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It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage (every man and brother of us all throughout the whole earth), may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss, except the inventor of the telephone. - Mark Twain (Twainquotes citing Caroline Harnsberger's Mark Twain at Your Fingertips )

Phillip Reis

1860: Phillip Reis German invents device that could transmit sounds but not words. [Brooks p 36] [Lienhard 1098] See The Telephone Cases, 126 US 1 (1888) (reproducing Reis' papers). " Reis discovered how to reproduce musical tones, but he did no more. He could sing through his apparatus, but he could not talk. From the beginning to the end, he has conceded this. " The Telephone Cases, 126 US 1, 540 (1888)

See Kingsbury, Chapter XII: Phillip Reis and His Work, p. 125-39..


1848: Antonio Meucci performs teletrofono experiment in Havana. [Catania]

1860: Antonio Meucci demonstrates his invention teletrofono. [H Res 269] Meucci publishes an article in L'Eco d'Italia describing his invention. [Catania]

Antonio Meucci Source: Wikipedia

Dec. 28, 1871: Antonio Meucci filed a caveat with PTO for his teletrofono. Short on funds, Meucci was not able to renew his caveat on 1874. [LOC] Meucci learns that the Western Union affiliated labratory where he was working "lost" his equipment and materials; Alexander Graham Bell "conducted experiments in the same laboratory where Meucci's materials had been stored" [H Res 269] Meucci A., Sound Telegraph, Caveat No. 3335, filed at the US Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, DC on 28 December 1871; renewed 9 December 1872; renewed 15 December 1873, Loc. [A], Box 10, Folder 1. Meucci lacks sufficient resources to develop his invention. He is seriously injured in 1871 during the Westfield Ferry accident, and his wife sells his models in order to raise funds. The Telettrofono Company is established in 1871. [Catania] A lawsuit will be brought in 1885 by the USG against Bell attempting to void his patents based on Meucci's prior art. [See also Brooks p 77] [See also Wash Post 022008]

Elisha Gray

1869: Elisha Gray and Enos Barton founded Gray and Barton Manufacturing. Anson Stager became a parterner later that year. In 1871 the company was reorganized and renamed Western Electric Manufacturing Company. The company has strong investments and ties to Western Union, and supported Western Union's challenge to the Bell's Patents. Western Electric manufactured telephones for both Bell telephone and Western Union. In 1875 Elisha Gray sold his interest in Western Electric. In 1881 AT&T bought Western Electric and it became Bell's manufacturing arm. [Brooks p 10] [Porticus]

"Elisha Gray, a professor at Oberlin College, applied for a caveat of the telephone on the same day Bell applied for his patent of the telephone. In Historical First Patents: The First United States Patent for Many Everyday Things (Scarecrow Press, 1994), Travis Brown, reports that Bell got to the patent office first. The date was February 14, 1876. He was the fifth entry of that day, while Gray was 39th. Therefore, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Bell with the first patent for a telephone, US Patent Number 174,465 rather than honor Gray's caveat. " [LOC]

Elisha Gray's caveat described the principle of variable resistence:

Be it known that I, Elisha Gray, have invented a new Art of Transmitting Vocal Sounds Telegraphically. It is the object of my invention to transmit tones of the human voice through 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. . . The obvious pratical application of my improvement will be to enable persons at a distance to converse with each other through a telegraphic circuit just as they do in each other's presence or through a speaking tube. [Coon 50]

Bell's patent application, entitle "Improvement in Telegraphy," also mentioned voice telephony but curiously only in language scrawed into the patent application in the margin, as if an after thought.

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

It was argued that Bell had been permitted to see Gray's application and wrote these notes into the margin after both applications had been filed.

