think I have enough material on this one for a book, but could definitely get a nice chapter from it! Hehe… Good for you for holding out! I crossed over early and now act like the young people. They just installed a new phone system at my work where you don’t even have to touch your phone and can just do it all from the computer. I was thrilled, but the majority of folks are older there and kept saying to the trainer, “I get that it can do that, but you can still use it like a real phone right?!”

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Omg! I love your phone! The color is awesome and I love button dials because you can punch at them when you’re mad. 😉 It’s harder to convey anger with a rotary dial. Hah!

    I didn’t get a cell phone until about 2000 and by then, they weren’t the size of a size 10 man’s shoe anymore. 😆

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fot many years, I was married to Robert who was a telephone technician for our national telecommunications (say that three times in a hurry…) carrier. I got to learn a lot about phones. I am still a user of that same service provider and any time I converse with their staff about technicalities, they look at me as if to say, “…eh, what, you know about this stuff…” LOL. Anyway, that’s beside the point. What I enjoyed about these push-button phones was the sounds they made on pressing a key…beep, boop, bop…and so on, electronically, as in Kraftwerk songs. Often, I would ‘use’ the phone just to hear those sounds, but never actually make a call! Ha! 😛 Now I only use a mobile phone too, Charlie, much easier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The sounds were the best part…they tried to keep them with mobile phones, but it’s not the same. And I had no idea you were married to a phone expert! How cool is that! (Though I won’t even attempt to say the actual title three times in a hurry…hehe…that’s too tough! lol) I miss the old phones sometimes though. 😊


      1. Ha! Phone expert: Yes, he was. In fact, in the days when we still used those bulky black handsets, he designed the interior workings of the phone that came next, which was much smaller and in a cream-coloured plastic with the round dial! And longer twirly cords too, that was an optional extra.He was a very smart boy! 😎

        Liked by 1 person

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