February 16, 1968 | First 911 Call

 Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, 2007.43.7.
 

“Wherever practical, a single police telephone number should be established, at least within a metropolitan area and eventually over the entire United States...”

—Report from President Lyndon Johnson's
Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, 1967

At 2:00 PM on Friday, February 16, 1968, Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite picked up a phone in Haleyville, Alabama’s City Hall and placed the first 911 call. A few yards away, U.S. Representative Tom Bevill answered the call on a bright red rotary phone in Haleyville’s Police Station. This historic phone call was three years in the making.

In March 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed the Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice to probe “fully and deeply into the problems of crime in our nation.” Their report, published in February 1967, recommended the implementation of “a single police telephone number” to streamline police, fire, and emergency medical services requests. Later that year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and AT&T, the largest telephone carrier at the time, met to design the emergency number plan. AT&T announced the implementation of the 911 emergency telephone system in the Wall Street Journal on January 12, 1968.

After reading the announcement, Bob Gallagher, President of the independent Alabama Telephone Company (ATC), felt the independent telephone carriers should have been consulted, so he set out to circumvent AT&T by launching the 911 system first. Just thirty-five days later, Gallagher stood next to Rep. Bevill at the Haleyville (AL) Police Station. Robert Fitzgerald, ATC’s Inside State Plant Manager, chose Haleyville to introduce the new 911 system, and his team of technicians designed and installed the new circuitry in just one week.