AT&T Corporation

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AT&T Corporation
FormerlyAmerican Telephone and Telegraph Company
FoundedMarch 3, 1885;137 years ago (1885-03-03)
New York City, United States
Founders Alexander Graham Bell
Gardiner Greene Hubbard [1]
Thomas Sanders [1]
Dallas, Texas
United States
Area served
United States
Parent American Bell (1885–1899)
Bell System (1899–1984)
Independent (1984–2005)
AT&T Inc. (2005–present)
Subsidiaries AT&T Communications Inc.

AT&T Corporation, originally the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, is the subsidiary of AT&T Inc. that provides voice, video, data, and Internet telecommunications and professional services to businesses, consumers, and government agencies.


During the Bell System's long history, AT&T was at times the world's largest telephone company, the world's largest cable television operator, and a regulated monopoly. At its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, it employed one million people and its revenue ranged between US$3 billion in 1950 [2] ($36.7 billion in present-day terms [3] ) and $12 billion in 1966 [4] ($104 billion in present-day terms [3] ).

In 2005, AT&T was purchased by Baby Bell and former subsidiary SBC Communications for more than $16 billion ($22.2 billion in present-day terms [3] ). SBC then changed its name to AT&T Inc. Today, AT&T Corporation continues to exist as the long distance subsidiary of AT&T Inc., and its name occasionally shows up in AT&T press releases. [5]



A Bell System logo (called the Blue Bell) used from 1889 to 1916. Bell System hires 1889 logo.PNG
A Bell System logo (called the Blue Bell) used from 1889 to 1916.
Share of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, issued 20. December 1921 AT&T 1921.jpg
Share of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, issued 20. December 1921

AT&T started with Bell Patent Association, a legal entity established in 1874 to protect the patent rights of Alexander Graham Bell after he invented the telephone system. Originally a verbal agreement, it was formalized in writing in 1875 as Bell Telephone Company. [6] [7]

In 1880 the management of American Bell had created what would become AT&T Long Lines. The project was the first of its kind to create a nationwide long-distance network with a commercially viable cost-structure. The project was formally incorporated in New York as a separate company named American Telephone and Telegraph Company on March 3, 1885. Originating in New York City, its long-distance telephone network reached Chicago, Illinois, in 1892, [8] with its multitudes of local exchanges continuing to stretch further and further yearly, eventually creating a continent-wide telephone system. On December 30, 1899, the assets of American Bell were transferred into its subsidiary American Telephone and Telegraph Company (formerly AT&T Long Lines); this was because Massachusetts corporate laws were very restrictive, and limited capitalization to ten million dollars, forestalling American Bell's further growth. With this assets transfer at the very end of the 19th century, AT&T became the parent of both American Bell and the Bell System. [9]

AT&T was involved mainly in the telephone business and, although it was a partner with RCA, was reluctant to see radio grow because such growth might diminish the demand for wired services. It established station WEAF in New York as what was termed a toll station. AT&T could provide no programming, but anyone who wished to broadcast a message could pay a "toll" to AT&T and then air the message publicly. The original studio was the size of a telephone booth. The idea, however, did not take hold, because people would pay to broadcast messages only if they were sure that someone was listening. As a result, WEAF began broadcasting entertainment material, drawing amateur talent found among its employees. Opposition to AT&T's expansion into radio and an agreement with the National Broadcasting Company to lease long-distance lines for their broadcasts resulted in the sale of the station and its developing network of affiliates to NBC. [10]


Throughout most of the 20th century, AT&T held a monopoly on phone service in the United States and Canada through a network of companies called the Bell System. At this time, the company was nicknamed Ma Bell.

