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The Genius of Electricity ("Golden Boy").



The Genius of Electricity ("Golden Boy")

Commissioned in 1914 by Theodore Vail, this winged statue clutching a telephone cable in one arm and lightning bolt in the other was originally named "Electricity". It was eventually named "The Spirit of Communications" representing the world-uniting power of telecommunications. But almost from the beginning, employees have affectionately called it "Golden Boy". After adorning AT&T headquarters at 195 Broadway in New York for decades, it was moved to 550 Madison Ave. in 1983, and then to Basking Ridge, N.J. in 1992. In 2009, the statue was relocated to AT&T's current corporate headquarters in downtown Dallas, Texas. The gold-leafed bronze figure is 24 feet high, weighs 16 tons, and has a wing span of 12 feet.


In today’s interconnected world, few among our younger generations have any notion of what life was like in the early days of telephony. Some retirees are old enough to remember the days of a single wooden box or black candlestick phone in a home, of operators standing by to answer and place calls, and party lines. My, how far we have come.

There is a justifiable pride in being a part of the historical Bell System family of companies - the operating companies, Bell Telephone Laboratories, Western Electric, Teletype - for their amazing contributions in bringing universal service to this country and for laying the foundation for today’s interconnected world.

One of our retirees received the following story from a friend as it made the rounds of the internet. She said the story reminded her of the values of the old Bell System, Ma Bell, and thought others might enjoy it too. If you haven’t already read this, hope you enjoy the story.

The Black Telephone

PHONEWhen I was a young boy, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember the polished, old case fastened to the Wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box.. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked to it.

Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person. Her name was "Information Please" and there was nothing she did not know. Information Please could supply anyone's number and the correct time.

My personal experience with the genie-in-a-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer, the pain was terrible, but there seemed no point in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone! Quickly, I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear.

"Information, please," I said into the mouthpiece just above my head. A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear.


"I hurt my finger..." I wailed into the phone, the tears came readily enough now that I had an audience..

"Isn't your mother home?" came the question. "Nobody's home but me," I blubbered. "Are you bleeding?" the voice asked. "No, "I replied. "I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts. "Can you open the icebox?" she asked. I said I could. "Then chip off a little bit of ice and hold it to your finger," said the voice..

After that, I called "Information Please" for everything. I asked her for help with my geography, and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my math. She told me my pet chipmunk that I had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts.

Then, there was the time Petey, our pet canary, died. I called, "Information Please," and told her the sad story. She listened, and then said things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But I was not consoled. I asked her, "Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?"

She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, "Wayne, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow I felt better.

Another day I was on the telephone, "Information Please." "Information," said in the now familiar voice. "How do I spell fix?" I asked.

All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. When I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Boston. I missed my friend very much."Information Please" belonged in that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of trying the shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall. As I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me.

Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then. I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy. A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about a half-hour or so between planes. I spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information Please."

Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well. "Information." I hadn't planned this, but I heard myself saying, "Could you please tell me how to spell fix?"

There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, "I guess your finger must have healed by now.” I laughed, "So it's really you," I said. "I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time?" "I wonder," she said, "if you know how much your call meant to me. I never had any children and I used to look forward to your calls." I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister. "Please do," she said. "Just ask for Sally."

Three months later I was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, "Information." I asked for Sally. "Are you a friend?" she said. "Yes, a very old friend," I answered. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this," She said. "Sally had been working part time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago."

Before I could hang up, she said, "Wait a minute, did you say your name was Wayne ?" "Yes." I answered. “Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. "Let me read it to you.” The note said, "Tell him there are other worlds to sing in. He'll know what I mean.”

I thanked her and hung up. I knew what Sally meant. Never underestimate the impression you may make on others. Whose life have you touched today?

The editor thanks Jeanne Mueller for submitting this piece.
Western Electric Picture Frame Front Model 317 Cathedral Top Wall Telephone - Photo Courtesy of Morphy




The employees of the Bell System's manufacturing facility known as Western Electric in Chicago had been planning it for months. It was to be the annual company picnic and employee recognition ceremony. Each year, Western Electric provided an all-expense paid outing for employees, and gave special monetary rewards to the employees recognized by the company as outstanding in their performance.

Typically it would be a pot-luck picnic with lots of food and beverages for everyone. A band would entertain with music and then during the afternoon the managers would open sealed envelopes to reveal the winners of the prizes. There would be prizes for everyone but the honored employees would receive special gifts.

Saturday, July 24, 1915 was a beautiful day, weather-wise. Not too hot, and not too humid. It would indeed be a great day for a ride on the boat that Western Electric had chartered for the occassion. It was a huge steam-operated vessel called the Eastland; it had been in service for many years and had been the scene of many happy and joyous occassions as newly married couples celebrated their marriage ceremony with parties; as companies like Western Electric held annual social events for employees, etc. Docked at the pier under the Dearborn Street bridge on the Chicago River, the boat would cruise several miles out into Lake Michigan and return later in the evening.

That Saturday morning the employees of Western Electric began arriving quite early to secure the best seats on the boat. Soon the parking lot nearby was full and dozens of employees were walking down the street in groups of three or four or more to the stairs leading down to the dock where the boat and many of their co-workers were already waiting. In all, over two thousand people were present including the spouses and other family members who were all part of the larger corporate family known as Western Electric and Bell.

Promptly at 7:30 A.M. the Eastland began pulling away from the dock just as promised, with the passengers waving and calling to passers by who saw them leaving. It was only a few feet out in the water and a few yards away from the dock when it happened:

To this day, the various versions of the story are disputed; some say the boat was defective, but many others claim the problem was with the crowd of people on board. What is known is that a large number of passengers all went to one side of the boat at one time to look at something which had been called to their attention. In the process, the Eastland tipped over from the unbalanced weight, and as it tipped over and began to sink everyone on board fell in the water; either immediatly or after attempting to hang on to the side for a few seconds.

A call for help went out immediatly, and within a matter of minutes a number of the men of the Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police Department were on hand attempting to rescue the hundreds of people in the water. A good many swam to shore on their own, and many were rescued by the police and firemen, in a rescue effort which went on for ** several hours ** with hundreds of the passengers trapped inside cabins on the boat which was now totally upside down in the water and mostly submerged.

There have also been many versions of the rescue operation; some say that the captain of the Eastland at first refused to allow the rescue workers to cut away portions of the side of the vessel to get to the people trapped inside. Others say that by that time it was too late anyway, since everyone trapped would have been dead. There has been criticism made of the rescue workers saying that instead of making an orderly evacuation of the passengers in the boat as it was sinking they allowed panic to overcome common-sense, and that it was panic which caused most of the deaths.

In all 812 people died that Saturday afternoon, and even into the early hours of Sunday morning bodies were being brought to the dock at the Dearborn Street bridge where physicians who had been called to assist would pronounce each person dead before the bodies were taken away or released to anxious family members or co-workers who lingered nearby throughout the evening and into the overnight hours.

In its Sunday edition of July 25, 1915, the {Chicago Tribune} devoted several pages to the horrible event of the day before, and again on Monday, July 26 the paper devoted its attention to the deadly weekend just past, listing the names and addresses of the people who had died in the disaster. The list of names took an entire page in the {Tribune} that day. An investigation and formal inquiry by the Chicago Common Council (what is now called the City Council) began early in August and went on for almost a month.

Monday, July 26, 1915 was a very somber day at 'Hawthorne Works', as the Western Electric plant was known. Workers gathered in small groups around the plant to discuss the nightmare they had all witnessed two days before. The plant was closed the next day and the day following for funeral services which were held throughout the city, and in addition, the Bell System called for a day of mourning later that week with all but essential employees excused from work to attend memorial services in cities across the United States with the top executives of the company attending such a service as a group in Chicago.

The shock took a long time to wear off at Hawthorne Works. Finally in late August, nearly a month after the incident, Western Electric began hiring persons to replace those who had died in the Eastland disaster. One day in early August, two quite unexpected visitors showed up at Hawthorne Works to meet with the survivors: Alex Bell and his wife Mabel spent most of the day walking about the plant pausing at each work station and desk to shake hands and spend a minute chatting.

Although Alex Bell had been out of the 'phone business' for a number of years, he and Mabel each held considerable amounts of the company stock in both AT&T and Western Electric. As they would stop to chat, Mabel had a notebook and would make careful note of the names of the persons who had died, along with the names of their family members, etc. Each employee would tell her something new she had not heard before. By that point in time, Alex had become quite hearing-impaired -- virtually deaf -- and from time to time Mabel would look at him and talk in a loud voice into the speaking tube like device with a horn on the end which he held up to his ear. Later over the next several weeks, the families of the persons who died that Saturday afternoon in July each received personal notes of condolence from Alex and Mabel, along with gifts which were deemed appropriate in each case.

Litigation against Western Electric (as the organization which chartered the Eastland) and the proprietors of the Eastland went on for three years afterward, with the last of the suits being settled in 1918, about three years later.

The last of the survivors of the Eastland disaster continued her employment with Western Electric for another 35-40 years. She had been just a young woman when she started with the company where she stayed her entire working career until she retired in the early 1950's. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Eastland disaster in 1965 she was interviewed by the {Chicago Tribune} and she gave her reminisences of that day. Then everyone forgot about it again, and by the middle 1980's most people in Chicago never even had heard of it, let alone know anything about it. There was no marker, no commemorative of any kind at the location.

But a group of high school students did not forget about it. A few years ago several teenagers looked at the dusty old reels of {Tribune} microfilm from the summer of 1915 and thought others should know about this event in the city's history, so they went to the Chicago City Council as a group and convinced the council to allow them to raise the money to install a permanent marker at the point on (what is now called Wacker Drive but was then South Water Street) between Clark and Dearborn Streets as a commemorative. It was installed by those kids and anyone today walking down the sidewalk on the north side of Wacker Drive at that point can read about what took place there now 81 years ago.

I am surprised at the large number of people in this industry -- even telco employees -- who have never heard of the Eastland disaster and the tragedy which took the lives of 812 of the early pioneers of the industry. Perhaps you had never heard of it either, or knew very little about it.

Perhaps this note will serve to inform you also. (CONTRIBUTED BY Pat Townson)

Much more on the Eastland disaster here.

Or go to the Eastland Disaster Historical Society site.

Or to the Eastland Memorial Society Site





What follows is a chronology of important events in the history of the Western Electric Company. It was compiled and published by Bell System public relations personnel during the WE Centennial in 1969.
grey grey

Western Electric's official founding date is November 18, 1869. On that day, Gen. Anson Stager, the Company's first president joined WE's predecessor, Gray and Barton, as an equal partner.

The WE chronology, however, begins ten months earlier when a mortgaged farm in upstate New York helped provide funds for a partnership, Shawk and Barton, that evolved into the billion dollar Western Electric business we have today. The chronology spans the 100-year period of WE's history and, not incidentally, that of the communications industry.

Western Electric, a part of the Bell System since 1882, has had a profound influence on the contemporary American scene, playing vital roles in the development of radio, television, the phonograph, sound motion pictures and, of course, the telephone.

After having taken the lead in broadening and diversifying communications through the first quarter of the twentieth century, WE began limiting its role to that of manufacturing and supply unit of the Bell System. In 1925, Bell research and development was transferred to the newly formed Bell Telephone Laboratories, and the Company's electric supply and overseas businesses were sold. Thus, many of the chronology's entries before 1925 relate to activities in which WE is no longer engaged.

During World War II, Western Electric emerged as a major government contractor, a role it continued in the fifties and sixties with defense and space projects. Many of the more recent entries concern this vital WE function.



JANUARY 2-9 - Enos M. Barton and George W. Shawk formed the partnership of Shawk & Barton, electricians and machinists, in Cleveland, Ohio. Shawk, a good craftsman, had been looking for a partner with business sense, and Barton, an opportunity to enter business for himself. Barton's widowed mother, Fanny, then 59 years old and still plowing and planting each spring, helped finance her son's venture with a mortgage on the family farm at Adams, N. Y. The Shawk & Barton shop at 93 St. Clair Street in Cleveland employed five or six men on miscellaneous electrical jobs, which included the making of inventors' models. Some 40 years later Barton described Shawk as a "good foreman and workman, but of a very mercurial temperament -- enthusiastic if an order or two came in, easily discouraged if business was bad."

MAY 28 - Professor Elisha Gray, Shawk & Barton's best customer, bought George W. Shawk's interst in the firm. Gray had wanted to be Shawk's partner before Barton entered the picture, but Shawk refused, claiming that "Gray would want to put every man in the shop onto his darned inventions." Yet the "darned inventions" played a key part in ensuring WE's survival in the intensely competitive electrical industry of the 1870's.

AUGUST 16 - The Journal of the Telegraph reported that Shawk & Barton had been dissolved, and would be known as Gray & Barton. The news item also noted that the firm was establishing a shop in Chicago.

NOVEMBER 18 - General Anson Stager joined Gray and Barton as an equal partner, each man contributing about $2500 capital. The firm manufactured burglar and fire alarms, annunciators, Morse telegraph instruments, telegraph supplies, electric gas lighting equipment, various electrical appliances, and Professor Gray's printer telegraph.

DECEMBER - Gray & Barton moved its main operations from Cleveland to Chicago. The firm's first Chicago location was at 162 S. Water Street, where the shop of L. C. Springer, manufacturer of tele- graph instruments, was purchased for $500. Later in the month it moved to larger and better quarters at 13 La Salle Street, and in May 1870 to 479 State Street. The Cleveland Shop was abandoned in October 1870.


GENERAL -- Elisha Gray patented the first needle drop annunciator (an electrically controlled signal board that indicated which connecting line was calling). Among the Company's early products, it became the standard hotel annunciator. About the same time Gray developed the first application of the electrical push button and annunciator as a floor call for elevators. Other company products during the 1870's included bells, buzzers, gongs, and annunciator wire, for hotels, offices and residences. A large business was developed in a system using thermostats activating interior fire alarms.

OCTOBER 8-9 - The Great Chicago Fire stopped two blocks short of the Gray & Barton shop. The firm's business greatly increased because of the demand for electrical equipment to replace that destroyed by the fire.

kinzie st.
An early "plant" could easily fit into a small corner of one of Western Electric's modern, multi-million dollar facilities. One such shop was established after the Western Electric Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1872 and leased new quarters at 220 Kinzie St., Chicago.
Initially, the Company occupied part of the basement at the Kinzie Street address, along with fifty feet of frontage on the ground floor, and all of the second and third floors. The small space on the ground floor contained the salesroom and billing office -- the Company's sample products were displayed on the walls. The executive offices were on the second floor, as were the insulating and coil winding room and the plating room.
The top floor held the rest of the shop, which included a small. laboratory and battery room. During the 1870's two galvanometers, an electrometer, several coils, measuring instruments and a few other pieces of Zab equipment were installed.
Shop tools consisted of lathes, drills, milling machines, punch presses and circular saws. These machines were driven by belts connected by a shaft to a 35 horsepower steam engine in the basement. There were also a number of foot-driven machines. Considerable space was allotted for bench work since hand-fitting and filing was characteristic of manufacturing in those days.
Employees started at 7 a.m. and left at 6 p.m.


GENERAL -- Gray and Barton assisted E. Remington & Sons in redesigning the Sholes and Glidden Typewriter, the world's first practical commercial typewriter. Remington was to produce and Gray and Barton distribute the machine. However, shortly after the typewriter was introduced in 1874, Remington purchased the distribution rights.

MARCH - The Western Electric Manufacturing Company succeeded Gray & Barton (see November 18, 1869), and was incorporated with a capital of 150,000. In November, the new Company took over the Gray & Barton shop and tools and a shop in Ottawa, Ill. Officers were Anson Stager, president; Stafford G. Lynch, vice president; Enos M. Barton, secretary and Elisha Gray, general superintendent.

In 1873, the first female employee, Miss Sara Adlum, was hired. By 1968, more than 50,000 of a total employment force of 168,000 were women. What happened in between? Until 1900, Western Electric employed few women. Those it did worked apart from the men, doing coil winding and insulating. Their dress contrasted sharply with today's ... Victorian fashion and its stiffly starched petticoats then being in vogue.
After 1900, however, women began to fill various other jobs, including inspecting and assembling. Soon they not only worked drill and punch presses but also read blueprints for cable forming and wiring jobs. The Hawthorne Club, a social organization founded in 1911 for men only, began accepting women members in 1915.
By 1924, the ladies had shortened their skirts and hair, and were cutting wire drawing dies. They were also writing articles for the Company magazine, such as "The Kind of Wife I Want My Boss to Have."

But women made their greatest impact at WE during World War II. In 1914, they made up 20 per cent of its work force and by June 1943, slightly more than 50 per cent, outnumbering male employees for the first time 37,785 to 36,665. By August 1944, when WE reached a peak wartime employment of 97,416, women made up 54 per cent of the work force. In 1968, WE employed some 54,000 women, about one-third of the total.
In January 1957, Jennie McGreevy of Hawthorne's miscellaneous central office apparatus department became the first woman to complete a half century with WE and the second woman with 50 years in the Bell System.


GENERAL -- A temporary office was opened in Philadelphia for visiting telegraphers and electricians during the Centennial Exposition, where Bell first publicly demonstrated his telephone. Western Electric products won five first class medals and diplomas. Products cited included a Brooks' insulator, needle annunciator and Gray's automatic printer.

MARCH - Francis R. Welles, who became vice president and managing director of foreign business, was hired as the Company's first stenographer and paid $10 a week. He had just graduated from the University of Rochester.

NOVEMBER 28 - Thomas A. Edison and Robert Gilliland, who owned the patents on the Edison electric pen, granted Western Electric the right to make and sell it in the United States and Canada. The pen was the forerunner of Edison's mimeograph machine. A pencil-shaped instrument, the pen had a small electric motor at one end that controlled a needle which ran through the handle and terminated in a fine point at the other. The needle moved back and forth like a piston rod, writing on specially prepared parchment paper that could be used as a stencil for reproduction onto regular writing paper.


