An old New York phone exchange on 47th Street

Spotted on an unremarkable building on West 47th Street in the Diamond District: an old-school New York City phone exchange, in this case “MU.”

What does it stand for? Murray Hill, of course, the neighborhood where the real estate company that put up this plaque is based.

It’s getting harder to find these two-letter exchanges, which were replaced by numerals in the early 1960s. But they’re out there—especially in the boroughs outside Manhattan.

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29 Responses to “An old New York phone exchange on 47th Street”

  1. boxwoodbooks Says:

    Not just a geographical indicator but social ones as well.

  2. China Dream Says:

    It made it so much easier to remember numbers..sigh. I actually remember when we had phone numbers like that. I always enjoy your posts.. thank YOU

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thank you! I don’t remember when these were in use, but I wish they kept them as well…they’re less anonymous than 7 meaningless digits.

  3. Jeff Greenberg Says:

    TW is Twining an old Jackson Heights echange

  4. Jeff Greenberg Says:

    BUtterfield 8 being the classic…

  5. Amy Kargauer Says:

    We had an “OL” (Olinville) number when I grew up in The Bronx. I recall TU (Tulip) and KI (Kingsbridge) and TR (Tremont) as well. Nostalgic! Neighborhood names have changed, morphed, even moved a bit, along with mobile phones and numbers that we can take with us wherever we go, so those all wouldn’t be so descriptive today anyway.
    Fun read though!

    • tina hayes Says:

      omg i remember that.. and the cab stand on gunhill road was OL3-3333 until they closed… and on allerton ave it AD1-1111.. they were easy to remember, hence i can recall them 50 years later…lol

  6. streetlevelphoto Says:

    My first job’s phone number had an MU exchange (I believe it was MU5). My first apartment actual apartment (on my own, no room mate) had a CH exchange (Chelsea). It was actually in Chelsea, on West 20th Street. It wasn’t actually my phone number, it was the number of the pay phone in the hall. I remember only a couple of people actually had their own phone.
    Only having to remember 5 numbers instea
    d of 7 made it a lot easier to remember.

  7. countrypaul Says:

    When I was a kid our phone number started with NEw Rochelle 2. When dials arrived in the early 1950s, older folks would mis-dial NR. Then came the next “issue”: they needed another exchange, and BEverly 5 was created. The name had nothing to do with the city; it was just what they could use with that number combination that sounded different enough to be clear to operators when spoken. Of course, all-number dialing resolved the situation, but something was lost along the way.

    The plaque in the illustration is in remarkably good shape for what must be its age, which would be at least 50+ years. Might it be a reproduction “for old times’ sake”?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Yes, I assume it’s a reproduction, but I appreciate the company keeping the two letters for old times’ sake!

  8. velovixen Says:

    Some other kids I knew had phone numbers with letter exchanges. It’s interesting that some are still around. They are, as another commenter points out, a social marker, as many of them were abbreviations for the neighborhoods they used.

    In a related topic: New York’s original area code is 212 because when the system was being devised, its creators didn’t want numbers that started with 0 or 1, or ended with 0. Calls were transmitted according to the number of clicks made by dialing the phone. Within the parameters I’ve mentioned, 212 made the fewest clicks, so it was chosen for the largest (and, we all know, #1) city: New York. Chicago and Los Angeles, at the second- and third-largest cities, got 312 and 213 because they made the fewest clicks, after 212. Of course, nobody envisioned how many numbers would be used for fax machines or cell phones!

  9. Emily Berleth Says:

    Dear Ephemeral New York,

    I’d love to find a full listing of the old exchanges. It would remind me of the city I grew up in. When I was a child, ours was RIverside. Besides MU I remember UNiversity LYceum BUtterfield MOnument CIrcle SPring RHinelander PLaza TRafalgar

    I look forward to your Monday emails.

    Best wishes, Emily Berleth

    On Mon, Mar 8, 2021 at 4:14 AM Ephemeral New York wrote:

    > ephemeralnewyork posted: ” Spotted on an unremarkable building on West > 47th Street in the Diamond District: an old-school New York City phone > exchange, in this case “MU.” What does it stand for? Murray Hill, of > course, the neighborhood where the real estate company that put” >

  10. Giovanni Punto Says:

    To Emily: There are plenty of online directories of the exchanges that were in use and where they were. It takes a little online searching, but they are there. I just searched “old telephone exchange names” and many informative sites appeared. Give it a try.

