TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Old Chicago Numbering

Old Chicago Numbering

Paul Coxwell (
Sat, 29 Oct 2005 13:22:09 +0100

I've been having a discussion with a friend in Chicago about the
numbering employed there in the past. Knowing that we have Pat and a
few others who are familiar with the history of the city, I'm sure
somebody might be able to shed some more light on this.

I know from previous comments here that Chicago switched from 3L-4N to
2L-5N somewhere in the late 1940s, but my friend recalls that when he
started with Illinois Bell around 1960 there were still phones around
showing alternate schemes, either 2L-4N or possibly just name plus 4

At first I wondered if the city had indeed used some sort of 6-digit
numbering and these were just older phones which had never had their
number plates updated, but upon reflection he reckons they may have
been manual offices.

So can anyone recall how widespread manual offices still were in
Chicago around 1960-ish?

A few of his comments:

> Could be that the changeover came in with X-bar. The office I worked
> in was built in the early fifties with the X-bar as the original
> equipment. The old Central Office on Western and North Avenues was
> turned into a Plant Department training center and I never saw the kind
> of equipment which was in it originally. Might be it was an old manual
> office - "Number please."

> We still had an office like this when I started with the company as a
> mailboy in 1960. One of the offices I deleivered mail to was on Ogden
> Avenue just west of Central Park Avenue - the old Lawndale Office - the
> new Central Office (#1 X-bar) was built two blocks east of Central Park
> on the southwest corner of St. Louis avenue where I delivered mail
> also.

> So it could be that all those number plates I saw on phones were
> remnants of a manual office and not a switched office. Didn't think of
> that before we started this but that makes sense to me and would
> account for the discrepancies. In fact, I now feel certain that is the
> explanation.

Also mentioned was the Edgewater office on the north side of Chicago
where he worked mid-1960s. From his description is sounds like it was
a panel office at that time, or "monkey-on-a-stick" as he says they
referred to it!

We also got to talking about Strowger SxS switches:

> I would imagine local central offices for Illinois Bell might have used
> SXS at some point, but, by the time I got to the field in the late
> sixties, the only place I ever saw them was in PBXes. They were fun to
> work on though - a real challenge sometimes.


I recall you mentioning the Wabash office ("The Wabash Cannonball")
being SxS at one time. Which part of the city did that serve, and do
you have any idea when it was replaced?

All info will be passed on to help reconcile old memories!



[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: The 'Wabash CannonBall' a/k/a Wabash
central office was one of the first, if not the first, central offices
in Chicago, dating from the early 1900's; it served part of the
downtown business district, which in those days (early 1900's, late
1800's) was a wee bit south of the present 'downtown' area; 'downtown'
tended to be more around Harrison/Van Buren Streets (east/west
streets) and Wabash Avenue. Chicago, after the Great Fire, tended to
build more to the north. The 'numbered' streets as a result are all
south, east/west streets north are all 'named' rather than 'numbered'.
Wabash was a panel office in the very old days; all I know for sure
was that Wabash cut over in one large sweep from (mostly) panel with
a bit of SxS tossed in to ESS in 1973 or 74. No wholesale SxS, no
crossbar, just straight to ESS. The Wabash central office is
physically now (and as far back as I can remember) at 65 East Congress
Parkway (corner of Wabash Avenue and Congress).

On the far north side of the city, the EDGewater central office (so
named because Lake Michigan at one point lapped at its doorstep until
the lake was gradually filled in a little [at first with debris from
the Great Fire, then later as city planners 'moved things around a
little'] and the lake got shoved a few feet east on most of the north
side). EDGewater CO consists of several exchanges; the ones I am
familiar with are EDGewater (773-334), UPTown (773-878), LOngbeach-1
(773-561), SUnnyside-4 (773-784), and maybe others. Although Edgewater
dates back almost to the earliest of times as well, and is in the
Uptown neighborhood, for whatever reason it mostly progressed over the
years from panel through step by step to crossbar, and when it was
'cut' fairly early on (memory tells me it was 1976-77) one exchange
there stood out like a sore thumb. City of Chicago was in the process
of getting 911 service going everywhere in the city, except they ran
into some hassles with LOngbeach-1. Everyone got 911 service except
the subscribers with Longbeach numbers (by then it was 312-561). Phone
book said '561 subscribers must continue to dial POlice-5-1313 and
FIre-7-1313.' And that went on for a few months until telco was able
to successfully bring around Longbeach-1. And we were getting 'zero-plus'
dialing about the same time; Longbeach was left out of that for a few
months also; _they_ had to dial '0' operator and ask for the long
distance numbers they wanted. Longbeach also had _no_ payhones in it;
and the 9xxx series of numbers were given to 'regular subscribers'
where normally numbers of that type (9xxx) _on other exchanges_ were
often as not given over to payphones.

A bit of non-telecom history for a few minutes here; the Uptown
neighborhood in Chicago _used to be_ -- like most of Chicago -- a very
elegant, very rich white neighborhood. If you had an UPTown or EDGwater
phone number, you lived somewhere between Ashland Avenue on the west,
Lake Michigan on the east, Montrose Avenue on the south and Foster
Avenue on the north. (I think those are still the boundaries). This is
a neighborhood which, in the 1920-30's had the very elegant Uptown
Theatre (3000 plus seats) at Lawrence and Broadway, the Riviera
Theatre a few doors south, the Aragon Ballroom, the Edgewater Beach
Hotel (_directly_ on the lakefront with its elegant mile-long boardwalk)
Edgewater Hospital, Radio station WEBH (as in *E*dgewater *B*each *H*otel)
and of course, Uptown Station, the very elegant train stop which
served the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Electric Railroad, one
of Samuel Insull's properties which was located at Wilson Street and
Broadway, in the heart of beautiful Uptown, a shopping district only
second in glamor to 63rd Street and Ashland. Its all gone today. Between
the first and second wars, a nice neighborhood for Jewish people; the
Uptown neighborhood began going sour when the Jews moved out (going
more north toward Evanston/Skokie) and poorer white people (known in
street parlance as 'white trash' or 'hillbillies' [by and large people
from Appalachia] moved in. The hillbillies stayed around through the
1980's -- even a few still today -- but mostly they all ran off in
dread and terror when the blacks started moving in around 1980 or
so. Now today predominently black (although I remember the hillbilly
population of Uptown quite well and in the early days of the hillbilly
people, also the gay population which lived there.) Uptown Station
is still there, but mostly subdivided into small store fronts with one
tiny entrance going direct to the train tracks where CTA has
rechristened the whole thing 'Wilson Avenue CTA station', and since
the CTA is a notorius slumlord -- they do _not_ maintain their property
in any way, shape or form -- only when ordered to do so and fined by
building inspectors - the Uptown Station -- what remains of it as a
train depot -- is a total dump, and very filthy. Uptown is now a
'dumping ground' by social service agencies looking to house hoardes
of mentally ill people, ex-felons, drug addicts, etc. Quite a change
from the Uptown I remember even in the 1960's. Very sad. PAT]

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