GENERAL -- Work began on the development and manufacture of the Gray Battery Telephone, the Company's first venture in telephony ... Number of employees first reached 100 and weekly payroll first exceeded 1,000 ... W. R. Patterson, the Company's first cable expert (see GENERAL, 1879), as paymaster, helped the bookkeeper collect from customers, and did all the electrical and chemical lab work. Still, he used to complain he wasn't kept busy enough, although he admitted that pay day "was sometimes rather strenuous when I had to hustle around town collecting debts to make sure the payroll checks were good."

AUGUST - Charles Ezra Scribner, Western Electric's most prolific inventor, was hired. Only 19 at the time, he had come to Enos Barton's attention as the inventor of a tele-graph repeater. Two years later he filed for a patent on the jacknife switch, his first important invention for Western Electric. Before retiring in 1916, Scribner had become the Company's first chief engineer and founder of the Engineering Department -- forerunner of Bell Telephone Laboratories. Although Scribner eventually held more than 441 patents, his most important contribution was probably the development of the multiple switchboard. There were few items of tele-phone equipment, aside from the transmitter and receiver, that did not feel his direct influence. Scribner was described by Thomas Edison "as the most industrious inventor I have ever known ... his imagination seemed boundless."


GENERAL -- First standard telephone switchboard, the "Universal," was marketed. It was a non-multiple manual board requiring several operators.1st swbd


GENERAL -- Enos Barton sent W. R. Patterson (see October 1877) to the Philadelphia shop of David Brooks, an independent inventor, to learn how to make the Brooks Cable. The Brooks Cable was the first cable WE manufactured. Its iron pipe sheathing proved unsatisfactory for commercial use, and in the early '80s Patterson developed lead-covered cable as a replacement. The Patterson cable consisted of cotton-insulated copper wires bound together and drawn by hand into 100-foot sections of lead pipe that were then spliced. Hand drawing lasted until 1892, when another independent inventor, John Robertson, made a machine which sheathed the insulated copper core as it passed through a chamber filled with molten lead.

MARCH 21 - First shop in New York leased at 62-68 New Church St. (directly behind Trinity Church, and afterwards 70-76 Trinity Place). It was occupied until 1889.

In 1880, when WE began installing switchboards, installation and engineering operations centered around two men, C. G. Brady and E. G. Hovey, and an ingenious record keeping method called "Gherke's Notched Sticks," after the woodworking foreman. Brady was not only the Company's first installer but built the switchboards as well. He used the simple specifications of Hovey, considered WE's first equipment engineer, although this title was not yet in use. (see GENERAL, 1896). At this time, plans for framework construction were passed on verbally, by sketch and by model while wiring and placement data were kept on sketch pads and typewritten sheets. The cabinet shop recorded each job on the smooth 2"x 2" sticks devised by Gherke. The various dimensions were marked so future orders matched previously built sections. Concern for quality forced the early abandonment of the Gherke method. As the telephone business grew, the colorful records were discarded in favor of drawings of switchboards and other apparatus. (See GENERAL, 1899, for blue printing of all product specifications.)


NOVEMBER 26 - Western Electric Manufacturing Company became a subsidiary of the American Bell Telephone Company, predecessor of AT&T. It was then reincorporated as the Western Electric Com-pany of Illinois (see March, 1872) with a capitalization of $1 million. Among the Company's first directors were Enos M. Barton, Anson Stager and Theodore N. Vail. Stager and Barton became president and vice president, respectively.


ist phone

GENERAL -- The magneto wall set, encased in oak and using the Blake Transmitter and Bell's hand receiver, was the first telephone built for the Bell System by Western Electric. In service for many years, it was one of the first models with a crank for signaling the operator ... Gilliland Electric Company of Indianapolis and the shop of Charles Williams, Jr. of Boston were purchased. It was in the Williams shop, at 109 Court St., that Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson conducted some of the experiments that led to the invention of the telephone.

FEBRUARY 6 - Agreement was reached with American Bell providing for the manufacture by Western Electric of Bell telephones and telephone equipment. By then, Western Electric had become the largest and best-equipped manufacturer of appliances and telephone equipment.

APRIL 26 - The Bell Telephone Manufacturing Company of Antwerp, Belgium, was incorporated, Western Electric holding fifty-five per cent of the stock. A factory at Antwerp, established the same year, became Western Electric's first foreign plant. Branches were opened at The Hague, Netherlands; Berne, Switzerland and Christiania, Norway. Over the year, manufacturing plants of foreign subsidiaries and allied companies were established at Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, London, Leningrad, Milan, Montreal, Oslo, Paris, Peking, Tokyo and Vienna, all of which had distributing organizations similar to those in the United States. Sales offices were in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and South America, and an export sales department in New York. In 1925, due to the increasing demands of domestic business and Western Electric's primary obligation to the Bell System, the Company sold its foreign business to the International Telephone & Telegraph Company, Inc.


JANUARY 22 - William Algernon Sydney Smoot elected Western Electric's second president succeeding General Anson Stager.

MARCH 26 - General Anson Stager, a founder and Western Electric's first president, died in Chicago.


OCTOBER 19 - Enos M. Barton, a founder of Western Electric elected the Company's third president, succeeding William A. S. Smoot, who died Feb. 18.


GENERAL -- John J. Carty, who in 1907 became chief engineer of AT&T, was hired to head the Company's eastern cable department in New York. He later took charge of the eastern switchboard department. Carty was the first man to demonstrate how to operate two or more telephone circuits connected directly with a common battery. In 1888, he supervised installation of common battery systems in a number of central offices for the supply of operators' telephones ... George Phelps of Western Electric and Thomas A. Edison jointly patented a wireless induction system for communicating between railway stations and moving trains.


GENERAL -- Offices and manufacturing facilities were moved to newly erected building at 22 Thames St., N. Y. C., from leased quarters on New Church St. (see March 21, 1879). Again, in 1897, the Company moved to larger quarters at 463 West St., N. Y. C. (see December 19, 1895). The Thames Street building was sold in 1905.

desk set

DECEMBER - Dr. Saitaro 0i, sent by the Imperial Japanese Government to study telephone development in the U. S. and Europe, recommended adoption of Western Electric systems. He returned to Japan with a 100-line standard switchboard and three 240-line series multiple Western Electric boards. Japanese government telephone service began in 1890.


GENERAL -- $100,000 company display at Columbian Exposition in Chicago won ten awards. Use of incandescent lighting and decorations that attracted the public without detracting from the scientific character of the exhibit made it one of the most interesting at the Exposition. Extensive advertising at the exhibit marked the beginning of organized WE selling. The awards were for a telegraph apparatus, telephone cables, annunciator and signaling apparatus, multiple switchboard, direct current dynamos, application of electric lights for the production of scenic effects in theaters and for the decoration of rooms, lamps for constant potential circuits, direct current dynamos for series arc lighting and a street lamp post.

1st mult swbd

DECEMBER - Installation of the first common battery (non-multiple) central office at Lexington, Mass.


GENERAL -- Development began on the first multiple switchboard with automatic signals. The board was completed and shipped to Worcester, Mass., in the spring of 1896 and cut over that June by the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company. Intro-duction of this equipment marked the beginning of a complete change in switching methods employed in telephone exchanges throughout the world.


DECEMBER 19 - The first of several parcels of land that made up the 463 West St., N. Y. C. facilites was purchased. The first building was erected in 1896, and in 1925 the entire complex became the property of the Bell Labs. It was vacated in 1966.


GENERAL -- First employment office was opened at Clinton Street in Chicago ... Systems equipment Engineering began. The first standards for central office equipment were established and specifications for manufacturing and installation prepared by an engineering group within the Sales Department. Previously, there had been much improvisation. By 1900, equipment engineers were laying out complete central offices and building a file of specifications and drawings.


GENERAL -- First college graduates were hired as trainees. The following year a training program was set up for them. By 1908-1909, when formal recruiting began, college graduates were preferred for positions "requiring initiative, ability to analyze and executive capacity." At that time there were some 400 college graduates (about 2.8 per cent) out of more than 14,000 employees.


GENERAL -- Use of piece part blueprint drawings for every manufactured part, with all dimensions and allowable variations marked, became standard. Up to this time, few working drawings had been used in WE shops. In early switchboard manufacture, for example, dimensions and circuit sketches were preserved on notched sticks and pad paper (see GHERKE, 1880).

CHRONOLOGY 1900-1950


GENERAL -- Common battery telephone was introduced. Early telephones were voice-powered; then a wet battery was used which, though an improvement, sometimes left acid on the carpet. Dry batteries came next. The fourth stage was the common battery, with the power supply at the central exchange ... Western Electric had grown from a 12-man operation in 1869 to a world¬wide organization of nearly 9,000 employees.


MARCH 19 - First Standard Supply contract was signed. The contract, with the Bell Telephone Company of Philadelphia, provided that Western Electric would act as purchaser, storekeeper and repair shop on telephone company request. This marked the beginning of Western Electric's role as supplier, as well as manufacturer, for the Bell System. By the end of 1913, similar contracts had been signed with all existing Bell operating companies, and distributing houses were established around the country to serve them.


NOVEMBER 21 - First formal table of organization was adopted. The structure was recommended by a committee composed of H. B. Thayer, C. G. DuBois and W. R. Patterson.

police box


MARCH 26 - A non-contributory pension system for retired employees was established. It provided a model for a broader plan for pension, death and disability benefits adopted by the Bell System on Jan. 1, 1913.


GENERAL -- An improved version of the magneto wall set was introduced. It was still in general use through the 1930's and could be seen in rural areas well after World War II. It had a built-in generator mechanism to provide current for signaling the operator... Bell System research and development was centralized under the Engineering Department at 463 West St., N. Y. C. Between 1907 and 1925, the Engineering Department was responsible not only for many major contributions to telephone technology but also for pioneering efforts in public address systems, radio broadcasting, phonographs, hearing aids, and sound motion picture equipment. Its laboratory was the forerunner of Bell Labs. (See JANUARY 1, 1925)

AUGUST 1 - Inspection of new telephones and apparatus was taken over from AT&T engineers.


OCTOBER 30 - Harry Bates Thayer became Western Electric's fourth president, succeeding Enos M. Barton.


GENERAL -- Engineers began development of loudspeaking equipment that evolved into the WE Public Address Systems.


GENERAL -- First version of the desk set telephone in black finish appeared, although its nickel-plated prototype dated back to the turn of the century. The telephones were made of cast brass and later steel, and were the U. S. standard for approximately the next quarter century.


GENERAL -- The Clinton plant in Chicago, built in 1883, was closed and operations moved to the Hawthorne Works.


GENERAL -- The Hawthorne Works replaced hand trucks and horse-drawn wagons with two motor trucks for transporting materials within the plant and to the Chicago Distributing House. Truck repair and maintenance were handled by the Transmission Depart-ment and the toolroom until the Automobile Maintenance Department was organized in 1919. In 1922, tractor trailers were added to the Works' fleet for short trips between buildings.

MARCH - The first house organ, the Western Electric News, was published. A monthly magazine, it was printed until March 1932. Western Electric was without a company-wide house organ until the appearance of WE Magazine in the winter of 1948-1949.

In April, 1913, Dr. Harold D. Arnold of the Western Electric Engineering Department made the first high vacuum electronic tube for amplifying sound in telephone cables, This solved the telephone repeater problem and helped open the electronic age. Dr. Arnold, while working on the problems of long distance telephony, had witnessed Lee de Forest demonstrate his Audion as a repeater on Nov. 1, 1912. Arnold realized then that a commercially successful telephone repeater could be based on the Audion. The high vacuum tube revolutionized communications, leading to the development of entirely new industries: phonograph, sound motion pictures, radio and television.


GENERAL -- Compact wall set telephones, forerunners of the Home Interphone System went into service. They provided intercommunication within the home, and were advertised by WE as "the greatest little step-savers that ever helped a housewife."


JANUARY 25 - First transcontinental telephone line, New York to San Francisco, formally opened. The Engineering Department had charge of the design and equipment of the intermediate central offices.

SEPTEMBER - A patent was applied for on a vacuum tube voltmeter for measuring voltages at radio frequencies. Its use was later broadened until it became indispensable to all electrical communications.

SEPTEMBER 29 - First words over radiotelephone were heard across the continent, from Arlington, Va., to San Francisco. The same night Honolulu listened in on WE engineers transmitting from Arlington.

OCTOBER 21 - The first transatlantic radiotelephone message was received. H. E. Shreeve of the Engineering Department, stationed at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, heard from Arlington, Va., the words "... and now, Shreeve, good night." A. M. Curtis, also of the Engineering Department, was with Shreeve, along with two French officers. Commercial transatlantic service began January 7, 1927.

NOVEMBER 17 - Western Electric Company, Incorporated, was organized under the laws of the State of New York to succeed the Western Electric Company of Illinois. Corporate headquarters, in Chicago since 1869, was moved to New York City.


GENERAL -- The constant current modulating circuit (Heising Modulator), which made the radiotelephone commercially practical, was invented by R. A. Heising of the Engineering Department. Previously, various methods of modulation had permitted successful radiotelephone demonstrations, including the transoceanic experiments of 1915 (see SEPTEMBER 29 and OCTOBER 21, 1915). However, the transoceanic modulating system was complex, involving a great number of parts, a large power supply and considerable weight. Heising's device was simple, efficient, and reduced the system's size 75 per cent. The same year Heising invented a rectifier modulator, which was the basis of a modulation method used in most modern wire carrier systems...E. C. Wente of the Engineering Department developed the condenser microphone, the first high quality transmitter. Originally developed as a research tool for investigating speech and hearing, Wente's instrument became the "mike" used in the early days of radio, the production of high quality, electrically cut phonograph records and sound pictures...Permalloy, a highly magnetic alloy composed of about 80 per cent nickel and 20 per cent iron, was invented by G. W. Elmen of the Engineering Department. Its use in cable (see SEPTEMBER 1924) made high-speed submarine telegraphy possible. It also led to the development of other alloys and the renewed interest in the science of ferro-magnetism...For the first time a central organization, based at Hawthorne, assumed the responsibility for converting by-products of manufacturing operations into useful raw materials. Until then, each manufacturing department handled its own scrap piles. In 1927, responsibility for scrap originating east of Pittsburgh was given to the Kearny Works. (see MARCH, 1927.)

JUNE - A training school for new installers was opened in New York City. Later, schools were opened in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago and St. Louis.



AUGUST - The Installation Department training schools (see JUNE, 1916) established two-week courses in telephone theory and circuit practice.

radio aviation radio aviation
One of the most dramatic events in the history of military communications was the December, 1917 demonstration of the WE-designed radiotelephone for airplanes. In May, the Army Signal Corps ordered radiotelephone apparatus which the Engineering Department had been testing for use in air to ground communications. Successful demonstrations of various trans-mission methods took place at Langley Field, Va,: July 2, air to ground; July 4, ground to air; Aug. 18, two-way ground to air, and August 20, between two planes in flight. These tests were conducted by radio experts; it took three months, working day and night in WE's New York Laboratory and model shop, to adapt the equipment for routine use by pilots. The experiments involved the use of the world's first mass-produced Vacuum Tube (VT-1), which was developed by Western Electric.
The crucial December tests were held for the Aircraft Production Board and the joint Army and Navy Technical Boards at the Moraine Flying Field, Dayton, Ohio.
Only the wild enthusiasts who lived with the job were sold on the idea. Their audience--generals, admirals, representatives of foreign governments and radio experts--was willing to be shown, but decidedly skeptical. This was also the case with airplane designers, builders and pilots, who had to be persuaded to allow installation of the sets. E. B. Craft, then WE's assistant chief engineer, described how WE's experts spent the night before the big show: "...we all congregated in one of the hotel rooms, where we worked out a scenario and held a rehearsal. R.A. Heising was one plane and Clement the other. As they sailed over the chairs, beds and other furniture, we gave them their orders and maneuvered them about as we hoped we would the next day."
The next morning spectator reaction ranged from boredom to mild interest until the loudspeaker blared, "Hello, ground station. This is plane No. 1. Do you get me all right?" Continuous conversation followed, orders given and carried out. The onlookers were impressed -- airplane radiotelephone had been sold.
But the Company's work on radiotelephony had just begun. The transition still had to be made from hand-tooled models to quantity production at Hawthorne. Around-the-clock work followed, and by early 1918, manufacturing began. Later in the year thousands of radiotelephone sets of various types were delivered to the Army and Navy.
Thus between May 1917 and early 1918, Western Electric established on a "commercial basis ... practically speaking, an entire new art."


APRIL 10 - A patent on a piezo-electric oscillator, an outgrowth of his wartime work on underwater detection, was filed by A. M. Nicholson of the Engineering Department. The piezo-electric effect -- certain crystals becoming electrically charged when compressed or stretched -- was discovered in 1880, and for many years was considered nothing more than a scientific curiosity. However, during World War I, Langevin of France and Nicholson, working independently, demonstrated that the piezo-electric properties of some crystals -- especially quartz, tourmaline, and rochelle salts -- could be used to translate sound into electrical impulses. The first piezo-electric oscillators were used in radio transmitters, later applied to carrier telephone systems and radio receivers, and more recently to radar and sonar. They are needed for separating various voice channels traveling over the same telephone circuit and for radio frequency control.

JULY 1 - The International Western Electric Co. was formed to take over the foreign business (see APRIL 26, 1882 and SEPTEMBER 30, 1925).

