Bell System

The Bell System was the system of companies, led by the American Bell Telephone Company and subsequently by AT&T, which provided telephone services to much of the United States and Canada from 1877 to 1984, at various times as a monopoly. In 1984, the system was broken up into independent companies by a U.S. Justice Department mandate. The colloquial term Ma Bell (as in "Mother Bell") was often used by the general public in the United States to refer to any aspect of this conglomerate, as it held a near complete monopoly over all telephone service in most areas of the country, and is still used by many to refer to any telephone company. Ma Bell is also used to refer to the various female voices behind recordings for the Bell System: Mary Moore, Jane Barbe, and Pat Fleet (the current voice of AT&T). In 1877, the American Bell Telephone Company, named after Alexander Graham Bell, opened the first telephone exchange in New Haven, Connecticut. Within a few years local exchange companies were established in every major city in the United States. Use of the Bell System name initially referred to those early telephone franchises and eventually comprised all telephone companies owned by American Telephone & Telegraph, referred to internally as Bell Operating Companies, or "BOCs". In 1899, America

Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) acquired the assets of its parent, the American Bell Telephone Company. Originally American Bell had created AT&T to provide long distance calls between New York and Chicago and beyond. AT&T became the parent of American Bell, and thus the head of the Bell System, because regulatory and tax rules were leaner in New York than in Boston, where American Bell was headquartered. Later, the Bell System and its moniker "Ma Bell" became a term that referred generally to all AT&T companies of which there were four major divisions: AT&T Long Lines, providing long lines to interconnect local exchanges and long distance calling services. Western Electric Company, Bell's equipment manufacturing arm, Bell Labs, conducting research and development for AT&T. Bell operating companies, providing local exchange telephone services. In 1913, under AT&T ownership, the Bell System became a government sanctioned monopoly following a government anti-trust suit and the Kingsbury Commitment. After 1934, AT&T was regulated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Proliferation of the telephone allowed the company to become the largest corporation in the world until its dismantling by the United States Department of Justice in 1984, at which time the Bell System ceased to exist.