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1957 phone book plucked from the abyss

The skinny little thing was tucked in the top drawer of a desk that was about to be scrapped, when Jeff DiBona (BHS 2004), owner of J.R. DiBona Truck Lettering, happened to open the drawer. He rescued the book and immediately contacted Burlington Retro at 781-718-9872.

The world needs more Jeff DiBonas.

You’ll notice these phone numbers look nothing like today’s numbers. Before the area codes and exchanges of today, Burlington’s predominant phone prefixes were “BU” in the early 1950s and “BR,” also known as “Browning,” in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. When phone companies dropped the nicknames and went strictly numeric, some users decried the loss of personality. An all-numeric phone number seemed cold, impersonal.

You’ll also notice that many listings have no street numbers. There was no need. Everyone, including mail carriers, police and firefighters, knew where everyone was located. Do you have room numbers inside your house? Probably not. There’s no need. But a big, impersonal hotel needs numbers.

Burlington didn’t assign street numbers in earnest until the late 1950s, when the population grew to the point where ambulances needed specifics. In 1957, the town started a new residential numbering process for freshly-built neighborhoods with plot plans. The first fully-numbered streets were Florence Road, Crawford Road, Sylvester Road, Frances Road, Foster Road, Bradford Road, Luther Road, Alma Road and Sunset Drive.

Also notice the reminder about “party line” etiquette. Sometimes phone lines were shared among multiple families, the greatest idea since shared bathrooms. You’d pick up the receiver and hear your neighbors’ conversation in progress. You’d have to interrupt and ask to use the line. Mindless gabbing on a party line was rude. And failing to surrender the line for someone else’s emergency call carried a penalty of $50 to $500. In today’s money that’s $446 to $4,466.

By the way, for a map and street list from the same era, go here.









9 thoughts on “1957 phone book plucked from the abyss Leave a comment

  1. Thanks so much for posting. My Mum & Dad in that book and had that same phone number until they sold in 1993. Thanks again, lots of memories of families in that book x

  2. Thank you so much for the memories. Made me chuckle seeing all the ole numbers and even reciting them in my head before finding them in the book. Leslie Keating Sawka

  3. Awesome… found our listing on page 10. BR2-3167…. thanks for the great memories, and thanks to Mr DiBona for having the presence of mind to preserve this bit of history!

  4. I have that phone book. Our name was in it also. We had a lot number for several years on Cheryl Ave. Lots of great memories. Thank you, Ann.

  5. hi mrs. Lincoln, found our phone # also. lived right around the corner on top of the hill.

  6. Great memories! Keep ’em coming. does any one remember the WE-6-1234 number where you got the weather report recording?

  7. That’s great! Thanks for sharing. It gives a sense of how far Burlington has come. Everyone knew everyone back then. So different now.

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