Two full lifetimes ago today…

Feb 21, 2023 | 0 comments

Our 2023 Telephone Directory – 24 white pages; 48 yellow pages. Period.

Our latest telephone book is really a laughing matter.  When it arrived, I threw it away in the basket so kindly provided as a junk mail receptacle at our Post Office;  I really thought this skinny little excuse for a directory qualified as junk.

But then I heard that voice in my head say, “Self.  Wait!  This could be a collector’s item — the very  last- ever telephone book issued by Century Link in Pacific County!”  So I retrieved it and looked up my name.  As expected:  not there.  But… Nyel’s was!  Now that was really weird.  He had died even before I had cancelled our landline which had always been in both our names.  Go figure.

I thought of all of this a few minutes ago when I saw online that the very first telephone book was issued in New Haven, Connecticut on February 21st 1878 — 145 years ago today.   However, it was a little different from what we’ve been experiencing since then.

L Connecticut District Telephone Company List of Subscribers, February 21, 1878

According to a fascinating entry on Historyofinformation.com:  On February 21, 1878 the New Haven District Telephone Company issued its first list of subscribers–a broadside listing about 50 subscribers with no telephone numbers included. The University of Connecticut Library copy, one of two surviving,  is reproduced on the website.  Maybe not a telephone “book” exactly, but a forerunner of what was to come.

In November 1878, the company, by then renamed The Connecticut District Telephone Company of New Haven, Connecticut, issued the world’s first actual telephone book. This telephone directory booklet or pamphlet contained the names and addresses of 391 subscribers who paid $22 per year for service. There were no phone numbers, but there were advertisements and listings of businesses in the back of the book—the first, embryonic “yellow pages.” The advertisers included physicians and carriage companies. Customers were limited to three minutes per call, and no more than two calls an hour without permission from the central office.

Besides rules, this first phone book also feature tips on how to place calls:  — pick up the receiver and tell the operator whom you want — and how to talk on this gadget. Having a real conversation, for example, required rapidly transferring the telephone between mouth and ear. “When you are not speaking, you should be listening,” it says at one point. You should begin by saying, “Hulloa,” and when done talking, the book says, you should say, “That is all.” The other person should respond, “O.K.” Because anybody could be on the line at any time, customers should not pick up the telephone unless they want to make a call, and they should be careful about what others might hear. “Any person using profane or otherwise improper language should be reported at this office immediately.”

(This entry was last revised on 02-21-2018. Thanks to Laura Smith, Archivist at the University of Connecticut Library, for pointing out the existence of the February 1878 directory.)

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