Home  l  About Us  l  Exhibits  l  Shop  l  Articles  l  Our Location  l  Contact Us  l  Membership

Guest Column


Frank J. Versagi    


We often hear that few activities are more boring than "reading the telephone book."

Except in an historical museum. There, family members hunt for their grandfather's name; some researchers track the pace of introducing new technology and products; and demographers seek information such as how big must a community grow before merchants of products or services located elsewhere decide to list themselves in the Classified section of that telephone book.

At the personal and family level, museum visitors search the telephone books in the same way as they browse through old newspapers. First, they look for names. Second, they look up addresses. If their person of interest owned or worked for an early Royal Oak business, they study the classified section.
And in these days of "Please press 1 (or 2 or 3 or 4)" to reach a person in even smaller companies, would you believe that once upon a time Michigan Bell invited you to contact "the Manager" directly if you were unhappy with the responses from the service desks. "The Manager in charge is: A. C. Sphar and his Telephone Number is 9900." The information goes on to inform you that the offices are located at 421 Williams Street and are closed on "Sundays and on generally observed legal holidays." Sphar's home phone number was included in the main listings.

One to six rings identified up to six locations. Other ring-codes included "1 long and one short ring" and "1 long and two short rings, etc." I sit here wondering: "If my phone number calls for one ring and I don't answer after the first ring, how do I know ..."
So far, the Royal Oak Historical Society Museum has gathered a handful of old telephone books: December 1931, January 1937, November 1948, December 1955, and December 1958. The books grew from 6 x 9 to 8-1/2 x ll.and from 130 pages, in 1931, to just under 400, in 1955. Our December 1958 contains only 256 yellow pages. In 1931, there were 10 "Allen" listings; in 1955, there were 81.

The cover of the 1931 book names Royal Oak and - in very small type - Berkley and Ferndale. In 1937, Pleasant Ridge was added. On the 1948 cover Royal Oak is listed alphabetically along with Berkley, Big Beaver, Clawson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, and Pleasant Ridge. By 1955, Royal Oak is again in large type and leads the same communities named in 1948. The cover of the 1958 Yellow Pages emphasizes Royal Oak and Troy (the former Big Beaver) and adds Royal Oak Township.

Telephone numbers in the 1937 book include: Owens, Chas S. Jr.; 1780; Royal Oak Ice and Coal: 0197-0198; Popplestone, John: 5360; Treadwell Pharmacy: 0220. By 1948 the numbers are like: Potter Moving & Storage: 3310; Schontz, Emma: 7285-W; and the Lincoln Exchange appears as "Lincoln-2-1272" and "Lincoln-3-9121." In the 1955 book, Lincoln is joined by "Liberty"as an Exchange.

Police and Fire both had the same telephone number, 3401, through 1948. In the 1955 book Police are LI 3-7500 and Fire are LI 6-3322.

As Royal Oak grew, businesses from other cities advertised in the telephone book. In fact, actual ads, instead of today's simple boldface emphasis, were run throughout the pages of listings. In 1931, for example, Detroit-based Cleveland Mattress Co. was one of the very few non-local businesses. By 1937, other Detroit business, like Flasher Neon Display and American Carpet Cleaning, had joined Ferndale Washing Machine Exchange and Roy's Radio Service in the classifieds.
As technologically-based products came into existence and as Royal Oak grew new products and services showed up in the classifieds: Marketing people would find useful such information as my volunteers culled by sampling the A, M, and W pages in the classified section over the years. After 1931, the ads mentioned were not in the previous years. Also, names and synonyms changed. Example: "Addressing Services" became also "Mail Order Houses"

The A's
        • 1931: Abstract Services, Accountants, Associations, Apartment House
        • 1937: Air conditioning Service, Ambulance Services (by funeral parlors, Automobile Dealers
        • 1948: Amusements (including barn dancing), Antique Lamps, Aquariums, Archery Equipment,       Architects
        • 1955: Addressing Services (Direct Mail), Adhesives, Adjusters (Insurance), Advertising Services, Agricultural Implements, Asbestos Siding
        • 1958: Attorneys, Automation, Awnings

The M's
        • 1931: Mattresses, Meats (Retail)
        • 1937: Markets, Milk Dealers, Mowers, Musical Instruments
        • 1948: Men's Furnishings, Mirrors, Motorcycles
        • 1955: Mortgages, Motels, Mail Order Houses
        • 1958: Mailing Services, Manufacturers' Representatives, Massage Parlors, Medical Laboratories

The W's
        • 1931: Washing Machine Repairers, Weatherstrips, Well Drillers, Window Cleaners
        • 1937: Watch Repairs, Wheel Aligning, Wines, Women's Apparel
        • 1948: Water Softeners, Waterproofing Contractors, Weavers, Welders, Wood Products
        • 1955: Waste Management, Wedding Announcements, Wiping Cloths, Wire Rope

Some listings came and went. Obviously, merchants of services and materials have experimented over the years with classified ads, which became Yellow Pages.

Finding the address of your grandfather's business; checking who lived in your house 80 years ago; tracking a new industry in local markets: What better resource than those old boring telephone books!

Home  l  About Us  l  Exhibits  l  Shop  l  Articles  l  Our Location  l  Contact Us  l  Membership