Weren't there certain geographical requirements attached to the Conditional?
First off, there was never a requirement to start with Novice. Most hams did so because it was the easiest.
In the bad old days, FCC had exam points in major cities and would send traveling examiners to smaller cities. But there were still parts of the country where the distance to an FCC exam session was considerable.
Until 1954, the rule was that a ham had to live more than 125 miles "air-line" from an FCC exam site where exams were held at least 4 times a year to get a license "by mail". This included the Novice, Technician and Conditional. Advanced and Extra could not be earned by-mail.
Also, if the ham moved to within 125 miles of such a site, s/he had 90 days to show up and be retested by an FCC official, or lose the license.
In 1954 the distance requirement was reduced to 75 miles "air-line", and the retest-if-you-move requirement abolished. Also, all routine Novice and Technician were changed to "by-mail".
In 1964 the distance was increased to 175 miles "air-line" and the number of exam sites increased. Almost all of the area of the 48 states were then no longer "Conditional territory"
Supposedly some Novices went as far as registering their first license with a relative far from the FCC offices to avoid writing the General. That person must've traveled far out of the way to get their ticket.
Depends on the situation.
It might be closer to a relative's house than to an FCC exam point, particularly when you consider travel distance rather than "air-line" distance. It might cost a lot less and be a lot more convenient to go to the relative's house than to go to the big city for an exam (exam sessions were held weekday mornings at prescheduled times; a by-mail exam session could be held whenever convenient for the volunteer examiner and the ham being tested).
Were Conditionals eventually grandfathered into General?
Yes. About 1975, the FCC announced that all Conditionals would be renewed as Generals. License terms were 5 years then, so by 1980 all Conditionals had been renewed as Generals or had expired.
It should be remembered that back before the Interstate Highway System, travel by car or bus could be slow and expensive. Rail travel was more common then, but trains didn't go everywhere.
73 de Jim, N2EY