Area Code Day

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.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in By Charlie
  1. kirkistan 7 years ago

    Oh the memories.I don’t miss those old phones. I do like your drawing very much.

  2. 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….

    • Author

      Hehe…wow! I don’t know which is more impressive…that you still have a curly cord or that you still have a land line!! 😉 That’s awesome!!

  3. Nancy 7 years ago

    I remember how twisted and tangled those curly cords would get. Ours would end up in a giant knot and we had to hang the receiver in the air and let it spin till it untwisted itself!

  4. Kari 7 years ago

    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!!

    • Author

      Haha! Exactly! ❤️😃Are codes are even the same when you live in the same house now. But they actually mattered once. Philippe didn’t even know his own phone number for quite some time. But who ever calls themselves? Definitely a new era! Hehe

  5. Sand Salt Moon 7 years ago

    Now we don’t even have to remember phone numbers; I just tell my phone who to call! How do you find out what Day it is? LOL I find out by visiting your site!

  6. thepaperbaker 7 years ago

    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 🙂

    • Author

      Thanks so much!! 💕😃Haha!! Nothing like those moments to make us feel old! But surely he recognized the “hash tag” in the bottom right? 😉👍🏻

  7. Rachel Murphree 7 years ago

    Love your phone doodle, Charlie. The smooth surface and highlights and your very subtle effective shadows. It is great!

    • Author

      Thanks Rachel!! ❤️😃I was a little lost on how to approach this at first. It’s pretty subtle on the tone changes. I tend to prefer objects with lots more contrast, so this was a fun one to try!

  8. Carol King 7 years ago

    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.

    • Author

      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! 💕😃

    • memadtwo 7 years ago

      I remember those days too! And how bummed I was when intercity calls required an area code…(K)

      • Author

        Yeah… The requirement of an area code in your own city stinks… luckily with smart phones now we don’t even have to deal with phone numbers at all! 😉

        • memadtwo 7 years ago

          True…or remember phone numbers. Although we do have to remember passwords…

          • Author

            Yes! Passwords are the new phone numbers! Guess one had to go with the other. Our brains can only handle so much! Hehe

  9. Jacob 7 years ago

    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 🙁

    • Author

      It’s not magical for adults I’m afraid… they’re really just a pain in the ass now. But I’m intrigued by who you were calling that you shouldn’t have! Hmmmm… But congrats on the phone you have. Let your curly cord flag fly! 😃👍🏻

      • Jacob 7 years ago

        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! 😮

  10. Sharon Mann 7 years ago

    Very cool drawing of the push button phone. I own a beige one just like that.
    Thanks for the phone and area code history, Charlie. 😊☎️

    • Author

      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. 😊

      • Sharon Mann 7 years ago

        Yes, I agree. We are learning a lot too from your posts. I didn’t realize there were so many official “days”.

        • Author

          It’s crazy right? Although I’m not sure how “official” some of them are! I usually have a choice between 2-5 each day! It’s been pretty fun! Hehe

  11. Jodi 7 years ago

    Thanks for…. the memories… (singing… sighing… smiling) GAHgeous Retro Turquoise Phone 🙂 xo

    • Author

      Thanks Jodi!! ❤️😃 Glad you liked this! And ugh…it’s true isn’t it. These phones we had are now retro. 😳😥lol

  12. artandmoondreams 7 years ago

    Great post and so informative. This brought back all kinds of memories…lol…my how times flies. Beautiful painting, love the color.

    • Author

      Glad you liked it Haunani! 💕😃 I never know what these topics will make me think about so it’s been fun to write and illustrate them! Hehe

  13. 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.

    • memadtwo 7 years ago

      We had party lines in the US too…my grandmother was on one, I used to like to pick up the phone and listen in on conversations! (K)

    • Author

      Thanks!! Party lines existed here as well! Though I wasn’t around quite yet to experience them. Hehe…which is sad because that sounds like good fun!! 😉hehe

  14. DrawingConnections 7 years ago

    How on earth do you pick your topics for drawing and writing?! I really like the randomness of your choice the and your personal and humorous take on it. 😌

    • Author

      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

      • DrawingConnections 7 years ago

        Day of the year topic? Great idea and certain to be quite random 🙂

        • Author

          It’s been totally random, but a lot of fun!! I might try this again. I don’t look ahead so I have no idea what I’ll have to draw and eight about until the day comes up. Also because that would involve planning and I don’t really get into that. 😊hehe

  15. amaryllislog 7 years ago

    Total memory lane! I love your phone Charlie and the back story on area codes!

  16. memadtwo 7 years ago

    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)

    • Author

      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?!”

      • memadtwo 7 years ago

        I am so one of those older people. I get it, but I don’t like it!

  17. Teresa Robeson 7 years ago

    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. 😆

  18. Jill Kuhn 7 years ago

    Your post re-CALLed many memories for me, Charlie! 😊 I’m curious if you still own this phone you Doodlewashed?! 💚

    • Author

      Awww I’m so glad Jill! 😃❤️ Sadly no… I don’t still have this phone. The references I found were red, but I remembered it being more sea foam. We also had a beige one. All long gone now. I haven’t had a land line for about a decade now. 😊hehe

  19. jmnowak 7 years ago

    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.

    • Author

      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. 😊

      • jmnowak 7 years ago

        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! 😎

        • Author

          Sounds like he was!! And long curly cords really weren’t optional…they were required for full joyous mobility!! Lol

  20. […] So, instead of a boat, we ended up with an early form of nautical communication that makes the phone with the curly cord look downright high tech. As a kid, I thought the concept of using a message in a bottle to […]

  21. […] not sure why, but it feels good to have these unique memories. Simple things like telephones with a cord, camera film, or maps made of paper that made it possible to actually get lost sometimes. Though, […]

  22. […] back into fashion, but it was indeed the cord itself or that little rotary dial that created the most memorable moments. And so all of my memories of summer picnics, when it finally came time for the giant watermelon […]

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