Who made the first ever 911 call? Landmark moment on February 16, 1968, came four years after Kitty Genovese's murder

Who made the first ever 911 call? Landmark moment on February 16, 1968, came four years after Kitty Genovese's murder
The murder of Kitty Genovese led to the implementation of the emergency number 911 (History.com; Getty Images)

HALEYVILLE, ALABAMA: On this day in 1968, a state politician from Alabama made the first ever 911 call. The historic event occurred four years after the tragic unreported murder of a New York City woman, Kitty Genovese, that convinced many Americans of the importance of having a uniform and simple method for calling for help in an emergency.


Prior to 911, people had to make a direct call to local emergency services, a nearby police station or a fire station. This required them to presumably first search through the phone book, which in major cities may be a sizable reference book. Another option was to dial "0" for the operator and request a local service. The system was inefficient and that led to the invention of the system used today. So, on this day, let us look back and know more about the history of the first 911 call.


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Who made the first ever 911 call?  

According to the Fayette county Governor's Office, on February 16, 1968, Rankin Fite, the Speaker of the Alabama House, dialed 911 for the first time and spoke to US Representative Tom Bevill from Haleyville, Alabama. Despite being a national system, the early 911 concept was structured so that state public utility agencies had control. This would make it possible for local authorities to respond to such demands. 


History of  911

The American Telephone and Telegraph Company stated in January 1968 that the single emergency telephone number, 911, was now ready for installation nationwide within its service zones. The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended in 1967 that "wherever practical, a single (police emergency) number should be established within a metropolitan area and preferably over the entire United States" despite the fact that numerous public safety officials and individuals at various government organizational levels had long expressed keen interest in the establishment of such a number.

The Commission on Civil Disorders and Federal Communications Commission, which asked the telephone industry to offer a three-digit emergency telephone number, provided additional encouragement for the development of a national number. The Federal Government was aware that the current emergency reporting systems were insufficient and that a common emergency number made sense in a society as big and dynamic as the US, which had given rise to growing public concern over the rise in crime, accidents and medical problems.


In response to these issues, the federal government published National Policy Bulletin Number 73-1 in March 1973 through the Office of Telecommunications Policy, Executive Office of the President, endorsing the idea of 911 and urging its widespread deployment. The decision to use the precise number 911 was made primarily due to financial considerations, how simple it was to modify telephone company equipment to accept the number and other criteria that suggested that most people would be able to recall and dial the combination of numbers 911.

How did Kitty Genovese's murder bring about the need?

Kitty Genovese, 28, was fatally stabbed just a block from her apartment on a chilly winter night on March 13, 1964, around 2:40am. The first report from The New York Times that sparked the controversy indicated that 38 people admitted to hearing her calls for help in police records, but that not a single witness had called to report. 


The Times criticized this lack of compassion. Moreover, for people to report an emergency, there was no specific number or other procedure in existence. 'The Witness', a movie directed by James Solomon, also explored the entire tragic story from a fresh angle. The movie also explained how this infamous murder led to the implementation of the emergency number. 

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 Who made the first 911 call? Landmark moment in 1968 happened 4 years after Kitty Genovese's murder