NOVEMBER - The first carrier telephone system, installed between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, went into commercial service. Called the Bell System's Type A Carrier, it added more voice channels to existing telephone wire. Carrier telephony was a logical outcome of H. D. Arnold's development of the high vacuum tube (see APRIL, 1913), radio research both in the Bell System laboratories and outside, and research on wave filters by AT&T's Dr. George A. Campbell.


GENERAL -- The desk telephone was equipped with a dial. The first dial telephone exchange is credited to Almon B. Strowger who had introduced it in La Porte, Indiana, in 1892. It took many years, however, to develop switching equipment capable of handling dial installation in large cities. New York City, for example, only began to get dial service in 1922 ... The first formal demonstration of the WE public address system was given. It took place in New York City during a Liberty Loan Drive.

JULY 1 - Charles Gilbert DuBois was elected WE's fifth president succeeding Harry Bates Thayer.


JULY 16 - The first commercial radiotelephone toll line was opened. It connected Catalina Island, off the coast of California, and the Bell System's mainland terminal at Long Beach, California.


MARCH 4 - The WE public address system was used at the inauguration of Warren G. Harding, a first for a presidential inauguration.

MAY - A patent on the electrolytic condenser was filed for by H. O. Siegmund of the Engineering Department. For 25 years before his invention, central office storage batteries had been charged by bulky, M-type generators, which were expensive to produce and operate. The electrolytic condenser furnished the cheaper means of producing current required by the dial offices the Bell System began installing in 1919. The invention also led to a substantial reduction in the size of the radio and amplifier equipment, and the development of a practical alternating current radio tube.

JULY 30 - First Bell System automatic switching office using WE equipment was installed at Dallas, Texas. (This was not the first such exchange in the Bell System. On November 8, 1919, a step-by-step system built and installed by the Automatic Electric Company was cutover at Norfolk, Va.)

DECEMBER 10 - First panel machine switching equipment in the United States for local traffic was cut into service at the Atlantic Office, Omaha, Neb.


GENERAL -- Western Electric's first standard transmitter, the 500 watt model 1A, was installed at AT&T's station WEAF in New York City. By the end of 1922, a year after commercial broad-casting began, the lA was in use at more than 30 radio stations coast to coast. In addition to its pioneer research in radio communications (including the vacuum tube itself and its use in amplifiers, oscillators and modulators), WE did much to equip and refine the techniques of the infant broadcasting industry.

MAY--The audiometer, a hearing measurement device, was developed by the Engineering Department and a New York ear and throat specialist. The instrument facilitated the accurate diagnosis of hearing defects and the prescribing of appropriate remedies.

OCTOBER 28--Radio broadcast its first football game, using a Western Electric transmitter. The game, Princeton vs. Chicago at Chicago's Stagg Field, was carried over long distance telephone lines to the AT&T station, WEAF, at 463 West Street. There it was broadcast over a WE radio transmitter, picked up by a loop antenna atop a WE truck parked in front of the New York Tribune building, and amplified to an audience of thousands in City Hall Park.

DECEMBER 1--An Installation Department was established, separating the installation and equipment engineering functions. Previously, both were carried on under the General Manufacturing Department.


GENERAL--The 10A Audiophone, the first commercial hearing aid WE developed was introduced. The Company manufactured many different models of hearing aids until 1951.

JUNE - An electrical stethoscope, designed and generously loaned for experimental purposes by WE, was first demonstrated. The instrument reproduced heart and lung sounds.

SEPTEMBER 15-23 - Demonstration of radio broadcast reception on a train traveling between Chicago and Colorado Springs, Colo., was held by WE at request of Rock Island Railroad.

DECEMBER 23 - World's first 500 watt transmitter cut into service at AT&T's station WEAF, New York City. WE had developed and built the transmitter for a Signal Corps project which did not materialize.


GENERAL - Copper wire manufacture for telephone cable began at a new rod mill and wire drawing plant at the Hawthorne Works. Company engineers designed and built machinery for the plant capable of drawing up to 2500 feet of wire per minute. This was 1300 to 1700 feet per minute more than other machines of the time ... The Mackenty-Western Electric artificial larynx was developed. It was the idea of Dr. John E. Mackenty, a New York City larynological surgeon.

SEPTEMBER - High-speed submarine telegraphy was introduced. Signals were carried by a permalloy-loaded cable -- laid between Brooklyn and the Azores -- using WE-built amplifiers at the terminals. Transmission speed was 1900 words per minute, about four times that of cables of comparable lengths. WE also built the teletypewriter equipment, supplied the permalloy and supervised cable construction in England. (see GENERAL, 1916)

DECEMBER 10 - Walter A. Stewart of the Engineering Department devised the framework for the first application of the statistical method to the problem of quality control. When operational, the method cut rejects on many items up to 50 per cent and saved millions of dollars in overhead. It wasn't until World War II that it became standard for industry.

In 1924 began the now-celebrated Western Electric Hawthorne Studies in Chicago, which were to have an impact on countless research projects in medicine, psychology, social science and education. In cooperation with the National Research Council, the Company set about studying the relation of intensity of illumination to a production worker's output. The results of the study were inconclusive, but they led to the theory that workers respond to something other than illumination. Investigators from Harvard, MIT, and WE pushed their research over the years -- until 1933 -- into one phase after another of working conditions at Hawthorne. Their ultimate conclusion was one that changed the basic relationship between management and worker, for it was discovered that more important to a worker's output than economic considerations or hours of labor was his attitude and response towards his job, his feeling of belonging to a team, ie., his industrial social environment. Watch the video here for more details. Source: Boundless. “The Human Side: Hawthorne.” Boundless Management. Boundless, 21 Jul. 2015. Retrieved 18 Nov. 2015 from


JANUARY 1 - Bell System research and development work was transferred from the Engineering Department (see GENERAL 1907) to the newly formed Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., jointly owned by AT&T and WE. Since then Bell Labs has been responsible for System research and development.

SEPTEMBER 30 - International Western Electric Co. sold to IT&T. The sale enabled WE to concentrate on its obligation to the Bell System (see JULY, 1918).

OCTOBER 30 - Charles J. Rojas of the Installation Department became the first WE employee to receive a Theodore N. Vail Medal. He was awarded a bronze medal for giving first aid on two separate occasions to individuals in danger of bleeding to death.

DECEMBER 11 - Graybar Electric Company formed to take over the Company's electric supply business. This consisted of WE-made communications products and general electrical supplies manufactured by others. Graybar was a subsidiary of WE until December 31, 1928, when the new Company was sold to its employees. The sale permitted WE to continue its concentration on meeting the growing demands of the Bell System.


JULY - First WE-made step-by-step switching equipment shipped to Springfield, Mass. It went into service in 1927.

AUGUST - Edgar Selden Bloom was elected WE's sixth president, succeeding Charles Gilbert DuBois.

On August 28, 1926, a Hollywood executive, just returned from a European business trip, was asked by reporters his opinion of the newest public sensation -- talking movies. A "mere novelty," the mogul replied, and predicted a short life for "talkies." Yet, prior to this confident prediction, three films had been released that ended the era of silent movies. And all used the Western Electric system of sound on disc phonograph records synchronized with the film. On August 6, Don Juan, the first full-length motion picture with synchronized sound accompaniment (music, but little speech), was presented by Warner Brothers, using equipment developed by Bell. Telephone Laboratories and marketed by Western Electric. Premiered in New York, the film starred John Barrymore and Mary Astor. The first film to use lip synchronization was The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson, which appeared October 27, 1927. The Lights of New York, first shown July 6, 1928, was the first all-talking motion picture and the forerunner of sound pictures as we know them today. This pioneer work in talking pictures, which revolutionized the movie industry, was a by-product of communications research in the old WE Engineering Department and its successor, Bell Telephone Laboratories.

DECEMBER 20 - Electrical Research Products, Inc. (ERPI) was formed as a wholly owned subsidiary to handle electrical devices and inventions not suitable for distribution by Graybar (see DECEMBER 11, 1925). ERPI's major business was in motion picture equipment. At first, Bell Labs designed, WE manufactured and ERPI leased sound recording and reproducing systems to motion picture producers and theaters in the U. S. and abroad. During the 19301s, ERPI established its own laboratory in Hollywood and assigned the manufacture of studio and theater equipment to subcontractors on the West Coast. ERPI sold its leasing and servicing business in 1937, and in 1941, became WE's Electrical Research Products Division. ERP Division handled the remaining domestic business with Hollywood studios, and the newly formed Western Electric Export Corporation (renamed Westrex Corp. in 1945), the foreign motion picture business. Westrex purchased the assets of ERP Division in 1949, although its major source of income continued to come from foreigh operations. On Sept. 24, 1958, to comply with the "final judgment" (see JANUARY 24, 1956), Westrex was sold to Litton Industries, ending WE's role in the motion picture industry.


GENERAL -- The original desk set, combining receiver and transmitter, was introduced. Telephone linemen had been using the receiver-transmitter combination since 1878, but it had not been perfected for consumer use.

JANUARY 7 - Transatlantic radiotelephone service between New York and London began.

MARCH - By-products reclamation building for Kearny authorized. In addition to Kearny scrap, the building handled telephone cable removed from service by the operating companies.


GENERAL -- College Gift Program was begun. It was designed to aid engineering education and stimulate scientific research by providing surplus apparatus, equipment and machinery to colleges and universities throughout the nation.


GENERAL -- The shutdown of manufacturing operations during a standard vacation period was tested at Hawthorne.


GENERAL -- The process of continuous vulcanization of rubber-covered wire was developed. (Vulcanization adds elasticity, strength and stability to the rubber.) It was first used at the Baltimore Works.

JANUARY 31 - Pre-World War II peak employment -- 85,312 reached.

JUNE 2 - Miss Jean O'Rourke of the Hawthorne Works became the first "Hello Charley" girl.

SEPTEMBER 30 - The Teletype Corporation became a subsidiary of Western Electric.


NOVEMBER - Nassau Smelting & Refining Company, a Western Electric subsidiary, took over the reclamation of operating company scrap from Kearny. Also, all non-ferrous scrap originating at Kearny and Baltimore was shipped to Nassau. In 1933, Nassau assumed Hawthorne's scrap function, and on January 1, 1941, the responsibility for the classification and disposition of all scrap and reclaimed material for the Bell System.


GENERAL -- The "300" telephone set was introduced. It was the first desk set with the bell in the base. Earlier versions had metal housings, but plastic was substituted in the early 1940's.


From 1940 to 1945, the Contract Service Force grew from four specialists handling government contracts to 350 people negotiating a constantly changing pattern of formal contracts and purchase orders. During the war, 1600 new contracts, 20,000 purchase orders and 10,000 modifications and supplemental agreements were processed. Peak wartime activity was reached during the second and third quar¬ters of 1944, when, in addition to other work, 3000 individual orders went to the radio shops alone.

JANUARY 1 - Clarence G. Stoll became WE's seventh president, succeeding Edgar S. Bloom.

JUNE - First radar manufacturing contract signed. Production began in the fall. The Company was the nation's largest source of radar during the war, supplying more than 57,000 units of 70 different types for airborne, ground and naval use. Bell Labs and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's radiation laboratory were leaders in the development of radar.


OCTOBER 1 - First contract signed assigning field engineers to government projects. In November, 12 engineers trained military personnel to use WE radar equipment. By the end of the war, the field force had grown to 637 engineers. They served in all theaters of operation for the Air Corps, Army and Bureau of Ordnance.


DECEMBER 12 - World's largest PBX installed in the Pentagon. The equipment occupied 22,000 square feet, had 125 operator positions and 13,000 lines of dial PBX equipment.



OCTOBER 17 - Telephone communications along the Alaska Highway completed by WE and the Army. At the time, it was the largest and most important project undertaken by the installation organization for the armed forces out¬side the continental United States. The first call on the network to Washington, D. C., was made from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, on December 1.

NOVEMBER - Hawthorne was producing 125 M-9 gun directors a month, a schedule it undertook when the rate of production for firing mechanisms of this size or type was under 100. The M-9, developed by Bell Labs, was the first computerized firing system for anti-aircraft and a World War II milestone in fire control.


JANUARY - Employee suggestion system adopted. It was estimated it saved the company $23,247,000 by 1968.

AUGUST - WE's peak wartime employment reached 97,416. Women made up 54 per cent of the work force, compared to about 20 per cent in 1941.


FEBRUARY - WE and Bell Labs received a contract from the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, U. S. Army, authorizing a study of an anti-aircraft guided missile. This, and ensuing studies, led to the development of the Nike systems.

SEPTEMBER - The Bell System had a backlog of 2,130,000 applications for telephone service. Nearly half were for instruments.


OCTOBER 1 - Stanley Bracken became the Company's eighth president succeeding Clarence G. Stoll.

NOVEMBER 13 - The Bell System opened its first microwave radio relay system. It was used experimentally between New York City and Boston. A coast-to-coast microwave route was opened in August, 1951.


GENERAL - The first experimental transistors (designed at Bell Labs) were manufactured and shipped to military and civilian engineering organizations for early circuit development work. Shortly thereafter, other companies began manufacturing experimental units. WE's production of transistors (point contact transistors) for a specific commercial product -- the Bell System's customer long distance dialing equipment -- started in October, 1951.


GENERAL - The first "500" type desk set telephone, later the most commonly used telephone in the U.S., was introduced.

JANUARY 14 - The Federal Government filed a civil anti-trust suit against Western Electric and AT&T in the Federal District Court in New Jersey, alleging violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. It sought to separate WE from the Bell System, the Company's dissolution, and division of its manufacturing plants into three separate companies without common control, management, or stock ownership. The suit was terminated by a final judgment, January 24, 1956.

NOVEMBER 1 - At the request of the Federal Government, WE took over operation of the Atomic Energy Commission's Sandia Laboratory at Alburquerque, N. M., from the University of California. The Company formed a non-profit subsidiary, the Sandia Corporation, to run the laboratories. Sandia's responsibility is to bridge the gap between research and manufacturing operations on non-nuclear components of atomic weapons.

CHRONOLOGY 1950-1969


DECEMBER - U. S. Army Ordnance chose WE as the prime con-tractor for Nike Ajax with responsibility for production of the entire system.


GENERAL -- The L-3 Carrier Telephone System, a long haul broadband carrier providing 1800 voice channels on a single pair of coaxial cable tubes, was developed. Previous equipment was limited to 600 channels. Shipments for trial installation began before 1951 ended, but commercial service was not initiated until February, 1953.

SEPTEMBER - WE-installed transcontinental radio relay system used for first coast-to-coast telecast. It carried President Truman's opening speech at Japanese Peace Conference in San Francisco. Regular coast-to-coast transmission began on September 29.


FEBRUARY - Western Electric's North Carolina Works turned out the first production line system of Nike Ajax.

JUNE - WE received a contract from the Army for development of a Nike B system. Later this contract was amended to cover continuation of work on Nike Ajax and a study of an entirely new and more advanced system to be known as Nike II, or Nike Hercules.


GENERAL - "500" type color telephones introduced.

JANUARY 1 - Frederick R. Kappel became WE's ninth president, succeeding Stanley Bracken.


JANUARY - The Hillside, N. J., shops began shipment of submarine repeaters for transatlantic cables. Known as the "perfect product," repeaters must perform without repair for 20 years, since locating and replacing one would cost about 250,000 and impair service for long periods. Development entailed maximum testing, which ended only when engineers were satisfied each unit was flawless.

FEBRUARY - Became prime contractor for the U. S. Government in connection with White Alice, a radio relay communications system for the Alaskan Air Command. The system was also designed and constructed with civilian needs in mind. It was turned over to the Air Force in March 1958.

NOVEMBER - The first production order for Nike Hercules was placed, with the first delivery of the new missile being made in June, 1957.


GENERAL -- A wall telephone set (see also 1907, 1900 and 1882) was introduced as a companion to the "500" desk set. It was designed for use in kitchens, basements, garages and covered patios.

JANUARY 24 - The anti-trust suit against AT&T and WE concluded by a final judgment which permitted WE to continue its role as the manufacturing and supply unit of the Bell System.

MARCH 26 - Fiftieth anniversary of a Company pension plan. During this period about 52 million was paid to retired employees.

SEPTEMBER 26 - Arthur Burton Goetze became WE's tenth president succeeding Frederick R. Kappel.

OCTOBER 22 - Indianapolis Works manufactured its 25 millionth telephone. In 1946, two years before pilot operations began at Indianapolis, there were fewer than 25 million telephones in the entire Bell System.


JANUARY 1 - Tuiton refund program began. It reimburses employees successfully completing undergraduate and graduate courses at accredited colleges.

FEBRUARY - Project Nike Zeus was formally established by an Army Ordnance technical committee, and the research and development began shortly thereafter.

JUNE 17 - The Graduate Engineering Training Program for experienced engineers began. Courses were held at the Company's New York Training Center and at Northwestern and Duke Universities.

Dew LineIn December, 1952, the government selected Western Electric as prime contractor for the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line). The DEW Line is a chain of radar stations stretching 3000 miles across the Arctic designed to detect approaching bombers. As prime contractor, in charge of overall design and con-struction management, WE used the skills and experience of its own divisions, Bell Labs, Long Lines and the Bell telephone companies. It also closely supervised a vast army of subcontractors, suppliers and military units. The assignment was immense, and complex DEW Line equipment had to withstand severe Arctic weather and function with minimal maintenance. The logistics problem was staggering; supplies had to be hauled to the various DEW Line sites during the few weeks in late summer when the Arctic Ocean was sufficiently icefree for navigation. But the job was completed on schedule, July, 1957. Later, WE was prime contractor for the DEW Line's 700-mile Aleutian segment (completed May, 1959) and the 1,200-mile eastward extension -- DEW East -- from Baffin Island to Iceland, completed in November 1961.


GENERAL -- The Speakerphone set and Call Director® telephone were introduced.

