Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc.
"If Bell Labs is a
tree, research is a blossom, development is the fruit."
With approximately 16,000 employees in 16
countries, Bell Labs is the
leading source of new communications technologies. Bell Labs has generated more
than 28,000 patents since 1925 and has played a pivotal role in inventing or
perfecting key communications technologies, including transistors, digital
networking and signal processing, lasers and fiber-optic communications systems,
communications satellites, cellular telephony, electronic switching of calls,
touch-tone dialing, and modems. Bell Labs scientists have received six Nobel
Prizes in Physics, nine U.S. Medals of Science and six U.S. Medals of
Technology. For more information about Bell Labs, visit its web site at
We Offer Personalized One-On-One
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Bell System mural on Nevada Bell building in Ely,
Click on photo above to view full-size original.
Courtesy of G.D. Thurman.
- the greatest scientific laboratory that ever existed. Today's modern
society owes a lot of gratitude for the numerous discoveries and inventions that
came out of this great "think tank". It is hoped that this web page will
educate and enlighten the public about how different their lives would be today
if Bell Labs never existed. Lucent Technologies research today is still a
leader in technology advances in pure research.
For more detailed information on Bell Labs history, see
their website at:
For a brief description of Bell
Click above image to view
Bell Labs Memoirs:
Voices of Innovation --
A Michael Noll (Author), Michael Geselowitz (Author)
In structure and history, Bell Labs was unique in the
world. Its discoveries and inventions (advances on its earlier invention of
the transistor, the laser, UNIX, the charge-coupled device) transformed global
society and helped to form the information age and the digital era. The
collection of narratives in this book focuses on Bell Labs’ peak years during
the 1960s and 1970s. Whether by accident or providence, these years correspond
almost exactly with the years when William Baker led the Labs (1955 – 1973).
The chapters are mini-memoirs, ranging from personal background to research
accounts to stories of social life at the Labs, as told by persons from every
aspect of the Lab’s research operations, from chauffeurs and technicians to
top scientists. Bill Baker’s presence runs through all the narratives, leading
the organization and defining its tone. His personal aptitude and leadership
left an indelible stamp on Bell Labs and, indeed, on global science and
"Bell Labs Memoirs: Voices of Innovation" by A Michael Noll &
Michael Geselowitz. First
published in 2011 by CreateSpace. ISBN-10: 1463677979.
Bell Labs: Life in
the Crown Jewel -- Narain Gehani
Bell Labs, the greatest research lab of the 20th century, is going through
difficult times. The current events at Lucent will have a deep impact on Bell
Labs. Gehani talks about Bell Labs with an insider's perspective. He has seen
Bell Labs during its best times and during its difficult days. He was at Bell
Labs during the monopoly and post monopoly days, and when Lucent was doing
great and during its difficult times.
Gehani’s Bell Labs book is the first book that tells the story of this very
famous organization. Bell Labs is part of the heritage of the many of the
current and past companies in the telecom industry. People associated with the
telephone companies will find this book great reading, historical information
of their employer’s glorious past, will get an understanding of the workings
of this great institution, how the AT&T divestiture affected it, and the
challenges faced by it now.
Gehani's story of America's national treasure and corporate crown jewel will
keep you riveted to reading about a way of life possibly gone forever. To read
the book description, click
Labs - Life in the Crown Jewel" by Narain Gehani. First
published in 2003 by Silicon Press. ISBN-10: 0929306279. (hardcover).
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation -- Jon
William Bradford Shockley was difficult, but brilliant.
For a long time he led solid-state physics research at Bell Telephone
Laboratories, and there, in 1947, he invented something very important.
Shockley's colleagues pondered what to call it, voting among six possible
names, including "semiconductor triode" and "iotatron." The winner came from
shortening "transconductance varistor" to "transistor."
For decades, the telephone system had relied on large,
hot, complicated, unreliable, fragile and expensive glass vacuum tubes to
amplify telephone signals. Shockley's transistor was a tiny, simple, durable
and inexpensive solid sandwich. It would turn out to be the most important
invention of the 20th century, the essential building block of the Information
All of today's mobile telephones, desktop computers,
laptops and server farms—and all the routers of the world-wide Internet—are
chock-full of transistors, sometimes billions of them in a single microchip.
