TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Old Chicago Numbering

Re: Old Chicago Numbering
Sun, 30 Oct 2005 14:21:21 CST

> I've been having a discussion with a friend in Chicago about the
> numbering employed there in the past.

I'm not from Chicago, but I've visited there ever since I was very
young, having relatives in the Rogers Park, Evanston, Skokie area.

Beginning in my teens when I started being fascinated by things like
phones, on trips there, I would 'study' the phones and yes, dork around
a bit with relatives phones when they were not looking. ;-)

I always remember the Chicago area as having 7 digit dialing in the 60's
and 70's, and I never remember any manual offices in that era either,
although they may have just been retired, as they were in other metro
areas around that time.

The relatives and friends (as well as advertisements) seemed to use a
fusion of the FNord-6-1234 nomenclature and the 366-1234 nomenclature,
but I don't remember anybody referring to numbers using the three letter
FNOrd-1234 syntax.

I remember (the) Chicago (area) as being almost entirely Panel, 1Xbar,
5Xbar, with a sprinkling of 1ESS starting to appear in the early 70's.

The only true SxS I 'found' were in one area served by some
independent telco (north and west of Chicago, but still AC312 then
with 7 digit dialing to and from Chicago), some various DID/PBX
installations in the downtown area and scattered all around, actually,
and some CDO type offices on the south fringe of the dialing area.

> 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!

I remember a lot of Panel in Chicago proper and on the north side. In
the early 70's, SHeldrake3 (SH7, maybe, it was SH-something) (Rogers
Park) was most definitely an aging Panel switch. In Evanston, 744
(74-something ???) was also definitely Panel and 866 was definitely a

> 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

Very seldom did Ma Bell use SxS for large metropolitan installations.
They seemed to prefer remaining with manual service until they could
install 'machine switching' using Panel or later 1Xb.

As a timeline, if it was a dial office prior to 1921, it most
definitely was not Panel, and Ma Bell was mostly manual prior to the
20's. I submitted an item to Telecom Digest years ago about the first
full-scale metropolitan Panel installtation, which was in
Omaha. Paterson, NJ was the second, IIRC. From what I can tell, the
1920's is when Ma Bell started widely deploying 'machine switching'
dial service in its major metro areas.

Another timeline point, if it was installed prior to 1938, it was not
1Xb (or Xbar of any type) and was most likely Panel for Ma Bell and
SxS for independents. 1Xb was installed in Brooklyn for its shakedown
run and was deployed widely in other metropolitan Ma Bell areas after
World War II.

I don't have an exact date for the first 5Xb installations, but my
guess is that they appeared in the early or mid 1950's. I do know of
a case in Omaha where a 1Xb expansion (Fowler office) and a new 5Xb
installation (90th St. office) occurred at roughly the same time.

> 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)

I very seriously doubt if any fully-deployed 10,000 line Chicago Panel
offices were entirely cut to SxS prior to going Xbar or ESS.

Ma Bell (sorry, old habit) had 'standard builds' for large metro
offices and seemed to follow them quite consistently over the years.
Their upgrades seemed to follow these patterns:

Panel -> 5Xb
Panel -> ESS
1Xb -> ESS
5Xb -> ESS

and, of course,

SxS -> ESS (mostly CDO, PBX, etc.)

We won't even talk about the 101ESS. <big snotty grin>

I've seen a number of Panel to 5Xb cuts and countless (anything) to
ESS cuts in the 1970's, but I can't remember anything (other than
manual) ever getting cut TO step, as I'm also having a hard time
recalling any full 10,000 line SxS offices in any of Ma Bell's

(As an aside, Las Vegas was indeed totally SxS in the early 70's, with
several fully-loaded offices, but this was not Ma Bell. For some
reason Rochester comes to mind as having SxS as well, but again, not

> one exchange there stood out like a sore thumb. ... LOngbeach-1.
> Everyone got 911 service except the subscribers with Longbeach
> numbers


>_they_ had to dial '0' operator and ask for the long distance numbers
> they wanted.

My guess is that this was an aging Panel office which they did not want
to upgrade for these services since it was to be converted to ESS in the
near future.

In NYC, I remember 0-plus dialing (it was called 'Extended DDD' back
then) in 1968 or so. Yes, quite a few Panel offices had it, but some
Panel offices did not get EDDD or Touch Tone<tm> until they were
upgraded to ESS, some as late as the late 70's.

> Longbeach also had _no_ payhones in it; <br> and the 9xxx series of
> numbers were given to 'regular subscribers'

The assignment of payphone numbers seems to be consistently
inconsistent, and I've always been fascinated with it. In Chicago I
seem to recall it was almost always the 9xxx series numbers that were
on coin lines, even though there were a lot of 9xxx for subscribers as
well. In NYC, most payphones of the era were 9xxx, but there were
some 9xxx sprinkled around as well. Some 9xxx were assigned to
regular subscribers. I seem to recall that each physical CO building
would have one or two prefixes which carried all of the coin lines for
that area, and others would have none.

The strangest Ma Bell payphone numbering I ever remember was in Cape
Cod where some payphones had 5xxx numbers.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I do not think Chicago ever had any
2L-4D-1L combinations. Anything which looked like that was some sort
of customer attempt at putting their number on the dial plate.

And yes, LOngbeach-1 _was_ a very old, very antiquated arrangement. I
am sure what you said about telco not wanting to spend money just for
a few months makes sense. That was the case in the WABash central
office downtown its final few months. I was talking to Miss Prissy my
service rep one day after I had made several unsuccessful attempts to
reach a certain number; i.e. connection was extremely noisy, slow to
set up, and often as not the noisy switch train would derail itself
and jump off the track to nowhere in the process of setting up. I
asked Miss Prissy, are 'they' doing any sort of routine maintainence
in the CO these days, or since ESS is just a month or two away are
they allowing all the old stuff to just go to hell to save the expense
of maintainence? Miss Prissy was quite indignant; you'd have thought
I had blessed her out personally -- "oh yes, Mr. Townson, our
dedicated workers do work all the time. I will note your complaint and
ask them to check into the problem." I did not tell Miss Prissy, but
at that point in time I lived in Rogers Park (on SHEldrake-3 no less)
and my neighbor was Charles Brown, then the president of Illinois Bell.
Mr. Brown did tell me that the company was trying to 'hold the line'
on maintainence as needed on the old stuff.

A couple other quick comments: the 'independent telco' on the northwest
side of town was Central Telephone Company of Park Ridge. It later
took the name 'Centel' and now it is something else. It _still_ owns
and operates VAnderbilt out of Des Plaines (now 847-825 I think?) and
a couple of Chicago prefixes also known as 'Chicago Newcastle'. It
publishes its own telephone directory (Chicago Newcastle) but is also
included in the IBT/Ameritech/SBC Chicago directory as well.

Regards payphones and 9xxx, that was always the case in Chicago, but
downtown, which was 'payphone topheavy' in the pre-cellular phone
days, when acceptable '9xxx' numbers were all used, then they
continued by using '88xx' and '89xx' as well. PAT]

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