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An Overconfident Boast



AT&T had grown successful with a monopoly on Alexander Graham Bell's patents. When those patents expired in 1894, any company which wanted to throw its hat in the ring could compete with the telephone giant. For the first time ever, the company had competition. To survive, AT&T would have to come up with a new bag of tricks.

In 1909, Bell had a new -- and optimistic -- president named Theodore Vail. Vail announced that the company was going to provide nationwide service with the unprecedented help of a coast to coast phone system. At that point, a conversation could only travel 2,000 miles across the phone lines before dissolving into static. If they were going to cover the 3,400 mile width of the country, the Bell Lab scientists would have to get to work.

A Transcontinental Telephone Line

-- Crystal Fire by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson  

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