[TUHS] Bell Labs data center in 1969/70

Ralph Corderoy ralph at inputplus.co.uk
Mon Mar 18 04:52:28 AEST 2019

Hi Steve,

> For a long time, California was viewed as hostile to phone companies,
> or at least AT&T, and I remember clearly people saying that Bell Labs
> would never have a location in CA as a result.

Here's what Larry Luckham told me in a private email that he's since
said could be copied to the list.

Larry wrote:
> Of the thousands of web pages that I have posted the one of the Bell
> Labs photos is the one that generates a dozen queries a year.  Had no
> idea that would be the case when I posted it.  The photos are also the
> most ripped off and reposted of anything I've ever done.  But, to your
> points.
> The facility I set up in Oakland was temporary and for a specific
> experiment that ran for roughly 4 years.  You may recall that
> beginning in the mid 60's the Bell System was experiencing a huge and
> unpredicted demand for 411, information operator services.  The lead
> time to provide the trunking and other facilities for 411 operations
> was something like 25 years.  The public facing response was the "$55
> million dollar phone call" ad campaign intended to point customers
> back to printed directories.  The inward facing response was to figure
> out a way to handle each request for service faster so that the
> existing trunking and other facilities could meet the growing demand.
> At that time information operators relied on printed directories much
> the same as the customer's printed directory, except that theirs were
> loose leaf, reprinted monthly, and supplemented with a yellow daily
> addendum.  They were also printed in a larger format to make reading
> easier.  A division of the Labs called Business Information Systems
> Corp.  out of the Raritan River Center was tasked with the project and
> given a very short timeline.  A computer database and electronic
> display terminals driven by a very powerful search engine was the
> result.  Special operator terminals were designed and built by Western
> Electric.  The search engine was contracted out to Computer Corp. of
> America (CCA) which had been founded by some guys from Minsky's AI lab
> at MIT.  Then the idea was to try it out in a live environment.
> The San Francisco Bay Area was selected as reasonably representative
> and that's where I came in.  I was already managing the data center at
> the local Bell company, Pacific Telephone and Telegraph,
> San Francisco, so I was recruited to make it happen.  I built the
> mainframe data center, PT&T provided space in an information operating
> room a few blocks away and CCA came onsite to do the programming.
> The testing ran roughly 4 years.  I had moved on before it ended, but
> it was successful and was implanted, at least to some degree, but this
> shop was dismantled and everyone went home.  Then technology did what
> it always does, it ran over everything and changed the world.
> Along came the PC, the Internet, smart phones, etc.
> It's been a very long time and I'm sure I've forgotten, or
> misremembered stuff, but that's kind of what I remember.
> Hope it sheds some light.

Cheers, Ralph.

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