Brief History of Telephone and Address Books: Plus Low Vision Address Book Suggestions

Address books have been around for many decades and help keep contact information organized and in one place. There are now many different ways to collect and disseminate this same information both electronically and through pen and paper. This blog will look briefly at the history of telephone/address books and offer a few links from ILA for those that prefer a larger more legible physical book to manually write down information.  Information came from the Wikipedia page entitled Address book, the Smithsonian article entitled The First Telephone Book Had Fifty Listings and No Numbers and product suggestions came from ILA.

First Telephone Book

First published on February 21, 1878, the telephone directory widely considered to be the absolute first phone book was nothing but a sheet of cardboard with the names of both private people and businesses who had a telephone.

The fact that there were 50 people to call in New Haven, Connecticut in 1878 definitely had something to do with the fact that the telephone was invented near there less than two years previously and was first demonstrated by inventor Alexander Graham Bell in New Haven.  

George Coy, who founded the New Haven telephone network, saw a Graham Bell demonstration in April 1877. Coy was employed by a local telegraph company and turned that demonstration into the world’s first telephone exchange. That number had ballooned by the time the directory came out. Coy’s network was made possible by the switchboard, which he invented to accommodate multiple call locations. Before that, Smith writes, the first telephones were privately used on direct lines.

Address and Little Black Books

An address book  is a book, or a database used for storing entries called contacts. Each contact entry usually consists of a few standard fields (for example: first name, last name, company name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, fax number, mobile phone number). Most such systems store the details in alphabetical order of people’s names, although in paper-based address books entries can easily end up out of order as the owner inserts details of more individuals or as people move. Many address books use small ring binders that allow adding, removing, and shuffling of pages to make room.

Address books are often referred to as “little black books” because of the switch to rotary dial telephone service. Early telephone service utilized operators to connect calls, however in the 1940s and 1950s the Bell Telephone Company introduced dial service where customers became responsible for directly entering destination phone numbers to place a call. To make it easier for customers to remember important phone numbers the phone company offered a free, small Black Book of Telephone Numbers for subscribers to write down important phone numbers. The 1953 film version of Kiss Me, Kate features a musical scene in which Howard Keel’s character laments the loss of the social life he enjoyed before marriage, naming numerous female romantic encounters while perusing a miniature black book, which has given rise to the trope of little black book referring to a list of past or potential sexual partners.

Low Vision Address Books

Many people prefer to still keep a paper version of handwritten contact information, even if they also have an electronic version as well. Here are a few address books perfect for those that either need or prefer to have more room to jot down the needed information.

Big Print Address Book: This spiral bound address book is printed in over 24-point type, making it very easy to see where to write your contact’s name, address and phone numbers. The large alphabet tabs guide you to the section you want. You can record 3 entries per page for a total of 550 contacts. Its laminated hard cover has inside pockets in which to keep stamps or return address labels.

Appointment & Reminder Book, Bold Lines: There are 185 double sided pages with bold lines spaced .56 inches apart and header lines at the top to write in the day, date, and month. If you would rather use the pages to write in recipes, poetry, or memories, you can insert headings that reflect your use of the book. Three pages at the end of the binder are for addresses and phone numbers.

Addresses On The Go: A small 6 x 4 inch spiral bound booklet with bold lines can carry 40 of your most important addresses in purse or pocket.  Large spaces make it easier to use and read.

Software Address Books

Address books can also appear as software designed for this purpose, such as the “Address Book” application included with Apple Inc.’s Mac OS X. Simple address books have been incorporated into e-mail software for many years, though more advanced versions have emerged in the 1990s and beyond; and also in mobile phones.

Entries can be imported and exported from the software in order to transfer them between programs or computers.

Online Address Book

An online address book typically enables users to create their own web page (or profile page) which is then indexed by search engines like Google and Yahoo. This in turn enables users to be found by other people via a search of their name and then contacted via their web page containing their personal information. Ability to find people registered with online address books via search engine searches usually varies according to the commonness of the name and the number of results for the name. Typically, users of such systems can synchronize their contact details with other users that they know to ensure that their contact information is kept up to date.

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