A History of the Rogers Park Telephone Office

A History of the Rogers Park Telephone Office

Post by TELECOM Moderat » Mon, 02 Jul 1990 03:02:00

The information in this article comes to me courtesy of the Rogers Park
Historical Society here in Chicago. Their source of information comes from
notes prepared March 5, 1958 by R. L. Mahan, an employee of Illinois Bell,
for the occassion of the 75th anniversary of telephone service in Rogers
Park, the Chicago neighborhood in which I reside.

September 15, 1883:  Rogers Park was served by a toll station from Chicago.
The charge was 25 cents for 5 minutes of connection. The name and address
given in the directory of the Chicago Telephone Company was simply, "Rogers
Park, public toll station # 1".

September 15, 1886: In the Chicago Telephone Company directory issued this
date, two toll stations are listed, with the second one being "Dr. C.H.
Burbank, drug store, toll station # 2".

July 15, 1889: The south edge of the present (1958) Rogers Park office (that
below Devon Avenue) was annexed to Chicago, as a part of the city then known
as Lakeview.

April 4, 1893: The territory east of Kedzie Avenue and between Howard Street
and Devon (most of the present [1958] Rogers Park office) was annexed to
the city of Chicago. This included the villages of Rogers Park and West

December 1, 1895: The Chicago Telephone Company announced the establishment
of a telephone exchange in Rogers Park. The proposed rate for service was
$42 per year for local community service, with a toll fee for calls to

January 1, 1897: The wiring and installation of the exchange was complete,
and it opened for business this date. The switchboard was located in the
drug store at the corner of Clark Street and Lunt Avenue, and was operated
by the wife of the pharmacist and her family.

1903: At year end, stations in service throughout Rogers Park totaled 372,
versus 255 the year before.

February 1, 1905: The switchboard was moved to the building at the rear
of the drug store (actually 722 Lunt Street). Chicago Telepone Company
announced that effective that date, service would be provided 24 hours per
day, seven days per week. Prior, the board had been open during the day
and early evening hours, and closed on Sunday. The residents of the
community had a 'gentlemen's agreement' with the operator: Calls would not
be placed during overnight hours or on Sunday when she was off duty except
in cases of emergency. In a middle of the night emergency, a loud bell
connected to the switchboard rang when a phone went off hook and it would
awaken her, sleeping nearby.

September 1, 1909: The street number of the phone office changed to 1754
West Lunt, when all house numbers were changed to conform with the new
street numbering system in Chicago.

1909: The village of Birchwood (including the Germania community in the
far south end of Evanston) was served from Rogers Park on "Birchwood"
theoretical prefix.

March 6, 1915: Rogers Park office cutover; many number changes were
involved. The "Birchwood" theoretical prefix was discontinued. The office
moved to its present ([1958] and still, in 1989) location, 1622 West
Pratt Avenue.

April 24, 1915: Area north of Howard Street, east of the Elevated tracks
and north to the south boundary of Calvary Cemetery (neighborhood known
as "Little Germania") annexed to the city of Chicago, and served by the
new "Rogers Park" prefix.

March 13, 1920: Area along the lake front which had been served by the
Edgewater office (1007 stations) was transferred to the Rogers Park
office. The "Sheldrake" prefix was started to accomodate these phones.
Some of the residents in the area had "Rogers Park" numbers, and as
nearly as possible kept the same number, but with "Sheldrake" as the
new prefix. Records indicate that a John Townson, whose telephone number
was formerly "Rogers Park 6" was transferred to "Sheldrake 1".

1921-23: The Chicago Telephone Company was aquired by the rapidly growing
American Telephone and Telegraph Company, and over a two year period, all
facilities of Chicago Telephone were transferred to the control of the
newly formed corporation, "Illinois Bell Telephone Company". Throughout
its history until now (1958), Illinois Bell was never owned exclusively
by AT&T. Although AT&T owned and still owns about 95 percent of the stock
in the corporation, about 5 percent is owned by private investors, who
retained some stock rights from their prior ownership of Chicago Telephone.

April, 1925: "Briargate" opens as a third prefix in the area.

April, 1928: "Hollycourt" opened as a fourth prefix.

September, 1940: "Ambassador" opened as a theoretical prefix in the
Sheldrake exchange.