  11. Mixmad Says:

    I grew up in Enright (EN) 9

  12. Gloria Wolfson Says:

    My old phone number was SW 5 2623–SW was for Swinburne–the number later became 795 2623– Prior to SW ir was TO (for Tompkins). This was basically up until about 1965 when I left Washington Heights. Still remember the phone numbers from when I was a child.

  13. La Cuna Says:

    Mapping of letters to dialed digits in the 1950s
    dialed digit letters
    2 A B C
    3 D E F
    4 G H I
    5 J K L
    6 M N O
    7 P R S
    8 T U V
    9 W X Y
    0 Z

    Ma Bell’s Officially Recommended Exchange Names
    The following is a list of recommended names for dialable/quotable telephone EXchange names. It comes from AT&T/Bell’s publication Notes on Nationwide Dialing, 1955. Many cities with EXchange names had for decades been using names which are not from this list. They were not necessarily required to change the names, although some places might have changed the name to conform with the recommendation. These names were supposed to have been chosen such that pronouncing the name should easily identify the first two significant dialable letters of the word, as well as quoting the two letters themselves wasn’t supposed to be confused with other ‘like-sounding’ letters which were associated with different numbers on the dial. Please note that the 55x, 57x, 95x and 97x ranges are not included: in the original list, it states “Reserved for Radiotelephone Service”.
    Unless you know your historical exchange name, choose one from this list to use today.
    Special thanks to Mark Cuccia for finding & posting this information to the TELECOM-Digest email journal (comp.dcom.telecom) – Robert Crowe
    ACademy BAldwin CApital CAstle
    ADams BElmont BEverly CEdar CEnter CEntral
    CHapel CHerry CHestnut CHurchill CIrcle
    ALpine BLackburn CLearbrook CLearwater CLifford CLinton
    AMherst ANdrew COlfax COlony COngress
    BRidge BRoad(way) BRown(ing) CRestview CRestwood
    ATlantic A Tlas A Twater A Twood A V enue BUtler
    AXminster AXtel CYpress
    DAvenport DAvis EAst(gate) FAculty FAirfax FAirview
    DEerfield DEwey EDgewater EDgewood EDison FEderal
    DIamond DIckens FIeldbrook FIeldstone FIllmore FIrestone
    ELgin ELliot ELmwood FLanders FLeetwood
    EMerson EMpire ENdicott FOrest FOxcroft
    DRake DRexel ESsex FRanklin FRontier
    DUdley DUnkirk DUpont EV ergreen FUlton
    EXbrook EXeter EXport EXpress
    GArden GArfield HAmilton HArrison HAzel
    GEneral GEneva HEmlock HEmpstead IDlewood
    GIbson GIlbert HIckman HIckory HIllcrest HIlltop
    GLadstone GLencourt GLendale GLenview GLobe
    HObart HOmestead HOpkins HOward INgersoll
    GRanite GReenwood GReenfield GReenleaf GRover GRidley
    HUbbard HUdson HUnter HUntley HUxley IV anhoe
    GYpsy HYacinth HYatt
    JAckson LAfayette LAkeside LAkeview LAmbert LAwrence
    JEfferson KEllogg KEystone LEhigh LEnox
    KImball KIngsdale KIngswood LIberty LIncoln LInden
    (In 1955, this was reserved for radio telephone numbers)
    JOhn JOrdan LOcust LOgan LOwell
    (In 1955, this was reserved for radio telephone numbers)
    JUniper JUno JUstice LUdlow LUther
    LYceum LYndhurst LYnwood LYric
    MAdison MAin MArket MAyfair NAtional
    MEdford MElrose MErcury NEptune NEwton NEwtown
    MIdway MIlton MIssion MItchell NIagara
    OLdfield OLive OLiver OLympia OLympic
    MOhawk MOntrose MOrris NOrmandy NOrth(field)
    ORange ORchard ORiole ORleans OSborne
    MUrdock MUrray MUseum MUtual OV erbrook OV erland
    MYrtle OWen OXbow OXford
    PAlace PArk(view) PArk(way) RAndolph RAymond SAratoga
    PErshing REd(field) REd(wood) REgent REpublic
    PIlgrim PIoneer RIver(side) RIver(view) SHadyside SHerwood
    PLateau PLaza PLeasant PLymouth SKyline
    POplar POrter ROckwell ROger(s) SOuth(field)
    PRescott PResident PRospect SPring SPruce
    STate STerling STillwell STory SUnset
    PYramid SWathmore SWift SWinburne SYcamore
    TAlbot TAlmadge TAylor V Alley
    V Andyke
    TEmple TEnnyson TErminal TErrace VErnon
    THornwall TIlden VIctor(ia) VIking VInewood
    ULrick ULster ULysses
    TOwnsend UNderhill UNion UNiversity VOlunteer
    TRemont TRiangle TRinity TRojan UPtown
    TUcker TUlip TUrner TUxedo
    TWilight TWinbrook TWinoaks TWining
    WAbash WAlker WAlnut W Arwick W A verly
    WEbster WElls WEllington WEst(more) YEllowstone
    WHitehall WHitney WIlliam(s) WIlson WIndsor
    (In 1955, this was reserved for radio tele- phone num- bers)
    WOodland WOodlawn WOodward WOrth YOrktown
    (In 1955, this was reserved for radio tele- phone num- bers)
    WYandotte WYndown WYman

