Telecom Humor

Are you ready to make the switch? Get a better deal switching your phone service.

History of Long Distance Telephone


  • “Twenty miles was the modest limit for telephonic conversations referred to in the first Bell circular of May 1877.”
  • Bell experiments with a 250 mile LD call between Boston and New York, on a Sunday when the circuits were most likely to be unemployed. “No difficulty was experienced so long as parallel lines were not carrying telegraph messages, but when business opened upon the other wires the sounds, though still audible, were much diminished.” Bell would describe as attempting to speak through a storm.
  • “The subsequent combination of the Edison and the Bell interests in both the United States and Great Britian enabled the long distance systems to be developed to the best advantage so far as the instruments were concerned. The limitations of the Government licenses under which the British companies worked prevented them from devoting much attention to long distance communications. In the United States there were no government restrictions. The only limits were those of science and commerce, and both of these limits had to be found by experiment.”

1881 LD line 45 miles between Boston and Providence went into service, wires were made of iron. Put in service by the Inter State Telephone Company.


  • Cincinnati Bell contracts with AT&T for LD service.
  • “It was in 1883 that the American Bell Telephone Company decided to put up a metallic circuit copper line between New York and Boston. This was apparently regarded as a bold project, for in the following year Mr. Doolittle said: ‘Our copper wires from New York to Boston which Mr. Vail had the pluck to order constructed are a perfect success. All who have used them for communication pronounce the result to be superior to the average local connection.” Previous lines, which were telegraph lines, were iron.
  • “It was in the course of a discussion on the hard-drawn copper question that one member of the National Telephone Exchance Association (Mr. Fay) asked: “I would liek to have somebody tell me how to make these lines pay. We can construct them and any number of them without trouble… But how are we going to make them pay after they are constructed?’ The receipts compared with the telegraph line receipts were low; telephone use was six or seven hours per day compared with the telegraph’s twenty-four; and how were they to compete with the telegraph in rates? “

1885: AT&T Established. “American Telephone and Telegraph Company was formed for the purpose of undertaking extra-territorial work and became known as the Long Distance Company. It was in 1899 that the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, by reason of its wider statutory powers, absorbed the American Bell Telephone Company.”

1884 LD line between NY and Boston, using copper for the first time. Copper had greater attenuation of signal that the previous galvanized iron.  The cost of a connection between the cities was daytime: $2 and nighttime $1

1890: LD line between Atlanta and Chicago.

1892 LD New York to Chicago formally opens for business. Opened by Alexander Graham Bell.

1895: Chicago to Nashville LD line goes into service

1897: New York to Omaha line goes into service; New York to Minneapolis line goes into service.

1899 Load Coils are invented, permitting the construction of longer telephone lines. Load coils were patented by Michael Pupin in 1900, who sold the patent to AT&T in 1900.

1906: Lee de Forest invents the Audion three-element vacuum tube. AT&T bought the patent rights to the tube, utilizing the tube to efficiently amplify voice for long distance telephony.

1913: Vacuum tube repeaters were put into service, significantly improving the quality of long distance calls

1914: Transcontinental phone line built.

1915: NY to SF long distance circuit goes online. January 25, Alexander Graham Bell in New York called Thomas Watson in San Francisco and said to him, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.” to which Watson reportedly replied that unlike 39 years ago in a lab in Boston, it would take Watson a week to get there.  Library of Congress Collection ] Bell reportedly turned to General John J Carty of Bell Laboratories and said, “And to think [Bell’s Wife who was deaf] has never heard over the telephone!”

AT&T at this time forms the only viable long distance telephone service, greatly enhancing the value of its interconnected local networks and improving the network effect. Conversely, the number of independent telephone networks who were not able to leverage long distance service begins to decline in 1905.

