Origin and historical locations
Bell's personal research after the telephone
In 1880, when the French government awarded Alexander Graham Bell the Volta Prize of 50,000 francs (approximately US$10,000 at that time; about $270,000 in January 2019's dollars) for the invention of the telephone, he used the award to fund the Volta Laboratory (Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory) in Washington, D.C. in collaboration with Sumner Tainter and Bell's cousin Chichester Bell. The laboratory was variously known as the Volta Bureau, the Bell Carriage House, the Bell Laboratory and the Volta Laboratory.
It focused on the analysis, recording, and transmission of sound. Bell used his considerable profits from the laboratory for further research and education to permit the "[increased] diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf": resulting in the founding of the Volta Bureau (c. 1887) which was located at Bell's father's house at 1527 35th Street N.W. in Washington, D.C. Its carriage house became their headquarters in 1889.
In 1893, Bell constructed a new building close by at 1537 35th Street N.W., specifically to house the lab. This building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1972.
After the invention of the telephone, Bell maintained a relatively distant role with the Bell System as a whole, but continued to pursue his own personal research interests.
Bell's 1893 Volta Bureau building in Washington, D.C.
The Bell Patent Association was formed by Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Sanders, and Gardiner Hubbard when filing the first patents for the telephone in 1876.
Bell Telephone Company, the first telephone company, was formed a year later. It later became a part of the American Bell Telephone Company.
American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) and its own subsidiary company, took control of American Bell and the Bell System by 1889.
American Bell held a controlling interest in Western Electric (which was the manufacturing arm of the business) whereas AT&T was doing research into the service providers.
In 1884, the American Bell Telephone Company created the Mechanical Department from the Electrical and Patent Department formed a year earlier.
Formal organization and location changes
The original home of Bell Laboratories beginning in 1925, 463 West Street, New York.
In 1896, Western Electric bought property at 463 West Street to station their manufacturers and engineers who had been supplying AT&T with their product. This included everything from telephones, telephone exchange switches, and transmission equipment.
In 1925, Bell Laboratories was developed to better consolidate the research activities of the Bell System. Ownership was evenly split between Western Electric and AT&T. Throughout the next decade the AT&T Research and Development branch moved into West Street.
Bell Labs also carried out consulting work for the Bell Telephone Company, U.S. government work, and a few workers were assigned to basic research. The first president of research at Bell Labs was Frank B. Jewett who stayed there until 1940.
By the early 1940s, Bell Labs engineers and scientists had begun to move to other locations away from the congestion and environmental distractions of New York City, and in 1967 Bell Laboratories headquarters was officially relocated to Murray Hill, New Jersey.
Among the later Bell Laboratories locations in New Jersey were Holmdel, Crawford Hill, the Deal Test Site, Freehold, Lincroft, Long Branch, Middletown, Neptune, Princeton, Piscataway, Red Bank, Chester, and Whippany. Of these, Murray Hill and Crawford Hill remain in existence (the Piscataway and Red Bank locations were transferred to and are now operated by Telcordia Technologies and the Whippany site was purchased by Bayer).
The largest grouping of people in the company was in Illinois, at Naperville-Lisle, in the Chicago area, which had the largest concentration of employees (about 11,000) prior to 2001. There also were groups of employees in Indianapolis, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; North Andover, Massachusetts; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Reading, Pennsylvania; and Breinigsville, Pennsylvania; Burlington, North Carolina (1950s–1970s, moved to Greensboro 1980s) and Westminster, Colorado. Since 2001, many of the former locations have been scaled down or closed.
The Holmdel site, a 1.9 million square foot structure set on 473 acres, was closed in 2007. The mirrored-glass building was designed by Eero Saarinen. In August 2013, Somerset Development bought the building, intending to redevelop it into a mixed commercial and residential project. A 2012 article expressed doubt on the success of the newly named Bell Works site however several large tenants had announced plans to move in through 2016 and 2017