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Science Technology

The AT&T Archives Post-SBC Merger? 159

Posted by Zonk
from the technological-history dept.
mrfantasy writes "An article in the Newark, NJ Star-Ledge discusses the possible fate of the AT&T Archives, which is a huge, irreplaceable historical repository of most of the advancements of late 19th and 20th century communications. Corporate archives are often casualties of companies when they are subsumed by a parent organization. The archives include such things as long-distance telephone directories from the mid-1890s, containing every long distance subscriber in the country, including Alexander Graham Bell himself; and a microphone from Warren Harding's 1921 inauguration, the first heard by the crowd thanks to AT&T amplification equipment."
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The AT&T Archives Post-SBC Merger?

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  • Dumpster? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chuck Chunder (21021) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:38PM (#11664582) Homepage Journal
    It's the 21st century.
    We have eBay now.
  • by racecarj (703239) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:39PM (#11664592)
    Alexander Graham Bell's Phone Number: 1
    • Re:From an 1890 (Score:4, Informative)

      by Space_Soldier (628825) <not4_u@hotmail.com> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:45PM (#11664635)
      Speaking of him, didn't the Italians bitch that one of their citizens invented the telephone first, but didn't have money for a patent, while Bell had?

      I found Google Cache Link [64.233.187.104] that says that Congress gave Antonio Meucci credit for inventing the telephone.
      • I'm often amazed by how much history is so much BS, especially the stuff you could supposedly hang your hat on. I mean, every grade school kid KNOWS Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone just like every kid KNOWS Thomas Edison invented the light bulb [coolquiz.com]. I consider myself fairly cynical about things in general, but stuff like this makes me feel like a doe-eyed innocent setting eyes on the world for the first time. ;)
        • by mattdm (1931) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:35AM (#11665217) Homepage
          Interesting. But your link has (at least) a factual error of its own -- Edison's electric chair didn't use DC. His own systems used DC, and he wanted to show that Tesla's AC was horribly dangerous -- so, basically, he made the thing run on AC as a marketting ploy [economist.com].
          • AC is now known to be significantly safer than DC (for comparable current/voltage, obviously) ; Edison BELIEVED AC was more dangerous.
            • by RobNich (85522)
              Edison didn't believe that DC was safer, he knew the situation. In addition to being safer, AC doesn't require a transformer on every block for distribution like DC does. Edison knew that AC was better, but Edison didn't own the patent on it. The rivalry between Edison and Tesla was the real cause of this--Tesla invented and marketed AC, Edison patented a DC distribution system. Edison tried to shape public opinion because he knew that his sytem was both less safe and more expensive. Luckily his tactic
          • Not Tesla - he was trying to discredit Westinghouse, going as far as trying to name the device after him.

            Just another of Edison's terrible business decisions later in his life.
        • I'm very amazed by you giving so much credit on the history books you've read. Actually, history books change a lot in different countries.

          Every italian history book always treated Meucci as the inventor of the phone, followed closely in time by Bell (much like Daimler and Benz for the car), but when i was an exchange student in the US, nobody ever heard of him.

          Also, i remember the history books and teachers in high school stressing a lot the fact that basically everything was invented by americans: motio
          • Well, I gotta say, pizza as we do it IS an American dish, kinda like sushi as we do it IS an American dish... ...but you are absolutely right. History seems to be the most variable thing in the world, and in this country, we write it with emphasis on stroking US pride. That way, when we start doing stupid shit all over the globe, all those American kids who are getting shot are too full of patriotism to criticize.
          • There were no Tomatoes in Europe, so if people think of pizza as "cheese and tomato with stuff on", which I would argue most people do, then one could see it as having American origins. Although...that is using "American" in its very loosest sense as a continent where tomatoes came from...

            Plus of course it is the greasy fast food American style of pizza that has (unfortunately) caught on around the world, so maybe your history teacher had a point really :) I just wouldn't think of it as a compliment to the
            • There were no Tomatoes in Europe, so if people think of pizza as "cheese and tomato with stuff on", which I would argue most people do, then one could see it as having American origins. Although...that is using "American" in its very loosest sense as a continent where tomatoes came from...

