One of the most productive research and development concerns in the United States during the twentieth century, Bell Telephone Laboratories, commonly known as Bell Labs, produced numerous inventions that shaped communication, commerce, and everyday life during the twentieth century.
The venture that became known as Bell Labs grew out of Western Electric, the manufacturing division of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). In 1925, AT&T president Walter Gifford established the Bell Telephone Laboratories division to assume the duties of the electrical engineering department of Western Electric, which had been responsible for a number of early advances in telephone technology. From its inception, Bell Labs employed some of the world’s most prominent scientists, producing some of the most dramatic technological advancements of the twentieth century. Among its early inventions were the facsimile (fax) machine, long-distance television transmission, the solar energy cell, and stereo radio broadcasts.
With the outbreak of World War II, Bell Labs refocused its research on the war effort, but it produced a number of inventions during the postwar era that revolutionized modern communications and commerce. Among the most dramatic of these inventions were the
One of the most significant and controversial technological achievements of Bell Labs was the development of
The establishment of Bell Labs symbolized the decreasing role of the individual inventor and the rise of the corporate research laboratory in the development of new technology. Although individual scientists continued to receive credit–and often fame and fortune–for their inventions, technological advances increasingly came to fruition under the financing and supervision of corporations.
Bell Labs’ parent company, AT&T Technologies, was renamed Lucent Technologies in 1996 and was downsized following a financial downturn in the telecommunications industry during the early twenty-first century. Lucent merged with the French telecommunications company Alcatel in 2006 to form Alcatel-Lucent. The Bell Laboratories division subsequently remained operational but drastically scaled down, as many of its locations across the United States were closed.
Endlich, Lisa. Optical Illusions: Lucent and the Crash of Telecom. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Gehani, Narain. Bell Labs: Life in the Crown Jewel. Summit, N.J.: Silicon Press, 2003.
Alexander Graham Bell