Celebrating Our Area Code

How we got 414, and how to use it as an excuse to totally get down on a Tuesday night.

Prior to the introduction of the 10-digit “North American Numbering Plan,” persons wanting to place a telephone call generally spoke with a live human operator, provided a code that included the name of a local telephone exchange (The Atlantic provides the example of the “Butterfield” exchange, which served Manhattan’s Upper East Side), and somewhere, in a room full of these operators, a human being would physically establish the connection. Understanding that this un-computerized system couldn’t last forever, Bell System developed the digitized one we’re so familiar with these days, something simple that the rudimentary computers of the 1950s could respond to automatically. The switch from human voices to cool, clinical numbers wasn’t without controversy, as The Atlantic describes, and many early opponents decried, as they do about online communication today, that the new regime was de-humanizing.

Devilishly simple, it included a 1 or 0 as every area code’s central digit – 0’s only applied to states with a single area code, for example, Washington, D.C.’s 202. The profusion of 212 (“Hello, New York?”) and other codes easy to spin on a rotary phone went to the country’s most populated areas. Milwaukee did not so bad with 414, easy to remember, quick to dial (literally on a dial). Another unexpected outgrowth of these telephonic combinations was how catchy many of them were, with their slim interstitial digit, and how useful they were in marketing.

Tuesday is the much more recently embraced “Milwaukee Day” as it’s 4/14, an effort pushed via hashtag (#milwaukeeday/#mkeday) and by a small group of volunteers. The celebration started semi-officially on Sunday with cleanups at five area parks, continues on lucky Monday the 13th with a sort of ominous and suspenseful event to be hosted by the Bucks (#staringeyes), and will land full force with a happy hour event at City Hall, beginning at 5 p.m. There will be much local beer and food, “a Milwaukee-based photobooth,” hobnobbing with some local leaders, and other fun. The organizers are looking for a friendly RSVP if you plan on going.

Something called a “balloon drop” will also be happening: “We’ll be dropping goodies from the sky to the gathering masses,” says Brent Gohde, one of the planners. Music follows at Turner Hall with local lights Hugh Bob & The Hustle, who play some very feel-good country rock, Webster X (sonically dense rap) and Greatest Lakes (indie psych-pop).

“It’s good to have one predetermined date upon which everyone galvanizes to celebrate everything they love about the city,” says Gohde, “And people could always use some excuse to have fun on a Tuesday in the middle of April. Poor San Francisco has to celebrate on tax day.”

See milwaukeeday.com for complete info. Bel Air Cantina is creating a special taco for the day; Bavette La Boucherie is formulating a special brat; and Cactus Club has its own show planned with Disappears, Dogs in Ecstacy and Gallery Night.



Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.