Bell Telephone Laboratories

views updated May 09 2018


BELL TELEPHONE LABORATORIES. Serving as one of the world's premier private research and development companies, Bell Labs funds scientific and communication research involving 30,000 engineers and scientists located in thirty countries. Bell Labs has generated over 40,000 inventions, including such innovations as the radio, the transistor, the television, the laser, the remote control, Telstar satellites, the VCR, stereo, the CD player, and the computer.

However, its beginnings were much less auspicious: In 1876, Elisha Gray lost the race to file the first patent for the telephone, having submitted his claim just hours after Alexander Graham Bell. Nonetheless, Gray's prior years of research in electronics paid off, and his business went on to become Western Electric. By 1880, Gray's firm was the largest electrical manufacturing company in the United States, producing such electrical products as the first commercial typewriter as well as telegraph equipment. A year later, as a growing telephone network began to take hold, American Bell (later to become AT&T) bought controlling interest in Western Electric and used the business exclusively to develop and manufacture the Bell Telephone Company's equipment.

In 1925, AT&T and Western Electric created Bell Labs to combine the two companies' research and engineering resources. During World War II, Bell Labs turned its research toward support of the war effort and provided communications and command equipment for the U.S. military, significantly in the development of radar systems. Postwar decades saw Bell advances in communications and information systems that included electronic switching, the UNIX operating system, and packet data switching.

Litigation triggered by U.S. Justice Department anti-trust suits, begun in 1949 but revisited in 1956 and settled in 1974, resulted in AT&T's agreement to divest its local telephone companies. The parent company developed a new charter to manufacture and sell consumer products, network systems, technology systems, and information systems. Increasingly, the company developed worldwide affiliates, and Bell Labs accordingly expanded its scope to support research in an information age at a global level. In 1996, AT&T separated its systems and technology enterprises to create Lucent Technologies, which utilizes Bell Labs as its central tool for research and development.

Through the years, eleven researchers have shared six Nobel Prizes in physics for work done while they worked at Bell Labs, and nine Bell scientists have received the National Medal of Science. Significant recognition of Bell researchers began in 1937, when Dr. Clinton J. Davisson received a Nobel Prize for experimental work confirming the wave nature of electrons. In 1956, John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, and William Shockley collaboratively received a Nobel Prize for their 1947 invention of the transistor. Philip W. Anderson shared a Nobel Prize in 1977 for research that led to a greater understanding of solid-state electronics. A year later, Arno A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson jointly accepted a Nobel Prize for their discovery of the cosmic microwave background, the radiation remaining from the "big bang" explosion that gave birth to the universe billions of years ago. Steven Chu, now at Stanford University, shared a Nobel Prize in 1997 for developing methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. In 1998, Horst Störmer, Robert Laughlin, now at Stanford University, and Daniel Tsui, now at Princeton University, were awarded a Nobel Prize for the discovery and explanation of the fractional quantum Hall effect.


Bell Labs Web Site.

"Seventy-fifth Anniversary: 1925–2000 Commemorative Issue." Bell Labs Technical Journal 5, no. 1 (January-March 2000).


See alsoAT&T ; Laboratories .

Bell Telephone Laboratories

views updated May 18 2018

Bell Telephone Laboratories The Bell Telephone Laboratories, generally known as Bell Labs, were originally owned by AT&T (American Telephone & Telegraph Company) and Western Electric Corporation (the manufacturing arm of AT&T). Bell Labs are one of the most successful commercial research organizations. The products of Bell Labs include Shannon's seminal work on information theory, the transistor, and the UNIX operating system, and 11 members of staff have won Nobel prizes. AT&T was broken up in 1984 and restructured in the mid-1990s. Its systems and technology arm became a separate company under the name of Lucent Technologies and it is to this company that Bell Labs now belong.