JANUARY 31 - Explorer, America's first active satellite, was launched, and with it radio transmitters powered by WE-made transistors.

FEBRUARY - Awarded prime contract to build the rearward communications network of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) from stations in Fylingdales, England; Clear, Alaska; and Thule, Greenland, to the headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and to Strategic Air Command (SAC) Headquarters at Offutt, A.F.B., Omaha, Neb. BMEWS was completed in September, 1963.

JUNE 27 - The New York Air Defense Sector of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) System, the first of many sectors, was declared officially operational. As prime contractor, WE had charge of engineering management for SAGE. The SAGE System is a vast, interconnecting network of Air Defense direction centers. Information it collects from many sources is computer processed and used to direct jet intercepts and other weapons in the air defense system.

DECEMBER 10 - Merrimack Valley Works started producing the first synthetic quartz crystals. Jointly developed by WE and the Bell Labs, they are used to simultaneously transmit conversations over the same wires at different frequencies. Crystal filters guide each conversation into its proper channel. Man-made crystals are physically superior to the scarce natural crystals, and their successful manufacture compares with the commercial development of synthetic rubber and nylon.


GENERAL -- The Princess(r)telephone was introduced.

MARCH 17 - H. I. ROMNES was elected eleventh president of Western Electric, succeeding Arthur Burton Goetze.


JANUARY - WE and Bell Labs jointly announced the development of the twistor memory, later used as program store for the first electronic switching system. The unit can permanently store more than five million "bits" of information that tell the system what to do and how to do it. Included in the information are maintenance instructions allowing the system to keep an automatic and constant check on itself.

APRIL - Tiros I, the first weather satellite, guided into orbit by the Bell System Command Guidance System was manufactured at the North Carolina Works.

JUNE 3 - A Nike Hercules missile, steered by a WE guidance system, destroyed a U. S Army tactical missile, the Corporal, over White Sands Missile Range, N. M. This was the first known "kill" of a missile by another guided missile.

AUGUST 1 - Defense Activities Division, formerly the Radio Division, was organized.

AUGUST 17 - The Indianapolis Works began production of an electronic larynx (No. 5 Type). It was developed by Bell Labs for people who lost their voices through vocal cord removal or paralysis. The transistorized device was offered by the Bell System on September 22 on a non-profit basis.


JUNE 29 - First fully automated, precision component production line demonstrated at the North Carolina Works' Waughtown Plant. The 110-foot line, controlled by a single computer, produced, inspected, tested, and packed deposited carbon resistors at the rate of 1,200 per hour.

DECEMBER - Atlanta announced as site of first territorial equipment engineering office. This was the first major implementation of the new territorial engineering program, designed to decentralize operations and create an even closer engineering relationship with the telephone companies. Previously, equipment engineering and related Manufacturing Division service functions were performed at or near the location where the central office equipment was made.



GENERAL - The Kansas City Works began experiments in biomechanics, the science dealing with the man-machine relationship. During the winter of 1963-1964, Dr. Erwin Tichauer of the Texas Technological Institute gave 10 lectures on biomechanics to Works personnel and became a consultant on the problem. Later, a company-wide biomechanics task force was set up at Kansas City as an information clearing house ... The panel phone, which mounts flush with the wall, was introduced.

MARCH 21 - Bellcomm, a jointly owned WE-AT&T company, was incorporated. Located in Washington, D. C., Bellcomm was formed at the request of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to provide systems planning support for the nation's manned space flight program.

JULY 19 - The Nike Zeus anti-missile missile guided by the WE-BTL Command Guidance System and fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific, scored the first-known successful intercept of an ICBM target vehicle.

AUGUST 1 - The Service Division was created. It was given responsibility for the engineering of communications systems, the installation of central office equipment, and the distribution and repair of telephone parts and supplies. It was subsequently divided into a number of geographical regions.


GENERAL - Allentown began mass production of thin film circuits. Before this was possible, the Engineering Research Center spent three years developing a machine that produces a near-perfect vacuum, through which thin circuits must pass during manufacture. The continuous vacuum machine permits uninterrupted production line operation. Near the machine's center, the thin film passes through a chamber where the air pressure is 1/100 millionth of normal -- or the equivalent of air pressure 120 miles into space.

OCTOBER - Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara had ordered that the Nike Zeus program "be modified substantially, and the development changed toward what we now call Nike X ..."

NOVEMBER - The 101 Electronic Switching System, the first electronic PBX, was cutover at the Brown Engineering Co., Cocoa Beach, Fla. It was designed by Bell Labs and manufactured at Hawthorne.


GENERAL - Telephones with Touch-Tone® dialing introduced.

JANUARY - Newly installed, continent-wide military telephone network was turned over to North American Air Defense Command. The network provided long distance, private line dial service between major command points ... An electronic eye for identifying wire insulation colors was developed by the Engineering Research Center. The device permits a machine to select and cut the proper wires during telephone handset manufacture.

JANUARY 1 - Paul A. Gorman became WE's twelfth president, succeeding H. I. Romnes.

FEBRUARY - Testing completed of the 100A Protection Switch between Dover and Gray Summit, Mo. The switch prevents microwave transmission interruption despite technical difficulties.

MARCH - The Hawthorne Works' Clearing Shop delivered the first shipment of strand for self-supporting cable to Kearny's cable plant. In self-supporting cable, both strand and cable are jacketed in one place, permitting installation in a single field operation. It was estimated the new product would realize annual field savings of more than $8 million for the Bell operating companies.

MARCH 2 - The first non-government, nationwide private telephone switching system was cut into service for the General Electric Company. Western Electric, Long Lines, the Bell operating companies and some 30 independent telephone companies furnished the equipment, engineering, and installation service. The system provided desk-to-desk dialing among 100,000 extension phones in General Electric facilities in 240 cities and towns across the United States and Canada.

APRIL 19 - Two military switching systems, SCAN and NORAD, were integrated into one network. This marked the beginning of AUTOVON (automatic voice network), which at completion, will be the largest, single private line network in the world. It will connect about 1700 military locations in the U. S. and abroad. The project stems from an eight-month study undertaken by the Bell System for the Department of Defense. The American portion is using equipment made and installed by WE and other manufacturers. WE is also handling the systems equipment engineering for overseas.

APRIL 22 - Frederick R. Kappel, chairman of the Board of AT&T, presided at ceremonies opening the Bell System Pavilion at the New York World's Fair. The WE exhibit depicted a corner of the final assembly and testing area for Princess® phones at the Indianapolis Works.

MAY - The Federal Telecommunications System, the world's largest private-line telephone network, was cutover. It linked 2.5 million employees in practically all of the Government's non-military agencies. WE's Service and Manufacturing Divisions shared major responsibility for the project.


JUNE 24 - The Bell System's Picturephone® visual telephone service began commercial operation between New York, Chicago, and Washington, D. C. The first call was made at 11:30 a.m. by Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson from the National Geographic Society Building in Washington to Dr. Elizabeth A. Wood, a Bell Labs scientist, at Grand Central Terminal in New York.

DECEMBER 2 - Final leg of first blast-resistant cable was cutover. Manufactured at the Baltimore Works, the $200 million cable runs underground from coast to coast. It added 9000 circuits to the 15,000 already spanning the country. This hardened cable system was built to withstand hurricanes, cyclones and nuclear attacks, short of direct hits. It skirts all major cities and potential target areas.

On May 30, 1965, an electronic central office began serving 4300 customers in Succusunna, N. J. It was the first commercial undertaking resulting from a more than 100 million Bell System investment in ESS research, development, training and manufacturing start up. Electronic switching represented the largest single development program in Bell System history. The venture began at Bell Labs in the mid-forties, but significant headway awaited the invention of the transistor in 1948, and new switching design techniques. WE became involved on February 1, 1955, when five Hawthorne engineers were assigned to work with Bell Labs on the development of No.1 ESS. Five years later, on November 17, the world's first electronic central office began a three-year trial run at Morris, Ill.

JUNE - Hydrostatic cold metal forming--the shaping of high strength ductile metal parts under pressure exceeding 200,000 pounds per square inch in liquid--was adapted to mass production for the first time. The process substantially reduced the cost of coaxial connector sleeve manufactured at the North Carolina Works, and earned an Industrial Research Magazine award as one of the most significant industrial processes of 1965.

JULY 7 - Picturephone® service began between the New York and Chicago offices of the Union Carbide Corporation. This was the first experimental use of Picturephone sets on a customer's premises.

AUGUST - The Trimline(r) phone, featuring the rotary dial built into the handset, was introduced. Michigan Bell was the first company to offer the phone (see JUNE 8, 1966).

SEPTEMBER 1 - Operation began in Delaware of the nation's first statewide educational television network. WE installed the network's seven microwave tower sites, and furnished the systems equipment engineering for Diamond State. It was the Bell System's largest effort in educational TV.

OCTOBER 27 - FCC ordered investigation of Bell System covering rates on interstate and overseas calls and WE's prices and rate of return on interstate investment.

DECEMBER 14 - Buffalo plant began using concentrated laser beams for drilling holes in diamond dies essential to wire drawing operations. This was the first known industrial application of the laser for mass production purposes. The technological breakthrough, resulting from research at the plant and Engineering Research Center, reduced drilling time from two to three days to two minutes.


JANUARY - Production of a more rugged public pay phone with a single slot for nickels, dimes and quarters began at the Oklahoma Works.

JUNE - The first all-electronic PBX, the 800A, was shipped to Michigan Bell Telephone Company from Kearny Works. Designed for small and medium-sized businesses, it furnished 20 to 80 lines, according to need.

JUNE 8 - First Trimline(r) phones with Touch-Tone(r) dialing manufactured by Indianapolis Works. (see AUGUST 1965).


GENERAL -- Western Electric launched a variety of programs aimed directly at urban social and economic crises. They included working both individually and with other groups in job training programs for the unemployed in Newark, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and other cities, and helping a young Negro to establish the Chicago Custom Woodworking Company. Increasing numbers of Western Electric employees contributed their special talents toward solving specific problems by serving on special assignments with government social agencies.

The Merrimack Valley Works produced a number of experimental lineless telephones for field trials. The telephones, currently being tested by the Bell Telephone Laboratories, would provide two-way portable telephone service for people within a short distance of their normal work locations.

The Research Center and the Bell Telephone Laboratories jointly developed an infrared soldering technique that, for the first time, makes it possible simultaneously to bond large numbers of flexible printed-circuit cables to printed circuits or to other cables. The process provides efficient, inexpensive soldering for interconnecting circuit boards such as those containing miniaturized solid state components used in communications equipment.

A new long-distance routing unit, the Electronic Route Translator, was first introduced. A translator determines which path a call will take en route to its destination; the new electronic system provides telephone companies with greater flexibility and capacity than does existing electromechanical equipment.

MARCH -- A trial period of direct overseas dialing began. Selected subscribers, all heavy users of overseas service, were able for the first time to dial directly from New York to London or Paris.

JULY -- A Data Phone hookup installed between Western Electric Headquarters in New York City and the Regional Center in Cockeysville, Maryland, enabled electrocardiagrams taken at the Center to be transmitted to the Headquarters Medical Department for analysis. The success of the project was significant for the future of medical diagnoses and con-sultation by long distance.

SEPTEMBER -- Western Electric was made the prime contractor for the Defense Department's Sentinal Anti-Ballistic Missile System. The Sentinal Project, one of the largest and most complex military defense systems ever envisioned, has evolved from the famous family of Nike Systems.


MARCH -- A new 20-acre manufacturing plant -- the most modern of its type in existence -- opened at Phoenix to assume the Product Control Center functions for PIC and pulp cable.

APRIL -- Three research engineers from Western Electric's Engineering Research Center announced they had applied for a patent on a process that uses the laser for fracturing rather than cutting. Western Electric will use the new laser process for separating the millions of thin film circuits used in communications equipment.

MAY -- Western Electric locations in 43 cities took part in the National Alliance of Businessmen's (NAB) job program to hire the hard-core unemployed.

JUNE -- Western Electric announced that it would perform a major manufacturing function in the construction of equipment for a 720-circuit trans-Atlantic cable to stretch from Green Hill, Rhode Island, to the vicinity of San Fernando, Spain.

More history here.





In 1902, Western Electric purchased 113 acres of prairie land west of Chicago in an area known as “Hawthorne” (now Cicero) to consolidate manufacturing. The Hawthorne cable shop opened in 1905. By 1917, Hawthorne Works employment reached 25,000. The early work force was comprised largely of immigrants and 1st generation Americans of Polish or Czech descent, who produced telephones, cable and every major telephone switching system in the country.

In 1900, 676,733 Bell telephone stations were owned and connected in the country. By 1910, approximately three years after the Works opened, Hawthorne employees produced 5.1 million telephones and by 1920, 11.8 million Bell telephones. Over 14,000 different types of apparatus were manufactured at Hawthorne to provide the infrastructure for this exponential growth.

The Works, with some 100 buildings, became a self-sufficient city with a private railroad, a hospital, fire brigade, laundry, greenhouse, a brass band, running track, tennis courts, gymnasium, an annual beauty contest, and a staff of trained nurses who made house calls.

The Hawthorne Works was the cradle of industrial psychology with a series of experiments (The Hawthorne Studies) that began in 1924.

The Works became a major producer of the vacuum tube that ushered in the electronic age, and during the war years, Western Electric produced 30% of all the electronic gear for war.

Hawthorne employment peaked in the mid 1950’s at nearly 45,000. By 1970, employment still approached 25,000, but technology changes foretold of steady decline through the mid to late 70’s. The company announced closing in 1983, and the property was sold to a developer. A shopping center now stands at the former site.

The following quote and much of this information is from the Hawthorne Works Museum gallery at Morton College: “The men and women of Hawthorne Works were the men and women of America representing all cultures, demonstrating the urge to learn, grow and prosper. Hawthorne’s giant buildings and equipment were just concrete, brick and metal. Hawthorne’s heart was its people.” The Hawthorne Works – the heart of Western Electric manufacturing.

A video that captures life at Hawthorne in the 20's is available at

For more information and pictures visit the Morton College Museum at

For more pictures of early Hawthorne, provided by Mike Pagnano and Jim Simak, click here

KEARNY WORKS 1923-1983


“One could see it from far away across the Jersey meadows – a patch of light against the blackness, like some great liner passing in the distance. Closer, it resolved itself into a group of immense buildings whose outlines were determined by masses of brilliantly illuminated windows. ‘Western Electric’ – said the great sign on the roof of the largest building – in words of unmistakable emphasis that he who ran indeed might read, and from a long distance. It was the great Kearny Works of the Western Electric Company.”

Thus began the December 1938 issue of Telephone Review, the employee magazine of Bell Telephone. The article featured Open House night, one of ten upon which Bell System people and their families and friends had been invited to see at close range this wonder workshop of telephony – the second greatest in the land, exceeded only Western’s vast main plant at Hawthorne, Illinois. Some 55,000 persons filed through this remarkable establishment during the two weeks of Open House.

Construction of the Western Electric Kearny Works began in 1923. The plant was built close to New York City to meet the demand for telephone equipment that the company’s New York shops once fulfilled. Kearny provided the company with an opportunity to save on shipping costs from the Midwest to the East Coast. Works floor manufacturing area exceeded 1,250,000 square feet. Kearny was built as a replica of Hawthorne, including a tower suite of offices for the Works Manager, and like Hawthorne it produced both switchboard and cable equipment. Supervisors were shipped from Hawthorne to ensure that the Kearny procedures followed the Hawthorne model.

Kearny manufactured switchboards, key equipment, cable and wire, relays, jacks and keys. From the mid 20’s to the early 70’s, Western Electric manufacturing was a self-sufficient operation building virtually everything needed to fulfill telephone equipment needs. Western’s flagship plants of Hawthorne and Kearny had tool and die shops, metal shops, wood shops, paint shops. They even made their own nuts, bolts, screws and washers.

Technology changes of the 70’s foretold of the ultimate closing of these massive Works locations, and in January of 1983, the company announced plans to phase out the mighty Kearny Works. Hawthorne would soon follow.

The long line of people of the Kearny Works made an indelible contribution to the manufacturing history of innovation and excellence of the Western Electric Company and to the Bell System’s commitment to establish universal telephone service across this vast country.

The Kearny Works – a giant part of our shared Western Electric history.


In 1919, Baltimore’s Board of Trade wrote a letter to then Western Electric president Charles DuBois calling attention to the facilities of the City of Baltimore as a manufacturing center. The letter outlined the strong industrial potential of the city and proposed that a branch factory would be most welcome in the city.

Thus began a nine-year courtship, and by the summer of 1928, Baltimore was a finalist for Western’s next major manufacturing facility: a cable and wire plant. In the fall of 1928, after committing to build in Baltimore, the company hosted Baltimore civic and industrial leaders at Hawthorne to see how a Western Electric plant operated.

Western chose to build on the site of Riverview Park, an amusement park that had been dubbed “The Coney Island of the South.” In early 1929, Western Electric razed the old amusement park, making way for the Point Breeze plant, which became known as “The Playground That Went to Work.” The plant began operations in 1930 at the heart of the depression. Original projections by the company suggested ultimate employment approaching 30,000. This did not happen, and when full capacity was reached in 1943, Point Breeze reached its peak employment of about 9,000.

The Point Breeze plant evolved to become the Baltimore Works and was a major supplier of cable and wire products during the period of explosive growth in demand for telephone service. Principal products were: toll, exchange, coaxial and submarine cables, telephone cords and plugs, cable terminals, terminal strips and protectors, and rubber covered wire. The plant had a deep water dock to accommodate submarine cable laying ships.

