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1847, March 3: Alexander Graham Bell born in Edinbugh, Scotland. He was educated at the Royal High School. As a boy he constructed a "speaking machine" at the encouragement of his father.. [IEEEVM ][] [LOC Bell Family Papers] [Kingsbury 19]

1864-65: Bell conducts experiments attempting to create the sounds of vowels as produced by the mouth. Helmholtz had already discovered these experiments and produced papers in 1863 on speaking machines that could produce vowel sounds.. [Kingsbury 20]

1867: Bell graduates from University College, London [Kingsbury 19]

1869: Shawk and Barton (aka Western Electric) established in Cleveland Ohio, taking over a former Western Union repair shop. One of the first customers was Elisha Gray. Shawk sold his interest to Gray. Gray and Barton opened at years end in Chicago, with investment from Anson Stager. [Iardella 27]

1870: Bell's family moves to Brantford, Ontario. [LOC Bell Family Papers]



Invention of the phone

1872: Bell produces initial drawings of a "harmonic telegraph" Bell's initial interest is to develop the harmonic telegraph, not the telephone, which would result in multiple telegraph messages being sent over a single telegraph wire. Bell reflected:

"Instead of having the dots and dashes recorded upon paper, the operators were in the habit of observing the duration of the click of the instruments, and in this way were enabled to distinguish by ear the various signals. It struck me that in a similar manner the duration of a musical note might be made to represent the dot or dash of the telegraph code, so that a person might operate one of the keys of the tuning-fork piano referred to above, and the duration of the sound proceeding from the corresponding string of the distant piano be observed by an operator stationed there. It seemed to me that in this way a number of distinct telegraph messages might be sent simultaneously from the tuning-fork piano to the other end of the circuit, by operators each manipulating a different key of the instrument. These messages would be read by operators stationed at the distant piano, each receiving operator listening for signals of a certain definite pitch, and ignoring all others. In this way could be accomplished the simultaneous transmission of a number of telegraphic messages along a single wire, the number being limited only by the delicacy of the listener's ear. The idea of increasing the carrying power of a telegraph wire in this way took complete possession of my mind, and it was this practical end that I had in view when I commenced my researches in Electric Telephony." [Kingsbury 27]

1872: Bell meets Gardiner Greene Hubbard [] [LOC Bell Family Papers]

Experiment description: "The form of the apparatus constructed at that time consisted of tuning forks arranged substantially after the manner of Helmholtz. The transmitting tuning fork was placed in a local circuit. Upon causing the wire to vibrate, the wire attached to the prong was alternately lifted out of the mercury and depressed into it again. The circuit of which the fork formed a part was thus made and broken at every vibration of the fork. The poles of the electro-magnet attracted the prongs of the tuning fork at each kae of the circuit, and release them when the circuit was broken. The intermittent attraction of the electro-magnet thus caused the transmitting fork to remain in continuous vibration, emitting continuously its musical tone. By the depression of a telegraph key, the current rendered intermittent by the vibration of the transmitting fork was directed to a line wire which passed to a receiving instrument consisting of an electro-magnet between the poles of which appeared the prongs of a tuning fork. Every time the prong of the transmitting fork made contact with the mercury below it, the prongs of the receiving fork were attracted by the poles of the electro-magnet, between which they were placed; and every time the prong of the transmitting fork broke contact with the mercury below, the prongs of the receiving fork were no longer attracted by the electro-magnet, but were allowed to move freely in the manner of a tuning fork left to itself. Thus, at every vibration of the transmitting fork, the prongs of the receiving fork were attracted by the receiving electro-magnet and released. When the receiving fork had normally the same pitch as the transmitting fork, the intermittent attraction of the electromagnet would cause it to be thrown into vigorous vibration, thus producing a musical sound of similar pitch to that occasioned by the vibration of the transmitting fork." [Kingsbury 28]

1873: Bell's experiments switch from tuning forks to "vibrating armatures consisting of single flat plates - really musical reeds." [Kingsbury 29]

1874: Bell partners with Gardiner Greene Hubbard, who provides financial backing for Bell's research. Bell meets Watson. [] Bell meets Thomas Watson at Charles William's electrician shop in Boston. [LOC Bell Family Papers]


The Patent Era


January 20: Bells Patent application is sworn to in Boston and shipped to Washington. [Kingsbury 45]

January 25: Bell sails to Europe in order to file patent applications there [Kingsbury 45]

February 14: Hubbard files Bell's patent application.

