1876: Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone, for which he receives two patents. With two financial backers founds the company that becomes AT&T.
The first telephone exchange in the United States opens in New Haven,
CT under license from Bell Telephone. Within a few years, licensed
telephone exchanges open in every major city in the country. These
franchises, together with the parent company, eventually become known
as the Bell System.
The American Telephone and Telegraph Company is formed as a subsidiary
of then-parent American Bell Telephone Company, with a charter to build
and operate the original long distance network. By the end of the year,
AT&T completes its first line, between New York and Philadelphia.
The initial capacity of the line was one call.
Alexander Graham Bell's second telephone patent expires, opening the
telephone industry to competition. Within a decade, over 6,000
companies went into the telephone business in localities across the
Michael Pupin of Columbia University and George Campbell of AT&T
independently develop the theory of loading coils. With loading coils,
which reduce the rate at which a traveling telephone signal weakens, it
becomes possible to build longer telephone lines.
Theodore Vail begins his second term as President of AT&T (he had
been president in 1885-1887) He develops the philosophy, strategy, and
structure that guides AT&T and the Bell System for the next seventy
AT&T settles its first federal anti-trust suit with a document
known as the Kingsbury Commitment. It establishes AT&T as a
government sanctioned monopoly. In return, AT&T agrees to divest
the controlling interest it had acquired in the Western Union telegraph
company, and to allow non-competing independent telephone companies to
interconnect with the AT&T long distance network.
Using the first practical electrical amplifiers, developed by
AT&T's Harold Arnold, AT&T opens the first transcontinental
telephone line. The new line connects the network that AT&T had
been building out in every direction from New York since 1885 with a
separate network that had been constructed by AT&T's Pacific
Telephone subsidiary on the West Coast. In effect, it connects
telephones throughout the continental United States. The ceremonial
first call on Jan. 25 has four locations: New York City, San Francisco,
the White House in Washington, D.C., and Jekyll Island, Ga., where
AT&T President Theodore Vail is at the time. Service is available
to all telephone customers, but at an initial price of $20.70 for the
first three minutes between New York and San Francisco, volume is low.
AT&T begins transatlantic telephone service, initially between the
US and London. The conversations crossed the Atlantic via radio. The
initial capacity is 1 call at a time, at a cost of $75 for the first
AT&T presents the first demonstration of television in the United
States. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover's live moving image was
transmitted over cable to New York, where it was seen by AT&T
President Walter Gifford, and a large audience.
AT&T inaugurates transpacific telephone service, initially between
the US and Japan. Calls travel across the Pacific via radio. The
initial capacity is one call at a time at a cost of $39 for the first
Clinton Davisson of Bell Telephone Laboratories wins the Nobel Prize in
Physics for experimental confirmation of the wave nature of the
electron. He becomes the first of seven Nobel Prize winners produced by
The first non-experimental installation of coaxial cable in the network
is placed in service between Minneapolis, Minn., and Stevens Point,
Wis. The type of coaxial cable installed was invented at AT&T in
1929 and is the first broadband transmission medium.
1947: AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories scientists John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley invent the transistor,
the first solid state amplifier or switch, and lay the foundation for
modern electronics. The three shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956
for the achievement.
AT&T begins offering networking services for television on
facilities connecting major cities in the northeast and midwest. The
service reaches the west coast in 1951. Television networks use this
service to transmit programming to their affiliated stations around the
AT&T introduces customer-dialing of long distance calls, initially
in Englewood, NJ. The national rollout takes place over the second half
of the 1950s. Until this innovation, all long distance calls required
AT&T and the US Justice department agree on a consent decree to end
an antitrust suit brought against AT&T in 1949. AT&T restricts
its activities to those related to running the national telephone
system, and special projects for the federal government.
AT&T opens for service TAT-1, the first trans-Atlantic telephone
cable. The initial capacity is 36 calls at a time at a price per call
of $12 for the first three minutes. Since trans-Atlantic service opened
in 1927, calls had traveled across the ocean via radio waves. But
cables provide much higher signal quality, avoid atmospheric
interference and offer greater capacity and security.
