House Numbers Offer Safety and Direction
Updated: Feb 4
House numbering is the system of giving a unique number to each building in a street or area, with the intention of making it easier to locate a particular building. The house number is often part of a postal address. House numbering schemes vary by location, and in many cases even within cities. In some areas of the world, including many remote areas, houses are named but are not assigned numbers.
In many countries, the house number follows the name of the street; but in English and French speaking countries, the house number normally precedes the name of the street.
A house numbering scheme was present in Pont Notre-Dame in Paris in 1512. However, the purpose of the numbering was generally to determine the distribution of property ownership in the city, rather than for the purpose of organization.
Since 1512 with the implementation of house numbering in Paris, Street numbering took off in the mid 18th century, street numbering on a large scale was applied in Prussia, Madrid, London, Paris, and Vienna, as well as many other cities across Europe.
In the United States and Canada, streets are usually numbered with odd on one side and even on the other. According to G.H. Herrold, in an article published in 1925, “In the matter of house numbering, a centesimal system is generally recognized as being the best, as the numbers are then not only in sequence but they change from 100 to 200 and 200 to 300, etc., at every block corner or at least at certain designated streets. In order to carry out a numbering system there must be some starting point or base line.”
The specific ordering of the numbers vary based on the policies of the local municipality, these base lines vary from city to city. “The most simple way of doing this would be to select the north or south City Limits line for the base line to start the numbering system for north and south streets and the east or west City Limits line as the base line for starting the numbering on east and west streets,” according to G.H. Herrold. In the case of New York, whose growth has required a more complicated solution, they have sectioned their city into quadrants and created a grid system incorporating the cardinal directions.
The method behind housing numbers is that they facilitate people to locate places faster. This house numbering system allows utility companies, phone companies, the postal service, and more services to have a standard format for understanding where to go. This also helps the traveler navigate a new city, or even navigate their current city.
House numbers have been displayed in a variety of materials, from ceramic tile to wrought iron, the most common is a plaque or sign affixed next to a door, on a mailbox, or even painted on the street in front of the home or business. With the advancement in emergency medical treatment, house numbers have literally become a life saver. Despite the development of GPS for aided navigation, a house number plainly displayed can be the difference between being lost and being found. What was once just a system implemented to determine land ownership, it is now an advanced system that many people depend on for knowing their location.
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