Posted by Jay Livingston
I don’t know why I became briefly obsessed with the 1940 Manhattan phone book when a Facebook friend linked to it yesterday, but I did. Nostalgia perhaps, though I wasn’t living in New York in 1940. I wasn’t living at all. But seeing the exchanges with names instead of numbers (area codes, of course, had not yet been invented) makes it just a little easier to imagine what life in New York was like three quarters of a century ago. 475 tells you nothing; GRamercy 5 evokes a neighborhood.*
I couldn’t find my wife’s family. In 1940 not everyone had a phone. Perhaps they didn’t get theirs (WAdsworth 8) until later. Then I went looking for other people who might have been living in New York then.
You could just pick up the phone and call J.D. Salinger,** who might prefer not to have been bothered, or Coleman Hawkins, who would probably want to go out for a few drinks.
Estee Lauder lived just a few blocks from me, and we shared an exchange – ENdicott 2, (The elegant Endicott Hotel, built in the 1890s, was just a few blocks north.)
You can browse the entire phone book here.
* “I know the last part of your number – 6160,” I said years ago to a fellow West Sider, “but I can never remember – is it 479 or 749.”
“749,” he said as though it were obvious. “RIverside 9.”
That was decades ago. I still remember it.
** “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”