In the mid-20th century, in response to the United States’ rapidly expanding telephone network, executives at Bell System introduced a new way of dialing the phone. Until then, for the most part, it was human operators—mostly women—who had directed calls to their destinations.
Dialing systems had reflected this reliance on the vocal cord. Phone numbers weren’t numbers; they were alphanumeric addresses, named after phone exchanges that encompassed particular geographic areas. The Elizabeth Taylor movie Butterfield 8 gets its name from that system: The Butterfield exchange served the tony establishments of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, should you care to call them, could be reached with a request for “Murray Hill 5-9975.”
That system evolved, slowly. In 1955, AT&T—after it researched ways to minimize misunderstandings when it came to spoken phone directions—distributed a list of recommended exchange names featuring standardized abbreviations. (Butterfield 8 would have become, under that system, BU-8; Murray Hill 5-9975 reduced to, simply, MU 5-9975.) But engineers at Bell had been conducting their own research into the scalability of the name-and-number system. They had ambitions to expand the national phone network; their own research had concluded, among other things, that the country could not supply enough working women to meet its growing demand for human operators. Automation, the company concluded, would be the future of telephony. And “All-Number Calling”—no names, anymore, just digits—would be the way to get there.
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New York City - Grand Central - Private Tour
I had the rare opportunity to get a private tour of Grand Central’s unusual and special spots and views today. I got to climb a ladder and explore the inside of Grand Central’s huge clock, traverse a hidden staircase, see the master control room, walk around with a hard-hat on in the secret underground station that hosted secret service agents and presidents. In short, I am not sure how much can top this rare New York City experience.
Gallery Key (corresponds to the order of photos in the photo-set):
1. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor once we entered the super private glass catwalk that runs along the top floor of Grand Central. A few panes of glass were opened so that the best camera angles could be accessed and it was pretty much people-watching photography heaven for about 20 minutes. Having only ever admired Grand Central (for the most part) from the ground looking up, this view looking out and over the entirety of the main concourse is something I will never forget.
2. As far back as I can remember, I have wanted to go inside of the information booth that sits in the center of the main concourse. People who visit Grand Central or pass through daily know the information booth as the ornate booth that sits under the famous four-sided clock. It’s been my main meeting point in Grand Central whenever I meet people in the terminal and it’s been in countless television shows and movies throughout the years.
So you can just imagine how giddy I was that I got to go inside of the information booth today. Not only that but there was a pane of glass missing which was perfect to capture an unusual angle of the clock. I also got to go down the secret staircase in the middle of the information booth which led downstairs and fulfilled my early Nancy Drew-fueled dreams of traversing a secret staircase.
3.The center of Grand Central’s Information Booth also still has quite a few of the original travel advertisements pasted to the inner parts of the structure which was awesome to view. Nothing like gazing upon early 20th century travel ads for early to mid 20th century steamboat and steamship adventures.
4. A classic view overlooking Grand Central’s original light structures. I learned today that the reason that all of the light-bulbs are exposed on all of Grand Central’s chandeliers is due to the grand age of electricity. The Vanderbilt’s were extremely proud that Grand Central was one of the first all-electric powered buildings in the world and celebrated by honoring the light-bulb in all it’s exposed glory.
5. As if the day couldn’t get any better, I was treated to a view inside Grand Central’s clock tower which sits behind the massive Tiffany glass clock (the largest in the world). I happen to be extremely scared of heights which is a fear I am trying to get over. Today was definitely a milestone for me as I climbed the largest ladder I have ever climbed (major achievement) to get inside the clock tower. I am so happy I did! This is the view of Grand Central’s Tiffany Clock from inside the clock! One of the panes of glass opens allowing for some super unique views of the top of Grand Central.
6. And the view looking out towards Park Avenue South was pretty spectacular!
7. These are the massive gears and master controls looking towards the Tiffany glass of the clock from inside the clock.
8. Another view of the streets below as seen while hanging out of the Grand Central’s clock.
9. And if the clock tower and glass catwalks weren’t enough, I also got to see Grand Central’s abandoned Track 61 which I was always told was the stuff of urban legend. However, it turns out to be real! When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in office, he utilized a secret train line that connected Grand Central to the Waldorf-Astoria. The area even has a huge freight elevator that was used to fit his limousine allowing FDR to travel to and from New York City in secrecy during World War II. This was the train he used which still sits on Track 61.
10. And finally, another view of the Main Concourse of Grand Central from high above. I can’t get enough of this view.
I want to thank Grand Central for having me as a guest and giving me the grand tour and for my friend Lexi (check out his Instagram) who not only put this VIP tour together but helped me out in the clock tower! For news, cool events, and updates about Grand Central:
View these photos and more of Grand Central Terminal’s unusual views (click on each photo in the set to enlarge):
Beautiful collection of images.
Grand Central Terminal was my first real meeting with New York City when I arrived for college, a (somewhat) farm-town boy in the big city.
Loved it the moment I saw it.
It’s mid-spring, 1961. In the kitchen of a safe house in Montgomery, Ala., Martin Luther King Jr. is tense. In the house with the 32-year-old civil rights leader are 17 students — fresh-faced college kids who, moved by King’s message of racial equality, are literally putting their lives at risk.
These are the groundbreaking practitioners of nonviolent civil disobedience known as the Freedom Riders, and over the past two harrowing weeks, as they’ve traveled across the state on integrated buses, their numbers have diminished at every stop in the face of arrests, mob beatings — even fire-bombings.
Right there along with the riders, capturing the mood of the movement as it swung between exhilarated and exhausted, thrilled and terrified, was 26-year-old LIFE photographer Paul Schutzer, who covered the landmark Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom march and rally in Washington, D.C., four years earlier and witnessed firsthand the courage and determination Dr. King inspired in his followers. (Filed along with Schutzer’s Pilgrimage photos in LIFE’s archives are notes from the magazine’s Washington bureau chief, Henry Suydam Jr., citing the energy and excitement swirling around King even then: “At the end of the ceremonies, a couple of hundred people pressed feverishly on Reverend King — seeking pictures, autographs, handshakes, or just a close look. The jam got so heavy that he had to be escorted to safety by police.”)
(Photos: Paul Schutzer / LIFE)