Area codes are related to the geographic location of our phone numbers and we use them for all calls, but the big question is where do area codes actually come from? Continue reading if you want to learn more about the history of area codes and find out when did area codes become mandatory!

Following the rapid population growth and the increased demand for telephones in the United States, the Bell System presented a new way of dialing the phone in the mid-twentieth century. In 1947, AT&T and Bell System implemented the North American Numbering Plan and assigned 86 separate area codes to 48 states, Washington D.C., and nine provinces. These area codes helped automate phone calls to anywhere in the entire country without the need to use a human operator to connect people.

The phone industry was different back in that time, so until then, human operators  (mostly young women) used to direct the calls to their destinations. So, if you wanted to make a call somewhere, you would have to tell the operator who you want to call and where to find that person, in other words, to tell them their address.

Then in the 1940s, two of the biggest phone companies AT&T and Bell System, joined together with smaller providers to make a new numbering plan with the intention to create new phone numbers and to make calling between different regions easier. Known as the North American Numbering Plan (NANP), this system of area codes for local calls was established in 1947 and consists of 25 distinct regions in 20 countries in North America, including the Caribbean. The NANP splits up the territories of its countries into numbering plan areas (NPAs) which are encoded numerically with three-digit phone number prefixes that are today known as area codes.

According to Ara Ara the area code 201 of New Jersey was the first numbering plan area code and it was also the first area code with direct distance dialing service.  At that time, the first and the third digits were assigned according to the population density in that region the area code was going to, and the most populated areas got the lowest numbers. For example, the New York area was assigned area code 212, but the surrounding suburbs were assigned area code 914.

The demand for new phone numbers in the United States is constantly expanding, so new area codes are continuously being added. Some geographic regions even have multiple area codes due to their growing population. New area codes are implemented mainly in two ways: through an overlay and a geographic split. When it comes to an overlay, a new area code is added to a certain region, but it has the same geographic boundary as the current area code. This means that the existing area code and the phone numbers won’t change, but 10-digit dialing (the area code + phone number) becomes mandatory. A geographic split, on the other hand, divides the current area code into two or more different areas and each region will receive its own area code. People and businesses who are living in the geographic region with a new area code will have to make some changes in their business cards, advertisements, and stationery because a different area code must be now dialed in order to reach them. The North American Numbering Plan Administrator (NANPA) decides whether there is a need for a new area code and determines which method will be used to implement this new code. As more and more area codes and overlays are introduced, 10-digit dialing has also become necessary.

And if you’re worried about how many area codes are left, you should know that the United States will probably never run out of possible area codes. With the current three digit system, the United States would possibly run out of area codes after reaching 999, and by then a new system will most likely be put into place. Currently, there are 335 area codes in the U.S. (317 geographic and 18 non-geographic). California is the state with the highest number of area codes – 36, Texas is second with 28 area codes, while Florida has 18, and New York has 19 area codes. A few countries have only one area code and this includes Alaska, Hawaii, Delaware, Montana, Maine, North Dakota, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Vermont.

Do area codes really matter?

Area codes nowadays have become personal possessions and status symbols for people. Much like the ZIP codes, your phone number can tell others whether you’re living in a prestigious or poor location. That’s why many people are really considerate when it comes to the message their area code sends. Some area codes are more recognizable and carry more prestige than others, so people but mostly business owners typically want a specific area code and are willing to pay a lot of money in order to get a prestigious area code. A desirable area code that is instantly recognizable will resonate more with the local customers and provides a sense of trust and legitimacy, and can take a business to the next level, especially when it comes to financial planning and real estate businesses.

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