    The recommended list of exchange names was:
    • 22x: ACademy, BAldwin, CApital, CAstle
    • 23x: ADams, BElmont, BEverly, CEdar, CEnter, CEntral
    • 24x: CHapel, CHerry, CHestnut, CHurchill, CIrcle
    • 25x: ALpine, BLackburn, CLoverdale, CLearbrook, CLearwater, CLifford, CLinton
    • 26x: AMherst, ANdrew, COlfax, COlony, COngress
    • 27x: BRidge, BRoad(way), BRown(ing), CRestview, CRestwood
    • 28x: ATlantic, ATlas, ATwater, ATwood, AVenue, BUtler
    • 29x: AXminster, AXtel, CYpress
    • 32x: DAvenport, DAvis, EAst(gate), FAculty, FAirfax, FAirview
    • 33x: DEerfield, DEwey, EDgewater, EDgewood, EDison, FEderal
    • 34x: DIamond, DIckens, FIeldbrook, FIeldstone, FIllmore, FIrestone
    • 35x: ELgin, ELliot, ELmwood, FLanders, FLeetwood
    • 36x: EMerson, EMpire, ENdicott, FOrest, FOxcroft
    • 37x: DRake, DRexel, ESplanade, ESsex, FRanklin, FRontier
    • 38x: DUdley, DUnkirk, DUpont, EVergreen, FUlton
    • 39x: EXbrook, EXeter, EXport, EXpress
    • 42x: GArden, GArfield, HAmilton, HArrison, HAzel
    • 43x: GEneral, GEneva, HEmlock, HEmpstead, IDlewood
    • 44x: GIbson, GIlbert, HIckman, HIckory, HIllcrest, HIlltop
    • 45x: GLadstone, GLencourt, GLendale, GLenview, GLobe
    • 46x: HObart, HOmestead, HOpkins, HOward, INgersoll
    • 47x: GRanite, GReenfield, GReenleaf, GReenwood, GRidley, GRover
    • 48x: HUbbard, HUdson, HUnter, HUntley, HUxley, IVanhoe
    • 49x: GYpsy, HYacinth, HYatt
    • 52x: JAckson, LAfayette, LAkeside, LAkeview, LAmbert, LAwrence
    • 53x: JEfferson, KEllogg, KEystone, LEhigh, LEnox
    • 54x: KImball, KIngsdale, KIngswood, LIberty, LIncoln, LInden
    • 56x: JOhn, JOrdan, LOcust, LOgan, LOwell
    • 58x: JUniper, JUno, JUstice, LUdlow, LUther
    • 59x: LYceum, LYndhurst, LYnwood, LYric
    • 62x: MAdison, MAin, MArket, MAyfair, NAtional
    • 63x: MEdford, MElrose, MErcury, NEptune, NEwton, NEwtown
    • 64x: MIdway, MIlton, MIssion, MItchell, NIagara
    • 65x: OLdfield, OLive, OLiver, OLympia, OLympic
    • 66x: MOhawk, MOntrose, MOrris, NOrmandy, NOrth(field)
    • 67x: ORange, ORchard, ORiole, ORleans, OSborne
    • 68x: MUrdock, MUrray, MUseum, MUtual, OVerbrook, OVerland
    • 69x: MYrtle, OWen, OXbow, OXford
    • 72x: PAlace, PArk(view), PArk(way), RAndolph, RAymond, SAratoga
    • 73x: PErshing, REd(field), REd(wood), REgent, REpublic
    • 74x: PIlgrim, PIoneer, RIver(side), RIver(view), SHadyside, SHerwood
    • 75x: PLateau, PLaza, PLeasant, PLymouth, SKyline
    • 76x: POplar, POrter, ROckwell, ROger(s), SOuth(field)
    • 77x: PRescott, PResident, PRospect, SPring, SPruce
    • 78x: STate, STerling, STillwell, STory, SUffolk, SUnset,
    • 79x: PYramid, SWathmore, SWift, SWinburne, SYcamore
    • 82x: TAlbot, TAlmadge, TAylor, VAlley, VAndyke
    • 83x: TEmple(ton), TEnnyson, TErminal, TErrace, VErnon
    • 84x: THornwell, TIlden, VIctor(ia), VIking, VInewood
    • 85x: ULrick, ULster, ULysses
    • 86x: TOwnsend, UNderhill, UNion, UNiversity, VOlunteer
    • 87x: TRemont, TRiangle, TRinity, TRojan, UPtown
    • 88x: TUcker, TUlip, TUrner, TUxedo
    • 89x: TWilight, TWinbrook, TWining, TWinoaks
    • 92x: WAbash, WAlker, WAlnut, WArwick, WAverly
    • 93x: WEbster, WEllington, WElls, WEst(more), YEllowstone
    • 94x: WHitehall, WHitney, WIlliam(s), WIlson, WIndsor
    • 96x: WOodland, WOodlawn, WOodward, WOrth, YOrktown
    • 98x: YUkon
    • 99x: WYandotte, WYman, WYndown
    Fictitious phone numbers starting with 55 used the fictitious exchange name KLondike (55). The letters Q and Z were never used in the naming system, but Z was often mapped on the telephone dial to the digit 0 (zero).

