Federal Internet Law & Policy
An Educational Project
Telephone Reference Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY

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: Library of Congress

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 laboratory 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]

1889: Meucci dies [H Res 269]

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 board 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 success and the Postmaster General acknowledged their right to organize. [CWA History] In Sept. 1919 the IBEW formed a Telephone Operator's Division.

1919: Cincinnati Bell Employees form the Telephone Employees Association [Reference for Business]

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 Wartime 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 establishment 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 strike against AT&T lasts 18 days and results in wage and benefits increases. [CWA History][Reference for Business (strike against Cincinnati Bell)]

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 Policy 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.")]




Papers, Articles

  • Roger Conklin, When Western Electric Secretly Controlled Kellogg (July 2001)
  • Tom Farley's Telephone History Series (cc)
  • Basilio Catania, The US Government v Alexander Graham Bell: An Important Acknowledgment of Antonio Meucci
  • Sheldon Hochheieser, AT&T Archives, The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T)PDF (1989) (republished at Porticus)
  • Albert Iardella, Western Electric and the Bell System: A Survey of ServicePDF (1964) [27]
  • Who is credited as inventing the telephone? Was it Alexander Graham Bell, Elisha Gray, or Antonio Meucci?, Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress
  • John Lienhard, No. 1098: Who Invented the Telephone?, Engines of our Ingenuity [Audio available]
  • Ohio Bell Telephone Company History, International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 14. St. James Press, 1996. available at Funding Universe [Ohio Bell History]
  • Sterling, Bernt, Weiss, Shaping American Telecommunications (2006)
  • Harold S. Levy, Regulation and Competition in the Telecommunications Industry: The Need for Antitrust Immunity, 2 Okla. City. U. L. Rev. 561 (1977) (Harold Levy was General Attorney in the Legal Department of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company)
  • Theodore Vail
  • Michael Wolff, The Marriage That Almost Was, IEEE Spectrum Feb. 1976 [Michael Wolff p. ]
  • Christopher S. Yoo, Michael Janson, The Federal Takeover of the US Telephone System During World War I.
  • Links


    © Cybertelecom ::