TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Old Party-Line Arrangements

Re: Old Party-Line Arrangements

John Levine (
7 Feb 2005 06:08:45 -0000

> I've gleaned from various sources, including some old Digest posts,
> that in the U.S. there were various methods employed, including up to
> 10-way party lines with the last digit of the number selecting tip or
> ring and the appropriate ringing cadence. I've also seen references
> to tuned ringers with ringing applied at a different frequency for
> each party,

Yup, they did all that. Tuned ringers, various combinations of
ringing tip/ring vs. tip/ground, and ring patterns.

> and to party-line numbers having an additional digit
> (coded as a letter) added the end of the regular number.

Only on manual exchanges where you saw a lot of numbers like 1234J, or
it was just spelled out, e.g. my mother's phone number in Bell
territory in Vermont in the 1930s and 40s was six two ring three.
(Not that she ever needed to use it since the operator knew her and
would reroute calls, e.g., "your mother's playing bridge at the
Cliffords' tonight, shall I ring her there?")

On older dial exchanges the last digit typically picked the ring
pattern, on later ones it was all programmable by wiring.

> When it comes to outgoing calls once DDD and CAMA had arrived, I've
> seen references to different ringer wiring combinations to enable the
> equipment to test for originating party, and also in the earlier days
> of DDD that in some places (maybe small independents?) callers had to
> dial an ID digit (e.g. 1x + NPA + number).

In the 1970s, I knew people at non-Bell independents who used circle
digits, the extra digit to identify the calling phone. There was also
a surprising amount of ONI, operators cutting in to ask for your
number, even on private lines in Bell territory before ANI was

Relatives who run a small independent told me that party line billing
was a huge hassle since kids would lie to the ONI operator and they
spent a lot of time getting the calls reassigned to the right parties.


John R. Levine, IECC, POB 727, Trumansburg NY 14886 +1 607 330 5711, Mayor,,
Member, Provisional board, Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: My grandmother told me once that when
she was a middle age lady (she lived in Coffeyville on Southwestern
Bell; they of course had manual [and party line] service in those
days), the system allowed the phone of the person for whom the call
was intended to ring normally; others who were on the party line would
only get a feeble 'tick' from the bell clapper. She said the old
biddies on the party line would set the phone in a galvanized laundry
tub, so even if they were sitting out on the front porch on a hot
summer night, they would all hear that (amplified by the galvanized
tub) 'tick sound', and the front-porch ladies would quietly slip
inside and try to listen/spy on the neighbor who had received the
phone call, to find out who had called and what they were talking
about. PAT]

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