Bob Howell

You might say we're living by the numbers. Here's more on what I'm talking about.

Way back when, the local phone company in my little hometown w-a-y down in southeast Alabama published a booklet that outlined what would happen when we switched from operator assisted calls to dial phones.

The excitement was on the same level as the rolling over to the new millennium in the year 2000. I can remember as a young lad counting the days until the dial phone was officially declared up and running. I had already memorized our brand new telephone number. Goodbye 362-R; hello 9505! Yep, back in the earliest days of rotary dial we skipped the first three digits most of the time when we were making local calls. After all, you could take only so much change at one time.

Little did we know that was only the beginning of change for the humble telephone.

As a teenager, tucked away in Geneva, Alabama, I had no working knowledge of what changes Bell Labs had in mind for phone communication. It was soon to be known as the mighty Area Code. Working in conjunction with AT&T, Bell had come up with what was originally known as the North American Numbering Plan, which included a three digit number that preceded the seven digits already in use across the country.

Beginning in 1947, all Area Codes across the country had the number "1" or "zero" as their middle digits. This didn't change until the south-central  and southeast corner of the state of Alabama was assigned the "334" Area Code in 1995. That included the cities of Auburn, Opelika, Montgomery, Dothan, Valley and Selma. The remainder of the state kept its original "205" until a part of north Alabama was assigned "256" in 1998. 

Since then, Alabama added "251" in the southwest region in 2001. Overlays of Area Codes "938" and "659" were also assigned recently. Any questions? Call the Alabama Public Service Commission. 

If that's not enough numbers for you, just think about the U.S. Mail. Thanks to the good ole' ZIP Code plan, the United States Postal Service processes and delivers 472.1 million pieces of mail each day. Now if I could just get each one of those folks to send me a dollar a day for one week ... excuse me I digress. 

ZIP stands for Zone Improvement Plan. The idea was that the 472.1 million pieces of mail processed and delivered daily would get to their final destination more efficiently if everybody used ZIP. 

So in 1963, the post office rolled out with much ballyhoo,  the successor to the "zone" plan. And did it ever deliver! (No pun intended) 

Proponents of the plan say ZIP coding has created new revenue streams since its unveiling in 1963. They say that the code was originally intended to "allow mail sorting methods to be automated but ended up creating unimagined socio-economic benefits as an organizing and enabling device."

Despite its supporters enthusiasm for the Postal Service and ZIP codes positive contributions, the USPS continues to lose billions ... a net loss of $7.6 billion (with a "b") last fiscal year alone. But when compared to the national debt of approximately $27 trillion, it's not all that much.

Before we go, here is something useful about ZIP codes ... specifically how to read them. 

Look at this ZIP Code for a local Auburn: 36831. ZIP Codes are numbered with the first digit representing a certain group of U.S. states. The second and third digits represent a region in that group (or perhaps a large city. The fourth and fifth digits represent a group of delivery addresses within that region. 

Don't worry, there won't be a test afterward. You're safe.

Until next time. 

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