              Pizza as it's known today gets its roots from Naples. When tomatoes were brought back from the new world - in the 16th century. It really wasn't perfected until the 17th century. Again in Naples. The only thing Am

        • Indeed, you ARE a doe-eyed innocent. If you weren't, you'd realize that the history of technology, at least for the last 200 years of American history, is the history of industry, and thus the history of the men who OWNED industry. Alexander Graham Bell OWNED the telephone industry in from its inception in the USA; therefore, he invented the telephone. Likewise for Edison and the electrical appliance industry, and Ford and the automotive industry.

          With regard to Edison - do you REALLY think that he, persona
      • by unitron (5733)
        " Speaking of him, didn't the Italians bitch that one of their citizens invented the telephone first..."

        You kids today don't know anything that happened before last week. The Italian who invented the telephone was Don Ameche.

        • You kids today don't know anything that happened before last week. The Italian who invented the telephone was Don Ameche.

          Who you calling "kid?"

          I know damn well the Mr. Skype invented the telephone.

      • Philip Reis invented the telephone. [aip.org]

        There have been claims that the Reis telephone didn't work for spoken communication, just for sounds, but these have been rebutted a long time ago.

        Hurga
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It wasn't till 909 more people signed up that the police got involved.

      That's the speed of Law Enforcement, eh?
    • Re:From an 1890 (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Alexander Graham Bell's Phone Number: 1

      In reality the first telephones didn't have numbers till 1879. Operators, or Telephone/Hello Girls, memorized the names and physicaly connected two points to make a connection. It was kinda pointless to know a number till the rotory phone which was in use earlier but not on Bell's system till roughly 1919.
    • Peter: this is your ansestor so and so he had one of the first dozen telephones So and So: hello Person on the line: hey John So and So: No sorry what number did you want Person: 11 So and So: no sorry this is 3
    • NoNoNo (Score:3, Funny)

      by jspoon (585173)
      You misunderstand. Reread the summary. They actually have a catalog containing the corpses of all the long distance subscribers. As such, all the rules involving cemeteries should apply here. Who needs TFA when I have Slashdot to boil it down to the basic ideas?
    • Reminds me of an old Family Guy scene (roughly copied here):

      Peter: Why, my great, great grandfather was one of the first people to own a phone!

      ----flashback showing black and white version of peter with a beard in 18th century----

      (phone rings)

      Old Peter: Hello?

      Voice on phone: Hi! Is this Steve?

      Peter: No, this is Peter, what number did you dial?

      Voice: 3

      Peter: ahh, this is 7

      Voice: My mistake!
    • The first phone produced by Alexander Graham Bell was supposedly given to James Murray who is most famous as an early editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

      James Murray was also the man who first introduced and interested Alexander Graham Bell in electricity.

    • Wow, Bell's phone number? That's like having Al Gore's IP!
    • Overheard on a party line ... around 1890:

      - Ahoy! May I speak to Bill please?
      + Who?
      - Bill! Bill Jones.
      + I'm sorry, I think you have the wrong number.
      - Is this 2?
      + No it isn't.
      - Sorry.
    • Alexander Graham Bell's Phone Number: 1

      You know, that's funny, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was actually true. A friend of mine owns an old sign to request ice from the iceman. The inside of the sign reads, "Zeigler Ice. Telephone: 7".
  • Corrections (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:40PM (#11664602)
    Firstly, it's the "Star Ledger", not the "Star Ledge"; secondly, it's AT&T, not AT&aT. What's with the editors these days?
  • Auction it off (Score:1, Redundant)

