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Moscow phone book, 1930.

A telephone directory (also called a telephone book and phone book) is a listing of telephone subscribers in a geographical area or subscribers to services provided by the organization that publishes the directory.



A combination yellow page & white page telephone directory.

Subscriber names are generally listed in alphabetical order, together with their postal or street address and telephone number. Every subscriber in the geographical coverage area is usually 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) or "private" (Australia and New Zealand).

In the case of unlisted numbers, practices as to Caller-ID vary by jurisdiction. Sometimes, the Caller-ID on outbound calls is blank; in other jurisdictions, unlisted numbers still appear, unless the caller dials a blocking code; in still others, the customer may request automatic blocking from the telephone company's service representatives.

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 a significant percentage of subscribers who seek to avoid telemarketers.

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. Within the geographical reach of the Court, the Feist ruling has resulted in the availability of many innovative telephone directory services on CD-ROM and the World Wide Web.


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 France, the Minitel videotex system originated as an attempt by France Télécom to rid itself of its paper publishing costs by renting a Minitel terminal to all telephone users. However, France Télécom continues to give hard copies to its subscribers.

In Switzerland, most pay phones are now accompanied with electronic telephone directory terminals instead of paper directories, and phone users are charged for each search.


A telephone directory may also be called a phone book or may be known by the color of the paper it is printed on.

  • White pages generally indicates personal or alphabetic listings.
  • Yellow pages, golden pages or A2Z, generally indicates a business directory classified by business type or services provided, almost always with paid advertising.
  • Grey pages, sometimes called a "reverse telephone directory".
  • Other colors may have other meanings, depending on a country's customs. Information on government agencies is often printed on blue or green pages.

Ancillary content

A telephone directory may also provide instructions about how to use the telephone service in the local area, may give important numbers for emergency services, utilities, hospitals, doctors and organizations who can provide support in times of personal crisis. It may also have civil defense or emergency management information. There may be transit maps, postal code guides, or stadium seating charts, as well as advertising.


New Haven directory, November, 1878.

The first telephone directory, consisting of a single page, was issued on February 21, 1878. It covered 50 subscribers in New Haven, Connecticut. The Reuben H. Donnelly company asserts that it published the first classified directory, or yellow pages, for Chicago, Illinois, in 1886. The first British telephone directory was published in 1880.

Reverse directories

A reverse telephone directory is sorted by number, which can be looked up to give the name and address of the subscriber. Reverse telephone directories are used by law enforcement and other emergency services in order to determine the origin of any request for assistance. These systems include both publicly accessible (listed) and private (unlisted) services. As such, these directories are restricted to internal use only. Publicly accessible reverse telephone directories may be provided as part of the standard directory services from the telecommunications carrier in some countries.

Phone books in popular culture

Ripping phone books in half has often been considered a feat of strength.

In the show MythBusters on the Discovery Channel, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman tried to separate two phonebooks with the pages interlaced with each other. Most viewers assume that the two phonebooks used are regular San Francisco area Yellow Pages. The myth states that two phonebooks with interlaced pages cannot be pulled apart. After using themselves in a game of tug-o-war, two five-person tug-o-war teams, all 10 people vs. the anchored books, then two rental cars, they resorted to using two older American military vehicles, a tank and an armoured personnel carrier (APC). While the phonebooks were separated, the force gauge that was used recorded 8,000 pounds-force (36,000 N) of force when the interlacing failed. Savage explained that they would have been able to suspend the weight of the two rental cars they used earlier, using the interlaced phonebooks as the attaching point. A scientific explanation of the phenomenon was not provided in the show.

See also

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