They enable many modern wonders, including Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter,
the iPhone and The Wall Street Journal on your iPad.
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American
by Jon Gernter. First
published in 2012 by Penguin Press. ISBN-10: 1594203288. (hardcover).
Brief History of Bell Labs
Let's begin with
some history of how Bell Labs got started. Most of the quotes below are
from other material already on this web site. From a publication by AT&T
called Western Electric - A brief
History we find the following historical information on how Bell
"Besides acting as
purchaser and as manufacturer for the Bell System, Western Electric also
supplied its parent with executive talent. AT&T presidents from Harry B.
Thayer to Frederick Kappel to Haakon Romnes each served as Western Electric
president beforehand. The AT&T executive who presided over the biggest changes
in Western Electric, and who served longest as AT&T president, Walter Gifford,
started at Western but never became its president. Gifford began at Western in
1904 in the Chicago payroll department. By the time Gifford moved on to AT&T
in 1908, he had become an Assistant Secretary at Western Electric."
"The year Gifford
ascended to the presidency of AT&T, he redirected the business of Western
Electric: he established Bell Laboratories as a separate entity, set up
a separate corporation for the company's supply business. and sold the
international business. Gifford established the separate entity called the
Bell Telephone Laboratories Inc., which took over work previously
conducted by the research division of Western Electric's engineering
department. Bell Labs was 50 percent owned by Western Electric, and 50
percent owned by AT&T. Nine years later, AT&T's development and research group
also joined Bell Labs."
reorganization of the company established the institutional responsibilities
which lasted until the 1980's: Bell Laboratories designed the network,
Western Electric manufactured the telephones, cable, transmission equipment,
and switching equipment, the operating companies installed the phones and
billed customers, and AT&T long lines operated the long distance network."
And from another
publication by AT&T called
Capsule History of the Bell System we find the following additional
"By 1925 it was
recognized that telephone technology was increasingly based on science and the
scientific method, with increasing pressure to put new scientific knowledge to
use as rapidly as possible and by that time the 1907 laboratory had crown to
several times its original size. So the Bell Laboratories organization
was developed to do research, systems engineering and development work.
Research and associated fundamental development provide the reservoir of new
knowledge and new understanding which is essential for new communications
facilities and systems. The work includes all sectors of science that appear
likely to contribute to the advancement of communications and is carried out
in enough volume to assure a minimum time lag in the practical application of
scientific advances. It also includes systems research and operations
published by Western Electric back in 1964 called
Western Electric and the Bell System states (keep in mind this was
over 35 years ago):
"Since inception, Bell
Laboratories has been pre-eminent in communications technology. At first a
good part of the Laboratories' effort went into hardware development to
increase the reliability and life of the equipment Western Electric produced
and the operating companies used. A further large effort has been devoted to
developing ways to increase the efficiency of Bell System equipment. An
example of this is TASI (Time Assignment Speech Interpolation), a Laboratories
development that doubled the capacity of the first two trans-Atlantic cables
by utilizing the milliseconds of silence in ordinary speech for further
"Today the technical work of the Laboratories is divided into three
major fields: Research, Systems Engineering, and Development."
"Research represents the search for new knowledge, for new scientific
principles. Although carried out in scientific disciplines which closely
relate to the art of communication, research is not aimed at specific changes
in the telephone system. Rather it is concerned with trying "to outguess the
future" as to where the unexplored areas of science may yield discoveries of
value to the telephone industry and exploring these areas in depth."
"Although the Research Departments comprise only about 12 per cent of the
technical staff of the Laboratories, they represent the fountainhead
from which have flowed thousands of discoveries that have shaped the character
of today's and tomorrow's communications systems. In 1937, Dr. Clinton J.
Davisson received a Nobel Prize and, in 1956, three others - Drs. W. H.
Brattain, W. Shockley and J. Bardeen - shared another; hundreds of others have
received awards and honors representing major distinction in their fields."