In 1983 with technology changes accelerating, Western announced the phase-out of the Kearny Works and the reduction of capacity at Hawthorne and Baltimore. Six months later, citing over-capacity, it announced plans to close the Hawthorne Works. Within months plans for closing Baltimore and Indianapolis were also revealed. It was the end of an era of Western Electric’s huge manufacturing works locations, the workhorses that fueled the drive for universal telephone service across this vast country.

The generations of employees of the Baltimore Works along with those at Hawthorne, Kearny and Indianapolis made an indelible contribution to the manufacturing history of the Western Electric Company and to our nation’s telecommunications systems.

Source: Manufacturing the Future – A History of Western Electric Adams & Butler


Merrimack Valley

Western Electric first reached the historic Merrimack Valley in 1943 at a time when textile and shoe industries that formerly dominated the area were in rapid decline and opened manufacturing facilities in Haverhill and later in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Manufacturing was focused on transmission products for both military and civilian use. A crew from the Kearny Works in New Jersey helped set up the initial production facilities in buildings that were formerly used for the manufacture of shoes.

With the explosive post-war growth in demand for telecommunications services, Western Electric made a decision to expand manufacturing and research capability in the Valley. The original proposed site for a new Western Electric plant was in Haverhill, Ma. The Mayor of Haverhill, however, vetoed the planned location, and the site was moved to North Andover on a 157 acre plot of farmland. Ground was broken on November 2, 1953, and the new plant opened in 1956.

The Western Electric Merrimack Valley Works would grow to nearly 2 million square feet of space with 4.2 miles of aisles and would become the primary source of transmission products for the Bell System, including TD and TH Microwave systems, L-series coaxial lines, T1 digital lines, and later fiber optic systems and digital access cross connect (DACS) bays. The Works played a major role in the expansion of telephone services across this vast land.

Works employment peaked at around 12,000 workers, engineers, and managers, including a large contingent of Bell Laboratories developers focusing on transmission products. Entire families – brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, uncles and aunts - owed their employment to this massive Western Electric-Bell Laboratories facility, the largest employer in the area. At divesture in 1984, the Works became a part of the newly formed AT&T Network Systems and continued its role as the primary source of transmission products.

The impact of this large, now AT&T Network Systems-Bell Laboratories, workforce on the area was dramatic, and in 1991 the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission investigated what the potential loss of losing the Merrimack Valley Works might cost the region. The study found that a worst case decline that eliminated the plant’s then 7,000 jobs would cost 15 Valley communities $880 million. Lost supply orders for smaller companies in the area would eliminate another 7,700 secondary jobs.

In 1996 AT&T divested the Network Systems business, which then became Lucent Technologies. When the telecom bubble burst in 2001, the Works still employed some 5,600 workers; but the company began aggressively cutting costs and employment dropped rapidly. A struggling Lucent Technologies sold the plant in 2003 to Ozzy Properties with only a small contingent of employees remaining at that location. And so the storied history of the Merrimack Valley Works basically came to an end. Robert Frost, one of New England’s favorite-son poets, titled one of his well-known poems, “Nothing Gold Can Stay!”, and so it was with the Merrimack Valley Works. For some 65 years, the Works had been “Gold”, not only for the Bell System, but for the region, providing jobs for generations of Valley citizens and supporting countless suppliers and small businesses in the area. It was a golden era for sure, but one that had come to an all too sudden end.

The Western Electric Merrimack Valley Works – a major part of our shared Western Electric history.

Note: The editor thanks former MV Works Standards Engineer Rodney Flynn for his assistance in preparing this article. The editor also thanks former MV General Manager Bill Banton, Charles Pouliot and Larry Woitkowski for their contributions.



History for Buffalo not prepared yet. If you have info please send to Gary Reichow.


allentown worksSince its opening, the plant at 555 Union Blvd. in Allentown has been the site of innovation in electronic components, first as a Western Electric plant and later under AT&T; Technologies, Lucent Technologies and Agere Systems management.

1947: Western Electric, the manufacturing division of American Telephone & Telegraph's Bell Telephone System, opened the plant. The plant first produced vacuum tubes and quartz crystals used in telephone systems.

1951: The country's first transistor production line began operation at the plant. The transistor, first used in telephone systems, created a revolution in electronics. It led the way to portable radios and changed the manufacturing of other devices, including the television.

1953: Howard Tooker, an engineer at Western Electric in Allentown, developed the transistor radio. It was not much larger than a package of king-size cigarettes and weighed less than a pound.

1955: Pennsylvania Gov. George M. Leader broke ground for construction of a Western Electric annex. This extension was completed in 1957.

1956: Western Electric manufactured components for Nike, the Army's first combat-ready guided missile, and the government's Distant Early Warning line, a radar warning network strung across the Arctic from Alaska to Greenland.

1958: The plant officially became known as Allentown Works. Western Electric designated "works" as the larger, more important facilities. Allentown was the seventh works in Western Electric's nationwide network of manufacturing facilities.

1960: NASA named Western Electric the prime contractor for the communication and tracking system for Project Mercury, America's first manned space program. Allentown Works manufactured some electronic devices used in the communication system.

1961: Allentown Mayor John T. Gross broke ground for construction of a T-shaped extension to the west end of the plant.

1962: Allentown Works manufactured hundreds of solar batteries for the Telstar communication satellite.

1984: When the U.S. government broke up the AT&T; monopoly, AT&T; still held onto Western Electric. The plant became AT&T; Microelectronics and manufactured silicon microchips.

1995: AT&T; split into three distinct companies, one of which was Lucent Technologies. The plant became part of the Microelectronics Division of Lucent. It made computer chips and wafers.

2001: Agere Systems of Allentown was formed when Lucent spun off its Microelectronics Division. At Union Boulevard, Agere made semiconductors used in communication devices such as cell phones and computer modems, as well as fiber-optic components.

2002: Lucent completed the spin-off of Agere. Reeling from depressed telecommunications sales, Agere announced in August it would close or sell all of its Lehigh Valley and Reading area plants, including the factory at Union Boulevard.

2003: The plant closed at the end of June.


The North Carolina Works had a long, proud history working on military projects for the U.S. Government and as a supplier of key transmiss ion products for the Bell System.

In 1944, the U.S. Department of War asked for missile defense proposals, and the Bell System responded with the proposed Project Nike. The Bell System was ultimately awarded the project, and the government provided a list of cities deemed suitable for military work. Wi nston Salem was one of those cities - not near the coastline, not near large population centers.

In 1946, Western Electric purchased 65 acres of land on the old Lexington Road in Winston Salem. Old timers remember this land had once been a small airfield often visited by itinerant barnstormers in the 1920s. Western Electric constructed a Quonset Hut warehouse on the land, and in the years 1946-1952, this Quonset Hut was the only evidence of Western Electric on this property. Construction of the Works began in 1952, and though the officia l dedication and flag raising ceremony didn’t take place until 1955, operations actually began in 1954.

The Works would grow to over 1 million sq. ft. of manufacturing space with an office building of nearly 260,000 sq. ft. Nike was a large project with many locations involved with manufacturing various parts. Military work was done at Western Electric’s Burlington and Greensboro locations as well.

The North Carolina Works assignment was the design, devel opment and manufacture of ground control systems for America’s first SAM (surface to air missile) - the Nike Ajax. The North Carolina Works built one of the first “clean rooms” in the U.S. to manufacture the precision gyroscopes needed for missile control. The Ajax missiles, built by Douglas Aircraft, could reach a maximum speed of 1,000 mph, an altitude of 70,000 ft., and had a range of 25 miles. 13,000 Ajax missiles and 240 missile batteries were installed in the U.S. by 1962.

Western Electric also built control and guidance systems for the Hercules and Zeus missiles which carried thermonuclear ordinance. The North Carolina Works was also involved in the design, development and manufacture of components for Project Safeguard. This project established the Distant Early Warning Line or D.E.W line to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold war. It was a system o f radar stations in the far northern Arctic region of Canada, with additional stations along the North Coast and Aleutian Islands of Alaska - also Greenland and Iceland.

In the 1980s, the Works was heavily involved in the manufacture of Systems-Carrier-SLC-96 to deliver modern telephone and data service to neighborhoods and business parks. Many SLC-96 systems today are converted to deliver DSL internet service.

During its peak years, the Works provided employment for some 6,000 workers. But with changes in the telecommunications industry, the sad announcement came in 1988 of plans to shut down the facility. By 1991, the facility was vacant. Thus came to an end a proud history of the North Carolina Works.

The building was abandoned from 1991 to 1996 when it was purchased by a local family to consolidate several businesses. Since 2003, the office area has been the headquarters of Data Chambers, LLC, a company that builds and operates data centers. Rich Crim, a former employee of the North Carolina Works and a Lucent retiree, is the VP of Critical Facilities of that operation. The editor thanks Rich for supplying the background information for this History Corner piece.

The North Carolina Works - an important part of our shared history.



“From cornfield to Trimline telephone capital of the world to a memory … Shadeland Avenue plant prepares to close.”

These were the poignant words that graced the cover of the September 13, 1984, final edition of DIALTONE, a publication that since July of 1949 had served the employees and retirees of the Indianapolis Works. It had been exactly one year earlier when the unthinkable had happened, and employees were notified of plans to close this giant Works location. Indianapolis would fall victim to the same technological and competitive forces that brought on the closing of other iconic Western Electric Works locations including Hawthorne, Kearny, and Baltimore.

Construction of the Shadeland Avenue plant had begun in 1948 on a 133 acre tract of farm land on the East side of Indianapolis. In June of 1948, a factual civic analysis prepared by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce for Western Electric employees included a description of city transportation as follows: “Two hundred and twenty-eight motor buses, 94 street cars, and 202 trackless trolleys form a veritable network of modern local transportation. Transit fares in Indianapolis are 10 cents cash, 5 cents for children and all transfers are free.” The city welcomed with open arms this vast new manufacturing facility which ultimately would employ some 10,000 workers, managers, and engineers.

This new facility would have buildings totaling some 1,464,000 square feet of floor space and an overhead conveyor system more than four miles in length, one of the longest in American industry. The first production components came off the assembly line in 1950, and Indianapolis would become the primary source of all telephones for the Bell System ultimately producing as many as 30,000 telephones per day. Thousands of tons of steel, brass, aluminum, zinc, molding compounds and other materials would emerge as parts ready for assembly. These parts - inspected, assembled, and tested – became your telephone, ready to serve you through the years. Western Electric quality meant phones were designed to last for years, and an on-site contingent of some 60 plus Bell Telephone Laboratories engineers worked with the Western Electric product engineers to design and assure a quality product.

Symbolizing the constant efforts of the telephone industry to provide our country with the best telephone service in the world, the 50,000,000 telephone was presented on November 18, 1953, to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The phone was a 500 type black set with a rotary dial and with gold numbers, letters and dots. On the 25th anniversary of the Works, a silver-plated Trimline set was made for each of the States’ governors.

In the 35 plus years of its existence, the Indianapolis Works churned out millions upon millions of quality telephone sets – desk sets, wall sets, Princess sets, Trimline sets, Design-Line sets, and key sets - but ultimately a changing telephony environment, including divestiture and the end of telephone leasing, led to the decision to close this historic facility. The last major project at the Works model shop was the development of the first telephones with caller-ID capability. When final production ceased in 1985, much of the equipment and remaining product lines were transferred to the Shreveport Works in Louisiana. The Indianapolis Works - a major part of our shared Western Electric history.

Note: The editor thanks former Indianapolis Works employees Bernie Biberdorf, Jack Hensley, and John Woodruff for their assistance in preparing this article.


Oklahoma City

In 1952, operations in Reading, Pennsylvania began when Western Electric Company converted the nearby Rosedale knitting mill in Laureldale, Pa. into a factory in response to a request by the U.S. Signal Corps to make transistors and diodes exclusively for government use.

On May 20, 1957, Western leased additional facilities in Laureldale, and in 1958, a group of Bell Laboratories scientists moved to Reading from other locations and started the Laureldale Laboratory. Initially the Laureldale Laboratory designed electron tubes including traveling wave tubes. Eventually, after becoming the Reading Laboratory, they were designing semiconductor devices, which eventually included transistors, diodes, integrated circuits, light emitting diodes, and lasers.

On September 16, 1959, it was announced that the Greater Berks Development Fund would build and lease a new plant for Western Electric to accommodate the projected growth. The Laureldale plant had 3,100 employees with a projected growth to 4,000 - 5,000. Ground breaking took place in November of 1960 and on January 2, 1963, Western Electric took possession of the new building. The new plant had 5 acres of roof, 200 miles of wiring, 6 acres of parking. With the move, Western transitioned away from government contracting and toward products for the Bell System use. Components from Laureldale orbited the Earth in the telecommunications satellite Telstar. By 1966 all facilities had moved from the Laureldale plant to the new site. The new facility was called the Reading Works and the Reading Labs.

On September 22, 1974, the Reading Works made its 1 billionth semiconductor device. By the mid 1980’s the manufacture of some older products were transferred to other locations so that Reading could accommodate newer technologies such as opto-electronics, microwave devices, magnetic bubble memory, gated diode cross-point switches as well as more linear integrated circuits. At Divestiture in 1984, the Western Electric plant became the Reading Works of AT&T Technology Systems. During that year, employment would reach an all-time high of 4,900. In 1988, microchip and fiber-optic manufacturing was combined into an organization called AT&T Microelectronics. Employment declined in the late ‘80s and early ’90’s and in 1995 the Reading Works work force stood at 2,400 as it prepared for the spin-off from AT&T into Lucent Technologies.

Readings heritage, combined with constant innovation and product quality, positioned the facility as one of the largest semiconductor companies in the world. In 2,000, Microelectronics and Optoelectronics were reorganized as Agere Systems with intention of spinning off as an independent company. In late March of 2001, Agere’s stock went public, and the spin-off was completed by June of 2002.

By late spring 0f 2001, Agere Systems announced work force reductions and layoffs continued in waves as the semiconductor market deteriorated. On January 24, 2002, Agere announced that it would be closing the 1.3 million-square-feet Reading Works in 12-18 months. All operations were consolidated at the Allentown, Pennsylvania headquarters location and New Jersey locations. The doors locked on May 16, 2003 ending an historic run of achievement in the semiconductor industry and major contributions to the government and to the Bell System. The Reading Works - an important part of our shared history.

For more detailed history of Reading Works, click on the following link from which this article is taken:

OMAHA WORKS 1956-2011


In 1956, with the demand for telephone service exploding across the country, Western Electric announced its plans to construct a new major manufacturing facility in the Omaha, Nebraska area. Ground breaking for the new facility took place on June 28, 1956, and four months later, construction began. When the work was completed on November 15, 1958, the structure included 12.8 tons of structural steel, 2.8 million bricks, 43,000 concrete blocks, 1.5 million feet of electrical conductors and 20,000 electrical light fixtures. The Works would grow to become the largest building in Nebraska.

Arthur Goetze was President of Western Electric at the time of construction and Paul Gorman, a future president of the company, was then Vice President of Manufacturing. The first plant manager was H. P. Heath. Many of the early supervisory employees were transferees from the Hawthorne Works. The in-house employee newsletter, The Westerner, was first published in September of 1957 and over the years recorded the many achievements and activities of Omaha Works employees.

The Omaha plant would be designed to produce cable and associated apparatus, but also crossbar and PBX equipment. By the late 1960’s the Omaha Works location was the number one producer of crossbar equipment in the country. In later years, crossbar and PBX manufacture would be phased out, and the Works would focus on its cable and apparatus lines.

The Omaha Works produced aerial, buried, underground and inside cable. Exchange cable produced at Omaha was PIC (polyethylene-insulated cable). Vinyl cable was also manufactured. Among the associated cable apparatus manufactured at Omaha were: cable stubs, cable terminals, connectors, central office connectors, cabinets of various types, connecting blocks, protectors, and various tools required for the installation of telephone cable and wire. At its peak operation in the early 1970’s, the Omaha Works would provide employment for 7,700 workers. The Omaha Works was a major supplier of cable and apparatus for the Bell System.

With divestiture in 1984, the Omaha Works would become a part of the newly formed AT&T Technologies and continue as a major source of cable, wire and apparatus. In 1996, AT& T would split off its products and systems businesses to form Lucent Technologies, and the Omaha Works would become a Lucent facility. Then in 2000, Lucent spun off its Enterprise Networking Group, including the Omaha Works, to form Avaya. Then again in 2004, in an ever-changing telecommunications environment, Avaya sold its Connectivity Solutions Division, including the Omaha Works, to North Carolina based CommScope Inc. In 2010, as employment continued to drop, CommScope announced its plans to close the plant. The closing officially took place in July of 2011.

This was the sad end of an era. For over 50 years, this proud Western Electric facility and its employees had made outstanding contributions to the expansion of telephone service across this country. The Omaha Works - an important part of our shared history.

The editor thanks former Omaha employee Stephen Miller for providing background information. For more information on the Omaha Works, visit


Columbus Works

Aerial View of Columbus Works - circa 1980s

In the mid 1950s, Western Electric decided to open a manufacturing facility in the midwest to be staffed by a combination of local hires and relocated employees from its Kearny and Hawthorne Works facilities. Columbus, Ohio was chosen as the site of the new satellite plant. The Columbus Works commenced operation in 1957 and quickly became the primary manufacturing site for crossbar switches. In keeping with the corporate practice of the day, a parallel Bell Laboratories branch was also established at the facility.

Located on the far east side of Columbus at 6200 East Broad Street, the plant consisted of a frontal four-story office building and an 858,000 square foot manufacturing facility located directly behind it. The front building predominantly housed the Bell Labs contingent, whose R&D jobs evolved more and more towards software development, eventually coming to have little to do with what was produced in the plant. As the evolution of electronic switching supplanted the demand for crossbar, the manufacturing side of Columbus Works was redirected towards producing boards for 4ESS switches and wireless cell sites, along with several complete wireless components, most notably AirLoop.

