Bell System history--Switching 1925-1975 [telecom]

This book was discussed a while ago and some people indicated an interest in obtaining it.

I was wondering if those interested did get a copy and what they thought of it.

I think it's an excellent reference and answer to many of the historical questions that come up in the newsgroup. It not only describes what the Bell System developed, but the background and why's and how's for a particular product and service. It has good footnotes so someone interested in more detail can look them up in a good engineering library.

The book also has lessons for us today. While electronics has made components and trunks incredibly cheaper than in the past, 'cheap' is not 'free', and resources are still limited. Further, we load so much more information on a channel, such as high-fidelity audio transmissions or complex video signals over the Internet. (A 2400 baud modem was fine for me to access BBS's since it was all text and it doesn't take much to send a whole page of text. But once fancy graphics, animation, full size documents, and pictures were available, much faster speeds were necessary. To this day we must be careful what we download lest we overrun even modern high capacity connections. Anyway, the book was written in a time when trunks and switches were still very expensive and care had to be taken to provide enough capacity to meet demand, but not waste capacity either. Care also had to be taken to spread the load evenly onto trunks and switches to prevent mechanical wear or congestion.

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This particular book was part of a six part set, all published in the mid 70's. I have all six, but unfortunately they are now out of print. The official title was "Engineering and Science in the Bell System" with volumes on:

  1. The Early Years (1876-1925)
  2. Switching Systems (1925-1975)
  3. Transmission Systems (1825-1975)
  4. Communications Sciences
  5. Service to the Nation in War and Peace
  6. Physical Sciences

All of these volumes (none of which was short...) were edited/written by a handful of Bell Labs Directors and Executive Directors. The feeling in Bell Labs in those years was that the history would disappear if not properly documented, so these BTL Directors jobs for the last few years prior to retirement was to document the efforts before the real workers died off. Their efforts were superb.

Unfortunately, with the demise of the Bell System and Bell Labs (at least as it formerly was assembled...) the emphasis has been away from basic research and on to development. The hope for a future series of history texts that describe the development of the packet based modern communications system is likely non-existent.

Several years ago I was part of an accreditation visiting team for a telecommunications program. One of my recommendations was that this series be placed in the library. Few folks realize that the bazooka was invented in Murray Hill (among other things)...

If you can find a copy of any volume, get it and enjoy it.

E. Tappert

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Eric Tappert

Yes, I have only the first volume, and it is thicker than the biography of Harry Truman.

I thought I had another volume, but what I do have is something produced by Aneritech, if I can find it. It has a 1920s time girl on the cover.

I suspect the six volumes you list might show up on EBay; that is, unless they hardly sold any. (In that case there should be a warehouse full of them somewhere.)

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Sam Spade

Some of them are on Used but wide range of prices depending on condition.

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Sam Spade

To all of those interested in this thread: Any time you are in contact with a former or current Bell Labs or Bell System colleague, hassle them mercilessly about when AT&T/Lucent/whoever is going to get the full publication run of the _Bell System Technical Journal_ (from 192x to

198X) on line?!?!?!?

I can sit by the fire in a cabin at Lake Tahoe and download any article ever published in Phys Rev back to its inception in 1893. Or Science magazine back to several decades earlier.

BSTJ was in many ways as important as either of those journals, published fundamental papers as important as any that appeared in these journals. Yet it's publication run is available on line *nowhere*.

My understanding is the necessary scans actually exist; they're just being sat on somewhere. That's unconscionable.

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But, they are TPC. (The Phone Company)

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