The History of the North American Numbering Plan

You may not require an area code to make local calls in your area, but any time you call long distance, this is a necessary part of the phone number you are dialing. The area code is the first three official digits of standard 10-digit phone numbers in North America. Without this code, most calls would not be connected to their intended destination, as all area codes are assigned to specific geographical regions.

Have area codes always existed with phone numbers? Yes and no. While there have always been designated codes, the type of area code we recognize and use today is known as the North American Numbering Plan (NANP), which did not come into existence until 1947. It was during the 1940's that the area code system was developed by AT&T and Bell Laboratories, because phones had increased in popularity and had become a more common feature in households. Thus, in order to maintain an abundance of numbers, three digits were added to the beginning of the traditional 7-digit number.

When first created, the North American Numbering Plan serviced both the United States and Canada, as it still does today along with the other U.S. territories and a number of Caribbean nations. However, unlike today, there were far fewer area codes as initially no more than 86 codes existed.

Originally, area codes were distributed to accommodate the population. Some states and provinces only required one to service their residents, while others had two or more to meet the needs of their larger populations. The original 3-digt codes featured only a "1" or a "0" as the middle number. Those with the number 1 indicated a state or province that had additional codes, while the 0 was designated to those that only needed one. The first and last digit of the NANP code indicated the number of citizens in an area. Regions that were more populated had lower numbers because it made dialing easier for phone consumers who only had rotary phones at the time.

When you consider how far the history of area codes has come, it truly is amazing how this system works, and to know that without it, we would not be able to make long distance and even local calls. Furthermore, we wouldn't have the convenience of being able to search a phone number we didn't know, as an area code helps to provide us with some of the location information on the owner.

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