New telephone numbering system in 1954, cell phones in 1991

ByShannon J. Cortes

Dec 24, 2021

New telephone numbering system – 1954

In Steve Martin’s movie “The Jerk”, main character Navin Johnson is overwhelmed with joy when he sees that the new phone books are out and his name, number and address, 253 ⅛ Elm St., are printed. .

Tony Wade, Back in the day

While his boss couldn’t understand why he would be so turned on by such a trivial thing, in April 1954, many real-life Fairfielders were probably feeling as excited as the fictional Navin.

New phone books for Fairfield, Suisun City, Vacaville, Dixon and Travis Air Force Base came out that month with all new phone numbers. This is because a new telephone system, which was activated one minute after midnight on May 24, 1954, switched the people of the area to the dialing operation.

Before the big change, the phone system worked as described in “The Andy Griffith Show”. Customers who wanted to make a call picked up the handset and had to ask their switchboard operator – whether or not Sarah was called – to connect their call.

The new direct dialing system included prefixes for Fairfield and Suisun. HArrison 5 was for Fairfield and usernamelewood 7 was for Suisun. An advertisement from Pacific Telephone for the new system explained how it worked. To call IDlewood 7-4301, for example, you dial the letter I, the letter D, then the number 7, then the rest of the number, then you are connected.

Automatic telephone systems, the predecessor of the then modern dial, dated back to the 1890s, almost to the creation of telephone exchanges. They worked well in Europe, but were not satisfactory for use with the large number of telephones in US exchanges. The first modern numbering system to be installed in a metropolitan center in Northern California entered service in downtown San Francisco in 1928.

While it might spark yawns now, the fact that Fairfield’s new system at the time would allow people thousands of miles away to dial the new Fairfield-Suisun numbers directly and ring the phones here was revolutionary. at the time.

In those heady days of May 1954, many local businesses bought newspaper ads pointing out that customers could now dial them directly and included their new numbers for the public.

With modernization there were concerns that the telephone operators would be made redundant, but according to the newspaper articles this was not the case at all as they were simply assigned to different tasks.

Five years later, an article reported that the people of Fairfield-Suisun were talking on the phone more than ever. Daily calls had increased 71% since the change in 1954.

The rise of cell phones – 1991

A January 1, 1991 Daily Republic article titled “Cellular Etiquette” now looks incredibly picturesque.

“Cell phone numbers are not listed and prefixes are not included in computerized telephone solicitation banks, so unwanted phone calls are not a major problem,” it read.

That one almost spit out my herbal tea.

A Cellular One sales representative in Cordelia said most cell phones are used by members of the business community. “Phone calls cost 45 cents a minute from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 20 cents a minute on weekends and holidays. But the cost is well worth it if a short and timely call can make a deal. “

Another California Telephone sales representative in Vacaville said the service is intended for short calls. He said a woman who called her grandmother in the East for 45 minutes and racked up a $ 400 phone bill (more than double that in 2021) was missing a label.

The representative hoped people would opt for speaker phones when driving in heavy traffic. But he believed cell phone users were more of a help than a hindrance in a traffic accident, as they could call 911 for help if they witnessed an accident.

About 5% of California residents had cell phones in 1991, which cost between $ 400 and $ 600 (again, double that number to get a sense of what that would cost in today’s dollars).

While there’s no way the rep could have predicted the incredible advancements in phone technology that we are consistently taking for granted in 2021, he made a premonitory prediction:

“The things that are going to happen in electronics are going to amaze you. Society is so aware of contact that it just needs to be always in touch for even individuals to use cell phones.

Fairfield freelance humorous columnist and accidental local historian Tony Wade writes two weekly columns – “The Last Laugh” on Mondays and “Back in the Day” on Fridays. Wade is also the author of The History Press book “Growing Up In Fairfield, California”.