    by OverlordQ (264228)
    You can be sure some Private Collectors would probably buy up alot of this stuff if they auctioned it off.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:46PM (#11664642)
    Although possible, I find it unlikely that SBC would not value AT&T's heritage as much as, and as part of, its own. It is a Bell operating company after all, with many veteran execs from the Bell system of yore. It may even use the AT&T name after the merger.
    • They didn't seem to give too much of a shit about preserving SNET's history when they bought them up back when I used to work there. Wasn't too bad when they were calling us "SBC/SNET"; that I could live with. But then they dropped it completely...bleh.
      • by Dun Malg (230075) on Monday February 14, 2005 @12:31AM (#11664893) Homepage
        They didn't seem to give too much of a shit about preserving SNET's history when they bought them up back when I used to work there. Wasn't too bad when they were calling us "SBC/SNET"; that I could live with. But then they dropped it completely...bleh.

        What history? They dropped the name. BFD. Southern New England Telephone co. was basically the first RBOC, but so what?
        Oh yeah, being "first" is a rich and voluminous history; and all that history was destroyed when SBC dropped the SNET from its name locally. [/sarcasm] In the case of AT&T here, were talking physical history (e.g. original antique phone books). Company names are (at best) just tradition.

        • In a capitalist society, saving evidence of the companies you have taken over just doesn't make sense.

          There is no trace of mediaone, which is now comcast.

          There is no trace of bank of boston, which became fleet.

          There will be no trace of fleet once it becomes boa.

          There will be no trace of AT&T once the merger is complete.

          • There have been plenty of instances where a company dropped their own name in favor of the name they just bought. For example, Nations Banks is now Bank of America. And the name Wells Fargo Bank has survived not one, but two takeovers.

            The name or logo of a company of a company can be a very valuable asset. For example, the Wells Fargo Stagecoach is pretty damn powerful icon. It has appeared in tons of movies and even shows up in school books as a part of the old west.

            The name Bank of America sounds a hell
        • What history? They dropped the name. BFD. Southern New England Telephone co. was basically the first RBOC, but so what?
          Oh yeah, being "first" is a rich and voluminous history; and all that history was destroyed when SBC dropped the SNET from its name locally. [/sarcasm]


          I have an uncontrollable urge to rub my genitals across your left cheek.

          In the case of AT&T here, were talking physical history (e.g. original antique phone books). Company names are (at best) just tradition.

          I'm trying desperately t
          • Gosh, perhaps it's possible that I was just saying that I doubted SBC would care based on similar (but not equal -- that was your interpretation) happenings. And I can assure you it was more than just a simple name change when they bought SNET.

            Gosh, and perhaps I was just pointing out that the "history" in question WRT AT&T is (in large part) actual stuff. It's not a reasonable comparison to say "look what they did to SNET", because I seriously doubt SNET (being just another RBOC) was sitting on a hu

  • by jacksonyee (590218) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:47PM (#11664653) Homepage

    This archive by itself would be a great museum based upon the things in it that the article mentioned. Of course, someone would have to organize the collection and hire staff to maintain the buildings, but it's a shame to see our history not being put to use. Some of the stories and innovations here could serve as inspiration to our kids and current researchers much the same way that the moon landing and Hubble telescope did for some of our generation. If they setup a building with the highlights and charged a modest price for admission, it would be far better than letting these memories go to waste.

    • by ahbi (796025) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:57PM (#11664712) Journal
      Hey, here is an idea.

      Why don't we create a national museum or series of museums to house and display things relating to our national history or just cool things in general.

      You know we could put the museum(s) in a central location. Like the nation's capit[a|o]l.

      Maybe we could get some really wealthy person to donate money for the museum(s). We could be nice and name the museum(s) after that person.
      Hell, I beat the guy could even be a British scientist. Congress could be a big help here.

      And since it is a government sponsored museum, entry could be free, or a nominal charge.

      Someday the museum(s) could grow to be the largest museum complex in the world. They could function as "an establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge."

      Yeah, that would be great.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        "Someday the museum(s) could grow to be the largest museum complex in the world. They could function as "an establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge.""