“For many years, all long distance calls began with a call to an operator sitting at a toll (long-distance) switchboard. Until the 1920s, that operator wrote down the calling information provided by the customer, and then told the customer that he or she would be called back once the party was on the line. The operator then passed the information to another operator, who would look up the route that the call should take, and then build up the circuit one link at a time by connecting to operators at switchboards along the route. A typical call took seven minutes to set up. Once operators established a circuit, it was dedicated to that conversation until the end of the call.”

“In 1927, AT&T inaugurated commercial transatlantic telephone service to London using two-way radio. Initially, these calls cost seventy-five dollars (U.S.) each (for three minutes).” The capacity was one call at a time.

” In 1929, AT&T network engineers implemented the first national General Toll Switching Plan. It established a hierarchical, national network with eight interconnected regional centers across the country. More than 140 primary centers, at least one in each state, connected to the regional centers. More than 2,000 toll offices throughout the country provided connections between the primary centers and every local exchange in the country. Additional circuits provided direct connections between centers with substantial direct traffic. These additional circuits also provided alternate back-up routes. Operators no longer had to rely on massive route books to determine call paths. Now operators sent calls up (and then back down) an established hierarchical chain. A single, nationwide structure provided a solid basis for future planning and expansion as traffic grew. With some modifications, notably the addition of sectional centers in the 1950s, AT&T continued to rely on this hierarchical network until the 1980s.”

“Radio-telephone servcie to Hawaii begain in 1931, and to Tokyo in 1934”

“Experiments with underground telephone cable began in 1882, but it was not until 1902 that the first long distance buried cable was placed in operation between New York and Newark, New Jersey. The first cross-continent underground cable line was opened in 1942.

“Submarine telephone cables have long connected this country with Cuba. The first transatlantic telephone cable connecting Newfoundland with England was opened in 1956. Later that year a submarine telephone cable from the State of Washington to Alaska was put into operation. Hawaii was linked by telephone cable with the mainland in 1957, and a telephone cable to France began operating in 1959. Several telephone cables now link North America and Europe together.

“The first coaxial cable experiment opened between New York and Philadelphia in 1936. One pair of coaxial units simultaneously carried 1,860 telephone conversations or 600 conversations and two TV programs. Each of these 1,860 voice pathways were equipped to provide up to 18 telegraph circuits. Commercial service was inaugurated between Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941. Coast-to-coast service was inaugurated in 1951 when the Japanese Peace Conference in San Francisco, California, was televised.”

During World War II, AT&T ran ads asking consumers to not make long distance phone calls in order to keep the load on the network – which could not be expanded during the war – down.

1946: AT&T puts into service its first multichannel ultahigh frequency microwave service in California. Another microwave system would be installed in weeks in Nantucket.

“In 1956, service to Europe moved to the first transatlantic submarine telephone cable, TAT-1. Transpacific cable service began in 1964.”

1961 AT&T launched Telstar I, the first commercial communications satellite.

1969 FCC opens long distance telecommunications market up to competition through the approval of the MCI application. This was followed by a multitude of applications to enter the specialized microwave service market.

1972 FCC establishes “open skies” policy for the new satellite communications market.

1973 FCC authorizes MCI to offer foreign exchange service and AT&T was ordered to interconnect with MCI’s service

See also MCI, Sprint, Universal Service and the Introduction of Long Distance Competition, VoIP as a Competitive Pressure on Access Charges and Intl Settlements.

Competitive long distance carriers and the breakup of AT&T results in Access Charges between long distance and local networks.

1984 equal access carrier selection begins

“In 1984, AT&T carried an average of 37.5 million calls per average business day; in 1989, the equivalent volume was 105.9 million, and in 1999 270 million.”

1984 “AT&T reduces long distance rates by 6.4 percent, as non-traffic sensitive costs begin moving from rates to local-company administered access charges. This was the first in a series of rate reductions over the next six years that totaled approximately forty percent.”

1996: Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows BOCs to enter the long distance market if they can demonstrate to the FCC that their local markets are competitive.