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As a hobby I like to research buildings and other structures around where I live, and part of that entails searching old newspaper archives. Generally this is in California. Since I am not looking at particularly remarkable buildings (simply exploring the local history) - the kinds of things I find are generally property transaction announcements, classifieds, obituaries, etc. .

I have noticed but am not sure if there is any credence to this, that for example, if the modern address is written:

123 Fake St.

That it is exceedingly rare to find the abbreviated form of the address prior to 1910 or so, and that even in small print font classifieds the reference is usually always the unabbreviated and the as-read form:

123 Fake Street

Since this observation includes both official, and unremarkable announcements , and it is notable enough to me to require running different queries depending on the time period in question.

I want to know if there is any credence to my notion that there is a change in use/spelling of road/street types to abbreviated forms and what if anything drove this change.

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    One thing that strikes my from a practical standpoint is that "Street" isn't really that long of a word. You only save 3 glyphs by abbreviating it. That probably isn't worth the trouble, except in cases where you're using that abbreviation a lot. The one place a layman would run into that situation is phone books. So it seems possible (likely?) that the popularization of this particular abbreviation came hand-in-hand with the popularization of the Telephone. – T.E.D. Jun 30 at 12:58
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Note I'm not intending this to be the answer, but rather a summary of my research that will hopefully help you along.

My line of thinking towards a possible solution went along these lines:

  • Trends that have existed in published works;
  • Origin of the abbreviation "St.";
  • Possible influences on this (though it may be quite difficult to choose a definitive reason).

Trends

I think you're right in that there's been a change. However, I'm not aware of any tools that would allow us to explore this. Regarding the trends, there has been a change where the popularity of "Street" actually increases in the late 19th century but this is not a very good comparison as alternative uses of the abbreviation (for 'Saint' and 'Strait') aren't quantified. Nevertheless, some trends do emerge:

enter image description here

Now, this is not newspapers only (actually be only books though some journals also make it in there, I believe) but the general trends could be similar.


Origin of "St."

I was unable to find a source for the origin of the abbreviation "St." for "Street" but it is likely to be older than that turn of the century (maybe?). I'd recommend a query on English:SE for this; their only question thus far on "St."/"Street" is not very useful for this.


Possible Influences

Editorial Standards

The next thing I thought about were editorial standards. It may have been the case (unproven hypothesis coming up...) that as newspapers have conglomerated, editorial standards of one "main" newspaper have been made to apply in their subsidiary ones as well. (Another unproven hypothesis coming up...) Perhaps some minor Californian newspapers got taken over by a bigger one that enforced its style guide for the use of the abbreviated form?

An academic style guide example from DePaul University mentions "St."/"Street":

addresses
Abbreviate Ave., St. and Blvd., when used with a numbered address: 2400 N. Sheffield Ave. All other designations, such as Drive, Road and Circle, are spelled out. Spell out and capitalize when naming the street with no number: Fullerton Avenue, Jackson Boulevard. Lowercase the words street, avenue, etc., when used alone or with more than one street name: the corner of Fullerton and Sheffield avenues.

The original publishing year for this guide isn't noted, but it is likely to be relatively recent if also not frequently edited. I'm more aware of the British journals' style guide myself.

Postal Standards

However, this led me down a path to why "St."/"Street" would be used in street names at all. Wikipedia lists street suffixes based on a USPS standard, "Publication 28 - Postal Addressing Standards". The present form for this is from May 2015, and this mandates the use of abbreviated street suffixes (211).

A standardized address is one that is fully spelled out, abbreviated by using the Postal Service standard abbreviations (shown in this publication) or as shown in the current Postal Service ZIP+4 file.

This is too late to be relevant to the changes you describe. I didn't find many older references to such a standard, including specific searches for the Post Office Department's address standardizations came up empty. Yet, I would suspect they had something—others may have a better idea of where to look.

That said, general address standards (and address standardization as a process) are relatively recent with Coetzee saying that in the US, this process started in 1996 with the 'United States Thoroughfare, Landmark, and Postal Address Data Standard' by the US Federal Geographic Data Committee. I'm not sure this is right, but I also didn't find an older version of the "Postal Addressing Standards" to disprove this claim.

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    In the NGram results, are you sure that the results for "St." are abbreviating "street" and not "saint"? – The Photon Jul 1 at 2:51
  • @ThePhoton: No and there's no way to be sure. Very good point. – gktscrk Jul 1 at 4:43

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