        So why do all the presidents have their own museum?
      • It would be rad if one of them was just devoted to the Space Program and like, aviation. They could sell "astronaut ice cream" in the gift shop. I would totally go to such a museum if it existed. They could get a U2 in there... a Harrier... Maybe like an Apollo capsule...
        • They could get a U2 in there

          Speaking of Bono ...
          I suggest, if he doesn't stop coming over here and telling us how to fix things and giving sunglasses to the Pope, that we send Bob Seger over to Ireland to get them straightened out.

          If that doesn't work, I think we'll be forced to send over Ted Nugent.

      • And said museums could also keep 90+ percent of their collections in the back rooms where most people will never see them...
        • And said museums could also keep 90+ percent of their collections in the back rooms where most people will never see them...

          Having been in a very very small part of said back rooms (invertebrate paleontology), I can assure you that 90% of the stuff there doesn't need displaying. After you've seen the best example of each of thousands of species of trilobytes, you don't really have much interest in seeing the second-best specimen. tilobyte genera [trilobites.info] And frankly, unless you're a specialist, the fragments and

    • This archive by itself would be a great museum based upon the things in it that the article mentioned. Of course, someone would have to organize the collection and hire staff to maintain the buildings, but it's a shame to see our history not being put to use. Some of the stories and innovations here could serve as inspiration to our kids and current researchers much the same way that the moon landing and Hubble telescope did for some of our generation. If they setup a building with the highlights and charge
      • by whizistic (33541) on Monday February 14, 2005 @12:53AM (#11665015) Homepage
        Having been at the San Francisco SBC museum a few weeks ago, (located in the Bell building at 140 New Montgomery, open 10AM-2PM Mon-Thurs) I can candidly say it sucked elephant nuts through nanopore straws. The volunteer mentioned that most of the good stuff went to the archives when a consultant curator came through and turned it into a museum rather than the collection of interactive exhibits it was before. It used to be cool, now it's basically a couple phone books from 1919, a princess phone, and half a frame from 1936. So, yes, SBC == Slash and Burn Corporation.
    • That's what the Smithsonian is for. If Congress approves, and they are allowed to get their hands on the goodies, and they deem the items preservation-worthy, they will.

      The life and times of AT&T is an integral part of 20th century US history. If SBC is stupid enough to send that history to the garbage pile, then SBC must be destroyed as well because they would have done a great disservice to posterity.

      Mission statement from the SI website [si.edu]:

      Secretary Small's Vision

      "The Smithsonian is committed to

  • Cause to worry (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bingo Foo (179380) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:48PM (#11664658)
    Doesn't SBC stand for "Slash and Burn Corporation?"

    Seriously, why would anyone think this stuff is in danger? As if SBC wouldn't see it as an asset, part of their "goodwill" portfolio.

  • by Black-Man (198831) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:49PM (#11664669)
    When I worked for AT&T, one could go to Murray Hill and it would be an educational experience. No "business requirement" needed. It was like a university setting where one went to learn from the masters.

    Now... the masters are gone. The company as it was is gone. Who cares?

  • Are they online? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BossMC (696762)
    *fires up wget -r*
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I second that, kind of: Donate to Archive.org or the Stanford computer archives (Stanford has some technology archives of which I do not know the exact name of). Put it in good hands.
  • Smithsonian? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JeffSh (71237) <jeffslashdot@@@m0m0...org> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:51PM (#11664681)
    Sounds like the perfect archive of "stuff" you might expect to see in the smithsonian? /shrug
  • SBC-AT&T merger? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by goon america (536413) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:51PM (#11664683) Homepage Journal
    Why should AT&T lose its archives because it's merging with SBC? Before "SBC" became a referent-less corporate initialism, it used to stand for "Southwestern Bell Corporation", a company formed by carving it out of AT&T due to anti-trust litigation. They had always been the same company, just taking a 22-year trial separation.