At its zenith, the plant contained two full-service dining facilities, a library, and a medical center. It was served by a local rail spur as well as several trucking lines. Over 12,000 workers, including 1,000 who worked for Bell Labs, were employed in three shifts operating around the clock. Non-management employees were represented by three unions.

In 1996, with the spin-off of Lucent Technologies, Columbus Works became a Lucent facility. Then, in 2003, it was sold to Celestica, In 2006, Lucent bought the facility back from Celestica and parceled it out: The front office space became an administrative and billing center for Mt. Carmel Health. The acreage behind the plant was sold to a private developer who turned it into a community of small homes. The broad lawn in front of the plant became a series of strip malls and small stores. In the fall of 2011, Alcatel-Lucent completed a move of their offices and laboratories to a new facility in Dublin, Ohio, thus ending the Bell System era for 6200 East Broad Street 54 years after it began. The manufacturing facility remained largely vacant until it was razed in 2014. The Columbus Works - an important part of our shared history.

The editor thanks Rob Stampfli, a retired Columbus Bell Labs employee, for this article. For more information, visit


Oklahoma City

It was a cold, blustery day in December of 1958 when Western Electric President Arthur B. Goetze and Oklahoma U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr used a detonator and several sticks of buried dynamite to break ground on what would become a 1,300,000 square-foot manufacturing facility, a plant that would be among the largest in the Southwestern United States. The Oklahoma City Works structure, covering 30 acres under one roof, was completed in May of 1960.

Start-up, pilot operations had begun in 1957 in a leased 153,000 square-foot facility provided by the city. The first plant manager, Joseph T. West, directed these operations. The pilot plant shipped its first electromechanical Crossbar frame in March of 1958, and in May of that year, the first completed system shipped to the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company in Baltimore, Md. The Oklahoma City Works would ultimately employ nearly 10,000 workers and become one of the premier manufacturing facilities in the telecommunications industry, a focal point for product shipments worldwide.

In the 1960’s and early `70’s, Oklahoma City was known as the Crossbar Capital of Western Electric. Western Electric introduced its first Electronic Switching System (No. 1 ESS) in 1965 and three years later, Oklahoma City was the high volume producer of ESS frames and systems. By 1976, the Oklahoma City Works had completely converted from manufacturing electromechanical equipment to Electronic Switching Systems. In 1977, two powerful switching processors known as 1A and 2B were added along with the No. 3 ESS.

AT&T was late moving to digital switching, but when the decision was ultimately made, the 5ESS quickly became the world’s most reliable and robust digital switch. On September 7, 1982 the Oklahoma City Works shipped the first 5ESS office to the Western Electric Product Engineering Control Center (PECC) at the AT&T Bell Laboratories in Naperville, Ill. By post-divestiture1985, the Works had shipped more than 5 million lines of the world-class 5ESS switch.

When the 3B processor was introduced at the Oklahoma City Works in 1980, it was characterized as the powerful brains behind AT&T switching systems. In 1984, AT&T announced its entry into the computer market using the 3B family of computers produced at the Oklahoma City Works. Subscriber Loop Carrier (SLC) systems manufacture was transferred to Oklahoma City in the early `90’s and the introduction of the ANYMEDIA SLC product in 1998, the first SLC product to bring merged voice, data and video lines into homes, offered great promise for the future. However, by the late `90’s and early 2000, the telecommunications downturn had begun with declining demand for wireline based systems. The Oklahoma City Works had gone through the transition from Western Electric, to AT&T Network Systems and now Lucent Technologies, and as the downturn continued, a struggling Lucent began searching for dramatic cost cutting opportunities. In July of 2001, Lucent signed an agreement to lease its manufacturing facilities at Oklahoma City to Celestica, Inc., a Toronto based electronics manufacturer. At that time, Works employment had dropped to 2,700 employees.

A year later, Lucent sold the Works to Celestica and employment dropped to 945. As a final blow, Celestica announced in February of 2003 of its plans to close the Oklahoma City plant and move operations to other Celestica locations. Thus came to an end an historic 40 year run for one of the premier manufacturing facilities in the world. During this impressive run, the Works had garnered numerous awards, including the prestigious Malcom Baldridge National Quality Award for the 3B Computer Product Line as well as numerous other quality and safety awards. The people of the Oklahoma City Works delivered quality, high tech products that played a major role in building the telecommunications infrastructure across this vast land, and, indeed, around the world. The Oklahoma City Works – a major contributor to our shared Western Electric history.



History for Kansas City is not prepared yet. If you have info please send to Gary Reichow.


dallas works

History for Dallas not prepared yet. If you have info please send to Gary Reichow. Lots of Dallas pictures are available at

DENVER WORKS 1969-1992

denverdenver history


The Richmond Works Printed Circuit Board factory received a lot of notoriety in the 1980s for its fully operational integrated manufacturing process. In 1983, Richmond was honored with the national LEAD Award by the Society of Manufacturing Engineering (CASA Association) and then garnered numerous recognitions from various publications such as FORTUNE magazine and Modern Material Handling.

The LEAD Award for "Leadership and Excellence in the Application and Development of Computer Integrated Manufacturing" is a unique and prestigious recognition with only two other entities having received it in previous years. As a result, FORTUNE magazine cited the Richmond plant as one of the "Ten Best in America". Other publications, similarly, wrote about the Richmond process.

The Richmond plant was the largest manufacturer of printed circuit boards under one roof in the world. Manufactured were flexible boards processed in continuous rolls of copper clad Mylar (measured in miles per week), double sided rigid and multilayer as well as connectorized (pin inserted) boards.

Digital design data received over the network from Bell Labs and other customers were processed automatically to produce the artwork and numerical tooling which was then distributed to machines and test facilities throughout the plant. Customer orders likewise were received over the net which were then dispatched in priority sequence to the factory floor. All manufacturing instructions and tooling were accessed "real Time" and production lots routed throughout the factory. In the 1980s, computer integrated manufacture was a rarity, so software and processors had to be developed.

Networking computers was an art and required some innovative thinking and design in order to seamlessly move information around and through the factory. Richmond accomplished all of this well ahead of its peer manufacturers.

The Richmond Works had over 140 acres of land and the total gross square footage was in excess of 700,000 square feet after the additions in the 1980s were completed. Flexible circuits boards, double sided rigid boards, multilayer boards, and connectorized (pin inserted) boards were manufactured in the main plant plus a leased facility on Glen Alden Drive. After the final additions were made to the main plant, all manufacturing was done at the 4500 S. Laburnum Plant. At the time of peak production, over 2,000 employees were located at the Richmond Works.

The major customers were the Oklahoma City, Merrimack Valley, Columbus, North Carolina, Denver, Indianapolis, and Dallas Works locations. The Plant incorporated the latest Environmental Controls available at that time including state of the art waste treatment, air pollution abatement, and solvent recovery systems.

With the downturn in the telecommunications industry, the plant was sold to Via Systems in 1996 and eventually closed in 2000. The site is now a large shopping complex with hotels, retail stores and restaurants.

A round-about at the entrance displays a plaque recognizing the employees who formerly worked in the plant. The Richmond Works - a major part of our shared Western Electric history.

The editor thanks former Richmond Works employees Donald L. Sage, Robert C. Whiteman, and Bruce C.Fichter for contributing this article.


Do you have info or photos? Contact Webmaster


Do you have info or photos? Contact Webmaster


With its monopoly status confirmed by the U. S. Government in the 1913 Kingsbury Commitment, AT&T continued to rapidly expand telephone service across the country. With this expansion, came the growth of the engineering and development forces at both Western Electric and AT&T. It soon became evident to management that overlapping efforts between the organizations resulted in inefficiencies and duplication.

At a December 1924 board meeting, AT&T executives agreed to combine and spin off the engineering and development functions into a semiautonomous company. On January 1,1925, AT&T officially created Bell Telephone Laboratories to be housed in its New York, West Street offices. The new entity would be owned and funded half by AT&T and half by Western Electric. Frank Jewett was named as the first president of Bell Telephone Laboratories, and its initial employment included some 4,000 engineers, physicists, chemists, metallurgists, and mathematicians from the United States and Europe.

Thus began the amazing history of Bell Telephone Laboratories, an industrial laboratory that for a long stretch of the 20th century would be arguably considered the most innovative scientific organization in the world. It was also arguably among the world’s most important commercial organizations with countless entrepreneurs building their businesses upon the Labs’ foundational inventions, which because of its monopoly status were often shared for a modest license fee. The Labs’ renowned scientists created such innovations as solar cells, lasers, transistors, cellular mobile radios, long-distance television transmission, stereo recording, communication satellites, and sound motion pictures. Thirteen Nobel prizes have been awarded to Bell Labs’ scientists, more than any other industrial laboratory.

With the growth of the Labs in the ‘30s and ‘40s, numerous work locations were scattered in New York and New Jersey. In 1942, the first building at Murray Hill, New Jersey opened and would become the main campus. The building created a campus environment with a design to force interaction among the scientists and technicians of varying disciplines.

During the 1940s, the Bell Labs played a crucial role in supporting the war effort. Nearly all research effort was redirected toward developing electronic devices, including radar, for wartime. Western Electric manufactured more than half of the radar sets used in World War II.

After the war, Bell Labs resumed its research on semi-conduction and other projects. Among its most important developments was the discovery of the “transistor effect” and the origin of the point-contact transistor. The transistor would become an essential component to the radio, television, and computer industries. William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain, Bell Labs scientists, received the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics in recognition of their research that ushered in the beginning of the microelectronic age.

The 1960s saw the development of electronic switching, satellite communications and the computer operating system - Unix. A second major campus was opened in Holmdel, New Jersey, and a third major campus - Indian Hill - was opened in Naperville, Illinois to focus on electronic switching development.

It is impossible in a short historical piece to do justice to the achievements of the Bell Telephone Laboratories and its contributions to so many technologies that today we simply take for granted. The assured funding of the Labs as a part of the AT&T monopoly allowed a freedom of inquiry unlike any other commercial industrial lab. During these pre-divestiture days, Bell Telephone Laboratories was not only a Bell System treasure, but a national treasure as well. The physics historian Michael Riordan said of Bell Labs, “This was a company that literally dumped technology on our country. I don’t think we’ll see an organization with that kind of record ever again.”

Since divestiture in 1984, the Labs has undergone a number of transitions and downsizing as resources have been divided among divested companies. The Bell Laboratories name has followed Lucent Technologies, and today it is still a respected industrial laboratory as a part of Alcatel-Lucent.

The AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories - a giant part of our shared history.


Indian Hill Labs On August 31, 2016, the Indian Hill Bell Laboratories celebrated its 50th anniversary saluting the pioneering and technical contributions that formed the seed for all the marvelous innovation, leadership, teamwork, diversity, quality and telecom contributions that followed at this location. Over the 50 year period of its existence, 2,907 patents have been awarded to developments by Indian Hill Labs’ staff members.

Retirees, former employees, special guests, and active employees were on hand to reminisce about life at Indian Hill. Old photos, old corporate banners , a museum, trivia contest, speakers, a photo booth and more were a part of the festivities. The museum consisted of pictures, various pins, and buttons from projects, documents, actual products and more spanning the years 1966-2016. All items in the museum were either donated or on loan by those who worked on the projects like OSPS, TSPS, CDMA, and the ESS line including 1/1A, 2/2B, 3,4, and 5ESS.

Construction of the Indian Hill buildings began on a 192 acre site in April of 1965 under the supervision of Western Electric’s Plant Design and Construction Organization. The site had been an ancient signaling hill where the Native American Potawatomi Tribe sent up smoke signals - thus the name Indian Hill. Designed by Chicago’s architectural firm of Holabird and Root, it included many functional and aesthetic features of the Holmdel, N.J. Labs.

The first building opened in August of 1966 with an initial complement of 800 staff members who came from New Jersey. Naperville, at the time, was a sleepy farm community with a population around 20,000. A saying among the new arrivals from New Jersey was, “On the Shore in ’64 to the sticks in ’66”. At Indian Hill, Bell Labs’ scientists would build Electronic Switching Systems and revolutionize telephone service. During the ’70’s and 80’s, the 1A, 2,3, 4 and 5ESS were the major switching product lines developed and supported at Indian Hill. At its peak, 5ESS represented $6 billion in annual sales for the Western Electric Company. The campus ultimately would grow to six buildings - the outer perimeter of the buildings in the shape of a Bell. At its peak, this location employed a staff of 12,800. The growth of the Indian Hill Labs, the Network Software Center and the old Western Electric Lisle Plant, were major contributors in the explosive growth of the Naperville community now with a population of 141,000.

Today, Indian Hill Labs has a staff of some 1,500 employees. Product development and support includes LTE-A, LMG, CDMA, WCDMA, MME and IMS systems. The Indian Hill Bell Laboratories is a major component of the Nokia Research and Development team supporting the Nokia vision of Expanding the Human Possibilities of the Connected World. Indian Hill Bell Laboratories - a major part of our shared history.

The editor thanks Pam Rasmussen for contributing to this article.


The Western Electric Company role within the Bell System was defined early as being the manufacturing and supply unit of the System.

Early in Bell System history, A.T.&T executives determined that it made economic and practical sense to centralize certain functions like purchasing, repair, and management of stock inventories rather than have these functions performed in multiple field telephone company locations. These functions were assigned to the Western Electric Company, and thus was born the role for the Western Electric Distributing House.

There is little documentation to determine just when and where the first Distributing House was created, but ultimately there would be some 32 Distributing House or Service Center locations in metropolitan areas across the country. The name change to Service Center took place in the mid ’60’s with the creation of the seven Western Electric service regions, and from here forward, we will use the Service Center term to identify these locations.

We believe the greatest expansion of these facilities took place after the war years as the demand for telephone service exploded across the country. Service Centers warehoused stock materials to serve the day-to-day operating needs of local telephone companies, provided facilities for the repair of telephone sets and other equipment, and performed the purchasing function for non-stock items.

Western Electric Service Centers stocked thousands of items and provided “0” day service. Orders for stock material received in the morning were delivered by afternoon to telephone company docks for shipment to the ordering telephone company location. This level of service commitment by Western Electric allowed telephone companies to minimize the cost of field inventories. The Service Centers also maintained extensive stocks of cable and other materials required to deal with natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes.

In the days of leased telephones and customer premise equipment, the Service Centers performed a vital repair and refurbishing process. Used telephones and equipment were re-cycled back through the Service Center. Repaired and refurbished sets andequipment were placed back in stock as telephone company owned “Class C” stock to satisfy future telephone company demand. Western Electric quality programs were an important part of shop repair operations to assure repaired quality met the standards of new products.

Prior to the introduction of the Account Management function in the late ’70’s, the Service Center was the primary local contact with the customer. With divestiture in 1984 and the end of telephone leasing, the Service Center role ceased to exist and locations were phased out across the country.

During the Bell System years, the Western Electric Service Center was an important link in the expansion of telephone service across this vast land and an important part of our shared Western Electric history.

The following is a listing of known Service Center locations in no particular order: New England, Connecticut, Syracuse, Westchester, New York (Manhattan), New Jersey, King of Prussia (Pa), Pittsburgh, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami/Jacksonville, New Orleans, Nashville, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Michigan, West Chicago, Indiana, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, Denver, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland, Oakland, Los Angeles.




Teletype Corporation 1930-1983

The Teletype Corporation operated as a vital Bell System entity doing research, development and manufacture of data and record communications equipment from 1930 to 1983. It was organized and functioned as a separate entity with a Board of Directors, Research and Development, manufacturing, a sales force and a nationwide installation and maintenance force. Teletype sales of over $400 million/yr in the early 80’s were approximately 55% to the Bell System, 30% to the Federal Government, and 15% to other commercial users.


In 1902, Charles Krum, a cold storage engineer, initiated experiments with printing telegraph devices. The invention of the “startstop” principle made possible the mechanization of “key” telegraph. In 1906 Krum partnered with Jay Morton of the Morton Salt dynasty to form the Morkrum company and actively began to develop and trial printers.

In 1910, the first commercial printer, the M10, became available. The Postal Telegraph, Western Union and the Associated Press all were early users of this equipment. In 1925 the company merged with Kleinschmidt to form the Morkrum-Kleinschmidt company. The name proved too cumbersome, and in 1929 the official name was changed to Teletype Corporation. By 1929, about 25,200 machines had been sold to commercial users.

In 1930, the M15 type-bar page printer with a stationary platen was introduced, and the Teletype Corporation was purchased by the Bell System and became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Western Electric Company. The Bell System at this time was formulating plans for a new teletypewriter service called TWX and the Teletype Corporation was selected and purchased to provide the necessary equipment for the proposed service. TWX (Teletypewriter Exchange Service) was inaugurated in 1932 using the M15 type machines.

The M15 became the “bread and butter” unit of Teletype reaching peak output during WWII. The M15 was the mainstay of U.S. military communications during the war. Through 1954, some 200,000 units were sold. This is the same unit used by news wire services until the 1970’s.

In 1951, the M28 line was accepted by the Bell System as a successor to the M14,15 and 19 lines of equipment. The M28 design principle constituted the corporation’s basic approach to both message and data recording equipment until 1960. In 1961, the M35 and M33 lines of equipment were introduced. The M33 represented the marriage of many proven designs into a totally new design, best described by the term “low cost concept”.

In 1968-1978, much development went forward into new concepts and new forms of data station equipment. “Machines That Make Data Move” became Teletype’s trade slogan. Devices such as the Dataspeed paper tape senders and receivers operating at 750-2000 words per minute and the Inktronic printer that sprayed 80 characters at a time on a roll of paper at 2400 words a minute were developed. In 1970, the TWX system was sold by AT&T to Western Union Telegraph Company.