The Overland Company and the People's Company further contended that certain evidence cited by their counsel, and which is contained or referred to in the report of the argument of their counsel infra justified the inference that the Gray caveat was filed in the Department of the Interior prior to the filing of Bell's application, specification, and claims of 1876; that information of this caveat was surreptitiously furnished to Bell's solicitors; that Bell's specifications and claims as originally filed varied from his specifications and claims as stated in the patent in several important respects; that these changes were made within four days after the filing of Gray's caveat, and that after they had been made, the altered copy was placed in the files of the Department as the original. The following copy of these specifications, known as the Bell George Brown specification, is from the record in the People's case, and is referred to in argument in this connection, and other evidence in this respect on which counsel on one side or the other relied is also referred to in the arguments.

The Telephone Cases, 126 US 1, 87 (1888).

According to Horace Coon:

"Gray knew, and those who studied the case knew, that the transmitter into which Bell spoke on March 10, 1876, the historic words to Thomas A Watson, the first words ever spoken and heard over a telephone, was a very different kind of instrument from that described and illustrated in his patent. Furthermore, the transmitter which Bell had constructed for the occassion had previously been described by Gray in his caveat. Did Bell in some way obtain knowledge of the contents of Gray's caveat? Before Gray died in 1901 he became convinced that Bell had access to what was suppose to be a confidential document in the files of the Patent Office." [Coon 52]

1877, Feb. 16: Chicago Tribune refers to local man Gray as "the real inventor of the telephone." [Brooks p 63] [Bruce p 220] [Coon 48] [MacKenzie 164]

Many Eastern newspapers are favoring their readers with sketches of Prof. A M Bell, 'the inventor of the telephone.' Meanwhile the real inventor of the telephone - Mr. Elisha Gray, of Chicago - minds his own business and apparently concerns himself not at all about the spurious claims of Professor Bell. . . . Mr. Gray's claims . . . are officially approved in the Patent Office at Washington, and they have already brought in large returns in money as well as in reputation to the inventor. Talking by telegraph and other sport of the description Mr. Gray has not paid much attention to as yet.

1877, Feb. 21: Gray requested permission from Bell to demonstrate Bell's telephone during a lecture. [MacKenzie 165] Bell "hotly" replied granting permission conditioned on Gray refuting the Tribune article. [Brooks p 63] [Bruce p 220]

"If you refute in your lecture, and in the Chicago Tribune, the libel upon me published in that paper February sixteenth, I shall nave no objection. Please Answer. A Graham Bell." [MacKenzie 166]

1877, Feb. 24, Elisha Gray responded to Bell:

I do not know what article you refer to. I have seen one or two articles lately which venture to assume that you are not the only man in the world who had contributed to the development of the telephone . . . So far as I know the libels are mostly on the other side, if assertions of originality etc. may be so constructed. The papers have been ful of articles, of late, copied from Boston papers, claiming the whole development of the telephone for you. It would not be strange if some one, knowing the facts, should speak and in doing so may have done you injustice.

"You seem to assume that I am responsible for all the newspaper articles that are not in your favor. Now if we are going into the refutation business I suggest that it be mutual. So far as I know, there is quite as much need from your side as from mine. If we undertake to follow up the newspapers we shall have our hands full." [Coon 48] [MacKenzie 166]

1877, Mar. 2, Bell Responded

"I was somewhat hasty, I must confess, in sending my telegram to you, for of course you are not responsible for all the ill natured remarks that may appear in the newspapers concerning me. I have generally alluded to your name in connection with the invention of the Electronic 'Telephone' for we seem to attach different significations to the word. I apply the term only to to an apparatus for transmitting the voice (which meaning is strictly in accordance with the derivation of the word) whereas you seem to use the term as expressive of any apparatus for transmission of musical tones by electric current.

"I have no knowledge of any apparatus constructed by you for the purpose of transmitting vocal sounds, and I trust that I have not been doing you an injustice. It is my sincere desire to give you all the credit that I feel justly belongs to you. I do not know the nature of the application for a caveat, to which you referred, excepting that it had something to do with the vibration of a wire in water and therefore conflicted with my patent. My specification had been prepared months before it was filed and a copy taken to England by a friend. I delyaed the filing of the American patent until I could hear from him. At last the protests of all those interested in my invention deprecating further delay, had their effect, and I filed my application without waiting for a conclusion of negotiations in England. It was certainly a most striking coincidence that our applications should have been filed on the same day." [Coon 49] [MacKenzie 167]

1877, Mar. 5: Gray wrote Bell disclaiming the invention of the telephone, and responsibility for the article which he says he had not seen. [Brooks p 64]

"I have just received yours of the 2nd instant, and I freely forgive you for any feeling your telegram aroused. I found the article I suppose you referred to in the personal column of the Tribune, and am free to say it does you injustice.