""Having described my invention, what I claim, and desire to secure by letters patent is as follows:"

"1. A system of telegraphy in which the receiver is set in vibration by the employment of undulatory currents of electricity, substantially as set forth."

"2. The combination, substantially as set forth, of a permanent magnet or other body capable of inductive action, with a closed circuit, so that the vibration of the one shall occasion electrical undulations in the other or in itself, and this I claim whether the permanent magnet be set in vibration in the neighborhood of the conducting wire forming the circuit or whether the conducting wire be set in vibration in the neighborhood of the permanent magnet, or whether the conducting wire and the permanent magnet both simultaneously be set in vibration in each other's neighborhood."

"3. The method of producing undulations in a continuous voltaic current by the vibration or motion of bodies capable of inductive action, or by the vibration or motion of the conducting wire itself, in the neighborhood of such bodies, as set forth."

"4. The method of producing undulations in a continuous voltaic circuit by gradually increasing and diminishing the resistance of the circuit, or by gradually increasing and diminishing the power of the battery, as set forth."

"5. The method of and apparatus for transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically, as herein described, by causing electrical undulations similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sounds, substantially as set forth."

"In testimony whereof, I have hereunto signed my name this 20th day of January, A.D. 1876."


[Telephone Cases p 13 (1888)] A few hours later, Elisha Gray filed his telephone caveat.

"Be it known that I, Elisha Gray of Chicago, in the County of Cook and State of Illinois, have invented a new art of transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically, of which the following is a specification:"

"It is the object of my invention to transmit the tones of the human voice through a telegraphic circuit, and reproduce them at the receiving end of the line, so that actual conversations can be carried on by persons at long distances apart."

"I have invented and patented methods of transmitting musical impressions or sounds telegraphically, and my present invention is based upon the modification of the principle of said invention, which is set forth and described in letters patent of the United States, granted to me July 27, 1875, respectively numbered 166,095 and 166,096, and also in an application for letters patent of the United States filed by me February 23, 1875."

"To attain the objects of my invention, I devised an instrument capable of vibrating responsively to all the tones of the human voice, and by which they are rendered audible."

"In the accompanying drawings, I have shown an apparatus embodying my improvements in the best way now known to me, but I contemplate various other applications, and also changes in the details of construction of the apparatus, some of which would obviously suggest themselves to a skillful electrician or a person versed in the science of acoustics on seeing this application."

[Telephone Cases p 78 (1888)]

Bell's application did not mention the word "telephone" nor did it promise the transmission of voice. The principle of Variable Resistance was written into the margin of the application (it is not clear that Bell had done any experiments on variable resistance prior to the application). Bell had yet to successfully transmit voice. The Telephone Cases, 126 US 1, 535 (1888)

March 6: Bell, Sanders, and Hubbard form the Bell Patent Association. [Iardella p 9]

"The U.S. Patent Office issued patent #174,465 to Bell on March 7, 1876" for an improvement of telegraph (not telephone). [AT&T: Inventing the Telephone] Use the PTO Patent search engine to view Bell's patent. See also Who Invented the Telephone: Why Bell, of Course,; [Brands p 2] [Brenner p 1] [Brooks p 47] [Iardella p 9]

Alexander Graham Bell's Lab Notebook exhibited at the Library of Congress. You can look through all 55 pages.

March 10 “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” the first words that Mr. Bell spoke through his invention. This comment apparently was said as Mr. Bell had spilled acid while working on his experiments, and needed Mr. Watson's assistance. [Brooks p 49] This makes this both the first telephone call and the first emergency telephone call

April 6: Post Office grant's Bell's patent letters, Patent Number 161,739 for "a method of, and apparatus for, transmitting two or more telegraphic signals simultaneously along a single wire by the employment of transmitting instruments, each of which occasions a succession of electrical impulses differing in rate from the others, and of receiving instruments, each tuned to a pitch at which it will be put in vibration to produce its fundamental note by one only of the transmitting instruments, and of vibratory circuit breakers operating to convert the vibratory movement of the receiving instrument into a permanent make or break (as the case may be) of a local circuit, in which is placed a Morse sounder, register, or other telegraphic apparatus. I have also therein described a form of autograph-telegraph based upon the action of the above-mentioned instruments."" [Telephone Cases p 6 (1888)]

