This Is The Story Of How 911 Became A Universal Helpline Number

911 emergency call history

911 has become a household reference in case of any dangerous or urgent situation, but the trend wasn’t the same almost 50 years ago. Although Alexander Graham Bell got the revolutionary telephone ready by 1876, yet, the world had no concept of an SOS call for another 61 years.

The first time people realized the need to differentiate a normal call from an emergency one was in 1935 when a house in London caught fire. At that time, although people did have the option to dial “0” in the case of a fire or medical emergency, yet, one major issue plagued the system. The problem was the operators couldn’t distinguish between the routine and emergency calls, so they simply picked them up in the same order they came in. By the time they received the call reporting the fire, it was too late, and five women perished in the blaze.

After that, the U.K. introduced world’s first emergency response system that would use red lights and loud horns anytime someone called 999 at the call center. The first successful call was made on July 8, 1937, when a certain Mrs. Beard of Hampstead reported of a possible robber, running around her neighborhood being chased by her husband. The first run was successful, with the police arriving promptly and the thief getting apprehended immediately. Soon after the news broke through, 1,335 calls were received in the first week alone.

The adoption of 911 in the U.S. was a natural progression from this event, but the country didn’t install an emergency number until February 1968. The first 911 call was rung up by the Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite from the Haleyville, Alabama, City Hall. It was picked up by U.S. Representative Tom Bevill, at the city’s police station. As this call was a symbolic inaugural one, therefore, it was placed in the same building as the police station. Thus, the event gave rise to the general trend of dialing 911 in case of an emergency.

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1 Comment

  1. BjoD Reply

    Note that 112 is the emergency number in EU and most of other European countries. 112 also works in US and Canada. AFAIK mobiles are hardcoded to allow 112 calls on looked phones ( and for free).

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