I gave you full credit for the talking feature of the telephone as you may have seen in the Associated press dispatch that was sent to all the papers in the country - in my lecture in McCormick Hall, Feb. 27th. . . . Of course you have had no means of knowing what I had done in the matter of transmitting vocal sounds. When, however, you see the specification, you will see that the fundamental principles are contained therein. I do not, however, claim even the credit of inventing it, as I do not believe a mere description of an idea that has never been reduced to practice - in the strict sense of that phrase - should be dignified with the name invention.

"Yours very truly Elisha Gray " [Coon 48] [MacKenzie 169]

Bell's patent would be challenged by Western Union based on Gray's caveat; the legal challenge would be settled out of court.

1884: First prank phone call?  Someone in Rhode Island falsely called the undertaker asking that a coffin be delivered for the recently deceased, who were alive and surprised to find a pine box with their name on it at their door. [Lit Detective Twitpic]

1885: Congressional hearings investigated who invented the telephone.

1886: The Washington Post reports that Zenas Wilbur, a patent officer, stated in an affidavit that he had been bribed by Alexander Graham Bell "to award the patent to Bell over a rival inventor, Elisha Gray." Wilbur indicated that he took $100 and gave Bell complete details of Gray's invention. In previous affidavits, Wilbur swore the opposite. [Wash Post 022008] It is reported that Wilbur owed money to one of Bell's attorneys. [Roth] Another book reports that Wilbur was an alcoholic who had had several run ins with the law. [Coe p 70] [See also Brooks p 77] [See also Coon 52]

Derived From History of Wire and Broadcast Communication, FCC (May 1993):

1879: First telephone exchange in Ohio. City and Suburban Telegraph Company records 145,392 calls for the year. [Cincinatti Bell History]

"By the end of 1880, there were 47,900 telephones in the United States.

Sept 1880 First Meeting of the National Telephone Exchange Association. [Kingsbury p 146]

"1881 telephone service between Boston and Providence had been established. Service between New York and Chicago started in 1892, and between New York and Boston in 1894. Transcontinental service by overhead wire was not inaugurated until 1915. The first switchboard was set up in Boston in 1877. The first regular telephone exchange was established in New Haven in 1878. "

Early telephones were leased in pairs to subscribers. The subscriber was required to put up his own line to connect with another. The first lines were point to point lines without switching capability in the middle. [See Atlanta for images of early phones].

In order to permit a phone to call other phones in the network, exchanges were installed in the network. At first, however, the exchanges did not operate through the use of telephone numbers. Telephone numbers did not yet exist. Operators memorized the names of the subscribers and their associated lines. However, in the Lowell, Massachusetts exchange, when wide spread outbreak of measles resulted in most of the operators being absent from work - along with their knowledge of who had which line - exchange owners realized the need to switch to a system less dependant on the operators memory - telephone numbers. [See also Brooks p 74]

Business may have acquired their own unique telephone number. However, the rule for residential subscribers was that they would share a telephone number and line, called a party line. When this number was called, all of the phones that were a part of that party line would ring in each phone. Everyone could pick up the phone and hear and participate in the conversation. In order to compensate for this, operators developed unique rings for each phone on a party line so that the subscribers could know who the call was for. [Atlanta]

For infomation on Dual Service, see Universal Service.

