Telephone directory

"Phone book" and "White pages" redirect here. For a contact list, see Contact list. For other uses, see White pages (disambiguation).
Gothenburg telephone directory, 1928.

A telephone directory, also known as a telephone book, telephone address book, phone book, or the white/yellow pages, is a listing of telephone subscribers in a geographical area or subscribers to services provided by the organization that publishes the directory. Its purpose is to allow the telephone number of a subscriber identified by name and address to be found.

The advent of the Internet and smart phones in the 21st century greatly reduced the need for a paper phone book. Some communities, such as Seattle and San Francisco, sought to ban their unsolicited distribution as wasteful, unwanted and harmful to the environment.[1][2]


Subscriber names are generally listed in alphabetical order, together with their postal or street address and telephone number. In principle every subscriber in the geographical coverage area is listed, but subscribers may request the exclusion of their number from the directory, often for a fee; their number is then said to be "unlisted" (American English), "ex-directory" (British English), "private" or private number (Australia and New Zealand), or "non-published" (Canada).[3]

A telephone directory may also provide instructions: how to use the telephone service, how to dial a particular number, be it local or international, what numbers to access important and emergency services, utilities, hospitals, doctors, and organizations who can provide support in times of crisis. It may also have civil defense or emergency management information. There may be transit maps, postal code/zip code guides, international dialing codes or stadium seating charts, as well as advertising.

In the US, under current rules and practices, mobile phone and voice over IP listings are not included in telephone directories. Efforts to create cellular directories have met stiff opposition from several fronts, including those who seek to avoid telemarketers.


White pages.

A telephone directory and its content may be known by the color of the paper it is printed on.

Other colors may have other meanings; for example, information on government agencies is often printed on blue pages or green pages.


New Haven directory, November, 1878.

Telephone directories can be published in hard copy or in electronic form. In the latter case, the directory can be provided as an online service through proprietary terminals or over the Internet, or on physical media such as CD-ROM. In many countries directories are both published in book form and also available over the Internet. Printed directories were usually supplied free of charge.


Recently delivered 2013–2014 phone books in the trash unopened; in the 21st century some communities have tried to stop the unsolicited distribution of the books[1]

Telephone directories are a type of city directory. Books listing the inhabitants of an entire city were widely published starting in the 18th century, before the invention of the telephone.

The first telephone directory, consisting of a single piece of cardboard, was issued on 21 February 1878; it listed 50 individuals, businesses, and other offices in New Haven, Connecticut that had telephones.[4]

The first British telephone directory was published on 15 January 1880 by The Telephone Company. It contained 248 names and addresses of individuals and businesses in London; telephone numbers were not used at the time as subscribers were asked for by name at the exchange.[5] The directory is preserved as part of the British phone book collection by BT Archives.

In 1938, AT&T commissioned the creation of a new type font, known as BELL GOTHIC, the purpose of which was to be readable at very small font sizes when printed on newsprint where small imperfections were common.

In 1981 France was the first country to have an electronic directory[6] on a system called Minitel. The directory is called "11" after its telephone access number.

In 1991 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (in Feist v. Rural) that telephone companies do not have a copyright on telephone listings, because copyright protects creativity and not the mere labor of collecting existing information.

1996 is the year the first telephone directories go online in the USA. and both see their start in April.[7]

In 1999, the first online telephone directories and people finding sites such as go online in the UK. In 2003, more advanced UK searching including Electoral Roll become available on

In the 21st century, printed telephone directories are increasingly criticized as waste. In 2012, after some North American cities passed laws banning the distribution of telephone books, an industry group sued and obtained a court ruling permitting the distribution to continue.[1] Manufacture and distribution of telephone directories produces over 1,400,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases and consumes over 600,000 tons of paper annually.[8]

Reverse directories

A reverse telephone directory is sorted by number, which can be looked up to give the name and address of the subscriber.

Ripping phone books in half has often been considered a feat of strength. The Guinness World Record for ripping the most telephone directories is 27; the record for French telephone directories is 29, held by Georges Christen.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Yellow Pages ruling endangers SF ban, Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, October 15, 2012; accessed March 19, 2013
  2. Appeals court rules against Seattle's curbs on yellow pages, Emily Heffter, Seattle Times, October 15, 2012; accessed March 19, 2013
  3. "How to get a non-published Bell Home phone number". 2013-06-17. Retrieved 2014-04-16.
  4. Jason Zasky. "The Phone Book". Failure Magazine. Retrieved 2013-12-31.
  5. Records of the Telephone Company Limited (Bell's Patents), BT Archives reference TPA
  6. "Telephone History in France by". Retrieved 2014-04-16.
  7. Telephone Directory History by
  8. Paster, Pablo (2010-01-11). "Ask Pablo: What Is The Impact Of All Those Unwanted Phone Books?". TreeHugger. Retrieved 2014-04-16.

Further reading

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