On the night of October 28, 1939, every telephone number in the city changed as the modern era of dial telephones came to Raleigh.
Some of the numbers changed by the cut-over to the dial system date back to the beginnings of the telephone here, but a survey last night indicated that only three of the numbers as listed in the directory of 1889 (which incidentally was published in full in The News and Observer as a matter of news) have not been changed.
The T. H. Briggs and Son, Hardware store number started as 45 and will remain so until midnight, when it will become 2-2025.
The Raleigh Police Station has had 56 ever since there was a telephone in Raleigh, but after midnight to get the police it will be necessary to dial 6644.
Never miss a local story.
In 1882 the phone number for the grocery firm of Jones and Powell was 41. That number remained though the character of the Powell business changed to fuel, and until midnight it will get T. C. Powell and Son. After midnight it will be dial 6673.
Actually telephone service started in Raleigh in 1879, only four years after Alexander Graham Bell proved the idea practical. Boleyn W. Starke was the first manager, and he had a hard time getting his first five subscribers after his own line was installed between his home and the Western Union Telegraph Company, of which he was manager. By 1882 there were 63 subscribers and a full-time operator was on duty.
Exactly on the stroke of midnight, Will Wynne, communications pioneer and one-time competitor and severest critic of Southern Bell, will throw the switch in the new telephone building.
For 30 seconds Raleigh will be without telephone service, and then the manual board will go dead and the lines serving more than 12,000 telephones will be cut-over to the intricate dial system.
Mayor Graham H. Andrews, at the telephone building, will make the first dial call, dialing 2-2177, to reach John P. Swain, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners at his home, 1108 Glenwood Avenue.
From then on only the new dial numbers will produce the desired results.
Old numbers will not work, and the new directories distributed this week will be Raleigh’s best read book for some time to come.
Some increase in volume is expected during the first days of dial operation due to the novelty, but experience in other cities shows that subscribers soon become accustomed to the new method and that calls drop to about he same volume as before. The N&O Oct. 28, 1939
This modern innovation did not come without controversy. Earlier that year, a public hearing was held to address opposition to the switch.
Citizens of Raleigh will be permitted to say whether they prefer to continue as hook-jigglers or be converted to dial-twirlers.
At the request of Mayor George A. Iseley, State Utilities Commissioner Stanley Winborne announced yesterday that he would call a public conference to determine whether Raleigh will have the new dial telephones or continue with “hello-girl” equipment.
Mayor Iseley stated that he was asking for the hearing at the direction of the City Commissioners, who have received a petition bearing the names of business and professional men of Raleigh opposing installation of the dial system here.
The anti-dial petition was presented to the City Commission by Will Wynne pioneer telephone man and inventor of the Wynne Instantaneous System which was in use here until nearly 20 years ago when the Southern Bell took over Wynne’s independent Raleigh Telephone Company. Since then, Raleigh has had what is known and the common battery system.
The Bell Company junked his system here and elsewhere as it acquired independent exchanges. Mr. Wynne contends that the Bell always has provided inferior telephone service in Raleigh. The N&O Jan. 14, 1939
But the change did come to Raleigh, and a number of citizens gathered at the new Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company building at Morgan and McDowell streets to witness that first dial phone call and to mark the occasion.
The last manual call was made by James M. Peden, president of the Chamber of Commerce, to Mrs. Peden
After the conversion, girl employes of the company’s business office served punch and cakes to the host of townspeople who arrived for the midnight affair. The N&O Oct. 29, 1939
By the way, The News and Observer’s new phone number was Dial 4411.
Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/pasttimes. Beginning next week, Past Times will be found in the Life, etc. section.