When Phone Numbers Had Names like “MUrray Hill” or FIreside”

When I was a kid, all phone numbers began with names like MUrray Hill, FIreside or DAvis. This was a holdover from the very earliest days of telephones. The phone company executives (and there was only 1 phone company) thought that people would not be able to memorize large strings of numbers.

Lucy's phone number was MUrray Hill 5-9975
Lucy’s phone number was MUrray Hill 5-9975

Consequently, the first 2 numbers of every phone number were expressed in words. MUrray Hill meant the first 2 numbers were 6-8. DAvis meant the first 2 numbers were 3-2. That’s why the first two letters of the exchanges were capitalized.

Glen Miller used to call his fiance from PEnnsylvania 6-5000
Glen Miller used to call his fiance from PEnnsylvania 6-5000

But there is a natural human tendency to believe that all names must mean something. Consequently, people had ridiculous discussions about which phone names (exchanges) were “better”. My phone number as a kid was DAvis-4-2427, while the Brett’s who lived right next door had a phone number that began with FIreside. Frankie Brett insisted that their phone number was “better” than ours since FIreside sounded so much cooler than DAvis.

Butterfield 8 was the exchange for the Upper East Side of Manhattan
Butterfield 8 was the exchange for the Upper East Side of Manhattan

The funny part is that having phone numbers begin with names really did help people remember them better. In fact, some of those old phone numbers remain a part of American culture. Here are just a few examples:

PEnnsylvania 6-5000 was the title of a famous Glen Miller song. It was the phone number of a pay phone from which Glen Miller used to call his fiancee when he was on the road. Somehow the song would just not be as good if it was called 73-65000.

MUrray Hill 5-9975 was the phone number for Lucy & Ricky Ricardo. To this day, some people remember that number but cannot remember the number of their own cell phone.

BUtterfield -8 was the title of a classic 1960 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor. The significance of the BUtterfield-8 – exchange is that it was limited to the wealthy Upper East Side of Manhattan

The phone number MUrray Hill 7-0700 was burned into my brain by Saturday morning T.V.
The phone number MUrray Hill 7-0700 was burned into my brain by Saturday morning T.V.

MUrray Hill 7-0700 was the phone number for the furniture reupholstering department of Macy’s. When I was kid, Macy’s had a local television commercial that repeated this number at least 15 time. You could not watch Saturday Morning T.V. without hearing the words “MUrray Hill 7-0700” over and over and over. This phone number has been permanently burned into my long term memory, even though I have never gotten a piece of furniture reupholstered.

Having a 212 area code is like having "Old Money"
Having a 212 area code is like having “Old Money”

Now that phone numbers don’t have names, each individual number or exchange no longer seems that important. Of course, there are 2 exceptions to this.

You are not a real New Yorker unless your phone number begins with 212
You are not a real New Yorker unless your phone number begins with 212

212- is the coveted “original” area code for Manhattan. To have a 212 area code signifies that not only are you in Manhattan, but that you have been there for a long time. People with 212 area codes look down on other Manhattan dwellers who only have a 646 or a 332 area code. This is very similar to the way families with Old Money used to look down on the Noveau Riche. If your phone number does not begin with 212 you will never be accepted as a real New Yorker.

Never mention the phone number 867-5309 to a woman named Jenny
Never mention the phone number 867-5309 to a woman named Jenny

867-5309 is the phone number that all women named Jenny have learned to hate. The song Jenny was written by Alex Call and Jim Keller and performed by Tommy Tutone. The song is about a woman with a “certain reputation” who is so popular that her phone number is scribbled on bathroom walls. If you ever date a woman named Jenny, never make the mistake of mentioning this song or phone number.

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