Telephone Operators: Boys II Women :

"When telephone companies began hiring operators, they chose teenage boys for the job [Image]. But the companies soon regretted their decision. Boys had done a great job working in telegraph offices. And they worked for low wages. But being a telephone operator was a tough job that required lots of patience -- something the boys didn't have. The boy operators quickly turned telephone offices upside down. They wrestled instead of worked. They pulled pranks on callers, and even cursed at them. In 1878, the Boston Telephone Despatch company began hiring women operators instead. Women, the companies thought, would behave better than boys. Women had pleasant voices that customers -- most of whom were men -- would like. And because society did not treat women equally, they could be paid less and supervised more strictly than men. [Image of women working at Atlanta switch]

"Much like many other American businesses at the turn of the century, telephone companies unfairly discriminated against people from certain ethnic groups and races. African American and Jewish women were not allowed to become operators."

-- Wayback Tech 1900, PBS Kids Go (FA). See also Lois Kathryn Herr, Women, Power and AT&T: Winning Rights in the Workplace (2002). [Brooks p 66 (1878: New England Bell in Boston hires first female operator, Emma N Nutt - who worked until 1911)]

Automatic Telephone Switch Invented 1891

Almon B. Strowger, a Kansas City undertaker, was reportedly motivated to invent an automatic telephone exchange after having difficulties with the local telephone operators. He was convinced that the local manual telephone exchange operators were sending calls to his competitor rather than his business. He also suspected that the telephone operators were influencing the choice of undertaker when his business was requested. The origin of this suspicion reportedly arose from an incident in Topeka when a friend died and the family contacted a rival undertaker. Other stories claim that the wife or, possibly, the cousin of a rival was a telephone operator and Strowger suspected that the operators were telling callers that his line was busy or connecting his callers to the competition. On inventing his switch he said "No longer will my competitor steal all my business just because his wife is a BELL operator." Wikipedia Aug 2006. See also [Brenner p 4]

Stowger patented his device and founded the Automatic Electric Company in order to build and sell the switch in 1891. [Brooks 100] The first automatic C.O. was installed in LaPorte, Indiana. William von Alven, Bill's 200 Year Condensed History of Telecom, CCL 1998

"AT&T resisted the adoption of the automatic switch at first, largely out of the belief that it was inappropriate to be involving the customers in the switching process." [Sterling 67] "The Bell System did not embrace this switch or automation in general, indeed, a Bell franchise commonly removed "Steppers" and dial telephones in territories it bought from independent telephone companies. Not until 1919 did the Bell System start using Strowgers durable and efficient switching system. This tardiness contributed to Bell's poor reputation around the turn of the century." [Farley at 4] "One of the factors that finally caused Bell to change its direction was a major operator strike in 1920. This strike was devastating to the company and showed company management a vulnerability that they had not known existed." In Atlanta, the last manual exchange was taken offline in 1951. [Atlanta part 2]


1889: Meucci dies [H Res 269]

"In 1889, the rotary telephone dial was invented by Almon B. Strowger , a Kansas City undertaker. The first dial exchange was installed at La Porte, Indiana, in 1892. In 1943, Philadelphia was the last major area to give up dual service.

"The first Bell telephone company started in 1878. This is now known as the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), which was incorporated in 1885.

"Toward the close of the 19th century, huge numbers of overhead wires were being used in major cities. [Image] The wires caused problems because of snow, sleet and other bad weather conditions. With these problems it was necessary to develop sturdier overhead cables. In 1888, 100 wires could be combined into a large cable. By 1985 fiber cables had replaced wires. Today a pair of fiber cables can carry up to 25,000 phone conversations simultaneously.

Era of Telephone Competition

With the expiration of the AT&T Bell patents, 1000s of independant local telephone companies were formed. In general, the different telephone companies did not interconnect creating the problem of "Dual Service" and "Universal Service."

Era of Regulation

1910 - Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 amended to bring telephone and telegraph under the jurisdiction of the ICC.

1912: Britian nationalizes its telephone service. By 1913, most nations had nationalized their telephone service.

1914: F.H. Bethell, Some Comments on Government Ownership of Telephone Properties (Feb. 25, 1914), reprinted in Debaters Handbook at 159.