On April 30, 1907, Theodore Newton Vail became President of AT&T. [11] [12] Vail believed in the superiority of one phone system and AT&T adopted the slogan "One Policy, One System, Universal Service." [11] [12] This would be the company's philosophy for the next 70 years. [12]

Under Vail, AT&T began buying up many of the smaller telephone companies including Western Union telegraph. [11] [12] These actions brought unwanted attention from antitrust regulators. Anxious to avoid action from government antitrust suits, AT&T and the federal government entered into an agreement known as the Kingsbury Commitment. [11] [12] In the Kingsbury Commitment, AT&T and the government reached an agreement that allowed AT&T to continue operating as a monopoly. While AT&T periodically faced scrutiny from regulators, this state of affairs continued until the company's breakup in 1984.

The Break-up

The United States Justice Department opened the case United States v. AT&T in 1974. This was prompted by suspicion that AT&T was using monopoly profits from its Western Electric subsidiary to subsidize the cost of its network, a violation of antitrust law. [13] A settlement to this case was finalized in 1982, leading to the division of the company on January 1, 1984, into seven Regional Bell Operating Companies, commonly known as Baby Bells. These companies were:

Post-breakup, the former parent company's main business was now AT&T Communications Inc., which focused on long-distance services, and with other non-RBOC activities.

AT&T acquired NCR Corporation in 1991. AT&T announced in 1995 that it would split into three companies: a manufacturing/R&D company, a computer company, and a services company. NCR, Bell Labs and AT&T Technologies were to be spun off by 1997. In preparation for its spin-off, AT&T Technologies was renamed Lucent Technologies. Lucent was completely spun off from AT&T in 1996.

Acquisition by SBC

On January 31, 2005, the "Baby Bell" company SBC Communications announced its plans to acquire "Ma Bell" AT&T Corp. for $16 billion. SBC announced in October 2005 that it would shed the "SBC" brand and take the more recognizable AT&T brand, along with the old AT&T's "T" NYSE ticker symbol.

Merger approval concluded on November 18, 2005; SBC Communications began rebranding the following Monday, November 21 as "the new AT&T" and began trading under the "T" symbol on December 1. Present-day AT&T Inc. claims AT&T Corp.'s history as its own, but retains SBC's pre-2005 stock price history and corporate structure. As well, all SEC filings before 2005 are under SBC, not AT&T.

The AT&T headquarters buildings

From 1885 to 1910, AT&T was headquartered at 125 Milk Street in Boston. With its expansion it moved to New York City, to a headquarters on 195 Broadway (close to what is now the World Trade Center site). The property originally belonged to Western Union, of which AT&T held a controlling interest until 1913 when AT&T divested its interest as part of the Kingsbury Commitment. [12] Construction of the current building began in 1912. Designed by William Welles Bosworth, who played a significant role in designing Kykuit, the Rockefeller mansion north of Tarrytown, New York, it was a modern steel structure clad top to bottom in a Greek-styled exterior, the three-story-high Ionic columns of Vermont granite forming eight registers over a Doric base. [14] The lobby of the AT&T Building was one of the most unusual ones of the era. Instead of a large double-high space, similar to the nearby Woolworth Building, Bosworth designed what is called a "hypostyle hall", with full-bodied Doric columns modeled on the Parthenon, marking out a grid. Bosworth was seeking to coordinate the classical tradition with the requirements of a modern building. Columns were not merely the decorative elements they had become in the hands of other architects but created all the illusion of being real supports. Bosworth also designed the campus of MIT as well as Theodore N. Vail's mansion in Morristown, New Jersey.

In 1978, AT&T commissioned a new building at 550 Madison Avenue. This new AT&T Building was designed by Philip Johnson and quickly became an icon of the new Postmodern architectural style. The building was completed in 1984, the very year of the divestiture of the Bell System. The building proved to be too large for the post-divestiture corporation and in 1993, AT&T leased the building to Sony, who then subsequently owned the building until it was sold in 2013. [15] [16]


AT&T, prior to its merger with SBC Communications, had three core companies:

AT&T Alascom continues to sell service in Alaska. AT&T Communications was renamed AT&T Communications – East, Inc. and sold long-distance telephone service and operated as a CLEC outside of the borders of the Bell Operating Companies that AT&T owns. It has now been absorbed into AT&T Corp. and all but 4 of the original 22 subsidiaries that formed AT&T Communications continue to exist. The AT&T company had become too large and the government, wanting to prevent a monopoly forced AT&T to break up. AT&T Laboratories has been integrated into AT&T Labs, formerly named SBC Laboratories.