"For many years, both Bell
Laboratories and Western Electric concentrated their cooperative effort on
helping the Bell Telephone companies make telephone service available to more
and more Americans. In recent years, however, the Bell System network has been
used to transmit more kinds of communications. AT&T and the operating
companies, therefore, now look more than ever to Bell Laboratories for
innovations and improvements resulting from technological advance."
"Most Bell Laboratories activities are carried on at four locations in
New York and Northern New Jersey:
463 West Street, New York -
now principally used for administrative and staff work.
Murray Hill, New Jersey - the
main center of research work and of much of the work in electronic
component development and transmission systems and development.
Whippany, New Jersey - the
center for military research and development work.
Holmdel, New Jersey - a
laboratory opened in 1962, with work going on in such fields as electronic
switching, data communications transmission and switching, and new types
of telephone equipment for the customer.
In Spring, 1964, Bell
Laboratories announced plans to build a new center for development work on
electronic switching systems near Naperville, Illinois fairly close to
Western Electric's Hawthorne Works. About 1,200 people are scheduled to
work at the laboratory when it is completed in 1966, including the
electronic switching organization at Holmdel and a small number of Western
Electric engineers from Hawthorne Works and the Systems Equipment
One of the innovative telephone
products Bell Labs developed was the
The PicturePhone was developed as a prototype in 1956, but never test marketed
until the early 1960's and never became popular after it was briefly offered
commercially in Chicago.
But Bell Labs is probably better
known for its scientific discoveries that changed the future of the world.
transistor is probably the single most important invention of Bell Labs
that shaped our future. Without it, there would be no modern electronic
products like personal computers, CD players, etc.
From the Western Electric and
the Bell System publication we find this information:
"Discovery of the transistor
effect came out of research into the nature of semiconductors. Its perfection
as a device was carried on by the Development organization concerned with
electronic components. When it had reached a stage of development, in terms of
performance and economical manufacture, that made it feasible for use in the
telephone system, Systems engineers begin to design communications around it.
These systems were then carried through to working hardware by the Development
engineers and into manufacture by Western Electric."
Another great breakthrough by Bell
Labs was the development of the photovoltaic cell. Also called "solar
battery", this device will hopefully allow us to become independent of the oil
companies and power our homes and electric cars from the sun. Two Bell
System advertisements showing this marvelous device just after Bell Labs
developed it is viewable/downloadable by clicking
HERE to view the first advertisement or
HERE to view the second advertisement.
More inventions and discoveries will
be added here as time permits. But for now, lets briefly cover the
corporate changes that took place with Bell Labs when the Bell System died in
1984 and what has taken place in more recent years.
When the Bell System was officially
divested on January 1, 1984, AT&T was allowed to keep Western Electric, Long
Lines, and Bell Laboratories. They could use the name "BELL" only in
association with Bell Laboratories.
As announced on September 20, 1995,
AT&T Corporation split into three new companies: AT&T (communications
services), Lucent Technologies (systems and technology), and NCR
(computers). As a consequence, AT&T Bell Laboratories split, parts going to
AT&T, and parts going to Lucent Technologies. AT&T Laboratories will
serve AT&T, and its research part will be known as
Bell Laboratories will serve Lucent Technologies,
and its research part will be known as Bell Laboratories Research. AT&T
has since divorced itself of its ownership of NCR.
October of 2000, Lucent Technologies "spun off" Avaya. Avaya now has the
customer equipment business for telephone sets and connectivity (SYSTIMAX) and
the portion of Bell Laboratories assets and employees associated with these
businesses went to Avaya, and is now called
In 2004, Avaya sold the
SYSTIMAX connectivity manufacturing business to CommScope, and the portion of
the Avaya Labs associated with the SYSTIMAX connectivity business went to
CommScope, and is called
In 2006, Lucent merged with Alcatel, and formed
Alcatel-Lucent, and the merged entities combined their research operations and
Bell Laboratories is now called
Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs.
A neat little collectable
that was given to us by Shawn is a leather "notepad" that says "engineer for a
day" on the inside flap along with the Bell logo (1969 - modern - version) and
Western Electric Columbus Works Bell Laboratories written next to the logo.
