Nevada Bell Telephone Company History
Reno, Nevada 89520
Telephone: (702) 333-4000
Fax: (702) 367-5651
Incorporated: 1913 as Bell Telephone Company of Nevada
Sales: $160 million
SICs: 4813 Telephone Communications Except Radiotelephone
Nevada Bell was one of the telephone companies that changed forever due to the AT&T divestiture in 1984. When the Bell System divested its long-distance service from all local operations on January 1 of that year, Nevada Bell Telephone Company immediately came under new ownership. The Pacific Telesis Group, Nevada Bell's new parent company, had just been formed as one of the regional firms after the divestiture. Pacific Telesis helped Nevada weather the dramatic changes necessitated by the breakup, including numerous service changes for the company's customers. Over the years, Pacific Telesis has helped modernize Nevada Bell operations, and added many new products to an ever-growing list of services for customers, including such items as Teen Line, Voice Mail, and Custom Calling 2000.
Nevada Bell traces its history to the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company and the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the telephone industry came to the western part of the United States. Numerous companies were formed throughout the region, including the state of Nevada, and the telephone soon became one of the integral parts of life in the West. Yet many of the early telephone companies were plagued by instability, and new companies were either going bankrupt, changing ownership, or buying more and more telephone exchanges.
One such company, the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company, started its early existence in Nevada with great promise by rapidly expanding its operations. Suddenly, without much notice, the company began to divest itself of all its holdings. As a result, all of its stock was purchased by the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1906. Soon after the purchase, Pacific Telephone sold the Carson City, Nevada, telephone exchange, one of the largest in the state at that time, to Nevada Consolidated Telephone and Telegraph Company. Pacific Telephone ran its operations primarily in the extreme western part of Nevada and did not significantly expand any of its network for years. In January 1913, however, the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company transferred the entirety of its operations in the state to Bell Telephone of Nevada, which was specifically incorporated to act as a holding company while the first transcontinental telephone wire was constructed in 1914.
The purchase of Pacific Telephone by Nevada Bell, as it was coming to be known, included the transfer of 695 miles of telephone wire throughout the state, in addition to numerous telephone plants and exchanges comprised of switchboards, wires, and poles. All together, the new company had acquired over 3,000 stations. But the event with the most impact on Nevada Bell was the construction of the Nevada portion of the transcontinental telephone line. The line was to connect the East and West coasts of the United States, and was one of the largest telephone construction projects ever undertaken within the United States. During one of the most stormy periods in Nevada's history, the construction of nearly 400 miles of telephone wire over mountains and deserts was completed on June 17, 1914. But it wasn't until January 1915 that the transcontinental telephone line was officially opened to provide service across the United States.
Although the construction of the transcontinental telephone wire brought a great deal of prestige to Nevada Bell, the company didn't build upon its success for another four years. However, in 1919, company management decided to initiate an expansion program, and started building telephone lines that crisscrossed the state. Nevada Bell also began to acquire telephone exchanges in the northern section of Nevada. In 1920, the company acquired the Utah, Nevada, and Idaho Telephone Company assets for approximately $64,000, and also brought the Carson City exchange of 437 telephones, which had previously been sold by the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company.
During the early and mid-1920s, there was a significant drop in Nevada Bell's activities. Neither new construction of telephone lines nor any additional acquisitions were made until 1929. In that year, the company constructed the Los Angeles-Salt Lake City telephone line from the California border to the state of Utah. Desert heat, snakes, a lack of water, and desolate countryside made the project one of the most difficult construction jobs ever contracted by Nevada Bell. However, this new line provided Las Vegas, and other parts of southern Nevada, with long-distance telephone service, a service that the northern part of the state had had for 30 years.
During 1930, Nevada Bell engaged in a flurry of activity, expanding and improving upon its services. Dial telephones began to replace the older exchange methods used since the turn of the century, and changing from common battery switchboards to dial switchboards cost the company's Reno office $565,000. At the same time, Nevada Bell purchased the entire operating system of White Pine Telephone Company, which owned an exchange telephone plant and connecting toll lines. The company also constructed a 119-mile telephone line from Wendover to Ely, Nevada. Yet with the deepening of the Great Depression, plans for additional expansion and improvement of services came to an abrupt halt. For the entirety of the 1930s, Nevada Bell neither acquired new holdings nor constructed new telephone lines. In fact, with the economic situation getting worsening, the company concentrated on maintaining its existing services.
With the advent of World War II, Nevada Bell resumed its expansion activities. In 1942, the company laid two cables across the state as the Nevada portion of a new transcontinental telephone line. More importantly, however, during the same year the Defense Board Ruling Number One, issued by the U.S. Department of Defense, contracted Nevada Bell to construct the DBR line in western Nevada. Built for defense purposes to guard against a possible Japanese invasion on the American West Coast, the line provided common carrier communication service among the major cities in California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Many of the places that the DBR ran through did not previously have any telephone service at all. Nevada Bell, therefore, was able to use the line to service many new areas in western Nevada.
After the war, Nevada Bell grew rapidly. In 1946, the company completed the first VHF (very high frequency) radio link between Death Valley Junction and the Spectre Mountain repeater station. By 1952, as part of AT&T's nationwide network, 13 microwave stations were built by Nevada Bell to provide communication services for a variety of cross country communications. In 1955, Nevada Bell assumed all the communications engineering projects for the Atomic Energy Commission located at the Mercury, Nevada, test site. Although the state of Nevada was slow in arranging for customers to receive television transmissions, when TV finally did come to the region, Nevada Bell constructed a SHF (super high frequency) radio link to provide television service to its customers. During the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, Nevada Bell helped convert 15 communities to dial telephone service. In addition, new offices with modernized switchboards were built in Reno, Carson City, and Virginia City, Nevada. During approximately the same time, the company constructed a communications building for the U.S. military at Stead Air Force Base, and also provided the entire communications supplies used by NASA at the Nevada sites, which tracked the X15 rocket ship.