Nicknames and branding

AT&T logo 12-bar vertical lockup.svg
1983 AT&T logo designed by Saul Bass

AT&T was also known as "Ma Bell" and affectionately called "Mother" by phone phreaks. During some strikes by its employees, picketers would wear T-shirts reading, "Ma Bell is a real mother." It is worth noting too that, before the break-up, there was greater consumer recognition of the "Bell System" name, in comparison to the name AT&T. This prompted the company to launch an advertising campaign after the break-up to increase its name recognition. Spinoffs like the Regional Bell Operating Companies or RBOCs were often called "Baby Bells". Ironically, "Ma Bell" was acquired by one of its "Baby Bells", SBC Communications, in 2005.

The AT&T Globe Symbol, [17] the corporate logo designed by Saul Bass in 1983 and originally used by AT&T Information Systems, was created because part of the United States v. AT&T settlement required AT&T to relinquish all claims to the use of Bell System trademarks. It has been nicknamed the "Death Star" in reference to the Death Star space station in Star Wars which the logo resembles. In 1999 it was changed from the 12-line design to the 8-line design. Again in 2005 it was changed to the 3D transparent "marble" design created by Interbrand for use by the parent company AT&T Inc. This name was also given to the iconic Bell Labs facility in Holmdel, New Jersey, now a multi-tenant office facility.[ citation needed ]

List of AT&T chief executive officers

The following is a list of the 16 CEOs of AT&T Corporation, from its incorporation in 1885 until its purchase by SBC Communications in 2005. [18]

#chief executive officerYears in officeTitle
1 Theodore Newton Vail, bw photo portrait, 1913.jpg Theodore Newton Vail 1885–1887President
2 The history of the telephone (1910) (14756392855).jpg John E. Hudson1887–1900President
3 Frederick Perry Fish 1901–1907President
4 Theodore Newton Vail, bw photo portrait, 1913.jpg Theodore Newton Vail 1907–1919President
5 Harry Bates Thayer.jpg Harry Bates Thayer 1919–1925President
6 Walter S. Gifford, Bell Telephone Magazine (1944).jpg Walter Sherman Gifford 1925–1948President
7Leroy A. Wilson1948–1951President
8 Bell telephone magazine (1922) (14569651027).jpg Cleo F. Craig 1951–1956President
9 Frederick Kappel 1956–1961
10 Haakon Ingolf Romnes 1967–1972Chairman
11 John D. deButts 1972–1979Chairman
12 Charles L. Brown 1979–1986Chairman
13 James E. Olson 1986–1988Chairman
14 Robert Eugene Allen 1988–1997Chairman
15 C. Michael Armstrong 1997–2002Chairman
16 David Dorman 2002–2005Chairman