1962: AT&T launches Telstar I, the first active communications satellite. Telstar transmits the first live television across the Atlantic.
1963: AT&T introduces touchtone service, with a keypad replacing the familiar telephone dial, initially in Greensburg and Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
AT&T opens TPC-1, the first submarine telephone cable across the
Pacific. It went from Japan to Hawaii, where it connected to two cables
linking Hawaii with the mainland. This brought the same improvements to
trans-Pacific service that TAT-1 had brought to trans-Atlantic service
Researchers at Bell Telephone Laboratories create the Unix computer
operating system, which is designed to be hardware independent. It
eventually becomes the underlying language of the Internet.
Computerization of the network begins as AT&T installs the world's
first digital electronic toll switch, the 4ESS®, in Chicago. This
switch could handle a much higher volume of calls (initially 350,000
per hour) with greater flexibility and speed than the electromechanical
switch it replaced.
AT&T and the Justice Department agree on tentative terms for
settlement of anti-trust suit filed against AT&T in 1974. AT&T
agrees to divest itself of its local telephone operations. In return,
the Justice department agrees to lift the restrictions on AT&T
activities contained in the 1956 Consent Decree. The agreement, once
accepted by the court, becomes known as the Modification of Final
Judgement or MFJ.
In conjunction with the soon-to-be-divested Ameritech, AT&T opens
the first commercial cellular telephone system in the United States in
Chicago. The cellular franchises pass to the divested local companies
On January 1 the Bell System ceases to exist. In its place are seven
Regional Bell Operating Companies and a new AT&T that retains its
long distance telephone, manufacturing, and research and development
Equal Access carrier selection begins, first in Charleston WV. The
Federal Communications Commission had mandated that all telephone
subscribers choose which long distance company they would reach on
dialing 1+ the number. This would level the playing field and bring
full competition to the long distance telephone market.
AT&T reduces long distance rates by 6.4 percent, as non-traffic
sensitive costs begin moving from rates to local-company administered
access charges. This was the first in a series of rate reductions over
the next six years that totaled approximately forty percent.
AT&T lays and opens TAT-8, the first fiber optic submarine
telephone cable across the Atlantic. It has a capacity equivalent to
40,000 calls, ten times that of the last copper cable. (Today's cables
have capacities equivalent to over 1,000,000 calls).
AT&T announces a definitive merger agreement with McCaw Cellular
Communications Inc, the largest provider of cellular service in the
United States. The acquisition is later renamed AT&T Wireless.
AT&T completes the transaction in 1994.
On September 20, AT&T announces that it is restructuring into three
separate companies: a services company, retaining the AT&T name; a
products and systems company (later named Lucent Technologies) and a
computer company (which reassumed the NCR name). Lucent is spun off in
October 1996, and NCR in December, 1996.
AT&T announces general availability of its local residential
telephone service in New York with a bundled plan called "AT&T
Local One Rate New York." This is AT&T's first general reentry into
the consumer local telephone business since the break up of the Bell
System. It occurs under the provisions of the Telecommunications Act of
AT&T acquires TCI, the second largest cable company in the United
States. TCI becomes AT&T Broadband. The following year, AT&T
Broadband acquires cable company MediaOne, and becomes the largest
cable company in the United States.
2000: AT&T announces that it will
reorganize into a family of companies – AT&T (including AT&T
Business and AT&T Consumer), AT&T Wireless and AT&T
Broadband. AT&T Wireless is spun off in July 2001, and AT&T
Broadband completes a merger with the Comcast Corporation in November
2000: For the first time, the volume of data traffic on the AT&T network exceeds the volume of voice traffic.
2002: AT&T deploys a new nationwide intelligent optical network
which restores service faster in the event of a failure or disaster.
This new network also provides the capability to dramatically shorten
provisioning time for new high-speed circuits for business customers
who have direct access to the network.