The demise of Bell Labs, a pictorial

Bell Labs was one of the most important technology company of all time.

Wired is running a photo gallery related to the history of Bell Labs. If I had to pick one word to describe the photos, it would be depressing.

Besides the fact that Bell Labs was one of the greatest innovation companies of all time, I worked in two of the buildings that are part of the photo collection. My first "really real" job was at a Bell Labs start-up based on the Inferno programming language (which was based on Plan 9, a very early open-source OS) that Lucent attempted to commercialize.

I was based in the Murray Hill, N.J., building and used to see Dennis Ritchie in the elevator. We even got to bowl in the Unix lab. I then moved to the optical networking group down in Holmdel, N.J., before moving to California.

One of the pictures shows part of the Holmdel building, which was recently sold off to developers as part of the Lucent/Alcatel debacle. The building is historically significant not just because it was designed by Eero Saarinen but also because all kinds of technological breakthroughs occurred there. There is also a famous myth that a researcher at the Holmdel building got beat to the punch on his discovery and hurled himself off the 6th floor into the atrium.

Here are 10 Bell Labs innovations that changed the world.

  1. Data networking
  2. The transistor
  3. Cellular telephone technology
  4. Solar cells
  5. Lasers
  6. Digital transmission and switching
  7. Communications satellites
  8. Touch-tone telephones
  9. Unix operating system and C language
  10. Digital signal processors

Without Bell Labs, very few people who read this blog would have jobs today.

 

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