To view this item, click
To view a close-up of the inside wording and logo, click
Thank you to A. Michael Noll, Professor Emeritus of Communications, Annenberg
School for Communication & Journalism University of Southern California for
sharing with us his web sites dedicated to the Bell Laboratories , Inc. from
My web site has a section about Bell Labs, which includes a
list of significant innovations and discoveries --
I also created a website for William O. Baker who headed research at BTL during
the 1960s --
You can link to these sites — and also extract words about my book from the
I am trying to be careful to refer to Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. which
existed from 1925 to the end of 1983. The term "Bell Labs" today has many
A. Michael Noll, Ph. D.
Professor Emeritus of Communications
Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
University of Southern California
Home page: http://noll.uscannenberg.org
happened to AT&T and the venerable Bell Laboratories?
Reed Business Information,
August 27, 2009
I know some of you will look at this question and say -
AT&T is still around, I keeping seeing ads for all sorts of AT&T stuff. Isn’t
it the largest cellular carrier? Well the answer is of course yes, but I’m
actually talking about the original AT&T, the one that invented telephony.
The company who, with its research arm Bell Laboratories invented the
transistor, the laser, the Unix operating system, and color television, just
to name a few. I spent the first 10 years of my career at Bell Laboratories
and AT&T in Holmdel, New Jersey. I started at Bell Labs right after
something called divestiture. This was an event which ended years of
antitrust lawsuits. The result was that all of the local telephone companies
were spun off into seven large regional holding companies. AT&T kept long
distance and the telephone equipment business and was allowed to enter into
the computer business. As I look back, one of the things that amazes me
is that AT&T during the late 1980s and early 1990s had the strategy nailed,
but failed execution caused a once mighty company to collapse, only to be
reborn through the transformation from one of its original, Baby Bell
offspring. During the 80s and 90s, long distance revenue per minute, due to
the competitive entrance of MCI and Sprint, was on a decline. Without control
of the access pipe, AT&T embarked on a spending spree with the goals of
extending its equipment business and replacing access the customer access lost
with the divestiture of the Baby Bells. On the equipment side, AT&T acquired
NCR for computers and Paradyne for modems to name a few. On the customer
access side, TCI was acquired for cable television access and Craig McCaw’s
Cellular One was acquired for cellular service. The concept was to rebuild
the Bell System with cellular, cable TV and data communications. Internally
there was a belief that data would replace voice and cellular could someday
replace wires. Unfortunately, AT&T overpaid for everything. The computer
side was a flop and NCR ended up being spun out again. In an effort to focus
more energy on the network, the rest of the equipment business was spun out
into what became Lucent Technologies. Bell Laboratories was split up, most
of it going to Lucent. Lucent collapsed after the telecom bubble burst and
was picked up by France based Alcatel. Most of the old Bell Labs buildings,
including my old office in Holmdel are now empty shells.
Nonetheless, the amazing thing here is that one could argue
that AT&T still had the right strategy. With a dominant share of both the
cable television footprint and cellular footprint, the area was ripe for
unbelievable growth. For reasons that I still don’t quite understand, other
than a lack of capital and mounting debt, AT&T had to sell of cable television
to Comcast and sold the cellular business to Cingular, a joint venture between
SBC and Bell South. All that was left was the data and voice network.
During this time, SBC, one of the seven regional
operating companies spun off by AT&T during divestiture, had been growing
through acquisitions of its own. After acquiring sister Baby Bells Ameritech,
Pacific Telesis and Bell South, it finally acquired the old AT&T for its
backbone network. In one swoop, SBC renamed itself AT&T (note the use of
lower case letters in the name) and Cingular became AT&T wireless again. A
part of the bell system had been rebuilt, with headquarters in Texas instead
of New Jersey. In the same line of course, Comcast, in addition to
television, offers internet service and voice telephone service.
I wonder how it would have turned out had AT&T been able
to execute on the original vision.
To view the original article, click
Bell Labs Journals
Documents of historical significance from the
Bell Labs web site. Archived here for historical preservation.
Videos of Bell Labs history of innovations
can be found at: