TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Telephone Dialing in Old Movies

Re: Telephone Dialing in Old Movies
22 May 2007 12:00:12 -0700

On May 19, 11:22 pm, Neal McLain <> wrote:

> True -- same thing happens with 979-798 here in Texas. But that
> wasn't what happened in the unnamed movie: in that case, the wife
> clearly (and nervously) dialed four digits on a rotary dial phone.

It was common in many small towns to have 5 digit dialing through the
1960s and even 1970s. For step-by-step systems, it was cheaper that
way since each digit required another selector, even if it was only a
dummy selector to absord the leading digits.

In many towns dialing was limited to the local exchange or perhaps one
or two nearby exchanges, everything else went through the operator.
Often there were a variety of special access codes to call nearby
towns, sometimes one digit, sometimes two digits. Sometimes you had
to wait for a second dial tone, as if you were on a PBX. Libraries
used to carry old phone books of small towns which had these diverse

Some towns didn't get DDD until the 1970s. The Bell System introduced
cheaper rates for DDD at that time, those places that still used
operator for toll calls got the DDD discount. If you had trouble
making a call and needed operator assistance you got the DDD discount.
Today you get whacked with a hefty surcharge if you use an operator.

Dealing with the varied dial patterns was one of the big challenges to
introduce direct distance dialing throughout the U.S. with a uniform
10 digit phone number.

As mentioned, the movie I saw took place in NYC where dialing required
7 digits but in one scene they dialed fewer digits. For dramatic
effect, many TV and movie scenes showed dialing with fewer digits to
keep up the pace. Often the characters would just spin the dial
improperly. Even today with TT you'll notice people tapping too fast.

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