AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIX , No. 1, Spring 2007

 

The AT&T Archives and History Center Documents the Complex History of Telecommunication Corporations
by William D. Caughlin, Corporate Archivist, AT&T Inc.


A Bell Labs scientist studies a helium-neon laser to determine
the relationship of power output to the length of the cavity, ca.
1963-1964. Courtesy AT&T Archives and History Center

Scholars interested in 130 years of scientific and technological innovations, pioneered by AT&T will find the company’s archival collections a matchless source for their research. Historians will also find the collections indispensable for understanding the bewildering number of mergers, acquisitions and divestitures that have shaped the telecom industry since 1876. The AT&T Archives and History Center, with locations in San Antonio, TX (AT&T world headquarters) and Warren, NJ (30 miles from New York City), is reputedly the largest corporate archives in the United States and a genuine national treasure. While in separate settings, the two repositories are unified operationally. The combined collections contain over 40,000 cubic feet of documents; 1,500,000 photographs; 50,000 films and videos; and 20,000 artifacts documenting AT&T’s storied past, as well as the complicated history of American telecommunications.

In 1984, the Bell System, owned by the former American Telephone and Telegraph Co. (a.k.a. “Ma Bell,” which became AT&T Corp. in 1994), was split up in the largest corporate reorganization in U.S. history. Out of the divestiture was born Southwestern Bell Corp. (renamed SBC Communications Inc. in 1995) and six other “Baby Bells” who each inherited local Bell operating companies that were over 100 years old. Soon after the signing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, SBC Communications Inc. began acquiring some of its siblings: Pacific Telesis Group (1997), Southern New England Telecommunications Corp. (1998) and Ameritech Corp. (1999). In a strategic alliance, SBC and BellSouth Corp. pooled their wireless properties, forming Cingular Wireless, LLC (2000). Upon the acquisition of its earlier parent AT&T Corp. (2005), SBC renamed itself AT&T Inc. The “new” AT&T soon purchased BellSouth (2006) to become the largest telecom company in the world.


The physicist Clinton J. Davisson, the first Bell Labs researcher to win a Nobel Prize, in his laboratory, ca. 1930s. Courtesy AT&T Archives and History Center

The San Antonio collections are centered on records of the regional holding companies—SBC Communications Inc., Pacific Telesis Group, Southern New England Telecommunications Corp., Ameritech Corp., and BellSouth Corp.—and their predecessors and subsidiaries, which trace the evolution of local landline and wireless phone service in 22 states (1878-present).

The Warren holdings comprise records of AT&T Corp. and its predecessors including the original Bell Telephone Company, as well as former subsidiaries Western Electric Company, Inc. and Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. These materials mainly illustrate technological innovations, such as long-distance voice and data services, and their impact on American society (1869-present). The “old” AT&T Archives assumed its current form twenty years ago with the consolidation of three distinct collections: the AT&T Corporate Collection, formerly housed at AT&T’s old headquarters in lower Manhattan; the Western Electric Collection, from AT&T’s previous manufacturing subsidiary; and the Bell Telephone Laboratories Collection, the one most apt to attract historians of physics. The latter documents the history of research and development at AT&T, with considerable material pre-dating the 1925 creation of Bell Labs itself. This collection remained at AT&T even after the 1996 spin-off of Lucent Technologies.

Although the AT&T Archives and History Center exists to serve company activities and is not open to the general public, the Archives invites serious scholars to make use of the collections. Material is generally available for scholarly research thirty years after its creation. We are delighted to supply digital copies of photographs or other select non-proprietary documents at no cost. Research visits, however, are the best means to access the collections, and must be scheduled in advance. Onsite databases are available to researchers for identifying archival materials. For more information, please contact William Caughlin, Corporate Archivist, AT&T Archives and History Center, 4949 Von Scheele, San Antonio, TX 78229; phone 210-697-1763; e-mail william.d.caughlin@att.com; or George Kupczak, Area Manager of Archival Collections, AT&T Archives and History Center, 5 Reinman Road, Warren, NJ 07059; phone 908-226-2319; e-mail george.kupczak@att.com. And for additional information on the holdings at the Warren facility, please see “History of Physics Resources at the AT&T Archives” in the Spring 1998 issue of this Newsletter, online at http://www.aip.org/history/newsletter/spr98/att-arc.htm.



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