Nevada Bell entered the 1960s full of confidence and ready to take advantage of the growing market for communication services. For the first six years of the decade, Nevada Bell spent over $13 million to modernize and expand its services. In 1960, the company introduced direct distance dialing for its Reno customers, allowing them to direct dial all their calls across the United States, and then the company gradually introduced the service to other areas over the next few years. In the early 1960s, the company completed and began operation of numerous microwave sites, as well as VHF and SHF stations in Nevada. By 1962, over 1,100 people were employed by Nevada Bell, and the company reported over 68,000 telephones in service throughout the state. In 1964, more than 4,500 main stations were added to Nevada Bell's growing communications network, along with the addition of major exchanges in Pahrump and Lathrop Wells.
Starting with 1966, however, Nevada Bell suffered from the economic recession that affected the entire southwestern part of the country. Stead Air Force Base was deactivated, resulting in a decrease of nearly 2,000 main telephones from the previous year. In spite of this economic downturn, Nevada Bell forged ahead with service improvements. New equipment for Touch-Tone phones, direct distance dialing, and extended regional service was provided for the Carson City exchange. The company also received authorization to make its first acquisition of an independent telephone company in 40 years. The Nevada State Service Commission authorized the company's purchase of Lund-Preston Telephone Company, which served a number of agricultural communities for years in the White River Valley. This acquisition allowed Nevada Bell to initiate service for the population of an isolated ranching community. The company also constructed microwave stations between Las Vegas and Reno, the two largest cities in Nevada, so that long distance calls would not have to be rerouted through California. In 1968, Nevada Bell placed its one thousandth telephone in service and adopted the new Bell Telephone System color scheme of ochre and blue.
Nevada Bell's expansion and growth continued during the 1970s. In 1971, the company completed a project to offer toll station service to approximately 60 outlying ranches, and, one year later, the company installed a Number 2A Electronic Switching System in Sun Valley, Arizona. In 1973, a 4A switching center that provided direct long distance lines from Reno to major locations throughout the United States was completed, and in 1975, the company implemented a Traffic Service Position System (TSPS), which enabled customers who lived in isolated areas to direct dial all long distance calls they made. Within the old system, the operator was invaluable, but with TSPS more calls were handled with fewer operators, thereby lowering costs and retaining the same level of efficient service.
During the mid-1970s, the company initiated one of the most sweeping and thorough reorganization strategies of any telephone company in the United States. Nevada Bell eliminated the traffic, commercial, and plant department headings and replaced them with departments of administration, accounting, customer operations, network engineering, and network operations. Modernized electronic switching offices were opened in Stead and Reno, while the company opened its first phone center store in Carson City in 1979, and a second store in Reno near the end of the year. Large businesses and the development of casinos in the Reno area resulted in a growth from eight to 13 percent in main station facilities during this period. In addition, Nevada Bell's budget for new construction more than doubled during the last two years of the decade.
In the early 1980s, Nevada Bell provided many new services for its customers, including a change from directory assistance to number services, transferring all of the company's directory listings into a computer data base. This new process eliminated an operator's need to page through a paper directory in order to find a listing. With a keyboard and video display terminal, an operator could thus find a listing in about half as much time. In addition, the company introduced the Number 4 Electronic Switching System, which could process 150 phone calls per second.
The most important event during the 1980s, however, was the breakup of the Bell Telephone System, when AT&T was required by the U.S. court system to divest all of its local operations from all of its long-distance carrier services. A 70-year affiliation ended with the AT&T breakup on January 1, 1984, and Nevada Bell became a subsidiary of Pacific Telesis Group, a new regional company. As a result of the breakup, the service Nevada Bell provided for its customers was divided into two geographic locations, a northern and southern service area. Any phone calls made between those areas had to be arranged through a long-distance carrier such as Sprint, AT&T, or MCI. In fulfilling the U.S. court order which signaled the end of the Bell System, Nevada Bell began to offer other long distance carriers, such as MCI, access to local networks. Before the court order, customers in Nevada were required to dial as many as 12 extra digits to use long-distance carriers that were not AT&T. After the court order, however, customers could place calls using other long-distance carriers without having to dial any more numbers than when AT&T was used to make the call.
The late 1980s and early 1990s were years of significant change for Nevada Bell. The company initiated a comprehensive modernization plan in order to convert every access line into digitally-switched processes. Products like Teen Line, Custom Calling 2000, and Voice Mail were introduced by Nevada Bell to attract new customers. The company constructed a fiber optic ring surrounding Reno, and began to develop fiber optic technology for communications projects. Moreover, Nevada Bell has also upgraded and improved telephone services for rural communities, some of which remained very isolated in the wastelands of the state.
Like most of the other local telephone companies, Nevada Bell has successfully met the challenges posed by the breakup of the AT&T system in 1984. With its new research and development of fiber optic technology, Nevada Bell is working on the cutting edge of the telecommunications industry to provide its customers with high-quality service.
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- Mason, Charles, F., "RHCs Face Long, Tough Transition To World Of Competition," Telephony, July 13, 1992, p. 7.
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Nevada Bell's 80th Birthday: A Look Back, Reno: Nevada Bell, company document.
Nevada Bell History, 1913-1985, Reno: Nevada Bell, company document.
- Slutsker, Gary, "What Should We Be?," Forbes, September 28, 1992, pp. 132--136.
- Smith, Geoffrey, N., "Driving Down The Hypeway," Financial World, October 11, 1994, p. 8.
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Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 14. St. James Press, 1996.