I was casually scrolling through Twitter when I stumbled upon a post from someone boasting about their area code to their followers.
While the exact city mentioned eludes my memory (perhaps Washington DC with its snazzy 202 area code), I suddenly recalled Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat proudly proclaiming "the 305" in an interview after a thrilling Game 7 victory two weeks ago in the Eastern Conference finals.
This got me thinking about New Jersey's initial area code, 201: "Shout out to the 201." We now have 10, by the way. Intrigued by this original number, I immediately launched a Google search, which landed me on a dedicated Wikipedia page on area codes.
Before I get too far, we need to understand how and why area codes exist. I promise; we won't delve too deep into the technical nitty-gritty.
Back then, phone numbers were assigned using a unique two-letter and five-number system. Those two letters represented the nearest telephone exchange, while the following five numbers made up the actual phone number for individuals. Just imagine if we still used that system today!
If you are hanging out at the Jersey Shore and a friend wants to contact you, your phone number might look like this: JE-12345. The "JE" stands for Jersey, and each person had a distinctive five-digit number.
However, in those days, human operators were responsible for connecting calls between parties, using alphabet letters and numbers as their code. As you can imagine, mistakes were made, and people were connected to the wrong folks all of the time. There were no saved numbers to effortlessly tap on fancy touchscreens like we do today! It was tough to route calls without any hiccups.
The wizards at the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) devised a clever numbering system that started at 201, streamlining the entire process. (You might wonder why they didn't start the numbering system at 1 or 100 instead of 200. Well, it turns out that they had reserved the range of 0-100 and 101-200 as special codes for service systems and toll phones.)
Another thing to remember, all calls were made on those quirky round-dial thingies known as rotary phones. Does anyone under 30 or even 40 know how to operate one?
Making a call meant inserting your finger into a tiny hole and spinning the dial clockwise until you reached the desired number. And here's the clever part: the lower the digit, the fewer times you have to spin that dial! It meant less clicking and less time wasted dialing. So, the masterminds behind the telephone system figured it would be much easier for everyone involved.
Now, I know there's much more to the story and the technicalities involved, but let's not get bogged down by those details.
So, why did New Jersey receive the first area code in the original numbering sequence of 86 unique codes? The answer is surprisingly simple. The places with bustling populations were rewarded with coveted low-digit area codes, while the quieter, less crowded areas were stuck with the higher ones.
New York, the Big Apple, nabbed the iconic 212 code, while Pennsylvania proudly claimed 215 for Philadelphia.
And as for New Jersey? At that time, in 1947, it was the most densely populated place, buzzing with phone calls left and right. The telephone execs at AT&T put their heads together and thought, "Hey, let's make it super easy and lightning fast for all these Jersey folks to connect." And just like that, the Garden State became the place with the numero uno area code.
Who would have thought a cryptic post on Twitter and a victorious basketball proclamation would ignite my curiosity about New Jersey's iconic "201" area code? But I'm glad it did.