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Today in History: June 30th, 1937

Photo Credit: FPG / Getty Images
Photo Credit: FPG / Getty Images

The launch of the world’s first emergency call service

In the bustling streets of London on June 30, 1937, something remarkable happened that would change how we seek help during emergencies forever. It was the birth of the world’s first emergency call telephone service, and it all started with the number 999.

Before 1937, if you had an emergency in the UK, there wasn’t a simple number you could call for help. People had to dial their local police station or talk to a telephone operator, which could take precious time, especially during urgent situations like accidents or fires.

A telephone operator working at her station.
A woman working as a telephone operator, circa 1939. (Photo Credit: Felix Man / Picture Post / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Realizing the need for a better system, the idea of a dedicated emergency number was born. And on that historic day, 999 became that number. It was chosen because it was easy to remember and quick to dial, even on the old rotary phones. The launch of the 999 service meant that anyone in London could now pick up the phone, dial those three digits, and immediately reach emergency services. Unfortunately, even from its onset, the line wasn’t taken entirely seriously. Of the 1,336 calls made in its first week of operation, 91 were prank calls.

The impact was huge. Response times improved drastically, saving countless lives. Other countries took notice of this innovative system and adopted similar emergency numbers like 911 in the United States and 112 in Europe.

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Today, the 999 emergency number is still in use in the UK, alongside newer technologies. It’s a reminder of how a simple idea, born out of necessity, can change the world and make it safer for everyone. So, every time you dial 999 in an emergency, you’re part of a history that began on June 30, 1937.

TVN News Poster

TVN News Poster is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News