Directories originated in the late 17th century in France and England. The main purpose was the commercial listings of suppliers of goods and services, to bring buyers and sellers together.
New Zealand Directories began in the 1840's with a page or two in almanacs. An Almanac contained useful information for the year on farming, diaries, custom tariffs, coming events and timetables for the sun, moon, tide, mail and coaches, essential reading for early arrivals to New Zealand. The first directory listings included government officials, officers of associations and societies, officers of the military and professional groups such as clergy, lawyers, doctors, bankers, merchants, teachers, auctioneers and hotel keepers and covered only a few towns.
From the 1850's advertisements were included and occasionally a map of the town. As they expanded an entry would usually consist of the name, occupation and residence of the house owner. 1869 saw the first householder lists for all provincial centers and included many of the smaller towns. The main sections of the business and residential directories were obtained by canvassing house to house. The head of the household was listed, as well as any male lodgers. Woman were included only if they owned property in their own name, (Children working were also excluded)
Government Departments supplied the official information required, e.g. Custom tariffs. Canvassing groups such as Churches & Societies obtained public information.
In 1875 Henry Wise produced the first national postal directory of householders, a directory in its own right.
From the early 1870's to the mid 1950's saw three major publishers of directories in New Zealand, H. Wise & Co. (NZ) Ltd, Stone Son & Co Ltd & Arthur Cleave & Co. Ltd. The cost of producing detailed directories became prohibitive, & began dwindling in the 1950's. These directories have now largely been replaced with easy access to the telephone book, yellow pages & Universal Business Directory.