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this day in history 1937

999 emergency number first introduced

In an Emergency, Your Number’s Up

Once upon a time, if you were undergoing some kind of accident or strife, you didn’t immediately turn to Twitter and start tweeting about it using the hashtag #BadVibes. No, you called the telephone number 999, which was first introduced on this day in 1937.

It was the first emergency service of its kind anywhere in the world. At first, sceptical MPs didn’t believe that delicate ladies, coming face to face with some kind of Raffles types character breaking into their home, would be able to remember such a complicated series of numbers while panicking and swooning. But somehow, the system was introduced despite their objections.

Originally, the number only covered a twelve-mile radius starting from Oxford Circus in Central London. So if your house was on fire in Swansea, you were stuffed. But once people got the hang of it, the scheme was broadened to all major UK cities and eventually the whole nation in 1976. The first arrest, thanks to the number, occurred a week after its activation. That burglar must have been so proud.

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