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February 21st, 2013
07:00 PM ET

The phone book: famous, historic, garbage

By Tommy Andres, CNN

Follow on Twitter: @tommyandresCNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

(CNN) - The smell of a phone book is a very distinct and nostalgic one to me.

I remember them stacked neatly in my parents' front closet, pulled out excitedly on Friday nights to call and order pizza for the whole family. It was a go-to cure for anything that ailed you, whether your problem was a leaky toilet or a last minute babysitter, help was just a phone call away, and the Yellow Pages was where to find the number.

Though phone books played a crucial role in many of our lives, most Americans under 20 have probably never used one, and even those of us who are older now likely turn to search engines and Siri to help find our way.

These days, phone books often sit rotting and abandoned on driveways and in apartment mail rooms, making a greatly hastened journey from the printing press to the garbage chute, many never even shedding their plastic wrappings.

But the phone book's role in history and culture may surprise you.

Ammon Shea, the author of "The Curious History of the Book That Everyone Uses But No One Reads," says for starters, the phone book is why we say hello as a greeting.

[1:29] "Up to that point hello was used as a kind of interjection, as in hello, that’s an odd thing to find on my shoe. The November 1878 telephone book that came out of Connecticut gave these very explicit instructions as to what you should say when someone picks up the phone. You should say hello. Up to that point hello was used as a kind of interjection, as in hello, that’s an odd thing to find on my shoe."

This week marks the 135th anniversary of the first phone book ever printed and before it disappears forever, and instead of cursing when one shows up on your door this year, take a moment to remember just how important that big book has been. And recycle it.

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