AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXX, No. 1, Spring 1998

 

History of Physics Resources at the AT&T Archives

by Sheldon Hochheiser, Corporate Historian, AT&T

The AT&T Archives, located in Warren, NJ, 30 miles from New York City, is the largest corporate archives in the United States. The collection contains approximately 50,000 linear feat of documents, 800,000 photographs, 25,000 films and videos, and 20,000 artifacts documenting the history of AT&T, and thereby much of the history of telecommunications in the United States. One reason the collection is so extensive is its age; William Chauncy Langdon founded the AT&T Archives in 1921, and the company has been collecting its history ever since.

The AT&T Archives assumed its current scope approximately ten years ago when the company merged what had previously been three separate collections: The AT&T Corporate Collection, formerly housed at AT&T's old headquarters building in lower Manhattan; The Western Electric Collection, from AT&T's former manufacturing subsidiary; and the Bell Telephone Laboratories collection, the collection most likely to interest historians of physics. The Bell Telephone Laboratories Collection documents the history of research and development at AT&T from the 19th century to the present. Substantial material therefore predates the 1925 creation of Bell Labs itself. The collection remained intact at AT&T through the recent spinoff of AT&T's equipment businesses as Lucent Technologies.

There are several components to the Bell Telephone Laboratories collection. Collections of administrative papers exist for many of the Lab's leaders including Frank Jewett and Oliver Buckley, the Lab's first two presidents, and others including Harold Arnold, E.B. Craft, and John J. Carty. Tens of thousands of photographs and films and videos are individually cataloged in their respective collections. Much pre-1920s scientific work is cataloged in the Boston and Joint files, which house documents from AT&T's old Boston laboratory. Most scientific work is kept in two additional collections. One contains over 50,000 laboratory notebooks. The other is the project file collection, which contains over 70,000 volumes of paper associated with R&D projects. These papers are filed in the project files as the work is done, and not filed later by individual. Thus, while the Archives holds Nobel Laureate John Bardeen's papers on the development of semiconductor theory, they are not held in a "John Bardeen collection" but rather in the volumes of project file 38139-8 "solid state phenomena," together with material from other researchers working on the same project.

The AT&T Archives is constantly collecting additional material. Laboratory notebooks and papers for project files arrive as part of the regular AT&T Laboratories process. We proactively collect administrative files and other documentation. Recent additions to the Archives of relevance to historians of physics include collections from Bell Labs Presidents William Baker, Ian Ross, and John Mayo, and Bell Labs Vice President Solomon Buchsbaum.

While the AT&T Archives is not open to the general public, the Archives welcomes serious scholars to use the collections in their research. Generally, material is available for scholarly use thirty years after its production. We are happy to answer specific questions or supply photographs or other documents. Research trips are often the most suitable way to use the collection, and can be scheduled by appointment. The Archives tracks its collections through online databases, which scholars may use at the Archives. For more information, or to apply for a research visit, please contact Dr. Sheldon Hochheiser, Corporate Historian and Manager, AT&T Archives, PO Box 4904, Warren, NJ 07059; phone 908-226-2391; e-mail hochheiser@att.com.


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AIP History Center Center for History of Physics
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