Privateline.com's Telephone History Page 9 -- 1951 to 1965
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(Soundwaves) (Life at Western Electric)
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to the 1950s. Dial tone was not widespread until the end of the
decade in North America, not until direct dialing and automatic
switching became common. Dial tone was first introduced into
the public switched telephone network in a German city by the
Siemens company in 1908, but it
took decades before being accepted, with the Bell System taking
the lead. AT&T used it not only to indicate that a line was
free, but also to make the dialing procedure between their automatic
and manual exchanges more familiar to their customers. Manual
exchange subscribers placed calls first through an operator,
who listened to the number the caller wanted and then connected
the parties together. The Bell System thought dial tone a good
substitute for an operator's "Number please" and required
this service in all of their automatic exchanges. Before the
1950s most of the independent telephone companies, but not all,
also provided dial tone. And, of course, dial tone was not possible
on phones such as crank models, in which you signaled an operator
who then later connected your call. [Swihart]
I mentioned direct number dialing, where callers made their
own long distance calls, This was first introduced into the Bell
System in a trial in Englewood, New Jersey in 1951. Ten years
passed before it became universal.
On August, 17, 1951 the first transcontinental microwave system
began operating. [Bell Laboratories Record]
One hundred and seven relay stations
spaced about 30 miles apart formed a link from New York to San
Francisco. It cost the Bell System $40,000,000; a milestone in
their development of radio relay begun in 1947 between New York
and Boston. In 1954 over 400 microwave stations were scattered
across the country. A Bell System "Cornucopia" tower
is shown at left. By 1958 microwave carrier made up 13,000,000
miles of telephone circuits or one quarter of the nations long
distance lines. 600 conversations or two television programs
could be sent at once over these radio routes.
But what about crossing the seas? Microwave wasn't possible
over the ocean and radiotelephony was limited. Years of development
lead up to 1956 when the first transatlantic telephone cable
system started carrying calls. It cost 42 million dollars. Two
coaxial cables about 20 miles apart carried 36 two way circuits.
Nearly fifty sophisticated repeaters were spaced from ten to
forty miles along the way. Each vacuum tube repeater contained
5,000 parts and cost almost $100,000. The first day this system
took 588 calls, 75% more than the previous ten days average with
AT&T's transatlantic radio-telephone service.
In the early 1950s The Bell System
developed an improved neoprene jacketed telephone cord and shortly
after that a PVC or plastic cord. [BLR.]
These replaced the cotton covered cords used since telephony
began. The wires inside laid parallel to each other instead of
being twisted around. That reduced diameter and made them more
flexible. Both, though, were flat and non-retractable, only being
made into spring cords later. In the authoritative Dates in
American Telephone Technology, C.D. Hanscom, then historian
for Bell Laboratories, stated that the Bell System made the neoprene
version available in 1954 and the plastic model available in
1956. These were, the book dryly indicated, the most significant
developments in cord technology since 1926, when solderless cord
tips came into use.
On June 7, 1951, AT&T and
International Telephone and Telegraph signed a cross-licensing
patent agreement. [Myer] This marks
what Myer says "led to complete standardization in the American
telephone industry." Perhaps. I do know that ITT's K-500
phones are completely interchangeable with W.E. Model 500s, so
much so that parts can be freely mixed and matched with each
other. But whether Automatic Electric and other manufacturers
produced interoperable equipment is something I am still researching.
discussion on interchangeable parts]
It is significant, though, that after seventy-five years of
competition the Bell System decided to let other companies use
its patents. Myer suggests a 1949 anti-trust suit against WECO
and AT&T was responsible for their new attitude. On August
9, 1951 ITT began buying Kellogg stock, eventually acquiring
the company. In 1952 the Kellogg Switchboard and Supply company
passed into history, merging with ITT.
Roger Conklin relates, "In just a few years after the
buyout, ITT changed the name from Kellogg Switchboard & Supply
Company to ITT Kellogg. Then, after merging Federal Telephone
and Radio Corporation, its separate telephone manufacturing company
in Clifton, NJ. into ITT Kellogg and combining manufacturing
operations into its Cicero Ave. facility in Chicago, the name
was changed again to ITT Telecommunications. . . . The last change
to ITT Telecommunications [took] place [in]1963."
"In 1989, ITT sold its entire worldwide telecommunications
products business to Alcatel and withdrew totally from this business.
