Sunday, June 13, 2010

Main and Mutual Telephone Exchanges in Erie County

When dial telephone service was begun, telephone numbers often consisted of the first two letters of a word, followed by five numerals. Glenn Miller’s band played the song “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” and the title of the John O’Hara novel Butterfield 8 was a reference to the telephone exchange of the characters.

Between 1958 and 1962, the telephone exchange for Sandusky was MAIN, and the exchange for Castalia was MUTUAL. By correlating the first two letters of each of those exchanges to the telephone buttons, the numeric equivalent is 62 for MAIN and 68 for MUTUAL.

As demand for telephone service grew, the decision was made to switch to all number calling, which allowed for more efficient use of the supply of numbers. An article from the May 11, 1962 Time magazine entitled “By the Numbers” referred to the all number calling plan as a “numerological nightmare.” Dr. Leo Goldberger stated that the use of seven numbers without the letter exchange was similar to an Army serial number, with a loss of individual identity. He continued “one becomes…not only an insignificant cog in a great machine, but anonymous as well.”

Of course, now in the U.S. telephone numbers must include the area code, with the result of each phone number having a total of ten digits. Cellular telephones and phone service through Cable have added exponentially to the number of telephone numbers that exist. The Archives Research Center of the Sandusky Library owns historical city directories for several decades. Browsing through these directories, you can find the names of people and businesses from the past, sometimes with a telephone number listed.

Before the advent of direct dialing, operators placed telephone calls for customers. Pictured below is a group of telephone operators from Sandusky from the 1930’s or 1940’s.


Ed Daniel said...

Going further back in time, before the MA and MU exchanges, I still remember our home phone at a time (1940's) when you had to click the reciever to get the operator on line to place your call. Our number was 2424J, a party line shared with our next-door neighbors, Reinhardt Ausmus and his wife, at 2424M. Our ring was one long--their ring was two shorts. The phone number of the family of one of my best friends on Marlboro St. was 610.

The Spokesrider said...

Nowadays it's happening with our county roads. Certain forces seem to want to replace our interesting street names with impersonal numbers and letters -- e.g. Uldricks Drive is now 1 Mile Road. You can see where this is headed.

Blog article about it at

ron schneider said...

Hey Ed, our number for eons was 1972J and I remember when it got changed to 4408W. We may have gone from a party line to a private line and that was why it was changed.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know what building this photograph was taken in?

Anonymous said...

I worked at Bell from 1948 to 1956 and to me it looks like the same one I me worked in on Columbus, ave on the east side of the street just south of Adams. Ohly drug was on the the corner then a stone building, which had a doctor on the 1st floor and the came ma bell. Both the outside of the building and inside looks the same to me. The business office was the two downstairs and the operators were on the second floor