Telephone Exchanges and the Oldest Number in NYC

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, as telephone numbers began to increase in digits, “telephone exchanges” were introduced to make it all a bit easier to remember. The first two digits of a phone number were referred by a word incorporating their related letters – for example, PEnnsylvania 6-5000 would mean to dial PE6-5000, or 736-5000. You can still find remnants of this on older establishments around the city, such as the Lumber Boys store on Second Ave:

,Lumber Boys 01

Right above the door is this old wood-cut phone number:

Lumber Boys 02

I’m curious what word the MU used to stand for, as I assume it was a pretty big Manhattan exchange. UPDATE! Commenters have pointed out that that MU stood for MUrray Hill. Nice.

Interestingly enough, PEnnsylvania6-5000 is allegedly the oldest phone number in continuous use in New York City, dating back to 1919. The number calls the Hotel Pennsylvania, near Madison Square Garden, and was immortalized in the hit song PEnnsylvania6-5000 by Glen Miller. Despite numerous ownership changes, the number has stuck with the hotel. Call it and you’ll hear the the Miller tune during the recorded phone menu. You’ll have to remember the 212 area code on your own, of course…

-SCOUT

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22 comments

  1. Is NYC’s oldest number on the Do Not Call List?

  2. MUrray hill, I think…

  3. I think MU was “Murray Hill”. Gimble’s used have loud incessant commercial for their upholstery service demanding you call “Murray Hill 7 – 7500 that’s MU7-7500.”

    • Phil Rizzuto used to use that exact phrase, “Murray Hill 7 – seven five hundred, that’s MU7-7500″, for The Money Store. As kids we thought it would be great to go to the money store & get some.

  4. I think it’s Murray hill

  5. Force Tube Avenue

    Hi Scout,

    I concur with your other commenters; MU stood for Murray Hill.

  6. I don’t know where the store is, but I’m assuming the MU is for Murray Hill.

    The Pennsylvania Hotel’s number is the oldest phone number still in operation, meaning that the number they’ve had the same number for the longest time. It wasn’t like, the first phone number or anything.

  7. There’s a website dedicated to this, that also has a database you can search. It is Murray Hill.

    http://www.ourwebhome.com/TENP/TENproject.html

  8. My second apartment in New York City (the first was in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn) was in Chelsea on 20th Street. I didn’t have a phone in my apartment, but there was a pay phone downstairs in the foyer…and the number started with CH2-XXXX (for Chelsea). My work number was an MU7 number (Murray Hill). That was back in the days when all NYC numbers had a 212 area code, and you didn’t need to dial the code anywhere in the 5 boroughs. No answering machines (for the most part), no cell phones, no email.

    I haven’t even had a land line in 6 years now.

  9. Very cool. I came across the information about the Hotel Pennsylvania when planning for a recent stay there. Really turned out to be a very nice stay. The public areas of the hotel are still in real nice shape. Our room wasn’t bad either, considering we paid less than $65 per night, taxes included!

  10. When I was growing up, in the not-too-long-ago days before infomercials, it was common to see a TV ad selling some sort of useless junk and imploring you to phone a number like “Murray Hill 6-3000″. If you wanted to do business with them by mail you were given a long, stately sounding post office name as an alternative with a “POB” (never a “PO Box:).

    For some reason, even though I was a child, it resonated with me when I stopped hearing the “Pennsylania”, “Murray Hill”, “Ollinville” (for the Avenue in the Bronx) types of phone numbers.

  11. my grandmothers phone number in queens was VIrginia 6 and my family beach house was JUniper 6.

    Both of those numbers are still active 50 years and several area code swaps later.

  12. I called your phone number and I thought it was so nea playing that old tune by Gen Miller. Plus this number has been in effect since 1919. Awesome!

  13. I have an old ( 1930s or prior?) Alec Stern ink drawing which has a torn framing store sticker on the back stating:
    STERN’S
    Picture and Mirror Shop
    3120 BAINBRIDGE AVENUE,
    BRONX NY
    Telephone OLinville 5-2***

    The place is now Orlov Optical

  14. Your blog is great. I was looking for this kind of information because my family had problems with strange phone calls. It is a shame that authorities do not have a way to help you in these situations. This is why this service is great.

  15. My grandparents, who died back in the ’80s, always said their phone number as “SH5″, for SHore Road. Now that I look at my own phone number, it actually still works as “BE2″ for BEnsonhurst. Neat. Thanks for giving me reason to notice that. I may start using it instead of the numbers.

  16. My father and his partner started the original business in 1947. It was called Gotham Lumber and Millwork, Inc. with the MU3-0410 telephone number. It was one of the first numbers I memorized for emergencies. I could never remember that MU stood for 68 so I had to look at the letters on the rotary dial. The business changed its name to Gothic Lumber around 1970, then to the Lumber Boys after the business was sold around 1982. Still the same number all these years later.

  17. The real truth is, PEnnsylvania 6-5000 was not “the oldest telephone number”.
    It’s the oldest one still in continuous use.
    Telephone numbers much older were around long before DIAL service started, it’s just that you were connected by a switchboard operator.

    Funny thing is, some really old numbers in rural areas used very odd alphanumeric combinations.
    (Odd to ME, a city boy!)
    The farm that my first wife grew up on in rural Pennsylvania had the phone number “9431R2″ and it stood for
    “phone number 9431″ and the “R2″ meant that the operator was supposed to use a double ring because the single ring signal was for a neighboring farm down the road. THEIR number was 9431R1 so their telephone rang with a single ring instead of a double ring. (Yep, it was one of those “party-line” phones)

    In 1956 the phone company came and replaced the old cranker phone with a dial set.
    That old cranker had been on the wall since it was installed in 1899!

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