May 10, Bell presents paper, Researches in Telephony, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. [Kingsbury 49]

June 25: Bell demonstrates his telephone at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. [Brooks p 51] [IEEEVM] [LOC Bell Family Papers] [Kingsbury 50] [Iardella p 9] Western Electric receives five gold medals at the at the Centennial Exposition for its devices. [Iardella 28]

July 12: Experiments over a circuit from Boston to NYC and back, to two separate rooms in Boston, succeeded after short circuiting the loop. [Kingsbury 56]

August 10: First one-way telephone call over outdoor wires between Bell in Paris Ontario and his father in Brantford - using borrowed telegraph wires. [Brooks p 52] [IEEE History Center Voice]

October 9: First two-way telephone call over outdoor wires between Watson and Bell. [Brooks p 52] [Privatelines 1876-1879] Bell's salutation was "Hoy, Hoy" - which is how he believed the phone should be answered (this is how Mr. Burn's on the Simpson's answers the phone - playing with the theme of exactly how old is Mr. Burns).

On June 2, 1875, Bell and Watson were testing the harmonic telegraph when Bell heard a sound come through the receiver. Instead of transmitting a pulse, which it had refused to do in any case, the telegraph passed on the sound of Watson plucking a tuned spring, one of many set at different pitches. How could that be? Their telegraph, like all others, turned current on and off. But in this instance, a contact screw was set too tightly, allowing current to run continuously, the essential element needed to transmit speech. Bell realized what happened and had Watson build a telephone the next day based on this discovery. The Gallows telephone, so called for its distinctive frame, substituted a diaphragm for the spring. Yet it didn't work. A few odd sounds were transmitted, yet nothing more. No speech. Disheartened, tired, and running out of funds, Bell's experimenting slowed through the remainder of 1875.

During the winter of 1875 and 1876 Bell continued experimenting while writing a telephone patent application. Although he hadn't developed a successful telephone, he felt he could describe how it could be done. With his ideas and methods protected he could then focus on making it work. Fortunately for Bell and many others, the Patent Office in 1870 dropped its requirement that a working model accompany a patent application. On February 14, 1876, Bell's patent application was filed by his attorney. It came only hours before Elisha Gray filed his Notice of Invention for a telephone.

Mystery still surrounds Bell's application and what happened that day. In particular, the key point to Bell's application, the principle of variable resistance, was scrawled in a margin, almost as an afterthought. Some think Bell was told of Gray's Notice then allowed to change his application. That was never proved, despite some 600 lawsuits that would eventually challenge the patent. Finally, on March 10, 1876, one week after his patent was allowed, in Boston, Massachusetts, at his lab at 5 Exeter Place, Bell succeeded in transmitting speech. He was not yet 30. Bell used a liquid transmitter, something he hadn't outlined in his patent or even tried before, but something that was described in Gray's Notice.

-Tom Farley's Telephone History Series (cc)

January 30, 1877 Patent Office issued patent 186,787 for an improvement to the electric telephone [US v American Bell (1888)] [Telephone Cases (1888)] [Kingsbury 61] [Iardella p 9]

Patent Wars Act 1: Western Union

Facing competing patents and an incomplete invention, in 1877, Bell and supporters offered to sell the telephone Patents to Western Union for $100,000. The offer was refused.

Western Union memo, 1876.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell and his financial backer, Gardiner G. Hubbard, offered Bell's brand new patent (No. 174,465) to the Telegraph Company - the ancestor of Western Union. The President of the Telegraph Company, Chauncey M. DePew, appointed a committee to investigate the offer. The committee report has often been quoted. It reads in part:

"The Telephone purports to transmit the speaking voice over telegraph wires. We found that the voice is very weak and indistinct, and grows even weaker when long wires are used between the transmitter and receiver. Technically, we do not see that this device will be ever capable of sending recognizable speech over a distance of several miles.

"Messer Hubbard and Bell want to install one of their "telephone devices" in every city. The idea is idiotic on the face of it. Furthermore, why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States?

