‘I Love Lucy’: The Story Behind the Ricardo’s Designated Phone Numbers and Why They Started with Letters

by Madison Miller
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In many ways, “I Love Lucy” is a historical time capsule of the 1950s.

From outfits to mannerisms to family dynamics to food, Lucy and Ricky and their friends all helped showcase, to some degree, what living in New York in the 1950s may have looked like.

“I Love Lucy” was a trailblazer and helped set the stage for future generations of actors and future television shows.

Even the phone number that the Ricardos had was a reflection of the times. Beyond the fact that the series showed people actually talking on the phone.

‘I Love Lucy’ Phone Numbers

According to IMDb, the Ricardos had three different phone numbers throughout the course of the show. The first one ever mentioned was Murray-Hill 5-9975 (which is actually 695-9975). Then they had Circle 7-2099 (247-2099) and Murray-Hill 5-9099 (695-9099).

If a fan of the show tried to dial up the number, no one would pick up on the other end. This is because the New York Bell Telephone Company gave the show these unused telephone numbers to use.

However, in a few instances, the number they were using would actually enter into service with a real customer. The show’s producers then had to use a new number given to them by the phone company. The phrases “Murray Hill” and “Circle” used on “I Love Lucy” were actually very real call names that were used specifically in Manhattan during the ’50s.

Mental Floss reports that the reason phone numbers would have words in the front was due to telephone exchanges. Basically, a specific area would have hubs where the calls would be routed. The five numbers that Lucy or Ricky would recite were unique to them. However, there were two digits that came before that actually tell people which exchange the line is connected to.

In order to make it easier to remember, people used letters for these first two letters. Murray Hill actually meant the first two letters for their number was 68. It took the “M” and the “U” from the name, the rest was a mnemonic.

This wasn’t a standard practice, however, phone companies recommended to people to use these phrases to make customers’ and switchboard operators’ lives easier. Eventually, all-number calling was introduced and new lines could be added by just plugging in new area codes.

More Historical Importance of the Show

Besides showing the charming way people used to give out their phone numbers, the show was historical in many ways.

“I Love Lucy” showcased an important moment in television history when they became the first to broadcast the show in reruns as well in 1955.

According to the Library of Congress, this was made possible because the show was actually produced on film rather than kinescope. Other shows were used to using kinescope.

The show first used the rerun on “I Love Lucy” during Ball’s pregnancy. The show would replay its episodes over the summer. Before that, networks would put on summer replacement shows that generally were lower-priority while other shows took a hiatus.

Outsider.com