Long Lines: AT&T's Long-Distance Network as an Organizational and Political Strategy
Business History Review
The primary importance of long-distance telephone service to the American Telephone and Telegraph Company in the first two decades of the twentieth century was not commercial but organizational and political. The so-called Bell System was not a single firm before 1910 but was, rather, an association of regional companies with considerable autonomy. As AT&T's leaders worked both to overcome independent competitors and to curtail the autonomy of their own local affiliates, long-distance service offered them a powerful technological justification for the consolidation of control. Outside the Bell System, long distance also served as a vivid symbol of interconnection and integration. Long distance proved central to AT&T's campaign to convince Americans of its own legitimacy and that of nation-spanning corporations in general.