"The electricians of our company have developed all the significant improvements in the telegraph art to date, and we see no reason why a group of outsiders, with extravagant and impractical ideas, should be entertained, when they have not the slightest idea of the true problems involved. Mr. G.G. Hubbard's fanciful predictions, while they sound rosy, are based on wild-eyed imagination and lack of understanding of the technical and economic facts of the situation, and a posture of ignoring the obvious limitations of his device, which is hardly more than a toy... .

"In view of these facts, we feel that Mr. G.G. Hubbard's request for $100,000 of the sale of this patent is utterly unreasonable, since this device is inherently of no use to us. We do not recommend its purchase."

Note that AT&T would later acquire Western Union. Note also that in 1971 AT&T would turn down an offer to own the Internet.


Bell 1877 Advertisement:
"The proprietors of the Telephone . . . are now prepared to furnish Telephones for the transmission of articulate speech through instruments not more than twenty miles apart . . . Conversation can easily be carried on after slight practice and with occasional repetition of a word or sentence. On first listening to the Telephone, though the sound is perfectly audible, the articulation seems to be indistinct; but after a few trials the ear becomes accustomed to the peculiar sound . . ."
[Brooks p 60]

1877: "the Government of the United States moved to annul the patent issued to Bell on the grounds of fraud and misrepresentation, a case that the Supreme Court found viable and remanded for trial" [H Res 269]

As telephone service proved successful, Western Union regretted its decision. WU's printing telegraph units were being taken out and replaced with Bell's telephones. [Kingsbury 98] Thus WU sought to buy patent rights from other telephone companies.

Mar 22, 1877: Thomas Edison and WU enter agreement whereby Edison assigns his telephone / telegraph inventions to WU. [Kingsbury 109]

Dec. 13, 1877: Edison files patent describing variable resistance.

In 1878, Western Union sought to use telephones invented by Thomas Edison and Elisha Gray in order to establish a rival service. Western Union create a subsidiary called the American Speaking Telephone Company in December 1877. [Brooks p 61 (stating that WU also based its actions on the work of Professor Amos E Dol bear)] [Scripophily] Photo of American Speaking Telephone. "The Harmonic Telegraph Company was owned and controlled by Elisha Gray and SS White... The American Speaking Telephone Company was organized to develop the Western Union telephone interests. Gray with his partner held one-third interest in it." [Kingsbury 187]

Bell sued in Sept 12, 1878. Bell had $850k; Western Union was the "largest corporation that ever existed." WU had ~$41m capital and was backed by the Vanderbilts. [Coon 41]

Western Union was "not alone. At least 1,730 telephone companies organized and operated in the 17 years Bell was supposed to have a [patent] monopoly. Most competitors disappeared as soon as the Bell Company filed suit against them for patent infringement, but many remained. They either disagreed with Bell's right to the patent, ignored it altogether, or started a phone company because Bell's people would not provide service to their area." [Farley at 4] [See also Mueller p 34] Some services may have been offered with inventions outside of Bell's patent, but the threat of litigation would terminate the venture. Naturally, Bell refused to interconnect with these competing services.

"Insiders in Western Union and the Bell companies were thinking of their investments. To the public, however, it must have seemed strange that the Western Union lawyers should make overtures for a compromise. Apparently nobody in the communications field was fond of the idea of competition. They had all experienced competition and they definitely did not like it. As far as their business was concerned, they could see no advantages in it. They only people who could profit by competition were gamblers like Jay Gould who could use a competitive company for its nuisance value and sell out to the monopoly." [Coon 42]

In November 10, 1879, Bell and Western Union settled out of court Western Union's challenge to AT&T's patent.

See the Telephone Settlement, Boston Daily Advertiser (October 25, 1879) (copy of newspaper article, presented in the LOC Bell Family Papers) [Sterling p 55] [Farley at 4] [Mueller p 33] [FCC 1939 p 124] [Catania] [Porticus] [] [Kingsbury 188]

[Coon 51]

In his book Telephone: The First Hundred Years, John Brooks explains that Western Union's incentive to settle with AT&T may have come from the fact that financier Jay Gould had launched an unfriendly take over bid of Western Union - and Western Union needed to focus on fending off the attack. In addition, AT&T had submitted to the court substantial evidence that no fraud had taken place. [Brooks p 71] [Coon 42]

"Testimony was prepared, but the case never came to trial. Experts in electrical science and in law had examined all the evidence that could be got together, and advised the Western Union that it was impossible to plead anticipation or to impeach the validity of the Bell patents.