In 1979-1984, the Teletype Corporation produced the newer “Black Line” of Model 40 and 4540 electronic display terminals and chain type based printers. The Models 42 and 43 dot matrix terminals were also introduced.

The period 1984-1990 saw dramatic changes. At divestiture in 1984, the Teletype Corporation became a part of the new AT&T Technologies. The name was dropped along with its logo to be replaced by AT&T. Operations in Skokie were discontinued and consolidated in Little Rock.

In the 1990s, the Little Rock Works continued to manufacture products, including the AT&T 6286/EL WGS, the AT&T 6386/EL WGS desktop computer, the AT&T StarServer E, the AT&T Smart Card, and several types of AT&T Smart Card Readers. Within months of the 1996 spinoff of the systems and technology parts of AT&T in a three way division of the company, the Little Rock Works, now part of Lucent Technologies, closed.

The Teletype Corporation, an important part of our shared history.



Teletype consolidated operations in 1957 in Skokie, Illinois. Three buildings were erected totaling a million and a half square feet - a manufacturing unit, an administration building, and a research and development center.

little rock

Manufacturing operations in Little Rock, Arkansas began in a pilot plant in June 1957. By 1971, Teletype had constructed a 600,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility on 160 acres of land near Interstate 30.


Teletype had a nationwide Product Service Organization in 100 locations around the U.S. with headquarters in Elk Grove, Il. These locations were set up as individual profit centers. The technicians did installation, maintenance, and training on Teletype equipment to government and commercial customers. They worked with Teletype sales personnel to sell maintenance contracts and other services.



.In 1951, the first M28 page printer was delivered to the Navy. In 1983, the completely electro-mechanical communications printer was still in use as a backup communications device on every ship in the U.S. Navy.

….At 13, Bill Gates enrolled in the Lakeside School, a private preparatory school.[22] When he was in the eighth grade, the Mothers Club at the school used proceeds from Lakeside School's rummage sale to buy a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric (GE) computer for the school's students.[23] Gates took an interest in programming the GE system in BASIC, and was excused from math classes to pursue his interest. He wrote his first computer program on this machine: an implementation of tic-tac-toe that allowed users to play games against the computer.

….Raymond Samuel Tomlinson (born 1941) was a US programmer who implemented an email system in 1971 on the ARPANET. It was the first system able to send mail between users on different hosts connected to the ARPAnet. (Previously, mail could be sent only to others who used the same computer.) To achieve this, he used the @ sign (on his Model 33 teleprinter) to separate the user from their machine, which has been used in email addresses ever since.[2] At first, his email messaging system wasn't thought to be a big deal. When Tomlinson showed it to his colleague Jerry Burchfiel, he said "Don't tell anyone! This isn't what we're supposed to be working on." [4]

…."Thanks to Teletypes, America read 20th-century history the day it was made. Da dacka-dacka. Lindy makes it! Dacka-dacka. The Hindenburg explodes! Dak-dak-dak. Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor! Germany surrenders! Atomic bomb destroys Hiroshima! Kennedy shot! Clattering keys, ringing bells and scrolling paper churned from those squat, black boxes with the glass lid. But soon all that sound and fury will grow still. United Press International recently replaced the last of its old Teletypes with modern, high-speed printers, and the Associated Press has announced that by mid-September it expects to do the same. An era in journalism - and Americana - is coming to an end. A flash was the highest order of urgency on the news wires: a short item to alert editors of news 'of transcendent importance,' according to AP, to be followed by a bulletin, usable for publication. Flashes were signaled by 12 bells on AP machines and 10 bells on UPI's, and they could stop the whole nation in its tracks."
"Saying Goodbye To The Teletype"
Philadelphia Inquirer, 1986

….The rhythm of the popular song "Easier Said Than Done" was inspired by the sound of the Teletype machines in the communications office of their post while The Essex were active-duty members of the United States Marine Corps.



air defense

The map shows the principal installations of the SAGE System (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment ) a USAF/RCAF project that comprised much of NORAD’s air defense of the US and southern Canada back in the late 50’s through the early 80’s. Interceptor air bases of the Air Force and Navy are not all shown.

The NIKE anti-aircraft systems, Ajax and Hercules, (the Army’s systems designed and built by Bell Labs and Western Electric) was integrated with this system. NIKE locations are not shown.

This system was significant in many ways:

  1. It was the first big integrated communications network. High speed data ran at 1300 BPS on the 1A Digital Signaling System between the worlds largest vacuum tube computers (AN/FSQ 7s and 8s) which were duplexed for reliability at 23 direction centers (sectors). The sectors were fed radar data from apx. 250 radar sites, Texas Towers, picket ships, airborne radar, and weather stations. The 23 sectors fed summarized track data to seven regional combat centers, in turn to the NORAD center at Colorado Springs.
  2. It gave the computer industry a big boost. The IBM 7090 was essentially a solid state version of the AN/FSQ 7/8 which was also converted. Burroughs also had a pre-processor at the radar sites.
  3. The first ground control of interceptor aircraft was carried out by this system. Ground to air radio provided digital vectoring of the aircraft to the pilot via a fire control CRT on the aircraft. A wide variety of jet aircraft and air to air missiles were used.
  4. Digital Display Technology was promoted. Light pens, random access digital display CRTs were developed by Hazeltine and IBM and used by the thousands in this system.
  5. Simulation of hostile aircraft was developed by WE during the implementation of the system. This was done to cut down the use of large aircraft as targets during training exercises, and system integration testing of ground to air radio and interceptors. (Live aircraft were used in the final system tests but not actually shot down.)
  6. The first in line microfilm fast processed 35 mm projection displays were incorporated. These preceded the printer plotters that followed in the 60s and 70s and were able to project a large screen display within 30 seconds of the computer generated display.
  7. WE was able to obtain a large number of computer trained personnel. At a time when very few computer trained people existed, close to 500 engineers and technicians were trained at MIT’s Lincoln Labs in digital techniques, computer programming and radar and other systems integration areas. These people often formed the cadres of computer personnel at many locations and other projects throughout the company when the SAGE implementation phase ended in the 1962-3 period.

Although the SAGE system design was led by the MITRE Corporation, Western Electric’s Air Defense Engineering Service (ADES), headquartered on Church Street NYC, was awarded the systems integration contract to coordinate the installation, and perform the subsystems and systems tests. (The good work on the DEW Line around the Arctic Circle helped getting the award.) It checked out hardware and software of many subcontractors (IBM, Borroughs, RAND/SDC, GE, Philco, Raytheon and others including AT&T )

WE hiring started in 1955 and hit full stride in 1957 with training started at Murphy Army Hospital in Boston and then moved to MIT Lincoln Labs, Lexington MA. Class groups of about 15 started about every three weeks. Training lasted nine months for the first three years, afterwards which, with trained people in the field, it was cut to six. Students were paid a base salary but not paid expenses until they went to the field and were expected to find their own housing with many going to boarding houses and apartments in Cambridge.

Upon graduation they were assigned to one of five field test teams that would move about every nine months if the sector tests went well. The first five sectors to be checked out were on the East Coast. Test teams were comprised of about 50 to 65 persons; half at the direction center, half at the radar and ground to air radio sites. At the end of a sector about ten persons were left behind to handle retrofit changes and upgrades. The others would be split into two groups with half matching up with half of another group at a new sector; the other half with another at another new location. Retrofit personnel losses were replaced with “rookies” just out of school. (The old men were those with two or three year’s experience.) It made for close friendships between couples that shared the hardships of the road, moving and looking for a new place every nine months.. Essentially your company work mates and their spouses were your family. Those friendships lasted for many decades after the project winded down.

The first sector (New York Air Defense Sector) was cut over in late 1958. The entire 23 SAGE sector and 7 combat center job was completed in 1962 (on time) with smaller scale retrofits taking place for a few more years. A few of the experienced people went to Bell Labs Whippany where they worked on a series of very involved tests of SAGE and NIKE Hercules air defense effectiveness in 1961-62. An experimental SAGE system was maintained in Montgomery, AL for testing of new sub-systems through the 60’s.

In the early 60’s, some of the personnel of WE ADES were phased into Bell labs/WE projects such as MAR-I, NIKE X/Safeguard, Underwater Defense, and ESS. Some went to WE factory or service locations, Bell operating companies and AT&T. Many, longing to be closer to home, now with children, or seeking another venue went with NASA, Jet Propulsion Labs, or other companies.

SAGE was a great project for the country, the company, and most of the people who worked on it. For many it was a way of learning a new field, getting to see the country, and make a few dollars in the process, - a great adventure which led to many good things.

Robert F. Martina (Lucent ret. )


Donald E. Procknow     The Last Western Electric President 1972-1984

Don Procknow

For so many of our retirees, there is no name more synonymous with Western Electric history than that of Don Procknow, the 14th and last president of this once vast supplier of equipment and services to the former Bell System companies. To many of our retirees, Western Electric was simply their company, and Don Procknow was the face of that company.

Don Procknow was born in 1923 in Madison, South Dakota. After graduating from high school, he attended the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology until his studies were interrupted by the war in 1943. He served in the U.S. Navy for the next three years, spending a year and a half as an engineering officer aboard a landing craft in the Pacific. Upon his release from service, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin where he earned a BS degree in electrical engineering in 1947.

Don began his Western Electric career in June of 1947 as an engineer at the Hawthorne Works in Chicago. He progressed rapidly through the ranks and was elected Vice President of the Company in 1965. He was appointed Executive Vice President in charge of all service operations in October of 1969 and became a director of the Company in December of that year.

Don was named President and Chief Administrative Officer of Western Electric in November of 1971 and assumed the position of Chief Executive Officer in March of 1972. He served in this capacity until divestiture in January of 1984 when he became Vice Chairman of the newly formed AT&T Technologies.

Perhaps no president in Western Electric’s history faced greater challenges and change during his tenure than Don Procknow. The accelerating technology changes of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s dramatically altered the manufacturing footprint of the company and resulted in painful factory closings, including the storied Works at Hawthorne, Kearny, Baltimore and Indianapolis. Western Electric employment dropped from a peak of 215,000 in 1970 to approximately 153,000 in 1982.

In addition, the 1974 Justice Department antitrust suit and competition to Western Electric’s core business brought new pressures. Under Don Procknow’s leadership, Western Electric introduced account and product management functions in a prescient move that helped prepare the company for the emerging future that lay ahead.

At divestiture In January of 1984, the Western Electric name ceased to exist, and the functions were split between the newly formed AT&T Network Systems, under Wayne Weeks, and AT&T Technology Systems, under Tommy Thomsen. Don Procknow became Vice Chairman of the new AT&T Technologies. Having done his job well, in preparing the company for the future, he retired in 1985.

When asked to reflect upon the legacy of Western Electric, Don wrote the following: “Long before it became fashionable, Western had a great emphasis on quality, starting with the people we brought into the business and elected to retain and, of course, carrying through to the extensive quality control programs we had for the production and delivery of our products and services. I think history will show that resulted in the highest and most reliable quality products and services in the industry.”

Don Procknow never lost touch with friends and associates he grew up with in the company. People comment about his unique ability to remember names and to make every employee he met feel important and comfortable in his presence. Retired former President of AT&T Technology Systems and fellow Bucks County, Pa. resident, Tommy Thomsen, talks of the basic human goodness of the man.

Don Procknow passed away on July 1, 2016. All of us on the LRO Board of Directors send Esther our very best wishes, and we thank Don for his years of leadership and our shared memories of times together in our Western Electric Company.

William O. Baker, President at Bell Labs 1973-1979

BakerW. O. Baker

Physical Chemist William Oliver Baker (1915-2005)

A Biographical Memoir by LOUIS BRUS 2013 National Academy of Sciences

PHYSICAL CHEMIST WILLIAM O. BAKER LED SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories during the period, post-World War II, of its legendary achievements: semiconductor materials science, silicon transistors, solar cells, software controlled electronic switching, digital communication based on information theory, the Unix operating system, satellite communication, optical communication involving semiconductor lasers and glass fibers, and wireless cellular technology. This massive R&D effort by the Bell system—the AT&T national telephone monopoly at the time—virtually created the digital-information age that has completely transformed our modern world.

Baker became Bell Labs’ vice president for research in 1955 and its president in 1973. Believing deeply in the value of research in a technology organization, over time he convinced AT&T to expand research, both in size and in scope, to a broader range of sciences underlying telecommunications. Baker said: “Research must ‘look away’ from everyday pressures of the ongoing development and engineering enterprise toward the vistas opened by new knowledge and technique.”1

By the 1970s the research area had grown to about 1,300 people; Bell Labs as a whole then had about 25,000. The research effort was enormously productive. As of 2012, nine scientists have won Nobel Prizes for research performed inside Bell Labs during Baker’s leadership and immediately following his age-related mandatory retirement in 1980: Charles H. Townes for laser physics, Philip W. Anderson for solid-state theory, Arno Penzias and Robert W. Wilson for the cosmic radiation background, Steven Chu for optical trapping, Horst L. Stormer and Daniel C. Tsui for the fractional quantum Hall effect, and George E. Smith and Willard S. Boyle for charge-coupled device (CCD) imaging.


Born July 15, 1915, and raised on a turkey farm on the eastern shore of Maryland, Baker grew up knowing the meaning of hard work. He was the only child of Harold and Helen May (Stokes) Baker. The family had lived in New York City for generations before buying the farm in 1913 and his parents remained intellectually curious and read widely, though neither had gone to college. Young Baker was much influenced by, and very close to, his mother—an exceptional woman who was known nationally for her pioneering work in scientific turkey husbandry. She wrote two books on this subject. Baker attended a one-room schoolhouse until high school and became a standout undergraduate at tiny Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, just 10 miles from the farm.

While his intention was always to pursue a career in science, he also had a deep interest in the humanities. Baker received a classical liberal arts education at Washington College, with only a modest exposure to science even though his major was chemistry. In his senior year he was editor of the student newspaper and president of the debating society. He was also president of his fraternity. He played the lead role Hamlet in a student production of Shakespeare’s tragedy. His 1935 senior yearbook says “His interests range from the nesting habits of birds to the philosophy of the Greeks, from colonial architecture to the amino acids.” Baker never lost this fascination with all aspects of culture, human nature, and the world around him.

Baker focused on science when he entered the chemistry Ph.D. program at Princeton in the fall of 1935. It was an exciting time, as new physical methods and new quantum-mechanical chemical-bonding ideas, especially those of Linus Pauling, were then coming into molecular science. Science graduate students all lived together in one residential college; Baker became close friends there with Conyers Herring, then a theoretical solid-state physics student with Eugene Wigner and later a career researcher at Bell Labs. Solid-state physics was to become critical to Bell Labs in the 1950s; however, in the 1930s the electronic properties of solids were a poorly understood and minor area of physics. Baker took graduate courses both in chemistry and physics. He studied quantum mechanics with Henry Eyring and electromagnetism with J. van Vleck, who was visiting from Harvard. He attended astrophysics lectures given by Henry Norris Russell; and he worked briefly in the nuclear physics lab of G. P. Harnwell. In a 1985 interview, Baker vividly described how exciting it had been to hear Niels Bohr’s famous January 1939 colloquium reporting the discovery of nuclear fission.2

His Ph.D. thesis advisor was Charles P. Smyth, an expert in dielectrics who had worked briefly with Peter Debye in Europe. In his thesis Baker inferred molecular motions from observation of phase transitions and hysteresis in the dielectric and optical properties of organic van der Waals crystals. He synthesized and purified samples, and took measurements with a capacitance bridge and vacuum-tube AC amplifier. Extensive purification by repeated recrystallization was essential to eliminate impurities. Baker received the premier fellowships available in the department, and later in life Smyth said that Baker had been his brightest student. In 1939, at age 24, Baker earned his Ph.D. summa cum laude in chemistry. This was a remarkable achievement after entering Princeton with a comparatively weak scientific background.

Baker’s broad cultural and scientific interests served him well in everything he undertook in life.


In 1939 Baker joined Bell Labs in New Jersey as Vice President Mervin Kelley began to form an embryonic research unit inside this communications-technology organization. Around this time, at the beginning of World War II, Kelley also recruited Claude Shannon, William Shockley, and Charles Townes. Baker joined a chemistry group, closely coupled to engineering and manufacturing, that focused on materials in the Bell system. Calvin Fuller, an expert on X-ray polymer characterization, was Baker’s supervisor and mentor. The group had a vision that materials need not just be taken from nature but could be scientifically designed for optimal properties.

Fuller and Baker were influenced by the emerging understanding of polymers as covalently bonded macromolecules. This idea, originally proposed by Hermann Staudinger in Zürich, was strongly supported by Wallace Carothers’ pioneering synthesis of nylon at Du Pont in 1935. Baker physically characterized a series of solubilized short linear polymers of known composition and length, to test the basic ideas and predictions of Staudinger and of Paul Flory. He also correlated macroscopic mechanical and dielectric properties with microscopic structure in a wide range of crystalline polymers. At Princeton as a Ph.D. student, and at Bell Labs before 1943, Baker worked full-time in the laboratory. He was quite productive, publishing 11 papers in the Journal of the American Chemical Societyand the Journal of Chemical Physics.

Everyone at Bell Labs worked on military technologyduring the war. For his part, young Baker played an essential role in the massive American effort to create copolymer synthetic rubber from butadiene and styrene feedstocks. He assumed responsibility for, and led laboratory work in, basic polymer-characterization science and polymer testing for quality control. This crash program—with the U.S. rubber industry effectively nationalized—was quite successful; production reached 700,000 tons per year in 1945.

