William O. Baker
Born: 15 July 1915
Died: 31 October 2005
William Oliver Baker was president of At&T’s famous Bell Telephone Laboratories during its post-war golden years.
Baker was born in 1915 on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Quaker Neck, Maryland, destined for a life of science. Many years later, he would often tell that it was his mother’s efforts at scientific management of turkey husbandry that piqued his interest in science, but whatever the case, he quickly shot through the local one-room schoolhouse and was off to Washington College.
After then earning a PhD in Chemistry from Princeton University in 1939, Baker immediately took a position at Bell Labs, where he found that his true gift was for working with people rather than things. His considerable knack for organizing research, inspiring his colleagues, encouraging the cross-fertilization of ideas and keeping in perspective the big picture rapidly propelled Baker into the league of management, eventually to become president and then chairman. Under his purview, Bell Labs grew into one of the world’s premier industrial labs for basic and applied research in the physical sciences. Throughout these decades Bell Labs was a leader in the development of solid state and digital technologies, satellite communications and fiber optics.
Baker was not only a man of the lab-bench and the ledger; he also served as a scientific advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan.
After such a successful career, Baker had the good fortune of retiring in 1980, for a few years later an anti-trust suit against AT&T broke up AT&T, into a number of separate units, thereby bringing to an end the incredibly prolific arrangement Baker had helped to build.
William O. Baker passed away on Holloween, 2005.
To read William Baker's story in his own words, see Bell Labs Memoirs: Voices of Innovation