September 18, 1948: Most of Chicago, including Rogers Park had been converted
to automatic dialing in lieu of manual calling. The Rogers Park neighborhood
exchanges converted to the two letter, five figure numbering system.
The third letter of the exchange name became the first digit of the five.
Old style numbers less than four digits took leading zeros as filler when
the dial conversion was complete, i.e. a number such as ROGers Park 6
became RO-4-0006.

July 25, 1949: "ROgers Park-1" opened as the sixth prefix in the area.

December 31, 1950: Stations in service on six prefixes in Rogers Park
totalled 53,055. Prefixes were "ROgers Park-1", "ROgers Park-4", "SHeldrake-3",
"BRiargate-4", "HOllycourt-5" and "AMbassador-2".

April 28, 1957: "BRoadway-4" opened as a theoretical prefix in "BRiargate-4",
which it will eventually replace.


At the bottom of Mr. Mahon's notes, dated in 1958, the following additional
notes had been written in:

February, 1961: All number calling prefix 338 was opened. Ironically, had
we still been going with exchange names, 338 would have been presented as
"DEvon-8", a logical choice, the main street in the area being named Devon.

September 16, 1962: Direct distance dialing for station to station calls
became available to phones in the community. We can call many places in
the United States by just dialing three more digits at the start of the


Rogers Park Telephone Statistics:
Year       Total     1-party    2-party   4-party   business
1900       85          unk       unk       unk      unk
1905       372         23        unk       unk      unk
1910       2117        172       169       1553     243
1915       5322        700       388       3657     577
1920       12,376      2073      1072      7574     1657
1925       23,648      5355      5202      9572     3519
1930       36,691      11,861    12,823    5725     6282
1935       35,732      8556      12,760    8568     5848
1940       40,527      10,055    19,284    4410     6778
1945       43,010      11,994    22,190    2649     6177
1950       53,055      17,984    22,804    1257     11,010
1955       66,547      29,020    18,869    -- 7     18,581

1. During the depression years 1930-35, many people could not afford phones
and had to give them up. The net decrease in that period was almost 900
stations; this is the only period in which there was a decrease rather than
an increase. In that same time period, many people chose to give up private
service and take the less expensive party line service.

2. Illinois Bell Telephone Company, successor to Chicago Telephone Company,
discontinued offering four party service in 1949, but 'grandfathered' it
to existing customers. By 1955, it was almost gone. The last of the four
party subscribers dropped out about 1962.

3. Several large business phone installations occurred during the 1950-55
period, and payphones became much more common, appearing on street corners,
the elevated train platforms, etc. In addition, Loyola University of Chicago
greatly expanded its phone service during the early 1950's. This is shown
in the large increase in other/business category in 1950 and 1955.

4. The largest single increase in subscribers was during the 1900-1910
period, when the number of subscribers increased more than twenty fold in
that decade. The increase between 1905 and 1910 alone was six fold. Having
the exchange staffed full time in its own office became a necessity!


Long after this was prepared and presented at an IBT Company anniversary
dinner, we added the prefix '973' in our area; then five years ago we added
'508'. We 'went ESS' in 1984, as one of the last neighborhoods in the city
to be thus equipped. All the early exchanges are still around, but known
now as 262, 274, 465, 743, 761, and 764. The relative 'newcomers' 338, 508
and 973 never had names.

Patrick Townson


1. Cellular Telephone Basics and Telephone History

Hello, Pat. Long time no e-mail.

I've finally built my own web site. It's at
http://midtown.net/tomfarley. I've revised and put up an article on
cellular telephone basics that originated with private line magazine.
I've managed to put in most of the black and white illustrations that
went along with it. I think it's fairly comprehensive and it is at


I've also put up a longish article on telephone history. This was to be
the first chapter of a book on telecom I did not finished. It, too, is
illustrated and all original.It is at


There is also a clip art collection at the site with many telecom
related images that will do well for web work and just plain interest.
That's at


Best of luck to you and the entire telecom community.

Tom Farley

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Some of us had been wondering where you
went and what you were doing now. The issues of {Private Line} that
you edited and published made very good reading. Two or three
issues of your e-zine are on file in the Telecom Archives. I hope we
will be hearing more from you soon. Your article on 'prison phone
technology' was really great and is one of the items on file in the
archives. Please stay in touch!    PAT]

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