Archive for Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Death knell is sounding for the phone book

July 7, 2015

The past 100 years has resulted in a variety of once-necessary items joining the dinosaurs and dodo birds in becoming extinct. We no longer see washboards or butter churns in homes. Automobiles now don’t have running boards, rumble seats or crank starts. Yes, progress means a lot of extinction.

When I first started using the telephone, calls weren’t direct. You gave a number to the operator, who connected you with the person you wanted to speak with. Telephone switchboards are now museum exhibits. The telephone booth is nearly extinct, too.

I wonder how long the telephone directory, once a household standby, will be around. I’m probably one of the few persons who uses a phone directory — well, that is, when I can find one. In doing a bit of research, I found that Seattle and San Francisco nearly banned phone books as being “harmful to the environment.” One article said that phone book use by those under 50 was almost zero. The future of the phone book looks bleak, which means old guys like me are going to have to use the internet to find telephone numbers. However, I will miss the phone book and its simplicity.

The simple phone book was the number one publication in the United States for decades. While most experts say the smart phone killed phone books, I think the universal advent of indoor plumbing played a role. Phone books served an important role in the little houses outback. They also were a measure of strength with guys impressing girls by ripping the thick book in half. Children sat on phone books so they could be taller at the dinner table or to reach the piano keyboard. They could be used as door stops or even to stand on to reach a high shelf. They were extremely useful in many ways.

Probably the most unique use I found was when a Central American business purchased phone books and had their employees stuff them inside their coats making a cheap bullet proof vest.

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, and the communication marvel quickly swept around the world. By 1910 there were seven million telephones in the United States.

It didn’t take long for the telephone book to come into existence. The first book was a 14-inch by 21-inch sheet and was published in New Haven, Connecticut, on Feb. 21, 1878. It contained the numbers of 39 businesses and 11 residences.

The telephone book became an international publication on Jan. 15, 1880, when a book was printed for London, England, and contained 248 names. The telephone book became a necessity for cities and towns of all sizes. Just a little over a decade ago, Bonner Springs was left out of the metro directory and there was a major uproar. If you remember the phone company printed a special edition for Bonner Springs.

Legend has it that a printer in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1883 ran out of white paper while printing a phone book and he used yellow paper to complete the job. That aside, the first official “Yellow Pages” came into existence in 1886. The industry took a setback when the courts allowed multiple companies to print advertising Yellow Pages in the 1980s. This resulted in a number of companies selling advertising and printing phone books.

The wide-spread use of cell phones hampered the listings in phone books, too. In short, the future for the traditional telephone book is bleak. Yet there still many of us who find it much quicker and easier to look up a number in a book rather than hunting through the jungle of the internet.

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