The New York greater metropolitan area

The term "New York City metropolitan area" is not possible to define in a completely unequivocal way. Obviously, anyone using the term includes the city of New York itself, and some of the adjacent area, but how much adjacent territory, and specifically which areas are included, varies from one citation to another. For this Website, a much larger area is incorporated under this term than is normally meant, because it fits our purposes better.

To explain the usage, it is useful to review the history of the New York City telephone companies. The Metropolitan Telephone and Telegraph Company (originally formed by the merger of three companies providing telephone service in the original area of New York City, which was just Manhattan Island) was a separate company from the Westchester Telephone Company until 1896, when the two merged to form the New York Telephone Company. But the NYTelCo did not, as it did later in the 20th century, have all of New York State as its territory. Apparently, when the Bell interests assigned franchise territories in the 19th century, they did not necessarily follow State lines in setting boundaries, and the fact that Brooklyn was originally a major city rivaling New York prompted them to assign a separate franchise to the "New York and New Jersey Telephone Company, headquartered in Brooklyn. This company's territory included what had been the city of Brooklyn (today's borough of the same name) and a vast number of towns in today's boroughs of Queens and Staten Island, as well as the rest of Long Island and a big portion of New Jersey. Even after 1898, when New York City was unified as a five-borough city, NYTelCo and NYNJTCo continued as separate companies, though they were obviously closely related. (The same corporate officers were listed for both companies, and a single directory was jointly issued by both companies; in fact, before the 1896 merger that had created NYTelCo, the three companies— MT&T, WTC, and NYNJTCo — jointly issued a common directory. At first, it was not really a consolidated directory, however; each company's directory was separately paginated and had its own typography and company-specific information, and it simply was a case of binding three directories in one cover. With the passage of time, it became more truly a consolidated directory of the two companies' areas. This book covered a much bigger area than today's New York City; in particular, it included the entire service area of NY&NJTC, well into New Jersey, as well as all of Westchester County and all of Long Island. It is this area that we could call the "1900-era directory coverage area" of metropolitan New York City.

When listing the chronological sequence of the starting and ending of exchange names from the period prior to May, 1908, the information is based on these consolidated directories. So the tables providing this information on this site include the entire 1900-era directory coverage area of metropolitan New York City. (In particular, this includes nearby New Jersey.) However, for all other purposes, a somewhat smaller area is implied by the term "New York City metropolitan area," which is still much greater than the usual area covered by the term. This is based on two factors. In 1950, a metropolitan calling area was established in New York City, which could be dialed, without any code, from telephones in the city. Ordinarily this would be, for our purposes, a good definition of the New York City metropolitan area. But also, in 1947, the Bell System introduced a set of area codes. New York City was assigned area code 212, and the rest of the metropolitan area was assigned the code 914. (These codes were originally unknown to ordinary customers; only long-distance operators were able to use them. Eventually, of course, they became the foundation for direct dialing of long-distance calls.) The 914 area code, however, extended well beyond the 1950 metropolitan calling area described earlier. (And not many years later, it was split, with Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island moved into a new area, with code 516.) It seems more appropriate to define a larger "metropolitan area" (though, as stated earlier, still smaller than the 1900-era directory coverage area) containing all of the 914 (and later 516) area code territory as well as New York City. This is done on this site. However, the difference between the various portions of this expanded metropolitan area require it to be considered as five smaller areas.

Except when discussing the starting and ending of exchange names from the period prior to May, 1908, therefore, the term "New York City metropolitan area" on this site will be understood as meaning the five areas defined by the 212, 914, and 516 area codes, further subdividing the 914 and 516 areas depending on whether they are inside or outside the 1950 metropolitan calling area.

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Last modified February 19, 2015.

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