    (Oh, and how much public time and money was spent splitting up AT&T only to let the pieces gradually merge back together, like the re-heated T1000?)
    • Re:SBC-AT&T merger? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      But with Bush hell-bent on destroying anything of historical significance and his tax credits to encourage that, all of it will probably be destroyed.

      I work for Hardee's corporate, and our execs recently went on a history killing spree. I was there about a year ago the day we closed our first franchisee's restaurant so we could write-off the property and sell the equipment as scrap. I saw the first neon sign the company used in 1960 smashed to write-off the value of the sign as a loss. I saw hundreds o
  • I'm sure Brewster would love it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 13, 2005 @11:55PM (#11664702)
    Scene: 19th century, A Telephone rings

    [Voice on phone]: "Hi, is this 7?"

    [Guy]: "No, this is 3!"

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Guy: Who are you?
      Phone: The new number 2. You are number 6
      Guy: I'm not a number i'm a free man!
      Phone: hahahahahahahah
  • They can't... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MSDos-486 (779223) on Monday February 14, 2005 @12:09AM (#11664769)
    because pre-1982 SBC history was AT&T history. Kinda funny how the student became the master
    • It's kind of like life... changing your parents' diapers when they get old.
    • because pre-1982 SBC history was AT&T history. Kinda funny how the student became the master

      No. It's more like some sort of reincarnation myth, or maybe it's the Terminator 2. Ma Bell was split, and now the Baby Bells have reformed, as Ma Bell again.
  • It'd be a shame (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 14, 2005 @12:49AM (#11664990)

    My first summer job in high school was at the Warren AT&T [wired.com] archives. I wound up staying on for 4 years

    The archive is a treasure trove of hardware for sure, but there are an incredible number of technical papers and photographs as well; Bell and Watson's lab notes while developing the phone, research notes on the development of the transistor and the Lab's UNIX [bell-labs.com] flavor and more. David Korn's [kornshell.com] research notes on Ksh development or Arno Penzias [bell-labs.com]' reports of his accidential verification [bell-labs.com] of cosmic background radiation might be of interest to some /. collectors should the whole lot end up on the auction block.

    The place is crazy. It's not just the History of AT&T, it's the Great Library of information technology. Hopefully SBC will see it that way too. Last I heard, they had completed indexing and uncrating over 9 miles of paper case files (researcher's project notes) from the 1890's to 1980's. The number of talented scientists who spent their lives at the Labs helping create the IT infrastructure you're soaking in is astounding. As a research lab supported by a monopoly utility, they had unprecedented resources to explore all kinds of ideas. It's all there. Neat stuff.

    One of my favourite pieces was a 1960's prototype for an operator's uniform. Very Star Trek:TOS. Ohura's uniform in gold lamee. Some Suit thought it might be a good idea to have all the operators (almost entirely female at the time) wear uniforms, and this is what they came up with.

    But I'm waxing philosophic. SBC will save the tech documents at least, to protect the intellectual property they're buying with the hard assets. As for the old phone booths, recording equipment and videophone prototypes, maybe they'll end up in private collections or museums. Either way, hopefully more people will get to see and appreciate them.

  • FUD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chowbok (467829) on Monday February 14, 2005 @12:59AM (#11665050) Homepage
    There's no story here. The reporter has no reason to think this will happen. Nobody with either company has said the archives will be thrown out. AT&T's former archivist thinks SBC is good about keeping archives. SBC's spokesman says they keep archives. Some professor somewhere says, with no evidence at all, that they'll throw it all away, and that gives a bored reporter a hook to hang a bullshit story on.

    Calm down, they'll keep it or give it to a museum.
    • The fact that SBC said the would do something is reason to believe they will really do the exact opposite of what they say...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:01AM (#11665061)
    "Corporate archives are often casualties of companies when they are subsumed by a parent organization."

