The Idea Factory

  • Budget - 1925 - “at its start its budget was about $12m - $150m today” ^1 : but what was AT&T’s revenue?
  • Strong tie between story of Bell Labs and Caltech
  • 1915 - cross continental line ($1915)7/($2010)147 per minute
  • 1916 - 1,000 engineers
  • 1921 - 2000 technical staff, 1600 support staff
  • 1921 Willis-Graham Act of 1921 exempted AT&T from antitrust
  • 1925 - AT&T spun off Bell Labs
  • 1925 budget ($1925)12m/($2010)150m
  • In 1925 - 300/2000 technical staff (~15%) were in research
  • Extended the life of repeater tubes from 1000 hrs to 80000 hrs
  • 1920’s AT&T revenue = ($1925)1000m
  • Semiconductor work had begun in 30’s. Paused in 1940 for war.
    • Restarted in 1946
    • First demonstration of Transistor December 24 1947 (crunching for Christmas)
  • Cost for licensing transistor technology ($1949)25,000
  • Fortune declared 1953 the year of the transistor
  • 1954 - first silicon transistor
  • Early 1950s 9000 staff - 20% in basic research
  • 1956 first cross Atlantic cable
  • 1957 - Bell labs maser
  • Jim Fisk retired in 1972 and John Pierce retired in 1971
  • Digging holes $25/week = 1300/yr
  • Research = 2100/yr

Characters

  1. Mervin Kelly - helped vacuum tube, vp research under Buckley
  2. Frank Jewett - first Bell Labs President
  3. Theodore Vail - Became AT&T’s president and made peace with congress
  4. Harold Arnold worked on the repeater problem / Vacuum Tube, first head of research
  5. Lee de Forest -originally invented the Vacuum Tube
  6. Harvey Fletcher
  7. Clinton Davisson - Mervin Kelly’s officemate - Nobel prize for electron diffraction
  8. John Carty - AT&T chief engineer in 1925
  9. Oliver Buckley succeeded Harold Arnold as head of research
  10. William Shockley - theory behind transistor
  11. Jim Fisk
  12. John Pierce
  13. William Baker
  14. Charles Townes - Caltech - Maser
  15. Phil Anderson
  16. Chuck Elmendorf
  17. Walter Brattain
  18. Lloyd Espenschied
  19. William Baker
  20. Jack Scaff
  21. Henry Theurer
  22. Russell Ohl
  23. Ralph Bown - VP research 1947
  24. Jack Morton - transistor development
  25. Eugene Gordon
  26. Gordon Teal - figured out how to make large crystals of germane
  27. Gerald Pearson
  28. Bill Pfann - zone refining - pure things
  29. Claude Shannon
  30. Thornton Fry - started Bell Labs math department
  31. Barney Oliver - would go on to run R&D at Hewlett-Pacard
  32. John Tukey - came up with name ‘bits’
  33. Robert Fano
  34. Harry Nyquist
  35. David Hagelbarger - Caltech, helped shannon w/ mouse
  36. Jack Morton - head of transistor development
  37. Morris Tenenbaum
  38. Cal Fuller
  39. Ernie Buehler
  40. Daryl Chapin - silicon solar panel
  41. Ian Ross
  42. Max Mathews - became head of acoustic and behavioral research
  43. Rudi Kompfner - traveling wave tube
  44. Karl Darrow - wrote about quantum for a younger generation
  45. Harald Friis - Pierce’s mentor - head of Holmdel Lab
  46. C Chapin Cutler - Rudi Kompfner’s deputy - worked on ECcho
  47. Frederick Kappel
  48. Edward David
  49. Julius Molnar - picturephone champion
  50. Ali Javan- gas laser
  51. Donald Herriott- gas laser
  52. William Bennett - gas laser
  53. Doug Ring- 1947 hexagonal cells memo
  54. Rae Young - 1947 hexagonal cells memo
  55. Dick Frenkiel - mobile phones
  56. Phil Porter - mobile phones
  57. Joel Engel - mobile
  58. Gerry DiPiazza - mobile
  59. John deButts - former chairman of AT&T who retired at the end of the 70s
  60. Charles Brown - new AT&T chairman in late 70s
  61. Bob Lucky
  62. Steve Rice
  63. David Slepian
  64. Sol Buchsbaum

64 people out of Tens of Thousands over multiple decades. Even this number is more people than it’s really comfortable to wrap my head around. Good stories need less.

Excerpts


- “The System” of AT&T could even benefit from mathematician’s work

Thoughts

Innovation orgs need a money factory Innovation orgs need to be aligned with a money machine - substituting synthetic sheathing on cables saved AT&T more money than the entire lab’s budget for a decade

Is it possible that organizations actually get expectation buildup and choke on their own success?

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