"Mr. Frank L. Pope, a well-known electrical and patent expert, advised to that effect, and Mr. George Gifford, an eminent lawyer who was leading counsel for the Western Union, reached the same conclusion. In consequence, overtures were made with a view to a settlement on terms. The nature of these overtures and the result were subsequently recorded by Mr. Gifford in an affidavit, in the course of which he stated that in the years 1878-1879 he was one of the counsel for the Western Union Telegraph Company." [Kingsbury 187]

Eventually in 1909, AT&T would briefly acquire Western Union.

Other Patent Challenges

"Over the next decade, the Bell company would be involved in more than six hundred lawsuits for patent infringement, all of which it would win." [Brooks p 77]

The Telephone Cases, 126 US 1 (1888) (challenging Bell's patents based on the work of Phillip Reis and Charles Bourseul published in Paris 1854 )

US v American Bell, 128 US 315 (1888) (suit challenging Bell's patent based on the work of Phillip Reis and others, granting defendants motion to dismiss)

1897: USG challenge to Bell's patents, based on Meucci's prior art, is terminated after the death of Meucci and the expiration of Bell's patents; it was terminated as moot without resolution of who actually invented the telephone.

Having secured its monopoly position, AT&T engaged in the 1880s in a series of rate hikes under the justification of expanding the service. The public faced with no alternative service responded negatively. Responses included establishing legal authority to regulate the rates (See Common Carriage) and also the establishment of municipal networks. [Mueller p 36]

The End of the Patent Era


Bell Telephone

An 1877 Circular:
The Telephone

"The proprietors of the Telephone, the invention of Alexander Graham Bell, for which the patents have been issued by the United States and Great Britain, are now prepared to furnish Telephones for the transmission of articulate speech through instruments not more than twenty miles apart. Conversation can easily be carried on after slight practice and with occasional repetition of a word or sentence. On first listening to the Telephone, though the sound is perfectly audible, the articulation seems to be indistinct; but after a few trials the ear becomes accustomed to the peculiar sound and finds little difficulty in understanding the words.

The Telephone should be set in a quiet place, where there is no noise which would interrupt ordinary conversation.

The advantages of the Telephone over the Telegraph for local business are: (1) That no skilled operator is required, but direct communication may be had by speech without the intervention of a third person. (2) That the communication is much more rapid, the average number of words transmitted a minute by Morse Sounder being from fifteen to twenty, by Telephone from one to two hundred. (3) That no expense is required either for its operation maintenance or repair. It needs no battery, and has no complicated machinery. It is unsurpassed for economy and simplicity.

The terms for leasing two Telephones for social purposes connecting a dwelling house with any other building will be $20 a year, for business purposes $40 a year, payable semiannually in advance, with the cost of expressage from Boston, New York, Cincinnati, St. Louis or San Francisco. The instruments will be kept in good working order by the lessors, free of expense, except from injuries resulting from great carelessness.

Several telephones can be placed on the same line at an additional rental of $10 for each instrument; but the use of more than two on the same line where privacy is required is not advised. Any person within ordinary hearing distance can hear the voice calling through the Telephone. If a louder call is required one can be furnished for $5.

Telegraph lines will be constructed by the proprietors if desired. The price will vary from $100 to $150 a mile; any good mechanic can construct a line; No. 9 wire costs 8 1/2 cents per pound, 320 pounds to the mile' 34 insulators at 25 cents each; the price of poles and setting varies in every locality; stringing wire $5 per miles; sundries $10 per mile.

Parties leasing the Telephone incur no expense beyond the annual rental and repair of the line wire. On the following page are extracts from the Press and other sources relating to the Telephone.

Gardiner G Hubbard
Cambridge, Mass, May 1877" [Kingsbury 67]

Instructions to Agents No. 1 (Nov. 15, 1877)

In consequence of the difficulties that have arisen in different localities for want of uniformity in price for the rental of telephones the Bell Telephone Company has adopted the following rates for all its agencies, and prices are to be fixed in accordance herewith.

The annual rental for telephones shall be ten dollars each, payable in advance; not less than a pair of telephones must be used at each station, except as hereafter specified.

For social purposes, single telephones may be used at each station. By 'Social purposes' is mean the use of telephones as a matter of convenience between private houses; between a house and a private stable; a doctor's house and office, etc. etc.

