1937: The World’s First Emergency Telephone Number – 999

1937: The World’s First Emergency Telephone Number – 999
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons/ "Sign for 999" by xJasonRogersx (Jason Rogers) - http://www.flickr.com/photos/restlessglobetrotter/2626046614/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 30 June 1937
  • There was no emergency call telephone service before the introduction of 999. In case of an emergency, peope dialed zero, and an operator answered the phone (like an “ordinary” telephone call).

The number 999 was first introduced on this day in 1937.

This  happened in London, and the mentioned number became the first emergency telephone number in the world. Before that, in case of emergency, the typical procedure was as follows: people would dial zero, an operator would answer the phone, and connect the caller to the required service (like an ordinary telephone call).

But operators were busy with ordinary calls, and emergency calls had to wait without any priority. After the introduction of 999 number, the procedure was changed: when people dial 999, a red light and specific sound would suggest that is an emergency call, and operators have to give priority to answering the phone.

But why was the number 999?  At the time, people had to turn a telephone dial to get a number. In the dark or in dense smoke, 999 could be dialed by placing a finger one hole away from the dial stop, and rotating a dial to the full extent three times. On the other hand, the number 111 could be dialed accidentally, including when transmission wires made momentary contact produce a pulse similar to dialing.

Today, when people use touchscreen phones, the number 999 is not so good, and can be dialed by mistake. Thus, the emergency number 112 is used in Europe, and 911 in the USA. It is interesting to note that the number 999 is still used in the UK (for emergency calls), in addition to 112.

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