A.N. Holcombe, Public Ownership of Telegraphs and Telephones, 28 Q.J. ECON. 581 (1914)

1915: The Postalization of the Telephone: Hearing on H.R. 20471 Before the House Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads, 63d Cong., 3d Sess. (1915)

Theodore Newton Vail, Some Observations on Modern Tendencies, Address at a Dinner Given by the Railroad Commission of California to the National Association of Railway Commissioners (Oct. 1915), reprinted in VIEWS ON PUBLIC QUESTION: A COLLECTION OF PAPERS AND ADDRESSES OF THEODORE NEWTON VAIL 1907-1917, at 240, 258-63 (1917)

World War I

1917: April 6, US enters World War I

Dec. 28: USG nationalizes railroads.

1918: Communications workers threaten to go on strike several times.

Federal Control of Systems of Communication: Hearings on H.J. Res. 309 Before the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, 65th Cong., 2d Sess. (July 2, 1918).

July 9, 1918: President of Western Union testifies before Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce against the proposed government takeover of telephone and telegraph service.

The telephone and telegraph systems, including AT&T, were nationalized during World War I from July 31, 1918 to July 1919 and managed by the Post Office. [Woodrow Wilson, Proclamation (July 22, 1918), 40 Stat. 1807]

Nov. 2: Pres. Wilson nationalizes submarine cables. [Woodrow Wilson, Proclamation (Nov. 2, 1918), 40 Stat. 1872]

Nov. 11: Hostilities cease.

1919: June 28: Treaty of Versailles signed.

The rational for nationalization has been attributed to the departure of men to the war and the resulting deteriation of service, the threats of strikes by communications unions, and the need to protect against spys and other threats.

USG management of the telephone system was said to go poorly, and the networks were returned to private companyies after the war. [NYTimes Dec. 21, 1913] The legislative authority for the takeover apparently expressly stated that nationalization would end at the time of the ratification of a peace treaty ending the war.

Return of the Wire Systems: Hearings on H.R. 421 Before the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, pt. _, 66th Cong., 1st sess. _ (1919)

The USG also nationalize radio service and the railroad service.

How to Dial a Rotary Phone
1928 Cell Phone use Charlie Chaplin Movie

Post War

1919: Southern Bell bought out The Atlantic Telephone Company. [Atlanta]

1930 - Cincinnati Bell initiates migration to dial service. Migration is completed after WWII. [Cincinnati Bell History]

"William Clarke and Marie Williams purchased the Oak Ridge Telephone Company for $500 from F.E. Hogan, Sr. There were 75 paid subscribers. The switchboard was relocated to the Williams’ front parlor so the family could man the board 24-hours a day. The exception was between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sundays, when the office closed for church and dinner. Marie wrote out the bills by hand, and eight-year-old son Clarke McRae Williams delivered them on his bicycle." This company will become Century Link.  [CenturyTel Timeline]

World War II

1943: The first African American, Gloria Shepperson, is hired in the Bell System helped by Fair Employment Practices Executive Order 8802 (1941) banning hiring discrimination. [CWA History]

Post War

1968: Cincinnati Bell migrates to electronic switching. [Cincinnati Bell History]

Oak Ridge Telephone Company incorporated as Central Telephone and Electronics.  10,000 access lines.  Will become Century Link. [CenturyLink Timeline]

1971:  Central Telephone and Electronics renamed Century Telephone Enterprises (will become CenturyLink) [CenturyLink Timeline]

1989:  Century Telephone acquires Universal Telephone. [CenturyLink Timeline]

1992:  Century Telephone acquires Central Telephone Company of Ohio. [CenturyLink Timeline]

1997:  Century Telephone acquires Pacific Telecom (PTI) [CenturyLink Timeline]

2001:  CenturyTel acquires CSW Net, Ink in Arkansas [CenturyLink Timeline]

Telephone Unions

In 1891 the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was established and would make the first attempts to unionize communications works. The IBEW would not admit women as members until 1912 when it accepted telephone operators as members. "In 1919, IBEW's telephone department claimed 200 telephone locals with 20,000 members." [CWA History] [IBE History] The Boston IBEW pressed in 1913 for "the abolition of the double shift, an eight-hour-day (a nine to ten-hour day was the norm), the establishment of a borad of adjustment and a pay raise. They won on all counts..." [IBE History]

