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Pic of the Week: “What number please?”

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Today’s photo features a map of the telephone lines found in the October 1894 issue of the National Telephone Directory from American Telephone and Telegraph Company.  As noted on the title page, this publication “is intended to be a List of Stations Connected by Metallic-Circuit Lines” within the “LONG DISTANCE” System and includes businesses and residences.

National Telephone Directory. American Telephone & Telegraph Company. October, 1894.

For those wishing to make a telephone call, they have thoughtfully included instructions:

A careful observance of the following will aid materially in securing good service:
To call Central Office, give the bell crank one sharp turn; then take the hand telephone from the hook; place it firmly against the ear and listen for the operator, who should answer, “What number?”  Give the operator the number of the station desired and the exchange within which such station is located.  For example: “NEW YORK: Cortlandt 1520;  “CHICAGO: Main 52.”  The operator will then repeat back your order, and may, to avoid errors and to expedite the service, ask for further information in relation to the station called for.
In talking, speak directly into the transmitter, with lips as close as possible to the mouthpiece.  When you are through talking, return the hand telephone to the hook; give the bell crank one sharp turn, to notify the operator that you have completed your conversation.
Answer your calls promptly.  It is impossible to give quick service unless this is done.

The list for the District of Columbia was short.  It included a handful of residences; newspapers like the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and the Evening Star; large businesses like General Electric; a few hotels; a few law firms; and some government agencies.  Here are some examples of government telephones for those calling in 1894:

  • 200 House of Representatives, Members Lobby
  • 277  Senate, U.S. Sergeant at Arms Office
  • 1396  Interstate Commerce Commission
  • 1401 Interior Department, Chief Clerk
  • 1501 Post Office Department, Stamp Division
  • 1661  Post Office Department, Post Master General



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