For Whom the Bell Tolls

by Colin Berkshire

The Bell System was the world’s largest corporation from the 1960s through the 1970s. By number of employees, by assets, and by revenue, no company on Earth exceeded the Bell System.

One part of the Bell System that nobody really heard much about was AT&T. Technically, it was the parent company, with stock ticker “T”. But other than investors, it was largely unknown.

The Bell System ran the national phone network and about 70% of the local exchanges in the country. It independently set the standards that the world followed, for the most part. When the Bell System decided that twisted pair would be Blue/White, Orange/White, Green/White and Brown/White all others followed in every corner of the earth.

Besides phone service, the Bell System also designed and oversaw the manufacture of every nuclear weapon this country ever made. It stockpiled vast amounts of binary biotoxins (since the US Government was not allowed to do so by treaty). It was responsible for communications between earth and all space missions. It designed the SAGE and Nike Hercules missile program. And, it invented touch-tone and the picture phone.

So I find it very profound that today less than half the population has heard of the Bell System, and fewer even remember it. The world’a largest corporation is forgotten in a generation.

Of course, today people know the AT&T name. Today’s AT&T has a quarter the number of employees of its former self. And, it is in far fewer lines of business.

So when you think of Apple or Google or Facebook just remember that within a generation they can be forgotten. Just like the Bell System and Westinghouse and General Electric and Sperry Univac.