1911: The International Federation of Posts, Telegraphs and Telephones established. [Labor History]

1918: Commercial Telegraphers' Union calls for a strike on April 9, during World War I, leading to pressure to nationalize the telephone and telegraph service. The strike was twice postponed. [Washington Plea Prevents Strike on Western Union, N.Y. TIMES, July 8, 1919, at 1]

WWI: Julia O'Connor of the IBEW "served as labor's only representative to the national board, presided over by Postmaster General Albert Burleson, which set telephone worker's wages and supervised their working conditions." [IBEW History] The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers striked in 1919 to protest the lack of progress in improving wages and working conditions. "The strike shut down phone service in the East for almost a week." The strike was considered a succes and the Postmaster General acknowledged their right to organize. [CWA History] In Sept. 1919 the IBEW formed a Telephone Operator's Division.

1920: Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International founded (replacing the International Federation of Posts, Telegraphs and Telephones). [Labor History]

1920s: Reportedly disturbed by the IBEW's success during WWI, AT&T encourages employees to join company unions and not the IBEW; "By 1934, IBEW had been ousted in every location except Montana and the Chicago Plant." [CWA History]

1935: Congress passes the National Labor Relations Act and declares company unions (such as those at AT&T) illegal. [CWA History]

1938: Union organizers establish the National Federation of Telephone Workers. [CWA History]

"The average real wage of a telephone worker dropped from 83 cents an hour in 1939 to 70 cents an hour in 1943." [CWA History] Complaints were brought before the National Wartine Labor Board but a backlog of complaints grew.

1944: National Federation of Telephone Workers strike based on declining wages and failure of the NWLB to hear their cases. Outcome was the establisment of the National Telephone Panel, later renamed as the National Telephone Commission, to hear communications labor complaints. [CWA History] [See Archives for NTC records]

1946: AT&T and the National Federation of Telephone Workers sign the Beirne-Craig memorandum, averting a strike. [CWA History]

1947: In 1946, AT&T was not prepared for the NFTW strike; in 1947 AT&T was prepared. NFTW would strike and the union would splinter, and be reorganized as the Communications Workers of America. [CWA History] The CWA would become affiliated with the CIO in 1948.

1950: US Senate holds hearings concerning AT&T's poor labor relations. [CWA History]

1955: CWA strike 72 days against Southern Bell. CWA considers the strike a success, resulting in increased wages, arbitration, and the recognized right to strike. [CWA History]

1963: CWA strike against General Telephone in California. [CWA History]

1968: CWA stike against AT&T lasts 18 days and results in wage and benefits increases. [CWA History]

1970: EEOC charges AT&T with discrimination. Charges are settled in 1973. "The settlement included $5 million in back pay to 13,000 women and minority men, and an estimated $30 million in wage adjustments for women and minority workers." [CWA History] [See IALHI News Service: Woman & AT&T for a good summary] [The Impact of the AT&T-EEO Consent Decree. Labor Relations and Public Rolicy Series No. 20] [The Bellwomen: The Story of the Landmark AT&T Sex Discrimination CasePDF]

1971: 400,000 CWA members go on strike for one week, responding to impact of inflation. Receive wage increases, COLA, better vacation time. [CWA History]

1973: CWA members strike against General Telephone. Strike lasts months [CWA History]

1975: CWA members strike against independent telcos in Rochester, Kentucky, and New Jersey. [CWA History]

1983: 700,000 CWA members successfully strike for 22 days against AT&T for better wages and benefits. "This would be the last time CWA would be able to negotiate at one national table for all its Bell System members because divestiture was only a few months away." [CWA History] [The Line You Have Reached...DISCONNECT IT!, Processed World 1983 ("The 22 day nationwide strike by 700,000 telephone workers provided a window on the relative strength of capital and labor in the current era. In classic style, both management and unions are claiming victory, since neither side was able to push through its most aggressive bargaining goals.")]






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