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1-(700) Killed Tie

Tie-lines were operated by every major company in America by the 1970s. They were bypassing the long distance network, are costing the Bell System vast amounts of money, and had become very costly to install and manage. By some estimates,…

The Early History of the Touch-Tone Dial

Most history books will describe how the Touch-Tone dial was introduced in 1962 at the Seattle World’s Fair. But they are a little wrong. In 1958 the Bell System already had trials running with pushbutton telephones. Morris, Illinois was the…

Dial 9 for Atomic Weapons

All major companies had tie-lines bypassing the Bell System PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) by the 1970s. Sprint was selling “bypass” where you could dial a local 7-digit number, then an authorization code, and then your long distance number for…

Right-to-Repair Again

In the 1960s and early 1970s it was illegal to purchase a telephone and connect it to the phone network. Ever since the beginning of the Bell System the policy decision had been to never sell equipment, only rent it….

What Are Tie Lines

Tie-Lines were a really, really big deal in the 1960s through the 1980s. Every major company had a large staff dedicated to managing the corporate tie-lines. A tie-line was a direct dedicated connection between two corporate locations. If a company…

Theodore Newton Vail

Theodore Newton Vail is the man who really founded the Bell System. He built the nationwide network, he founded Bell Labs. He was quite outspoken. He died in 1920. Surprisingly, little seems to have changed from his time. It’s the…

Bell Labs Holmdel Promotional Videos

Holmdel was an amazing place. A special location and moment in corporate history that may remain unique. The second video (starting mid-way in the second part) starts to illustrate this. Holmdel was the best place I ever worked… Part 1…

The Hawthorne Effect

One of the more interesting discoveries of the Bell System was the “Hawthorne effect”.  The discovery was that the mere process of studying the efficiency of an organization will improve the efficiency of the organization. One of the manufacturing facilities…

National Service in War and Peace

Forgotten history. Here’s a lightly edited excerpt from “A history of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: National Service in War and Piece (1925-1975)” During World War II, some 2,000 separate projects for the Army, Navy, and National Defense…

WATS Service

WATS, or officially known as Wide Area Telephone Service, was an outbound only service that would offer customers discounted long distance. Contrary to today’s popular opinion, WATS was not a flat rate service. The notion of paying a flat rate…

Spirit of Service

I worked for and deeply admired the old Bell System. There was an obsession with quality and with service. Every employee had the feeling in their bones that their job was important, even essential. The classic picture of a lineman…

Pre-800 Toll Free

Do you know that during the early planning of toll-free (inbound paid) service there was no notion of using the 800 area code? The plan was to use a special prefix within each area code—552 as I recall—to be toll…

Fun Hacking WATS

I had a lot of fun hacking WATS service in the 1970s. (And, it was legal!) WATS service was a flat rate service offered by the Bell System mostly from about the 1960s through the 1980s. You paid a flat…

CATV Posed No Threat to Telephony

The value of pairs of copper wires to the homes is minimal, and is declining. I see nothing on the horizon to change this long-term trend. I think it has been shown that dedicated copper pairs from a home to…

Tele-Lights

In 1982~1983 I had the pleasure of sitting in the next cubicle over from one of the people who refined the twisted pair ethernet standard we now have. He was a voting member of the standards committee working on the…

The Bell System

The Bell System was an amazing organization. They were able to respond to disasters in emergencies in a highly coordinated way. This is an outstanding documentary. The main switching system in New York City caught fire and was a total…

For Whom the Bell Tolls

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…

The breakup of Ma Bell

Few people know much about the Bell System or if the breaking it up. Most will describe it as busting up a monopoly, and then they just leave it at that. The Bell System was a monopoly since the beginning,…

What Can Possibly Go Wrong? #NetNeutrality

“Strowger, an undertaker, was motivated to invent the automatic telephone exchange after having difficulties with the local telephone operators, one of whom was the wife of a competitor. He was said to be convinced that she, as one of the…

FCC Commissioners Gone Wild

You may think the following is fear mongering about what will happen when net-neutrality is lost. But things like these stories happened in the 1920s when there was no net-neutrality in the telecommunications network…a problem so serious that in 1934…