For district telephone purposes a discount of twenty percent., and for house use a discount of fifty per cent. may be made, and the use of single telephones allowed at each station.

By 'house use' is meant all places where telephones are used in one building, or group of buildings, as, for instance, several buildings in the same yard used by the party; or, in fact, where telephones substantially take the place of speaking tubes. College lines may be included in this line.

The magneto bell calls may be sold for fifteen dollars each, or rented for five dollars each per annum.

[Kingsbury 181]







"In the critical ten years now under consideration, telephone service, which was daily proving itself to be of enormous public benefit, was being developed with energy and resource against difficulties of varied kinds. Wherever official or public action was taken it was repressive, calling for the exercise of additional energy on the part of the promoters to overcome the artificial resistance inserted by public authorities against the advancement of a public benefit." [Kingsbury p 273]



History of AT&T Part I
Alexander Graham Bell

AT&T Established





1889: First pay phones, set up in Hartford. [Farley at 4] [Brooks 100]

1890: Letter from Mark Twain to Hubbard, Father-in-Law of the Telephone


Common Carrier

Patent Expires: Telephone Service Competition 1893 - 1921 "Dual Service"

In 1894, Bell's telephone patent expired. Until that time, only Bell or Bell licensed companies legally operated as telephone companies in the US. "Between 1894 and 1904, over six thousand independent telephone companies went into business in the United States, and the number of telephones boomed from 285,000 to 3,317,000... But the multiplicity of telephone companies produced a new set of problems -- there was no interconnection, subscribers to different telephone companies could not call each other. This situation only began to be resolved after 1913." [AT&T History Origins]

See Bell's Solution to competing, non-interconnected networks: Universal Service.

Independent telephone companies sprung up in rural markets where Bell had not yet brought service. The first in dependant telephone exchange was in Noblesville, Indiana. Ttowns soon saw two competing telephone systems, but the telephone services did not interconnect. Businesses would have to maintain separate phones and directories in order to reach all destinations or be reached by all potential customers. Callers would have to know which network a phone was on. Advertisements would have to indicate network, sometimes listing a phone number for each network. Independents entered markets with promises of lower prices and were able to gain franchises and customers. [Brooks 109 (a good description of the situation - noting the separate competing networks would often segregate customers along class lines - one group would be on one network where another group would be on another network)]

AT&T's Competitive strategy:

"By the 1890's, Bell had become a prominent organization with many contacts in the business community, particularly after the Morgan interests gained control. AT&T's strategy was to use its influence to restrict the independents' access to desperately needed investment capital. This had the effect of slowing the independent's rate of expansion. Bell's strongest political influence was with municipal authorities. Many cities required telephone companies to obtain operating licenses. In some cases, Bell's influence with prevailing politicians motivated establishment of onerous terms for the independents." [Sterling p 76] The independents also imposed onerous terms upon themselves. In order to complete, they would undercut Bell's price. But as their networks grew more complex, their costs went up. They had to grow in order to achieve network effect, but if they grew, they had to raise their prices.

1894: AT&T had 240,000 telephones installed. [Mueller p 40] Horace Coon writes that "there were 582,506 instruments under rental from American Bell." [Coon 77] There were 396,674 miles of wire and 11,094 employees. [Coon 77]

1895: Telephone rates: $125 - $150 per year for a business phone; $100 per year for residential service. [Brooks 104]


1898: Bell elected as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution [LOC Bell Family Papers]






1906: over 4m telephones in the USA. [Iardella 30]


[Picture of AT&T Long Distance operators, Kansas City, 1920. Note that the supervisor is on roller skates]

1908: over 6m telephones in the USA [Iardella 30]


1910: AT&T negotiates with the owners of large in dependant telephone companies concerning acquisition of those companies and the elimination of competing "dual service" companies. [Mueller p 113]


1912: Dr. Lee De Forest demonstrates his new vacuum tube which could be used as an amplifier [Iardella 31]


1915: First Trans-Atlantic radio telephone call from Arlington, VA to Paris. [Iardella 31]

1917: US enters World War I

1919 First Dial Phones were introduced into the Bell System in Norfolk VA. The last manual phone was converted to dial in 1978. [AT&T: History: Milestones] [Picture of an 1921 AT&T Dial Phone] [Iardella 31] This led to the introduction of the dial tone. The replacement of calls being set up by operators with automatic dial systems, dial phones, and dial tone may have been precipitated by a telephone-operator strike. See Telephone Unions. [Engber]

