Bell Telephone Laboratories or Bell Labs was originally the research and development arm of the Bell System, developing everything from telephone switches to specialized coverings for telephone cables, to the transistor.
In 1925, Walter Gifford (president of AT&T) established the separate entity called Bell Telephone Laboratories Inc., which took over work previously conducted by the research division of Western Electric's engineering department. Bell Labs was 50 percent owned by Western Electric, and 50 percent owned by AT&T.
The work done by Bell Labs was broadly divided into three categories: research, systems engineering and development.
Systems engineering concerned itself with conceiving the highly complex systems that make up the telecommunication networks.
- In 1933, Karl Jansky in his work for Bell Labs investigating the origins of static on long distance communications, discovered that radio waves were being emitted from the centre of the galaxy -- the founding of radio astronomy, though Bell did not pursue this, being more focussed on the problems of telecommunications.
- The transistor was invented by Bell Labs in 1947. The people responsible for the discovery, John Bardeen, William Bradford Shockley, and Walter Houser Brattain, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956.
- Claude Shannon, working as a research mathematician, published "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" (1948) in the Bell System Technical Journal, which in part built on earlier work in information theory at Bell Labs by Nyquist and Hartley.
- Bell Labs developed the photovoltaic cell.
- Bell Labs was also the original home to the UNIX operating system and the C programming language, developed by Brian Kernighan, Dennis Ritchie, and Ken Thompson in the early 1970s, as well as the C++ programming language developed by Bjarne Stroustrup in the 1980s.
In 1996 AT&T spun off Bell Labs, along with most of its equipment-manufacturing business, into a new company named Lucent Technologies. AT&T retained a smaller number of researchers to form AT&T Laboratories.
In 2002 Jan Hendrik Schön, a German physicist, was fired from Bell Labs after his work was found to contain fraudulent data; it was the first case of fraud in the lab's history. Over a dozen of Schön's papers were found to contain made up or altered data, including a paper on molecular-scale transistors that was hailed as a breakthrough.
At its height, Bell Labs had research and/or development facilities all over the country, but mostly concentrated in New Jersey. Among the locations were:
- New Jersey
See also: Lucent