TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Remembering Old Zenith Numbers

Re: Remembering Old Zenith Numbers
29 Mar 2006 12:36:19 -0800

Chris Farrar wrote:

> Not to want to disagree with our esteemed host, but I distinctly
> remember 5 digit Zenith numbers in Bell Canada territory. Zenith
> 50-000 and Zenith 80-000 that would get you the nearest detachment of
> the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the nearest Ambulance dispatchers.

If memory serves, the Reading Company (RR) passenger information was
Enterprise 11,000. I'd have to find an old schedule to be sure.

Until the mid 1990s Enterprise/Zenith/etc numbers appeared in some
city telephone directories. Many listings were obsolete but somehow
were never deleted. One or two still worked (though the telphone
operators needed prodding to put the call through). Then one year
they disappeared.

I never understood why they lasted as long as they did. AFAIK, they
were charged as a collect call. In the old days that wasn't too bad,
but in the modern era collect calls became rather expensive esp
compared to what 800 service could cost.

In the 1980s the Bell System advertised remote call forwarding. For
about $16/month, a business got a listing in a distant city. Calls
were forwarded to the home office at the dialed direct rate.

Enterprise/Zenith/etc dated from at least the 1930s (I have an old Bell
System publication from that era referring to them).

I think it was around 1970 that 800 numbers began to appear. One
thing I've realized is that back then a lot of companies still had
regional offices -- things weren't as centralized as they are now. So
calling an airline in your city would connect you to the airline's
office in your city. Later on as computer tie-lines became cheaper
and more usable things were centralized as they are today. Companies
put their call centers in remote locations where buildings and labor
were cheap.

In viewing old railroad timetables, there was a large table of ticket
offices in cities and towns served with the phone number for people to
call for information. Larger locations had two numbers, one for
passengers only, the other for freight and other railroad business. A
timetable from the 1950s shows the great variety of dial schemes, from
7 digit numbers down to four or manual exchanges. (In some towns the
railroad had a dial PBX or dial tie-lines but the local town was still

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