Bell Laboratories, now known as Alctel-Lucent has a rich and varied history of basic and applied research. It was originally founded by Alexander Graham Bell as a center to increase knowledge for the deaf. It evolved into a research and development facility for American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). Research projects at Bell Labs attained mythic status over the years.

Transistor Inventors.Credit: Unkown AT& T photographer. Now in public Domain

Bell Laboratories

The Alexander Graham Bell Laboratories, Volta Bureau, Volta Laboratory, Bell Carriage House, Bell Telephone Laboratories, AT&T Bell Laboratories, and the Bell Laboratories are previous names for what is now the Alctel-Lucent research and development facility.

The president of AT&T, Walter Gifford, established Bell Labs in 1925. In 1925, part of the engineering department from AT&T and Western Electric Research Laboratories formed as a separate group to operate independently of the two corporations. Both companies co-owned the operation. Western Electric was a subsidiary of AT&T. Its purpose was to build equipment to support and improve telephone systems. The original site was around the AT&T building in New York, but later moved to Murray Hill, New Jersey and expanded to various locations in the United States. Parts of AT&T became part of Lucent technologies in 1995 because of deregulation. Bell Labs was one of those groups.


A case could be made that Bell Labs invented the modern age. The labs could lay claim to possibly being the most innovative scientific organization of the twentieth century. Bell Labs employees won 7 Nobel Prize winners in the twentieth century. One was for inventing the transistor. William Shockley, John Bardeen and Bell scientist Walter Brattain shared the prize.

Lab employees conducted basic and applied research that discovered microwave radiation that occurred at the beginning of the universe. Other innovations include; the fax transmission in 1925, long-distance TV transmission in 1927, the transistor in 1947, photovoltaic cells in 1954, and cell phones in 1978. They invented the UNIX computer operating system in 1969 for themselves, and gave it away free. Lab employees invented lasers such that make DVD players work. These were the products of pure and applied research.

Scientific Research in the United States

In the United States, scientific research is a public – private affair. There are institutions like Bell Labs that do pure research, and sometimes go on tangents that yield nothing. Other times the research invents new products and technology that significantly changes the cultural landscape.

While Bell Labs is the most honored research organization by a private company, there are others. RCA Labs, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, and IBM are private companies that produced inventions and Innovation. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and NASA, are public research agencies.