Friday, March 12, 2010

Area Code Blues


Norman Mailer called it "Probably the worst news to hit Brooklyn since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles." No, he wasn't back from the dead to pronounce judgment on the new Nets arena -- he was talking about the 718 area code, which was introduced 25 years ago.

When area codes were first established in 1947, all of New York was given 212. Due to its large population, the city was assigned the area code that was considered easiest to dial on a rotary telephone. However, by the early 1980s, it was becoming clear to Public Service Commission that New York's continued growth would soon create the need for a new area code. (Not only was the population rising, fax machines were becoming affordable for the first time and the country's first 1G cell phone network had just been established.)

The commission decided to allow Manhattan and the Bronx to retain the 212 area code, assigning 718 to Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Public reaction was swift and furious. Businesses complained about the costs of reprinting stationery and letterhead; residents kvetched about being pushed further into the realm of the "outer boroughs." As Brooklyn College's president, Robert Hess, remarked to the New York Times: "It's a giant step backwards. For 80-odd years we've been striving to make New York a single city out of the five boroughs. To solve a problem in New York where there are not enough lines by essentially evicting the outer boroughs is really an affront."

Today, of course, 718 seems old fashioned. In 1992, the Bronx (and the Marble Hill section of Manhattan) joined the other boroughs by switching to 718; that was the same year that the 917 area code was added to Manhattan. (Fun fact: originally, 917 was used more for beepers and pagers than for cell phones.) Area codes 646 and 347 were added in 1999 to further lighten to load, but there still aren’t enough numbers -- area code 929 will be introduced in early 2011 to provide more service in the outer boroughs.

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Read more about New York's role in the creation of the telephone
in
 Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City
.
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1 comment:

Ashley said...

This is a lot of great info. If you want more area code trivia, head over to http://areacode.org

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