  14. Joanne Says:

    My phone number when I lived in Tudor City/Manhattan was MU76371. And growing up in Sheepshead Bay/Brooklyn it was Sh3-9878 and I also had a pink princess phone (sure miss it) was TW1-3036.

    • boxwoodbooks Says:

      OMG a PINK princess phone! Jealous.
      And someone wrote about how much easier it was to remember those old telephone numbers: I can still remember a few belonging to classmates but not sure where I’ve left my glasses. Great stuff.

      • Joanne Says:

        Thanks for your message. Back in the day you could only rent the princess phone. Was not avail for purchase. The only way now to find one is to scour thrift stores/flea markets and pay upwards of $40-60. Have seen them but not the pink version.

      • countrypaul Says:

        I just retired a beige one last week – it still sort of works but was getting a bit electronically “crackly.” Still, those things were built to last.

      • countrypaul Says:

        Joanne, if Ms. Ephemeral is willing to connect us, I’ll send you my Princess phone for the price of shipping and the box. It still works okay. I assume, since she approved us, that she has both of our email addresses.

  15. Joanne Says:

    Countrypaul: Thanks for letting me know. Is this a “pink” princess phone or beige one? And if so how much will it cost for shipping/box. Please advise.

    • countrypaul Says:

      It’s beige. I don’t know what the cost would be; it depends on where we are and the type of mailing. If it helps, I’m in the northern NJ part of metro NYC.

      • Joanne Says:

        countrypaul: Thanks for the offer but I’ll pass on color. Saw some pink phones listed on Ebay…Prices have gone up a lot. Take care.

  16. Discovering another old phone exchange on a vintage West Side sign | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] seen a few other Abramson Brothers plaques around Manhattan over the years. But this one, on West 52nd Street in Hell’s Kitchen, was new to […]

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