WHAT IS THE AT&T? (Feb, 1931)


All that most people see of the telephone company are a telephone and a few feet of wire.

But through that telephone you can talk with any one of millions of people, all linked together by the web of equipment of the Bell System.

All its efforts are turned constantly to one job—to give better telephone service to an ever-increasing number of people, as cheaply as it possibly can.

The American Telephone and Telegraph Company provides the staff work for the Bell System. To it the operation of the telephone service is a public trust. It pays a reasonable dividend to its stockholders . . . and uses all earnings beyond that to improve and extend the service.

There are more than 550,000 stockholders, and no one person owns so much as one per cent of its stock.

The Bell System operates through 24 regional companies, each one attuned to the needs of its particular territory. In addition, the 5000 members of the Bell Laboratories staff do the scientific work which makes it possible to improve and widen the service at least cost to its users. The Western Electric Company, which manufactures for the Bell System, specializes in the economical production of telephone equipment of the highest quality.

All these facilities are directly available throughout the entire Bell System, at any time or place. . . . Because of them, every dollar that you spend for telephone service brings you constantly greater value and convenience.


  1. Anton says: March 17, 20113:59 pm

    Today it is a bigger trust than it ever was but at least it has viable competitors.

  2. John says: March 17, 20114:37 pm

    Anton: Then with viable competitors by definition its not a bigger trust (monopoly) than before. Its the largest provider but its hardly the monopoly it used to be much less a bigger one.

  3. Casandro says: March 18, 20118:59 am

    This was back at the time when companies still tried to provide service and make money with that.

    Now they mostly want to make money and the actual service is just a by product.

  4. John says: March 18, 20119:45 am

    Casandro: “Tried” is right. This is during the Great Depression! Talk about over generalization. In a competitive market “they” (whoever they are in this case) have to provide service or they don’t get patronized (unless of course consumers behave like sheep).

    As Thoreau wrote in Walden:
    Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked. “No, we do not want any,” was the reply. “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?” Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off–that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed–he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.

    So yeah, its about making money.

  5. Anton says: March 18, 201111:30 am

    John, I meant to convey the definition “trust” which is “A combination of firms or corporations formed by a legal agreement”; not the synonym “monopoly”. I totally agree with you, that as a monopoly it was bigger with almost total control of phone services in 1931 as compared to 2011. We were happy then to just have a phone. AT&T brought many benefits with its growth. Yet, I’m happy to have other choices for communication today.

  6. Yoda says: April 25, 20118:38 pm

    In those days they felt safe putting the single model of candlestick phone in the ad. Now their slogan might as well be “Hey! We’re not just the company you’re (not) stuck with (anymore) if you want an iPhone!”

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