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The Telephone Monopoly

That Shaped History

For over 100 years, The Bell System (AT&T) maintained the longest, most sustained monopoly in the United States. In spite of this, there was one brief window in American history, right at the very beginning, when the telephone industry was thriving. A nationwide, competitive industry producing some of the most beautiful telephones ever made.

This website is dedicated to that very brief window, 1894 – 1912, when hundreds of manufacturers were producing beautiful, unique, spectacular telephones to compete with Bell, introducing Americans to the true meaning of the concept of form & function.

1876

Alexander Graham Bell
Patents the Telephone

1892

Bell's 1892 Model No. 2
One year before Bell`s patents began to expire opening the door to competition. Bell knew that competition was imminent. I think this is the most beautiful Bell Telephone ever produced.

1893 - 1894

Bell's Telephone Patents expire
By the end of Bell`s 17-year protected patent window there were only about 270,000 telephones in use in the United States, most of those confined to the bigger cities, and virtually no service to rural areas. But competition is about to explode. Thousands of independent telephone companies spring up across the U.S. and manufacturers are producing some of the most beautiful telephones ever made.

1894 - 1907

The Independents are winning!
After just 13 years of competition, 1894 - 1907, the number of telephones in the U.S. had grown to six million, and independent telephones outnumbered Bell Telephones. Prices were driven down and service improved. AT&T`s profits began to shrink. Industry historians summarized the overall effect of this period by saying, “It seems competition helped to expand the market, bring down costs, and lower prices to consumers.”

1907 - 1912

JP Morgan's Influence
In 1907, JP Morgan takes control of Bell Telephone and installs Theodore Vail as President. Both men rejected the idea of competition. They believed that a business ‘monopoly’, when held in the right hands, is the key to success.

Over the next five years, Bell’s tactics become more aggressive and the foundation for the Bell/AT&T monopoly is firmly established.

1913

Bell/AT&T Monopoly
After being investigated by the United States Justice Department, Bell/AT&T proposes a deal (Kingsbury Commitment) to settle the monopoly issue. And the DOJ accepts. By then, however, the Bell System had grown to become a giant, government protected monopoly controlling 83% of all U.S. telephones.

(To learn more about the beginning of the longest, most sustained monopoly in the United States, click below…)

The Monopoly Begins....

The monopoly is official - For anyone who wonders what a business monopoly looks like through the eyes of the consumer, look no further than the Bell/AT&T monopoly. Once the Kingsbury agreement was signed and the threat of competition eliminated, you will never see a starker contrast to a competitive, free enterprise system, versus an iron clad, government protected business monopoly.
A Selection of AT&T Monopoly Era Phones
Compare the Bell Telephones offered to consumers for the 70 years from 1912 to 1982, with the beautiful innovation of that competitive chapter from 1894 to 1912. This website is dedicated to all of those innovative independent companies who helped launch the greatest invention of all.
A Selection of 1894-1912 Era Phones

Our Collection

The telephones presented here are more than just communication devices; they represent the free enterprise dreams of countless American entrepreneurs before the industry succumbed to the Bell monopoly.

This is a tribute to that lost era of competition – an era that brought us some of the most stunning telephones ever made, and a testament to the spirit of innovation that drove the industry forward against all odds. Join us as we unveil the true narrative of the telephone – a tale of ambition, rivalry, and the relentless pursuit of progress.
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National Telephone Mfg. Co. 1894 “swing mount” pencil shaft desk set
1894 - National Telephone Mfg. Co.

Desk Set

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Connecticut Telephone and Electric Co. fluted shaft desk set.
1898 - Connecticut Telephone and Electric Co.

Fluted Shaft

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Phoenix Electric Telephone Co. potbelly desk set
1901 - Phoenix Electric Telephone Co.

Desk Set

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Ness Automatic Telephone desk set, model No. 786 N.
1894 - NESS AUTOMATIC DESK SET

No. 786N

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Edmonstone Company, Anders push-button telephone desk set.
1899 - Edmonstone Company

Push-Button

About Us

This website celebrates the invention of the telephone by providing a visual and factual resource of the very few beautiful competitive telephones to compete with Bell telephone in the earliest years. Many of the telephones in this collection are so rare, they are the only ones known to exist.

No one alive today was a witness to those earliest days of the telephone, but one thing is certain; fortunes were lost and reputations were ruined as the Bell monopoly destroyed the free enterprise dreams of visionary entrepreneurs and altered the course of telephone history.