Alexander Graham Bell

Country of origin: Scotland

Year came to U.S.: 1871

Businesses: AT&T (1875), Verizon (1983), Avaya Holdings (2000)

Headquarters: Dallas, TX (AT&T),
Basking Ridge, NJ (Verizon)

2021 revenue: $168.9 billion (AT&T), $133.6 billion (Verizon) and $2.9 billion (Avaya)

Worldwide employment: 202,600 (AT&T), 118,400 (Verizon) and 8,266 (Avaya)

Ranked 13 (AT&T) and 23 (Verizon) in the 2022 Fortune 500

  • Alexander Graham Bell is recognized as the inventor of the telephone and the man responsible for spawning a global telecommunications industry.

  • His mother and wife were both deaf, triggering his early interest in speech.

At age 24, Bell arrived in Massachusetts from Scotland to teach Visible Speech at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes. Bell’s mother and wife were both deaf and his father, grandfather and brother had also done extensive work with speech. Bell’s interest in speech was a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, Bell’s desire to help Deaf people led him to some deeply misguided and harmful ideas. He wrongly believed that society could eliminate illness and disabilities through preventing affected people from having children, and so he joined and supported eugenics organizations. To learn more about an immigrant who did contribute greatly to the Deaf community, check out the blog post Remembering the “Apostle of the Deaf” this Deaf History Month about Deaf French American Laurent Clerc. Bell’s deep interest in the mechanical reproduction of speech also led to his invention of the telephone.

In 1875, while he was a professor at Boston University’s School of Oratory, he founded American Bell. In 1876, he introduced the telephone to the world at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. His acclaim led him to become the second president of the newly established National Geographic Society.

The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) was incorporated in 1885 as American Bell’s subsidiary, created to construct and run the first long-distance telephone network. Four years later, it acquired the assets of American Bell and became the parent company of the Bell System. By 1915, AT&T’s network extended from New York to San Francisco.

In 1984, the Bell system was divided into eight companies. One of them, Bell Atlantic, grew into the company we now know as Verizon, which today boasts revenues of $128.3 billion (2020). Another, Lucent Technologies, later spun out its enterprise communications group into the company now known as Avaya. AT&T went on to become the largest communications holding company in the world with revenues in 2020 of $171.8 billion.

Updated July 2022