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Area codes 212 and 646 are the area codes for most of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. By area, it is one of the smallest area code regions in North America. It is overlaid by area code 917, which covers the entirety of New York City.
The main area code, 212, was one of the original area codes when they were assigned in 1947, and originally the entire five-borough footprint of New York City. To save time for its operators given the rotary dialing technology of the time, the North American Numbering Plan Administrator and Bell System tried to keep the number of "clicks" to a minimum for larger cities. For this reason, New York City was given an area code with five clicks, the fewest possible under NANPA's original guidelines (0 and 1 were not allowed as the first digit, the second digit was either 0 or 1, and the third digit could not be the same as the second digit). Even today, area codes must have 2-9 as the first digit, with N11 codes being reserved for information numbers.
For most of the next four decades, New York City Zone 1 (NWYRCYZN01 on caller ID systems) was the world's largest local calling zone. On September 1, 1984, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were split off as area code 718, leaving Manhattan and the Bronx in 212. In 1992, the Bronx was shifted to 718, reducing 212 to cover most of Manhattan. The entire city was overlaid with area code 917 (it was to be for "mobile" numbers only) in 1992, and the 212 territory was overlaid with area code 646 in Manhattan on July 1, 1999 when new 917 mobile numbers became scarce.
One Manhattan neighborhood, Marble Hill, is not in the 212/646 area code but the 718/347/929 codes. Marble Hill, although legally a part of Manhattan to this day, was geographically severed from Manhattan by the construction of the Harlem River Ship Canal in 1895. It was physically connected to the Bronx in 1914 when the by-passed segment of the Harlem River was filled in. When the Bronx shifted to 718 in 1992, Marble Hill residents fought to stay in 212, but lost. Marble Hill's trunk is wired into the Bronx line, and it would have been too expensive for New York Telephone to rewire it.
A business with a 212 area code is often perceived as having stability and roots in Manhattan, particularly if a number has been in service for many decades. One famous example is Pennsylvania 6-5000; as the number (now +1-212-736-5000) appears in a 1940 Glenn Miller Orchestra song title, it predates the 1947 creation of the original North American area codes.
The scarcity of available telephone numbers beginning with the 212 prefix (such numbers are no longer readily available from telecom providers), combined with the code's origin as the city's original area code, result in the 212 code having a prestigious cachet in the eyes of some Manhattan residents. This cachet was a minor plot point in the Seinfeld episode "The Maid".
The "Area Code 212 Deli" in Brooklyn announced, in 1984, that it would keep its name, even though it was transferred into Area Code 718.
In August 2010, AT&T reported that there are no new numbers available in the 212 area code. For several years before then, new landlines in Manhattan have been assigned numbers in 917 (or 646). In addition, the Inwood section in far northern Manhattan is overlaid with area code 347, which also began as a cell phone area code. Those who are determined to have a 212 area code now must rely on luck of the draw when they establish their service or on websites where they can purchase the highly coveted area code to port to their land line or cell phone service.
In episode 514 of The Simpsons, Homer refers to area code 212 when he asks if Satan's number falls on that area code when he tries to give him a call.
|New York area codes: 212, 315, 347, 516, 518, 585, 607, 631, 646, 716, 718, 845, 914, 917, 929|
|North: 347/718/917, 914, 845, 203/475|
|West: 201/551, 908, 973/862||area code 212/646 partially covered and surrounded by 917||East: 347/718/917, 516, 631|
|New Jersey area codes: 201, 551, 609, 732, 848, 856, 862, 908, 973|
|Connecticut area codes: 203, 475, 860|