In 1992 Alcatel sold what had formerly been ITT's customer premises
equipment (CPE) business in the US, including its factory in
Corinth, MS. to a group of private investors headed by David
Lee. Initially after purchasing this business from Alcatel, this
new company was known as Cortelco Kellogg. It continues to manufacture
and market what had formerly been ITT's U.S.-made telephones
and related products. The name 'Kellogg' has since been dropped
from its name and the company is now known as Cortelco. For a
short while Cortelco continued to use the ITT name and trademark
on its products under a license from ITT, but this also has been
The ITT information above came from the excellent history site http://www.sigtel.com/ (external link, now dead), produced by the U.K.'s Andrew Emmerson, a first rank telephone historian.
In 1952 the Bell System began
increasing payphone charges from a nickel to a dime. [Fagen]
It wasn't an immediate change since both the payphone and
the central office switching equipment that serviced it had to
be modified. By the late 1950s many areas around the country
were still charging a nickel. Most likely AT&T started converting
payphones in New York City first.
In the mid-50s Bell Labs launched the Essex research project.
It concentrated on developing computer controlled switching,
based upon using the transistor. It bore first fruit in November,
1963 with the 101 ESS, a PBX or office telephone switch that
was partly digital. Despite their computer expertise, AT&T
agreed in 1956 under government pressure not to expand their
business beyond telephones and transmitting information. Bell
Laboratories and Western Electric would not enter such fields
as computers and business machines. In return, the Bell System
was left intact with a reprieve from anti-monopoly scrutiny for
a few years. It is interesting to speculate whether IBM would
have dominated computing in the 1960s if AT&T had competed
in that market.
In 1955 Theodore Gary and Company merged into General Telephone,
forming the largest independent telephone company in the United
States. The combined company served "582,000 domestic telephones
through 25 operating companies in 17 states. It also had interests
in foreign telcos controlling 426,000 telephones." Automatic
Electric, Gary's most well known company, retained its name but
fell under an even larger corporate umbrella. AGCS goes on to
The Gary merger package included Automatic Electric Co. (AE),
which now had subsidiaries in Canada, Belgium and Italy. GTE
had purchased its first telephone-manufacturing subsidiary five
years earlier in 1950 - Leich Electric. But the addition of AE's
engineering and manufacturing capacity assured GTE of equipment
for their rapidly growing telephone operations.
- An excellent timeline
on Automatic Electric history is at the AGCS site. The "A"
in the name stands for AT&T, the "G" for "GTE".
Divisions from both companies combined in 1989 to form AGCS:
General was founded in 1926 as Associated Telephone Utilities
by Sigurd Odegard.
The company went bankrupt during the Great Depression and in
1934 reorganized itself as General Telephone. General had its
own manufacturing company, Leich Electric, which began in 1907.
Growth was unspectacular until Donald C. Power became president
in 1950. He soon bought other companies, building General Telephone
into a large telecommunications company.
After the merger of Automatic Electric, General acquired answering
machine producer Electric Secretary Industries in 1957, carrier
equipment maker Lenkurt Electric in 1959, and Sylvania Electronics
in that same year. In 1959 the newly renamed General Telephone
and Electronics provided everything the independent telephone
companies might want. Although they were not the exclusive manufacturer
for the independents, Automatic Electric was certainly the largest.
And where GTE aggressively went after military contracts, the
Bell System did not. In the late 1950s, for example, Lenkurt
Electric produced most of the armed forces' carrier equipment.
GTE lasted until 1982.
In January, 1958, Wichita Falls, Texas was the first American
city in the Bell System to institute true number calling, that
is, seven numerical digits without letters or names. Although
it took more than fifteen years to implement throughout the Bell
System, ANC, or all number calling, would finally replace the
system of letters and numbers begun forty years before at the
advent of automatic dialing. Telephone numbers like BUtterfield8,
ELliot 1-1017 or ELmwood 1-1017. For a history of exchange names,
please click here
to read my article on them. Keep in mind, too, that many independent
telephone companies did not use letters and numbers,
For a history of country
codes, all number dialing that let people call overseas on their
own, click here: http://mirror.lcs.mit.edu/telecom-archives/archives/country.codes/
For a look at the overwhelming
subject of American area codes, go here: http://mirror.lcs.mit.edu/telecom-archives/archives/areacodes/
The 1960s began a dizzying age of projects, improvements and
introductions. In 1961 the Bell System started work on a classic
cold war project, finally completed in 1965. It was the first
coast to coast atomic bomb blast resistant cable. Intended to
survive where the national microwave system might fail, the project
buried 2500 reels of coaxial cable in a 4,000 mile long trench.
