Happy Birthday, Zip Codes!

Today is the 50th birthday of the zip code system! I’m about to learn you something about location-based, governmental number systems! First, enjoy this list of noteworthy zip codes (HOLLER, MISSISSIPPI!) and this Marvelettes song about when you just called an operator and listed the neighborhood someone lived in and a four digit number and that somehow got them on the phone. 


Okay, so this is cool. When I was finishing college and praying I would manage through a class called “probability” (a.k.a. the “valley in the shadow of death” Psalm 23 talks about), I stopped shuddering in the corner long enough to hear my (very sweet, very competent, very Mormon) TA explain something about zip and area codes!

So zip codes were assigned more or less northeast to southwest, emanating from New York City metro area. They’re more or less random numbers, though there isn’t a 00000 or a 99999. Other than that, a zip code in the low numbers is east coast, high numbers is west coast, and in the 50,000 range is going to be Iowa. 40241 isn’t necessarily next to 40242, but they’re both in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s almost-sensical, but not quite.

Area codes, though. Area codes. Originally, area codes were either 212 or 202. This is to say the middle number had to be 0 or 1. Each state, more or less, got one or two, depending on its size. Hence, Kentucky: 502 is Louisville, for example. 606 is everything east of Lexington. Everything else (270, 859) got invented later when they ran out of numbers in that format. Some states, like Wyoming, only have one still (307).  So now, if you meet someone from a _0_ area code, you know they’re either from a big city and a longtime resident (see Los Angeles 310), or from a state with few people (Rhode Island, 401). If they’re from a 954, you know it’s a secondary city or a boomtown.

I swear, this sounds boring, but you REALLY impress people when they give you their number and you’re like, “oh, Steve, you said you’re from North Carolina…984, what is that, outside Durham?” People think you’re so smart.

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