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The history of the American phone book

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Once a mainstay of homes, businesses, and phone booths everywhere, the phone book has (mostly) gone the way of the dodo.

Spokeo examined historical documents, news reports, and other sources to chronicle the American phone book’s fascinating history.

Before search engines, GPS, and social media, people used phone books for phone numbers and addresses of local people and businesses. One of the earliest forms of data collection and public access, phone companies published the books—White Pages for residential and Yellow Pages for business—by city or district, including all phone company customers. Users had to pay a fee to remain unlisted.

Ushering in the demise of the phone book are the internet and mobile phones. With phone books being bulky and updated just once yearly, the regularly updated internet proved far more accurate and reliable. Meanwhile, a 2004 law stipulated that cell phone numbers may not be included in phone directories. That left just landlines in the directories, which quickly rendered them largely obsolete as more than 7 in 10 adults were wireless-only by the end of 2022, according to National Center for Health Statistics survey data. Most phone companies stopped dropping the directories on doorsteps in the 2010s, although White Pages and Yellow Pages are available online.

Keep reading to learn more about the history of American phone books and where you can still access them today.

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