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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





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Bell System mural on Nevada Bell building in Ely, Nevada.
Click on photo above to view full-size original.
Courtesy of G.D. Thurman.

Bell Labs - 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 Laboratories, see:

Click above image to view larger.


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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 technology.


"Bell Labs Memoirs: Voices of Innovation" by A Michael Noll & Michael Geselowitz. First published in 2011 by CreateSpace. ISBN-10: 1463677979. (paperback).



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 HERE.


"Bell 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 Gernter

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 Age.

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 Innovation 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 Labs began:

"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."

"The 1925 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 information:

"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 research."

Some material 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 transmission."

"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 Engineering organization."

One of the innovative telephone products Bell Labs developed was the PicturePhone. 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.  The 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 AT&T Research.  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.


In 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 Avaya Labs.


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 CommScope Labs.


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 we have 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 HERE.  To view a close-up of the inside wording and logo, click HERE.

A 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 1925-1983.


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 Amazon site.

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 meanings.

A. Michael Noll, Ph. D.
Professor Emeritus of Communications

Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
University of Southern California

Home page:


What happened to AT&T and the venerable Bell Laboratories?

Reed Business Information, August 27, 2009

By Joel Young



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 HERE.


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:


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