During this research Baker discovered that emulsion polymerization created a previously unrecognized polymer structure, which he named “microgel”—a three-dimensional single-polymer macromolecule, of typical size 100 nm, somewhat cross-linked and significantly swollen by solvent. In 1949 Baker summarized his microgel research. Later in life, when discussing more general themes, Baker often wrote in a literary metaphoric style, but in this technical article his style was direct and logical. His fundamental insight was that the copolymer macromolecule would be of the same size as the emulsion micelle in which the gelation reaction occurred. He made the proposal, later confirmed, that this size controls mechanical properties of the final vulcanized extruded rubber.

To characterize microgel molecules, Baker systematically studied solubility, diffusion, and sedimentation behavior in organic solvents, using classical chemical thermodynamic ideas. He found solvent conditions under which microgel macromolecules could be individually dissolved. It was understood at this time that the thermodynamic driving force for hydrocarbon polymer solubility is entropy gain. Baker analyzed his data to show that the observed entropy gain was what would be expected for cross-linked, but not linear, polymer molecules. The cross-linked model was also consistent with the magnitude of the diffusion constant and sedimentation velocity. Moreover, swollen solubilized microgels at high dilution could be directly detected and characterized in right-angle light scattering using methods developed by Debye, a consultant on this research. Primitive electron micrographs of dried microgels were also obtained.

Baker’s work on microgels, like other research outcomes that that occurred repeatedly at Bell Labs, was a significant discovery motivated by a practical issue. This research on colloidal microgels also anticipated much modern research on colloidal nanocrystals, especially in methodology. Today, microgel polymer architectures are widely known. Microgels often exhibit complex structural changes as a function of external stimuli, such as pH and flow sheer, and are being explored for drug delivery.

After World War II, research started again in Bell Labs on telecommunications problems. Famously, the transistor was invented in 1947 by a Shockley-led team explicitly assembled to search for a possible solid-state device to replace vacuum tubes and mechanical relay switches. Shannon’s revolutionary paper on information theory appeared in 1948—the same year that Baker was promoted to department head for polymer science.

The materials group focused on developing solid polyethylene as a sheathing to replace lead on outdoor telephone cables.3 Polyethylene, a saturated hydrocarbon without polar functional groups, in principle had excellent strength, chemical inertness, and lossless highfrequency dielectric response. The British first synthesized polyethylene by accident in the 1930s, and they used it to insulate radar cables during the war. Baker analyzed and solved the critical problem of polyethylene cracking under bending stress; he did so by relating uniaxial and biaxial stress-strain relationships, and mechanical failure, to polyethylene molecular weight. In particular, because higher-weight polyethylenes were found to reorient rather than crack under biaxial stress, significantly improved sheathing could be manufactured.

In addition, new polyethylene materials were systematically created, stabilized, and optimized for other AT&T applications, such as undersea cables and indoor wiring (which previously had paper insulation). Polyethylene created huge cost savings and improved performance in the Bell system. Baker once estimated that these savings were equal to the budget for all of research at Bell Labs for 10 years. This success with polyethylene was built on the fundamental research that the polymer and dielectric group had carried out since the 1930s. Today polyethylene is ubiquitous, used as a structural material and in packaging, in addition to electronics.

As the polyethylene program developed, Baker quickly rose in the Bell Labs hierarchy. By 1955, at age 40, he was in charge of all research there.


Baker had a prodigious memory for people, facts, and ideas. He made a point to befriend everyone at Bell Labs, from the most creative and quirky scientist to the lowliest technician. A man of style and grace, with a kind word and genuine concern for all, he did not naturally dominate a group or project his ego. He was reserved and did not often volunteer his opinions. Baker’s speeches were inspirational and literary, often quoting English poetry, and reflective of his early interest in humanities at Washington College. He kept detailed records and handwritten notes, and his office was piled high with stacks of paper. Yet as a manager Baker was organized—he was quick to assess people, to understand breakthroughs, and to accurately extrapolate into the future. His colleagues had deep respect for his probing intelligence and acumen. Yet he preferred to work in the background so that others would get public credit. His goal was always that the results of research be used to benefit mankind; it was this aspect that made Bell Labs’ research area different from a university.

Baker did everything he could to support young scientists working full-time in research, and he made a tremendous effort to find and recruit the most creative recent Ph.D.s. Baker believed that great discoveries are made by individual scientists working in a stimulating environment. He once said, “The ideas of scientific discovery come one at a time from one person and one mind at a time. Sometimes two or three can aid each other.”4 A stimulating Bell Labs research culture was built on free and spontaneous discussion across the entire organization; and this often led to new insights and interdisciplinary research.

There was stable long-term funding, and it was not necessary to write proposals. Rather, a young scientist needed only to convince his or her managers that the science was really interesting and that there was some possibility the research might ultimately influence the Bell system. Often just a short discussion was sufficient. The managers themselves were scientists of accomplishment, promoted from within the research ranks, who understood telecommunications. Once when a young scientist asked where the money for a new idea could be found, Baker told him to “worry about and champion the right ideas; let others worry about budget support.” Moreover, a young scientist had the “freedom to fail.” It was recognized that truly novel projects, in comparison with safer research sure to lead to publication, might well fall short despite heroic effort. If this occurred, a scientist could go on to other ideas, without prejudice to his or her career.

Baker’s great gift was his understanding of how to organize, encourage, and lead people, especially ambitious scientists, so as to bring out their best. Even though he had hundreds of Ph.D.s in his organization, he read papers by individual scientists. Often he would drop by the researcher’s lab unannounced, discuss the results for a few minutes, and encourage further work. As he said, “you ask the right questions to stimulate the creative ego and then bend over backwards not to claim credit.” The number-one rule for a Bell Labs manager was not to compete with those doing the research. The management structure and style developed at the Labs during this period have since been widely adopted elsewhere.

It is remarkable to realize that during Baker’s long career of doing and overseeing Bell Labs research, he also was devoting extensive time to national security. In the 1940s he was recruited to join a secret committee formed by President Truman to estimate when the Soviets would first have an atomic bomb, and he later became a trusted advisor to Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. In the 1950s Baker led efforts to define and establish new technology for intelligence gathering in the National Security Agency, an entity whose very existence was secret at the time. He also specifically developed the plan to establish the U.S. Defense Communications Agency, and he ensured that the intelligence community used the latest solid state and computer technology.

In times of crisis Baker went to Washington; in fact, during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, he personally brought the news to President Kennedy that the Russian cargo ships had turned back. He served a total of 29 years, under five presidents, on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. But rather than take a full-time position in the government, he preferred to influence events behind the scenes while leading research at Bell Labs. Thus in his office at the Labs there was a secure telephone line to the White House. Of course, most of his national security work was quite secret, becoming known only after the Cold War ended.

Having lived through the dark days of World War II, Baker had become a patriot who invested his time, intellect, and wisdom to defend freedom and human rights, and to prevent nuclear catastrophe. In recognition of his pioneering and sustained contributions, today the intelligence community’s principal award, given by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, is named the William Oliver Baker Award.

Baker was also a champion of the importance of materials science, both in the Bell system and throughout the nation, as a critical aspect of virtually any technology. When he was young, materials science was not a scientific discipline; moreover, academic interdisciplinary research, especially between science and engineering departments, was rare. In 1958, as a member of President Eisenhower’s Science Advisory Committee, Baker proposed, and the president approved, new federal funding for academic materials research and education. Drawing on his Bell Labs experience, Baker envisioned a “Materials Research Program” of university-based centers that combined science and engineering, provided central technical facilities, and enjoyed stable multiyear funding.

During the 1960s this new federal program, and its model for structuring academic research, prospered; in 1972 the Materials Research Program was transferred into the National Science Foundation. Over time the centers adopted a team approach: faculty formed interdisciplinary groups to work on specific problems. Today materials science as an academic discipline has grown enormously from these early beginnings, and the interdisciplinary center model has been adopted across all of science.


As he grew older Baker assumed the role of senior statesman. He revealed some of his core beliefs when he spoke on the relationship between science and society at the 1960 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Baker believed that science has the power—transformative power—to aid humanity, and that scientists must fully engage society despite the imperfect nature of politics. “Scientists must carry forth to all the world the bright hope, the good fortune, that science does betoken for mankind,” he said. “We can indeed negate the spreading cynicism and nihilism of our time. Both are alien to science and to research.”4 But he also acknowledged the intrinsic limits of science. He said, “To state it baldly, scientifically there are limits on truth, there are limits on certainty, and there are limits on discovery itself.” Science is based on experiment, and as such is necessarily incomplete, always evolving, and subject to unpredictable changes and, though rare, drastic revision. Still, said Baker, “the scientist has to tell the whole truth as he knows it at that moment in time, and nothing less or different can be expected.” Baker quoted similar thoughts from Richard Feynman as well. Today we see echoes of this issue—the nature of scientific “truth”—in discussions on climate change.

Baker received a great many honorary degrees and awards, including the Priestley Medal—the highest honor bestowed by the American Chemical Society. He won the NSF Vannevar Bush Award for Lifelong Leadership in Science and Technology, the President’s National Security Medal, and the National Medal of Science. To honor Baker upon his retirement, Bell Labs endowed the National Academy of Sciences’ annual Award for Initiatives in Research, most appropriately, “to recognize innovative young scientists and to encourage research likely to lead toward new capabilities for human benefit.”

Baker was chairman of the Board of Trustees both for Rockefeller University and the Andrew Mellon Foundation. He maintained a lifelong relationship with Princeton University, serving for 22 years on the Board of Trustees, and receiving several honors, including a named professorship in the computer science department and an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree. Robert Goheen, who was Princeton’s President in the 1960s, warmly praised Baker’s service in academia, saying “On my part, I know of no layman who has contributed so much so fruitfully to higher education in America through the quality of his mind, dedication to educational improvement and reform, a well mastered fund of experience, and an uncommon quiet ability to help colleagues both grasp the essence of critical issues and base their decisions more on ascertainable fact than wishful thought.” In this statement we see something of how his peers viewed Baker’s analytical mind and reserved yet effective leadership, qualities that were valued at Bell Labs and elsewhere.

Baker served for 34 years on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Welch Foundation in Texas. The author was a young scientist in materials research at Bell Labs when Baker was president, and after he retired from the Labs it was my good fortune to work with him when he organized a Welch Conference on Nanochemistry in 1995. He was then 80 years old, and continuing to focus on the newest ideas in chemistry. Baker lived through the Great Depression as a student, and he had seen its effect on the family farm and on the country. As a result he developed the habits of dressing simply, driving old cars, and leading a quiet life without interest in luxury. Bird watching was a lifelong hobby. He kept his family life separate from his life at Bell Labs. He married Frances Burrill in 1941; they had one son, Joseph, who made a career in information technology.

Baker’s life was exceedingly interesting and eventful. His education began in a one-room rural schoolhouse, and he rose to shape and lead a world famous scientific institution. He was one of the most influential leaders of twentieth-century American science and technology. Late in life, as he was organizing his papers for donation to Princeton, friends often suggested that he write his autobiography. Baker steadfastly refused. He would reply, “You should tell the story of Bell Labs instead.” In essence, Bell Labs was Baker’s life.

It is tragic that Baker clearly anticipated, and lived to experience, the collapse of Bell Labs as the Bell system’s monopoly was broken up. In 1974, when asked what would happen if the U.S. government were to win the antitrust suit against AT&T, Baker said, “Well, I think that Bell Laboratories as we know it now would just disappear.” In retirement he watched this occur in slow motion, finally concluding in 2002 that “Bell Labs does not exist as an institution.” The residual Bell Labs of today (now part of Alcatel-Lucent) does not do physical- science research. Nevertheless, some of the spirit and structure of Baker’s Bell Labs is present in every modern university interdisciplinary center. In addition, the science and technology that Bell Labs created under Baker’s leadership have markedly improved the human condition throughout the world. Together, these results of Baker’s life’s work are his legacy to mankind.


Ron Breslow, Ed Chandross, Venky Narayanamurti, Mark Rochkind, Frank Stillinger, A. Michael Noll, and Phil Anderson shared their memories with me. Noll has described Baker’s life and achievements in detail on the William O. Baker website. A recent book by Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Invention (Penguin Press, 2012), tells the story of Bell Labs and describes its leading figures, including Baker. Another recent book, dedicated to Baker’s memory, contains autobiographies of Bell Labs research scientists during his tenure. Edited by Noll and Michael Geselowitz, it is titled Bell Labs Memoirs: Voices of Innovation (IEEE History Center, 2011).


1. M illman, S. (ed.). 1983. A history of science and engineering in the Bell system. Vol.4: Physical sciences 1925-1980, p. xviii. Indianapolis: AT&T Technologies. 2. W. O. Baker , interview by M. Goldstein, and J. L. Sturchio, May 23, 1985 and June 18, 1985, Oral History Transcript #0013, Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA. 3. M illman, S. (ed.). 1983. A history of science and engineering in the Bell system. Vol.4: Physical sciences 1925-1980, chapter 14. Indianapolis: AT&T Technologies. 4. W. O. Baker’s comments on: Weaver, W., C. P. Snow, T. M. Hesburg, and W. O. Baker. 1961. The moral un-neutrality of science. Science 133(3448):255-262.

Ian M. Ross, President at Bell Labs 1979-1991

Ian Ross Ian M. Ross, who helped perfect the transistor and calculate whether the moon’s surface could support a spaceship’s weight, and then went on to lead Bell Laboratories, the legendary fount of technological marvels and Nobel Prize winners, died on March 10 at his home in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. He was 85.

For much of the 20th century Bell Labs was among the world’s largest research institutions. Its mission was to help AT&T, the telephone monopoly and its corporate parent, cope with everything from digital communication to squirrels chewing phone lines. Its thousands of scientists and engineers fostered discoveries like the transistor, the laser and information theory, earning seven Nobel Prizes and 29,000 patents.

Dr. Ross was Bell Labs’ president when its mission changed radically in 1984, after AT&T had spun off its local phone companies to settle a federal antitrust suit. The loss of these so-called Baby Bells — subsidiaries like New York Telephone and Southern Bell — opened the door for AT&T to hurl its economic and technological might into new, unregulated businesses to compete with companies like I.B.M.

Bell Labs was the glamorous vanguard of this drive to go beyond communications into all phases of information technology. Preaching “urgency,” Dr. Ross nudged his army of scientists to align their sometimes spectacularly esoteric schemes and dreams with market needs, going so far as to dispatch some of them to accompany AT&T sales employees on their rounds.

But he refused to give specific instructions to the 10 percent of Bell employees doing basic research, an enterprise that, among other things, yielded proof that the universe started with a Big Bang.

“It’s a foolish thing to tell a research person what the problem is — you’ll get the answer to that problem and miss a brilliant discovery in the process,” he said.

In the three years after AT&T’s breakup, the labs’ wizards never paused, conjuring wonders like an undersea fiber-optic cable to a superfast computer algorithm for solving complex problems.

In 1996, five years after Dr. Ross retired, AT&T split into three companies, one of which was its old manufacturing arm, renamed Lucent Technologies. Lucent took most of Bell Labs’ personnel.

Lucent at first performed well, increasing the lab’s budget and staff. Then the markets for both its shares and products dipped, and in 2006 Lucent merged with Alcatel, a French company. Two years later, Alcatel-Lucent announced that Bell Labs was pulling out of basic science to focus on more immediately marketable fields.

SBC Communications, a former Baby Bell, bought AT&T’s bones (not including Bell Labs) in 2005 and took its name. Ian Munro Ross was born on Aug. 15, 1927, in Southport, England, and joined Bell in 1952 after earning a doctorate in mechanical sciences from the University of Cambridge. William Shockley, who led the team that invented the transistor in 1947, hired him. In a 2009 oral history interview, Dr. Ross said he had intended to stay for no more than a year but gave up that plan after finding the intellectual buzz there “exhilarating.”

An early assignment was to organize a symposium to tell other companies everything Bell had learned about making transistors, the lightning-fast switches that underpin modern electronics. The fee to attend the symposium was only $25,000, as a down payment on a 5 percent licensing charge. Dr. Ross said the relatively small fee reflected AT&T’s hope that the companies would develop things AT&T could use. Thus did Texas Instruments, Fairchild and Sony get a jump-start on a multibillion-dollar field.

Dr. Ross’s early years at Bell were devoted to guiding teams working to improve the transistor. One effort involved making advances in “field effect” transistors, which became a mainstay of integrated circuits, the term for a set of electronic circuits on a small plate, or “chip,” of semiconductor material.

Another team developed epitaxy, the growing of specialized silicon crystals to make super-thin semiconductor wafers. The wafers allowed for greater speed and memory and led to a new generation of computers, microprocessors and switching systems.

In the oral history, Dr. Ross said of epitaxy: “You know, the reaction, I think, in the industry was a sigh of relief that you could hear from coast to coast. And quite a number of cries, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ ”

Dr. Ross next ran two of Bell’s semiconductor laboratories and oversaw electronics on Telstar, the first communications satellite. In 1964, he was named managing director of Bellcomm, a Bell systems unit formed solely to plan Apollo moon missions.

Bellcomm’s tasks included determining that the lunar surface was almost certainly not composed of dust so powdery that a landing vehicle would just keep sinking. NASA said moon missions would not have succeeded without Bellcomm’s guidance.

After returning to Bell Labs, Dr. Ross was named president in 1979. He was AT&T’s first witness in defending itself against federal charges of antitrust violations in 1981. He called the Bell system “interactive and interdependent,” but conceded that it had withheld information from competitors.

Dr. Ross belonged to the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Academy of Engineering, and won many industry and professional awards.

Dr. Ross was described as a quiet man, but he could not help bragging — or at least expressing wonderment — about the stunning electronic achievements he had helped foster. “If we had had the same progress in the aircraft industry, you and I could be flying between London and New York in 500,000-seat planes and the fare would be about 25 cents,” he once said.

By DOUGLAS MARTIN Published: March 16, 2013 The New York Times


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