Notable employees

Robert J. Fleck 44 years, 4 months, 10 days as started AT&T Long Lines January 1936 until retired 1981. "working at New York City headquarters of AT&T in the mailroom and rose to District and Project Manager for various projects. He was especially proud of managing the installation of the Early Warning System encompassing radar facilities from the Alaskan Aleutian Islands across the icecap of Greenland to Iceland in 1957-1959. He was the project manager for the CENTO Microwave Systems renovations in Ankara, Turkey from 1965-1967. In 1975-1977, he was co-director for the Civil Engineering building construction for American Bell International in Tehran, Iran." [19]
Angus MacdonaldAT&T lineman during the Great Blizzard of 1888 who worked with his crew on the New York to Boston telephone line repairs that were down. While repairing downed line portions, helped stalled train passengers secure food and drink. His commitment and service efforts were commissioned by AT&T in a painting to honor him and his crew. Titled, “The Spirit of Service” and it symbolizes the service ethic of telephone workers. Angus retired in 1934 and was one of the first members of the Telephone Pioneers. The Telephone Pioneers of America associate this painting to their "group’s mission, vision and values." [20]
Vernon Stanley Mummert B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S.E. in Instrumentation Engineering from the University of Michigan. Master's degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from MIT, and Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University. "His career at Bellcomm, Inc., a subsidiary of AT&T in Washington, D.C., contracted by NASA, included planning the trajectory for the Apollo 11 space flight of July 16 through July 24, 1969, the first crewed mission to land on the moon." Retiring from Bell Labs in 1995, he worked as a consultant for NCR. [21]
James Turner Stephens, Jr. 35 years AT&T Corp., "arrested in Tokyo, Japan, October 1941 for conducting a global phone call between Washington D.C. and Moscow." [22]
Richard William VieserHis business career began as a trainee at AT&T headquarters in New York City. Joined Chatham Electronics Corporation, the location manufactured specialized electron tubes used in the DEW line and early warning systems for missiles across the Artic and Canada. [23]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Regional Bell Operating Company</span> U.S. regional telephone companies created by 1984 AT&T breakup

The Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOC) are the result of United States v. AT&T, the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust suit against the former American Telephone & Telegraph Company. On January 8, 1982, AT&T Corp. settled the suit and agreed to divest its local exchange service operating companies. Effective January 1, 1984, AT&T Corp.'s local operations were split into seven independent Regional Bell Operating Companies known as the Baby Bells.

AT&T Teleholdings, Inc., formerly known as Ameritech Corporation, is an American telecommunications company that arose out of the 1984 AT&T divestiture. Ameritech was one of the seven Regional Bell Operating Companies that was created following the breakup of the Bell System. Ameritech was acquired in 1999 by SBC Communications, which subsequently acquired AT&T Corporation in 2006, becoming the present-day AT&T.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">BellSouth</span> American telecommunications company

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The New England Telephone and Telegraph Company was a very early, short lived company set up to develop the then-new telephone. It should not be confused with the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company that was formed a year later and was one of the largest of the regional Bell Telephone Companies.

The Pacific Bell Telephone Company is a telephone company that provides telephone service in California. The company is owned by AT&T through AT&T Teleholdings, and, though separate, is now marketed as “AT&T”. The company has been known by a number of names during which its service area has changed. The formal name of the company from the 1910s through the 1984 Bell System divestiture was The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company. As of 2002, the name “Pacific Bell” is no longer used in marketing, Pacific Bell is still the holder of record for the infrastructure of cables and fiber through much of California.

Pacific Telesis Group was one of the seven Regional Bell Operating Companies, sometimes also referred to as "RBOCs" or "Baby Bells", created in 1983 in preparation of the breakup of AT&T as a holding company for Pacific Bell and Nevada Bell, Pacific Telesis International and several other non-regulated companies including PacTel Mobile Services and PacTel InfoSystems. It was acquired by SBC Communications in 1997.

Houston Cellular was a Houston-based cell phone company which provided AMPS and D-AMPS (TDMA) service in the Greater Houston area. It was formed in 1983 and was operated as a partnership between LIN Broadcasting Corp., Mobile Communication Corp. of America and BellSouth Co. Its headquarters were located in Houston, Texas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Breakup of the Bell System</span> 1982 U.S. government action to end AT&T Corps monopoly over telephone services

The breakup of the Bell System was mandated on January 8, 1982, by an agreed consent decree providing that AT&T Corporation would, as had been initially proposed by AT&T, relinquish control of the Bell Operating Companies, which had provided local telephone service in the United States. This effectively took the monopoly that was the Bell System and split it into entirely separate companies that would continue to provide telephone service. AT&T would continue to be a provider of long-distance service, while the now-independent Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), nicknamed the "Baby Bells", would provide local service, and would no longer be directly supplied with equipment from AT&T subsidiary Western Electric.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bell Telephone Company</span> American telecommunications firm

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bell System</span> 1877 American telephone service monopoly

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