Milestone-Nomination:Bell Telephone Laboratories 1925 - 1984


Docket Number: 2011-03

Proposal Link:

Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., 1925-1984

Bell Telephone Laboratories has made innovations to telecommunications and related fields that led to the digital era, including information theory, systems engineering, digital signal processing, digital transmission and switching, lightwave communication, cellular systems, the transistor, solar cells, CCD, integrated circuit technology, MBE, CO2 laser, communication satellites, first transatlantic telephone cable, touch-tone dialing, direct distance dialing, foil electret microphone, UNIX, C language, and digital compression of voice, music, and video.

Summary description of the breadth of some of the contributions of Bell Telephone Laboratories:
Information Theory was developed by Claude E. Shannon at Bell Telephone Laboratories to find fundamental limits on signal processing operations such as compressing data and on reliably storing and communicating data. It is the fundamental underpinnings of modern computer and communications technology.

Systems engineering is the interdisciplinary field of engineering that focuses on how complex engineering projects should be designed and managed over the life cycle of the project. It originated in Bell Telephone Laboratories in the 1940s for the development and implementation of complex systems. It is widely used by companies and government organizations. The NASA Apollo Project and the International Space Station is an example of such systems.

The UNIX operating System and C programming language were created at Bell Labs between 1969 and 1972. UNIX made large-scale networking of diverse computing systems - and the Internet - practical. UNIX and its spin-offs are the operating system of most large computers, Internet servers, and smart phones. The C language brought an unprecedented combination of efficiency and expressiveness to programming. C and its descendants are the most widely used programming languages in the world.

The Transistor was invented in 1947 as a replacement for bulky and inefficient vacuum tubes and mechanical relays. The transistor revolutionized the entire electronics world. The transistor sparked a new era of modern technical accomplishments from manned space flight and computers to portable radios and stereos. As embodied in integrated circuits, it is the basic building block of modern electronics and is manufactured by the multi- billions every year.

The first practical Solar cell was developed in Bell Labs in 1954. It converts the sun’s energy into electricity. It was first used on a large scale for satellites and is now an important factor in the sustainable creation of electricity.

Cellular systems were first proposed in 1947 Bell Labs publications. The primary innovation was the development of a network of small overlapping cell sites supported by a call switching infrastructure that tracks users as they moved through a network and pass their call from one site to another without dropping the connection. Bell Labs installed the first commercial cellular network in Chicago in the 1970s. Today, it is the basis of a rapidly growing cellular and mobile smart phone industry.

Thefirst high capacity transatlantic telephone cable, which was based on innovations from Bell Labs, was deployed in 1956.
Bell Labs was the pioneer in communications satellites. In 1962 it built and successfully launched the first orbiting active communications satellite (Telstar I), which transmitted the first live television across the Atlantic.

Digital transmission and electronic switching; In 1962, Bell Labs developed the first digitally multiplexed transmission of voice signals. This innovation not only created a more economical, robust and flexible network design for voice traffic, but also laid the groundwork for today's advanced network services such as 911, 800-numbers, call-waiting and caller-ID. In addition, digital networking was the foundation for the convergence of computing and communications.

LASER; The invention of the laser, which stands for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation,” originated in 1958 with the publication of a scientific paper by Bell Labs researchers. Lasers launched a new scientific field and opened the door to a multibillion-dollar industry that includes applications in medicine, communications, and consumer electronics.

Bell Labs built the first single-chip digital signal processor in 1979. The DSP is the engine of today's multimedia revolution. DSP technology is in multimedia PCs and in the modems that connect computers to the Internet. It's in wireless phones, answering machines, and voice-mail; it's in video games talking toys, DVD players and digital cameras.

Encyclopedia Britannica Bell Laboratories, vol 2, p70 (2007)
Crystal Fire, The Birth of the Information Age; Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson, W. W. Norton & Co. Inc. (1997)
Bell Labs from Wikipedia
A History of Science and Engineering in the Bell System,
National Service in War and Peace (1925-1975), M. D. Fagen. (1978)
Physical Sciences (1925-1980) S. Millman, (1983)
Communications Sciences (1925-1980) S. Millman, (1984)
Transmission Technology (1925-1975) E. F. O’Neill, (1985)
Electronics Technology (1925-1975) F. M. Smits, (1985)

Please also include references and full citations, and include supporting material in an electronic format (GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC) which can be made available on the IEEE History Center’s Web site to historians, scholars, students, and interested members of the public. All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. If you are including images or photographs as part of the supporting material, it is necessary that you list the copyright owner.

In the space below the line, please describe the historic significance of this work: its importance to the evolution of electrical and computer engineering and science and its importance to regional/national/international development.

At its peak, Bell Laboratories was the premier facility of its type, developing a wide range of revolutionary technologies, including radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, information theory, the UNIX operating system, the C programming language and the C++ programming language. Seven Nobel Prizes have been awarded for work completed at Bell Laboratories.  [1]

What features or characteristics set this work apart from similar achievements?

Many of the fundamental technological developments at Bell Telephone Laboratories, 1925-1984, such as the transistor, solar cell, networking, information theory, UNIX Operating System, C Programing language, and C++ programming language where crucial in ushering in the Information Age.

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BTL 25-84 MS Acceptance.doc