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Coast-to-Coast Direct Dial Phone Service Begins

The First Transcontinental Direct Dial Phone Call: Flanked by Phone Company Executives, Mayor M. Leslie Denning of Englewood, New Jersey connects with Mayor Frank P. Osborn of Alameda/ AT&T Archives and History Center

Mosquitoes and the weather is the chief topic, according to the Associated Press, as mayors in New Jersey and California inaugurate coast-to-coast direct dialing on November 10, 1951. IT takes 18 seconds to connect the two.

Thirty-six years earlier, the first transcontinental telephone call takes five operators 23 minutes to link San Francisco to New York.

Early steps in the move toward direct dialing take place in 1947 when North America is divided into the first 86 “area codes.”

California is initially divided into three areas, 916 for the far-north, 415 for the San Francisco Bay Area and central California, and 213 for Southern California.

Mayor Frank Osborne of Alameda talking to Mayor M. Leslie Denning / Ohio State Lantern Dec. 10, 1951

Mayor M. Leslie Denning of Englewood, New Jersey (Area Code 201) dials 10 digits and 18 seconds later reaches Mayor Frank Osborne of Alameda who marvels at the new technology:

“The world shrinks so that soon there won’t be enough room for the people,” Osborne says.

The mayors then extol the virtues of their hometowns for a few minutes. As a parting shot, Osborne asks Denning if it’s true “people in New Jersey ride mosquitoes the same as we ride horses out here?”

The Associated Press records Denning replying – above the laughter of reporters, no doubt – that he hasn’t “been bitten in years.”

AT&T Explains Area Codes and Englewood in this 1951 Promotional Film

While changes in telecommunications since 1951 seem almost like science fiction, one of the things in use during the call is still around – area codes. There are quite a few more than the original 90 in 1951, however. Today, the United States has 335 area codes. California is served by 36 of them.