9300 circuits were helped along by 950 buried concrete repeater
stations. Stretched along the 19 state route were 11 manned test
centers, buried 50 feet below ground, complete with air filtration,
living quarters and food and water.
In 1963 the first modern touch-tone phone was introduced,
the Western Electric 1500. It had only ten buttons. Limited service
tests had started in 1959.
Also in 1963 digital carrier techniques were introduced. Previous
multiplexing schemes used analog transmission, carrying different
channels separated by frequency, much like those used by cable
television. T1 or Transmission
One, by comparison, reduced analog voice traffic to a series
of electrical plots, binary coordinates to represent sound. T1
quickly became the backbone of long distance toll service and
then the primary handler of local transmission between central
offices. The T1 system handles calls throughout the telephone
system to this day.
In 1964 the Bell System put its star crossed videotelephone
into limited commercial service between New York, Washington
and Chicago. Despite decades of dreaming, development and desire
by Bell scientists, technicians and marketing wonks, the videotelephone
never found a market.
1968. Even the astute
Japanese fell victim to developing picturephones as this unflattering
photograph shows, this model was probably developed by Nippon
Telephone and Telegraph
In 1965 the first commercial communications satellite was
launched, providing 240 two way telephone circuits. Also in 1965
the 1A1 payphone was introduced by Bell Labs and Western Electric
after seven years of development. Replacing the standard three
slot payphone design, the 1A1 single slot model was the first
major change in coin phones since the 1920s.
1965 also marked the debut of the No. 1ESS, the Bell Systems
first central office computerized switch. The product of at least
10 years of planning, 4,000 man years of research and development,
as well as $500 million dollars in costs, the first Electronic
Switching System was installed in Succasunna, N.J. Built by Western
Electric the 1ESS used 160,000 diodes, 55,000 transistors and
226,000 resistors. These and other components were mounted on
thousands of circuit boards. Not a true digital switch, the 1ESS
did feature Stored Program Control, a fancy Bell System name
for memory, enabling all sorts of new features like speed dialing
and call forwarding. Without memory a switch could not perform
these functions; previous switches such as crossbar and step
by step worked in real time, with each step executed as it happened.
The switch proved a success but there were some problems for
Bell Labs engineers, particularly when a No.1ESS became overloaded.
In those circumstances it tended to fail all at once, rather
than breaking down bit by bit.
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(Soundwaves) (Life at Western Electric) Next page
- [Myers] Myer, Ralph O, 1995,
Old Time Telephones!: Technology, Restoration and Repair,
Tab Books, New York. 123 Excellent. (back
- [Swihart, Stanley] Telecom
History: The Journal of the Telephone History Institute,
Issue 2, Spring 1995 [back to text]
[ETH] Events in Telecommunication
History, 1992 ,AT&T Archives Publication (8.92-2M), p53 (back to
[Bell Laboratories Record] "Coast
to Coast Radio Relay System Opens." Bell Laboratories
Record, May, 1951. 427 (back to
[Bell Laboratories Record] Weber,
C.A., Jacketed Cords for Telephones, Bell Laboratories Record,
May, 1959 187 (back to text)
[Fagen] Fagen, M.D., ed. A
History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: Volume
1 The Early Years, 1875 -1925. New York: Bell Telephone Laboratories,
1975, 357 Briefly mentions coin services. (back
[William Myre discussion on interchangeable
As a teenager in the 60's, I did a detailed examination of
both our Western Electric keyed telephones (installed in 1960)
and a couple of Automatic Electric phones (on of which was keyed).
All the phones were dial telephones. At the time I was attempting
to understand the wiring and reverse engineer the circuitry.
It is my opinion that the parts were not designed to be mechanically
interchangeable. The inside of the phones were laid out differently.
The dial on a WE seemed to be different from a AE mechanically.
The electrical "guts" of both the WE and AE phones
was a metal box with a plastic top on which screw terminals were
located. The layout of these terminals and the box size was not
The handset had dimensional differences as well, although
the AE and WE mic and speaker might fit interchangeably.
Electrically speaking, of course, all phones had pretty much
the same circuits and components, so it would probably be possible
to wire a AE circuit box into a WE phone, and it likely work.
The electrical differences, if they exist, would have to be
in the microphone, speaker, or capacitor used in series with
the ringer coil (and the coil impedance).
I don't remember if the same color coding was used on the
internal wiring, but I can certainly say that having a WE phone
to examine did not help me re-wire the inside of an AE phone
that had been unwired.
I still have a keyed AE phone in my garage. I also somewhere
probably still have the technical bulletin AE sent me to rewire
the AE phone.
[back to text]