Perry County Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Public Serv. Comm'n, 265 Pa. 275, 108 A. 659, 660-61 (1919) ("[D]uplication of facilities merely results in the placing of an additional burden upon the public by forcing patrons to maintain two systems where one would serve the purpose as effectually and at less cost… It is useless to argue that the cost of such duplicate system [of telephone companies] is paid by investors, and the risk of financial failure is theres, since the burden of finally paying the carrying charges and income to the investors is imposed upon the public with the result that a higher charge on the part of each competing company becomes necessary, due to the division of the patronage of the public. ")

Johnson Country Home Tel. Co., 8 Mo. P.S.C.R. 637, 643-44 (1919).("Competition between public service corporations was in vogue for many years as the proper method of securing the best results for the public from the corporations engaged in serving the public. The consensus of modern opinion, however, is that competition has failed to bring the result desired, considering the situation as a whole. Nearly all of the states in this country have adopted laws providing for the regulation of public service corporations as to rates and service by public officers. It is the purpose of such laws to require public service corporations to give adequate service at reasonable rates, rather than depend upon competition to bring such results. ")  

Universal Service / Interconnection / Dual Service

World War I

AT&T "Natural" Monopoly 1921

AT&T: Electrical Transmission of Speech (1920s)
AT&T: That Little Big Fellow (1927)

The passage of the Willis Graham Act 1922 marked the closure of the era of telephone competition, as in dependant telephone companies with financial difficulties sought to be acquired by AT&T. In time, telecommunications policy operated with the belief that the telephone network was a natural monopoly (Compare AT&T Antitrust). Telecommunications policy determined that the proper way to regulate the telephone monopoly and determine appropriate rates was through rate-of-return regulation. The Willis Graham Act exempted telephone companies from antitrust laws, permitting consolidation of companies on approval of the ICC.

"This law exempted telephone companies from the antitrust laws in order to make it possible for them to "unify the service" by merging competing telephone exchanges. In so doing, it provided the legal foundation for the first generation universal service policy." - Milton Mueller, "Universal service" and the new Telecommunications Act: Mythology Made Law 1997

Note that Prof. Milton Mueller rejects both the argument of natural monopoly and of the AT&T monopoly occurring as a result of predatory actions. Instead, Mueller argues that AT&T's monopoly was established pursuant to Vail's concept of "universal service," that the only way to overcome fragmented non interconnecting competing telephone services was to eliminate the competition and establish one company as the one universal, fully interconnected, network.

Willis-Graham Act, 61 Cong. Rec. 1988 (1921) "There are monopolies which ought to exist in the interest of economy and good service in the public welfare, monopolies which must be promoted instead of being forbidden. The telephone business is one of these. Legitimate consolidation will promote economy. It will promote service. It is foolish to talk about competition in the transmission of intelligence by telephone. It is silly to believe that there can be real competition either in service or in charges… The thing that the American Congress ought to do is to.. regulate those monopolies so as to get reasonable prices and good service for the people…  "

Willis Graham Act is said to supercede the Kingsbury Accord.

Reasons justifying the AT&T Monopoly




1926: Bell Labs and Western Electric made the equipment for sound motion pictures. [Iardella 32]

1927: Bell Labs demonstrates TV by wire with a conversation between Secretary of State Herbert Hoover and AT&T President Walter Gifford. [Iardella 32]

1929: Western Electric's sales $411 m. [Porticus Western Union]


1933: Western Electric's sales $70 m; 6000 employees. [Porticus Western Union]

1934: Thomas Watson dies. [Brooks p 57] [Braintree]

AT&T: Telephone Courtesy (1940s)
War and the Telephone 1943
AT&T: Magic in the Bottle (1948)
1951 The Step-by-Step Switch
AT&T: Now You Can Dial (1954)
History of AT&T Part II (Bell Labs)
AT&T Archives: The Engineer
Nike Zeus Missile System 1961
The UNIX Operating System 1982

The Communications Act of 1934 and The FCC

"The system made steady progress towards its goal of universal service, which came in the twenties and thirties to mean everyone should have a telephone." [AT&T : History: The Bell System]

1935: First round the world telephone call. [Iardella 34]