    What? Is the submitter suggesting that SBC intends on setting fire to the historical archives of AT&T(presumably before killing the family members of the AT&T CEO lest they challenge SBC for the throne in the future)? Come on! These aren't the Vandals invading the Roman Empire.
    • The article is largely true. I've experienced enough corporate mergers and takeovers to have taken note of the speed of which all references to the "loser" disappear. It reminds me of the practice in the Soviet Union of retouching photographs and amending history books when someone important fell out of favor and was "disappeared".
  • by xtermin8 (719661) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:01AM (#11665066)
    "Why wouldn't SBC value these archives?" Why would anyone burn the Library of Alexandria? Expect the worst, hope for the best.
  • by bjbest (808259) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:08AM (#11665094)
    ... deep, deep, inside, is a copy of the infamous ( mythical ? ) issue of the Bell Technical Journal that described the operator-assited long distance dialing mechanism, and how easily it could be defeated. It gave rise to the "phone phreaks" and "blue box" devices in the 1960's, and rest is hacker history.
  • by smchris (464899) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:10AM (#11665108)

    Phone books are one way to supplement geneology. One of my great-great grandfathers had a home phone in the 1890s.

  • Doesn't that violate their privacy policy in some way?
  • SBC a HELLl-hole (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I did a contract at SBC, and it was a mess. They would not cover the costs of some basic but necessary office supplies. The place was full of H1B's rented from small fly-by-night shops who they knew they could pressure into long hours because the H1B's couldn't sue without deportation risks, and the management was chaotic and jittery. It was Big Company Hell at its worse. It was a souless place.
  • The stuff will go into dumpsters and the land fill. A bunch of greedier heartless cooperate bastards has rarely been seen.
  • Don't forget this is the re-merging of two peices of the same company, Ma Bell. I'm sure SBC has just as much intrest in keeping those archives around.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've met this [johnlarue.net] guy, my friend has been out to his private phone museum in California. It looks like he has lots of old relics, he's getting alot of them up and running too.

    When I met him, he had me call a certain number at his museum with my cell phone, and some kind of device picked up and just gave me a speaker in one of the rooms. Then he called another number with his phone and I could here a mechanical line switcher in the room going to work. Was interesting.
  • "They'll drag in the Dumpster," says A. Michael Noll, a communications professor at the University of Southern California and former scientist with AT&T's Bell Labs in Murray Hill. "One thing we know about mergers -- the survivor has to destroy the DNA of the victim. They have to destroy that identity. You can't have people thinking they're still part of AT&T. They're part of SBC."

    What a great application for capital punishment! Destroy historical treasures, get fried. That might give the corp

  • by rlds (849683) on Monday February 14, 2005 @09:02AM (#11666531)
    Since SBC comes from AT&T's Bell System and there are some achievements that SBC would like to present as their legacy too, SBC will not destroy those archives. Consider that SBC may even assume AT&T's corporate name, in which case that preservation would make even more sense. Yes it's PR, but as SBC and Verizon get bigger and bigger and become a duopoly in communications, having SBC present that legacy as its own is of some business value.
  • In this 'throwaway' society, who cares about historical artifacts.

    Very few of us..
  • Usenet archives etc. such as Google Groups [google.com] (in part formerly known as DejaNews) merit similar considerations: While they are free and as complete an account of the recorded history as possible, the need for similar, alternative archives operating on public funding (to guarantee perpetuity) is not apparent - and therefore occurs only exceptionally (and hardly without constraints), as for websites in the case of the Wayback Machine [archive.org].

    As soon as there are only one or a few dominant commercial services left, the

  • Freakin' MBAs and Everything is Business....

    Thirty-five years ago, I worked at the Franklin Institute Research Labs in Philly. The Instritute (a science museum) had a library with things back to its founding in the 1820s.

    The library was open to members (I'd been a member since I was about 12 - didn't cost much.)

    The Labs got themselves a "library research" department. They would get subscriptions to scientific journals it needed for its contracts...then drop them when the contracts ended.

    Then they got co
  • From TFA:

    "SBC has demonstrated a commitment to the history of telecommunications," says Sheldon Hochheiser, AT&T's historian until a downsizing last year.

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