General Question

AstroChuck's avatar

Why are the numbers on a phone and a calculator reversed?

Asked by AstroChuck (37566points) July 9th, 2008

Adding machines have been around much longer than touch tone dials so why did they arrange the numbers on telephones differently?

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6 Answers

eambos's avatar

I believe it is because they placed the “talk” button at the top of the phones while the ”=” button of calculators has been at the bottom of the device.

AstroChuck's avatar

The talk button didn’t come around until portable phones and cellular phones.
After thinking more about it I think maybe the reason the order is from top on down may have to do with exchanges. It used to be that the first two numbers were replaced with the corresponding letters.
421–3485 would be *GA*rden 13485.
I guess it makes more sense have the numbers and letters both start at the top.

eambos's avatar

Stupid me, I was looking at the handset of my home phone. I do have a rotary in the basement, but it is not often used.

Now I am very interested as to what the answer will be.

srmorgan's avatar


I have been an accountant for over 30 years, starting with mechanical calculators and progressing to electronic ones and that question has crept into my mind countless numbers of times!

I think your comment about the alphabetical layout on the rotary phone is spot on. When Western Electric and AT&T introduced the new-fangled “push-button” phone in the late 60’s or early 70’s they tried to design them to look like existing phones so that the transition would not be too radical for those of us in the workforce 35 years ago.
Keep in mind that the technically oriented geniuses at Bell Labs in those days did not have the highest regard for the general public and thought that anything too new would be beyond our capabilities.

Anyway, that is my take on this.

Good question;;


AstroChuck's avatar

@srmorgan- I don’t know about the late 60s, early 70s.
We once had a bell touch tone phone that was marked with a stamped in production date underneath. I can’t remember the exact date but it was sometime in the late 1950s. I also know it originated in either New York or New Jersey so there must have been some early test program in the east coast.
I don’t recall where we got the phone but it looked pretty much like any touchtone. We never had it wired in, so I’ve no idea how well it would have worked.

boffin's avatar

A really good 10 key calculator operator could dial faster that the DTMF signals could be processed at the central office. So the makers inverted the dial pad.

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