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“Mr. Watson — Come here — I want to see you”*…

 

 click here (and again on the image there) for a much larger, scrollable version

There were 5.8 million telephones in the Bell/AT&T network in 1910, when this map was published. It shows the uneven development of early telephone service in the United States, and gives us a sense of which places could speak to each other over Bell’s long-distance lines in the first decade of the 20th century.

The Bell Telephone Company, which was founded in 1877, faced some competition early on from Western Union, but then enjoyed a virtual monopoly on telephone service until 1894, when some of Bell’s patents expired. Sociologist Claude Fischer writes of the years after that expiration: “Within a decade literally thousands of new telephone ventures emerged across the United States.” Some of those independents went into rural areas that Bell had not covered, because the company had focused on developing service in the business centers of the East Coast.By the time this map was printed, Bell had tried several different strategies, clean and dirty, to fight back against its competition, including (Fischer writes) “leveraging its monopoly on long-distance service,” pursing patent suits, controlling vendors of telephone equipment, and simply using its deep pockets to outlast smaller companies that tried to enter the market.

Theodore N. Vail, who took over in 1907, changed strategies, accepting limited government regulation while buying competitors or bringing them into the Bell system. The map shows Bell’s market penetration in 1910, three years after Vail took over. Some rural areas—Oklahoma, Iowa, northern and eastern Texas—are surprisingly well-covered, while others in the Southeast remain empty.

The discrepancy between coverage in the East and the West is perhaps the most striking aspect of the map. California remains sparsely served, and no long-distance lines reach all the way from coast to coast. AT&T constructed the first transcontinental line in 1914.

– Rebecca Onion, “A Telephone Map of the United States Shows Where You Could Call Using Ma Bell in 1910.”

* Alexander Graham Bell (the first intelligible words spoken over the telephone, March 10, 1876)

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As we listen for the dial tone, we might recall that it was on this date in 1857 that Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville received a patent for his “phonautograph,” the earliest known device for recording sound.  Intended as a laboratory instrument for the study of acoustics, it transcribed sound waves as undulations (or other deviations) in a line traced on smoke-blackened paper or glass.

Hear a sample– an excerpt of “Au Clair de la Lune” recorded by Scott himself in 1860, and believed to be the earliest recording of the human voice– here.

An early phonautograph (1859). The barrel on this version is made of plaster of paris.

 source

 

Written by LW

March 25, 2015 at 1:01 am

The secret, revealed…

By Alex Koplin (Typcut) and David Meiklejohn; Alex explains here. (Thanks, Flowing Data)

As we reengage with our inner Bobby McFerrin, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that the first communications satellite, Telstar I, was launched.  An ATT project, it was a collaboration among Bell Laboratories, NASA, the British General Post Office, and the French National PTT aimed at communications over the Atlantic Ocean.  And indeed, it relayed the first television pictures, telephone calls and fax images through space and provided the first live transatlantic television feed.

Telstar I

…It tolled for us…

From the folks at Lucent, a nostalgic music video celebrating the contributions of Bell Labs– a facility unique in America history.  The nation’s premier research facility for several decades, it was the hatching ground of radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, information theory, the UNIX operating system, and the C programming language; work completed there earned six Nobel Prizes.

With the breakup of ATT in 1984, stewardship of the Lab passed to Lucent, and the role of Lab began to change.  By August of 2008, Alcatel-Lucent announced that it was puling out of basic research altogether, to focus exclusively on more immediately marketable applications; the Bell Labs celebrated in the video is gone.

But its gifts to knowledge and society survive.  Indeed, it’s surely fair to observe that, without work done there, it wouldn’t be possible to for your correspondent to be pelting readers with daily missives via the internet.

As we listen to the background noise of the universe (for the discovery of which, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics), we might take a celebratory trip in honor of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian  explorer and anthropologist who became famous for his Kon-Tiki  Expedition in 1947 (though he went on many others as well); he was born on this date in 1914…  He once responded to an interviewer, “Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of most people.”

Thor Heyerdahl

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