by Kevin Walsh

Once upon a time, telephone customers were assigned alphanumeric telephone numbers. For example, the numbers were such as FOundation 8-3556 (now 368-2556), MOnument 2-2491 (now 662-2491) or NEvins 8-3886 (now 638-3886). The letters and first digit designated a certain geographic area and were referred to as exchanges. Numbers beginning with FOundation were in the vicinity of Lenox Avenue and 135th Street in Manhattan. A large segment of today’s population has no idea of the concept of alphanumeric telephone numbers.

“You could learn about a fella by knowing his exchange. A MOnument fella was up near 100th Street and West End Avenue. You could picture him coming downtown on the IRT, strolling first to 96th and Broadway for the newspapers, passing the Riviera and Riverside movie theaters (both gone). The ATwater girl was an East Side girl, a taxi-hailing girl, on her way to her job at Benton and Bowles. A CIrcle fella was a midtown fella, entering his CIrcle-7 Carnegie-area office with a sandwich from the Stage Deli. And what about a SPring-7 girl, twirling the ends of her long brown hair as she lay on her bed talking to you on the phone? A Greenwich Village girl. A 777 girl is nothing. She is invisible. She is without irony, seldom listens to music.” — Jonathan Schwartz, New York Magazine, December 21 – 28, 1987, as reproduced in Once Upon a Telephone: An Illustrated Social History, (1994) Stern and Gwathmey, New York. Harcourt Brace and Company

This ad containing a DE exchange can be found on a Midwood apartment building just off the Q train at Avenue M. To my surprise the DE exchange did not stand for Delaware; instead it stood for DEwey.

Much more on this FNY page.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”



Pete August 5, 2020 - 11:44 pm

My first phone number started with JA.3 -…. JA for Jamaica.

Jeffrey H. Wasserman August 6, 2020 - 4:07 am

I recall seeing that sign in several places in Brooklyn. One of the Goldsmith sons went into the roofing business in Brooklyn on his own by the late 1960s. I went to high school with that son’s son.

Ron S August 6, 2020 - 10:21 am

I though DE was Defender–not sure why—are you sure about Dewey?

Cindy November 9, 2020 - 3:41 pm

He is correct about Dewey. I grew up in Midwood and knew many people with the Dewey exchange. Mine was CLoverdale.

Barry Laster August 6, 2020 - 10:23 am

My first two were WA for Wadsworth and AU for Audubon

Choodude August 16, 2020 - 7:26 pm

In Philadelphia, the DE exchange meant Devonshire and was common in the Mayfair and Holmesburg neighborhoods.

George Cassidy August 6, 2020 - 11:14 am

I want nothing to do with Jonathan Schwartz since he stole Zohra Lampert from mr.

Lyman Hunt August 6, 2020 - 6:54 pm

Chunking information in this way also made it much easier to move that phone numbers from short-term to long-term memory.

John Ulrich August 7, 2020 - 4:09 pm

The NYPD magazine was titled SPring 7-3100 when published starting in 1930.
That was the phone number of HQ at 240 Centre Street,now converted to condos.
This was way before Central emergency call systems.
Eveey precinct had its own number and calls where transferred by NY Telephone operators to the appropriate local precinct
Every precinct kept a list of callers that would call for non essential reasons List included those of mentally challenged. the switchboard at each precinct was an important job.

William Mangahas August 7, 2020 - 6:15 pm

My phone number started with BU 4 (BU for Buckminster)
Then here’s GE 4 (Gedney 4) – UL 9 (Ulster 9)
There’s more of course.

Ron S August 8, 2020 - 11:25 am

I saw a note about DE in Jackson Heights being Defender.

S. Saltzman August 8, 2020 - 6:24 pm

As of 9-1938, only DE fender 3 was listed as an exchange.

Moishe August 8, 2020 - 9:09 pm

212 Ar6-xxxx was my grandmothers phone number. We were 516 Ce9-xxxx out on LI

Bill Tweeddale August 9, 2020 - 5:45 am

My uncle had a DEwey exchange in Dyker Heights. Ours was CLoverdale in Parkville.

Joe Fliel August 9, 2020 - 9:42 am

DEfender in Queens and DEwey in Brooklyn.

Andy August 9, 2020 - 10:13 am

Queens had a number of exchanges named for US States – IL (Illinois) 9, VI (Virginia) 7, MI (Michigan) 1. Manhattan had OR (Oregon) 7 and WI (Wisconsin) 7. There were no doubt additional number suffixes attached to those alpha names, but can’t remember all of them,

Dan August 9, 2020 - 2:22 pm

The DE did stand for Dewey. I grew up in Midwood, still have my parents’ ancient rotary dial phone, and it’s still equipped with the cardboard dial insert that reads “DE 6 etc. etc.” To ensure that people wouldn’t misunderstand or mishear, local residents would often say “DE . . . as in Dewey” when verbally giving out their number to others.

Paul Femia August 10, 2020 - 2:05 pm

The NEwtown 9 number existed in Elmhurst, and DEfender 5
belonged to at least one Corona business.

Jeff B. August 9, 2020 - 10:21 pm

Here’s a list of “Official” Telephone Exchange names – http://www.trbo.org/pub/tenp/Recommended.html

Tal Barzilai August 10, 2020 - 12:25 am

In all honesty, I never really got how phone numbers for places get determined and how they are set up let alone having area codes.

Thomas Merton August 10, 2020 - 8:50 pm

ESplanade 7 was our exchange in Midwood (Ave M and Nostrand)

Sol O. August 11, 2020 - 12:13 pm

What building is this sign on?

Kevin Walsh August 11, 2020 - 12:47 pm

Apartment building East 16th near M.

Ginger August 12, 2020 - 1:34 pm

Behind the Dime Savings Bank…

chris brady August 11, 2020 - 3:34 pm

Some people saw it as a status symbol.Ours was TRafalgar (upper east side)The old Gimbels commercial on TV always said MUrray Hill.

Michael Pescatore August 12, 2020 - 10:51 am

In the late 50’s through the early 70’s, my family’s phone number in the Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn was Sterling 9 ****. My great aunt and uncle lived in Woodhaven near 86th avenue and 78th Street and their number was Michigan 2 ****. The number to my father’s bar and restaurant on Bayard Street near the Tombs was Worth 2 ****. After 50 plus years I can still pluck these out of some obscure corner of my brain, and yet there are times when the current minutia of the day is irretrievable.

Arthur Lee Williams Jr August 13, 2020 - 1:21 am

Our old number in ENY was EV5-****. Haven’t lived permanently in Brooklyn since 1980, but old memories NEVER die… They just grow old along with you. Peace and love…

Arthur Lee Williams Jr August 13, 2020 - 1:25 am

I meant to say that we first lived on Georgia avenue just south of Sutter avenue from 1959-1969, then Van Siclen avenue between Glenmore and Pitkin avenues from 1970-1980.

Paul Schatz August 17, 2020 - 9:31 am

We lived on Ocean Ave in Midwood. I remember having a Navarre 8 phone number which at some point in the 1950s was changed to Dewey 8.

Jonathan Baker September 7, 2020 - 10:55 am

On the Upper West Side growing up, we were TRafalgar 4. Many of my friends & grandparents nearby were SUsquehanna 7. My wife, growing up in Homecrest, Brooklyn, was 998, but when I was in grad school in the late 80s, NYU was 998 – after the 212-718 split.


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