The five areas around New York City

In approximately 1950, the telephone company started allowing callers from New York City to dial into southern Westchester and most of Nassau Counties directly, with no prefixed code, just as they would dial locally within New York City. A much larger area which included these suburban sections had earlier been split into three parts when area codes were invented (even though nobody outside the telephone company knew anything about these area codes, because people could not use them to dial long distance telephone calls). New York City had been assigned area code 212, and at first all the region around the city was assigned the area code 914, but it quickly became obvious that this would be too big an area for a single code, so the Long Island portion was given the code 516. (Much more recently, the 212 area was split into 212 and 718, the 914 area into 914 and 845, and the 516 area into 516 and 631. But these splits happened after the period we are discussing, and they are consequently not relevant to this discussion.)

This causes some difficulty as to how to classify the involved areas. Obviously, two exchanges in the same area code had to be different. Although ordinary people didn’t dial long distance calls with area codes until the 1960s, the telephone company used them internally. But just as obviously, the three areas within the New York metropolitan area could not have any identically dialed exchanges. (“Identically dialed” means that they gave the same 3 digits. JO 2 and LO 2 would both be dialed as 562, so they are identically dialed.) So in fact, we have to speak of five different areas for exchange assignment.

There was one area, the northernmost part of this region, which was in the 914 area code and not dialable from New York City. This area we can call “Northern 914” as there is no simpler way to describe it. (It includes northern Westchester County, but several other counties as well.)

The next area to the south included just the southern portion of Westchester County. It was, like the previous area, in the 914 area code, but it was dialable from New York City. So its exchanges had to be different from both those in Northern 914 and those in New York City and Western Long Island.

In the center of everything was New York City. There was no problem with its exchanges overlapping with those in Northern 914 or Eastern Long Island, but they had to be kept different from those in southern Westchester and Western Long Island.

Just to the east of New York City is Nassau County. But the metropolitan calling area of New York City did not quite extend to all of Nassau, so it is better to speak of “Western Long Island.” This too is a slight misnomer, since two boroughs of New York City are actually on Long Island and constitute the real western part of the island, but as most people in New York City do not mean to include Brooklyn and Queens when speaking of “Long Island,” this terminology will be used here as well. This area was like southern Westchester in that its exchanges had to be different from both those in two different areas, but instead of Northern 914, they had to differ from both those in Eastern Long Island and those in New York City and southern Westchester.

And finally, at the easternmost part of the region, we have Eastern Long Island: mostly contained in Suffolk County but including a few exchanges on the Nassau/Suffolk border.

The map below shows these areas, though not all of the two outermost areas (northern 914 and eastern Long Island) are shown.

If you tabulate these rules, you come up with three cases:
Northern 914 Southern Westchester New York City Western Long Island Eastern Long Island
Case 1
Case 2
Case 3
Note that there can be either 2 or 3 dark boxes where an exchange can exist, and all the other areas are excluded by these considerations. Before the New York City calling area was expanded, there were some exchanges ssigned in violation of these rules, so that the expansion forced some exchanges to be changed. For example, MArble 7 in New York City could not coexist with MAnhasset 7 in Western Long Island, so the former became LOrraine 2.
For a list of the assignments of exchanges by numeric prefixes, see this page.

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Last modified February 19, 2015.

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