1936: First coaxial cable put into service between New York and Philadelphia. [Iardella 34] [AT&T: History of Network Transmission]

1937: Clinton Davisson of Bell Labs receives a Nobel Price. [Iardella 19]

1939: Telephone is deployed as "a weapon of preparedness." [Porticus Western Union] Western Electric manufactures Signal Corps sets in preparation for the war. [Iardella 34]

World War II: Western Electric builds US military's radar system [Brooks p 11] [Iardella 35] Between 1942 to 1945, West Electric sales to USG more than $2.3B. [Iardella 35]

1940: Western Electric sales to USG $3.5m. [Iardella 34]


1945: AT&T leases 600,000 new phones in the first few months of peace. By years end, 27,946,000 phones in US; 22,446,000 are Bell telephones. [Iardella 36]


1947: Bell Labs


1951: Western Electric begins work on NIKE Missile Defense system [Brooks p 11] [Directory Missiles] [Olive Drab: Nike Missile Sys] [Iardella 35]

1952: International Telephone and Telegraph acquires the Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Company. [Cortelco]

1954: Western Electric produces colored telephones for first time. [Porticus Western Union][Iardella 36]

Bell Lab developes first photovoltaic cell [Bell Labs History]

Antitrust: 1956 Consent Decree

1956: WH Brattain, W Shockley, and J Bardeen of Bell Labs receive Nobel Prices. [Iardella 19]

1958: Bell Labs releases paper describing a laser [Bell Labs History]

1960: AT&T releases the "Princess Phone" [Iardella 36]

1961: 84,450,000 phones in US; 68,640,000 are Bell telephones. [Iardella 35]

As it to prove Baran's point concerning the vulnerability of the existing communications network, on May 28, 1961, American radicals blew up AT&T microwave towers in the South West, going over the Rockies, interrupting the central transcontinental microwave routes, severing 2200 circuits. Porticus has great coverage of the incident including many photographs of the damage. [Porticus Long Lines] [Porticus Explosion Da mange]

1962: Bell Labs builds and launches satellite Telstar I. [Bell Labs History]


1964: There are 23 Bell Telephone companies, of which 21 AT&T owns more than 50% of the stock (they are subsidiaries) [Iardella 19]

  1. New England Telephone and Telegraph
  2. New York Telephone
  3. New Jersey Bell Telephone
  4. Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania
  5. Diamond State Telephone (Delaware)
  6. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co (Wash DC)
  7. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co of Maryland
  8. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co of Virginia
  9. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co of West Virginia
  10. Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph
  11. Ohio Bell
  12. Michigan Bell
  13. Indiana Bell
  14. Wisconsin Bell
  15. Illinois Bell
  16. Northwestern Bell
  17. Southwestern Bell
  18. Mountain State Telephone and Telegraph
  19. Pacific Northwest Bell
  20. Pacific Telephone and Telegraph
  21. Bell Telephone of Nevada
  22. Southern New England Telephone (AT&T only owned 20%)
  23. Cincinnati Bell (AT&T only owned 30%)


Computer Inquiries

1966: FCC initiates the Computer Inquiries. contemplating the regulatory response to both computers operating the network and computers being operated over the network.


1971: AT&T is offered the opportunity to take over, own and operate ARPANet. "AT&T could have owned the network as a monopoly service, but in the end declined. "They finally concluded that the packet technology was incompatible with the AT&T network," Roberts said." [Wizards p. 232]

1972: AT&T decides not to take over control of the Internet.

1975 "AT&T installs the world's first digital electronic toll switch, the 4ESS®, in Chicago. This switch could handle a much higher volume of calls (initially 350,000 per hour) with greater flexibility and speed than the electromechanical switch it replaced." [AT&T: History: Milestones] [Picture of Control Room of the first 4ESS Switch 1975]

Resurrection of Competition



1979: " In 1979 they started talking about AIS, Advanced Information Service, another network they never made." [Babbage (Kleinrock) 27] [Nerds p 115]


AT&T Accunet


Antitrust: Divestiture 1984




1998 acquired TCI; creates AT&T Broadband service

1999 acquired IBM Networks; Identified as one of five major backbones [Cremer p 14 n 12]

2000 acquired CERFNET


2005 acquired by SBC and renamed AT&T

2006 acquired Bell South


2014 PSTN Transition Trials

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