What was your childhood phone number?

Can you recall your childhood telephone number?

Over sixty years ago in East Camden, my mother drummed it into my head – WOodlawn 4-0502. The word provided a mnemonic to help remember the phone number. Later, the letters were phased out and replaced by numerals.

In 2011, Carl McDermott shared with readers here a scan of his c.1928-1929 Riverton-Palmyra telephone book.

Jersey Journal, July 12, 1960, p4

Riverton Yacht Club’s number was Rivertn-444, and Rivertn-87 rang the school.  Back then, a caller rang for the operator and they told her the number for whom they were calling and she manually matched a cord to a jack to connect the parties.

In November 1960, Riverton was the first community in the state to substitute numerals for letters which increased the quantity of usable numeral combinations. The 10-digit number also permitted automated routing of long-distance calls, gradually rendering switchboard operators obsolete.

(Being first in the state to adopt all-numeral telephone numbers is at least better than being known as the place where Japanese beetles entered the United States.)

Area code 201 originally covered all of New Jersey when it was established in 1947. Within just ten years, a growing New Jersey population would need an extra area code. Area code 201 was split to form area code 609. Then 609 split to spawn 856. Over time, other area codes were put into service, and today New Jersey has nine telephone area codes.

In another option, the new area code overlays and covers the same geographic area as the existing area code, which allows existing customers keep their existing phone number. Look for area code 640 to overlay area code 609 later in 2018. NJ.gov predicts that the new area code will last for 46 years.

Who knows where it will end?

We sympathize with today’s parents trying to send their kindergartener off to school knowing their 10-digit home phone number. Then there is Mom’s cell, Dad’s, their work numbers, and more.

Although I still uselessly recall an old phone number, I remember few of today’s without looking at the contact list stored on my phone.  -JMc

Who will you look up in this 1928-1929 Riverton-Palmyra phone book?

vintage Bell telephone ad from May 1939  Popular Science  Thanks to http://blog.modernmechanix.com
Riverton-Palmyra phone book cover, c 1928-1929

I promised two weeks ago to post a scan of Carl McDermott’s c.1928-1929 Riverton-Palmyra telephone book, but I knew that I’d better do my homework first. When I speak to Carl, it reminds me of that Kevin Bacon game—Six Degrees of Separation— because, like so many Rivertonians, he can probably be connected to someone you know in just a few steps, or degrees.

Carl’s mother gave birth to him at 721 Cinnaminson Street—on Riverton’s own Irish Row—90 years ago this past October. His mother, Mary McDermott, worked for the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company as one of Riverton’s switchboard operators for 35 years.

Mary McDerrmott, 2nd from left, 1926

Here are Mrs. McDermott and some co-workers as they appeared in the 1926 film, The Romance of Riverton, which Town Historian Betty B. Hahle helped preserve some years ago. Click here to view a 33 second clip from the 43 minute video that was made from the rescued film.  The following description of that scene appears in the booklet that accompanies the DVD:

The Price building, on Broad between Church Lane and Main on Broad, was erected in 1891, on the former site of the Episcopal Church and churchyard. Many businesses started here. The Telephone Exchange moved to the 2nd floor soon after the turn of the century, and soon occupied both the 2nd and 3rd floors. Four young ladies shown near Church Lane are: Mary Bell, Mary McDermott (who identified both groups), ( ? ) Hanson, and Betty Steinbach. The telephone operators are: Hazel Woolford, Ethel Hanson, Mrs. Radcliffe (supervisor), Ruth Hanson, Oc1ey Ebert, and Frances Reidenbaker.

As a lad during the late 1920s, Carl spent several evenings at his mother’s side one summer on the third floor of the Price Building, now the upper level of Zena’s dining rooms at Broad and Main. Working evenings alone, she had been alarmed by someone trying the locked door at the back door to the fire escape, so Carl and his two brothers took turns at guard duty and slept on a cot.

vintage Bell telephone ad from Oct. 1927 Popular Science  Thanks to http://blog.modernmechanix.com
vintage Bell Telephone ad from Feb. 1929 National Geographic Thanks to http://blog.modernmechanix.com

While safeguarding his mom from midnight prowlers, young Carl picked up some on-the-job operator training. She showed him how she listened through her headset for the caller’s request for a number, and then manually matched a cord to a jack in order to connect the parties. She also recorded times for some calls on yellow slips of paper.

 

This story all unfolded because I remarked to Carl about the short phone numbers of only 2-4 digits and I asked how the caller dialed the number.

Here’s the listing for Schwering’s Hardware Store, an establishment which has served the region since 1922.

listing for Schwering’s Hardware in Palmyra, NJ

“Dial! They didn’t dial,” Carl explained. The caller rang for the operator and they told her the number of whom they were calling. I won’t even try to explain a party-line and a world without call-waiting, voice-mail, and texting to the smart-phone generation.

For others like me who may need a refresher on the state of communication technology of the late 1920s/1930s I included these great old telephone print ads from periodicals of the day, courtesy of modernmechanix.com.

Click here to download the Riverton-Palmyra phone book , c. 1928-1929. Two pages/one sheet on Palmyra are missing. Thanks so much to Carl for letting me borrow his phone book so that it could become part of our website. (revised 12/5/11 some viewers reported difficulty with original link)

Now, who will you look up in the pages of this old phone book? – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor