Cellular Dreams and Cordless Nightmares:
Life at Bell Laboratories in interesting times

By Richard Frenkiel

is available here for download for individuals who are interested in a personal view of Bell Laboratories in the period 1963-1993. The Preface (Postscript as Prelude) is printed below, and explains the intent of this book. Persons who wish to download a personalized copy of the entire manuscript should fill in the boxes below and will receive an email with further instructions for download.

Postscript as Prelude

July, 2006
The local newspaper says they are going to tear down the Bell Labs research center at Holmdel. Designed by Eero Saarinen in the early sixties and twice expanded in the heady days of monopoly wealth, that landmark building was my workday home for most of thirty years. The news is sad but not surprising. The old AT&T has been torn apart and recombined into an odd assortment of new entities. Surviving within the company called Lucent in a much reduced form, Bell Labs still occupies a small fraction of the Holmdel building, as well as small portions of its other research centers. I have visited there on occasion since my retirement in 1993, but the empty rooms and silent corridors have become a depressing reminder of a lost world that once seemed ageless and indestructible.

To most people, Bell Labs was the quintessential Ivory Tower-a place of remote genius and lightning-bolt creativity-but it was more than that. It was a place where lesser mortals merged their talents into large projects, to beat stubborn technologies into submission. And it was less than that as well-a spoiled child of monopoly wealth, arrogant and profligate, that would stubbornly pursue some dreams beyond any hope of success. For thirty years, I relished the challenge of its vision, enjoyed the comfort of its riches, and admired the power of its people, while never fully believing that I belonged there. From my first botched interviews, to my bumbling efforts in mechanical design, to my reincarnations in cellular systems engineering, cordless telephone design and manufacturing, I was always surrounded by people who knew far more than I, about whatever it was important to know.

It was a compelling experience nonetheless-a front row seat on the Bell Labs roller coaster, through the twisting peaks and valleys of its final years as a monopoly, and into its uncertain future in a competitive world. The Bell Labs I knew is gone, and for better or worse, we will not see its like again.

These are my recollections of the path that led me from Brighton Beach to Bell Labs, and of the thirty years I would spend there. They are personal, and thus limited to my experiences (and perhaps by the flaws of my aging memory), but they may capture a world that is familiar to others who were there, and will perhaps be interesting to some who were not. Though they may occasionally lapse into irreverence, they are offered with deep affection

This manuscript is copyrighted by Richard H. Frenkiel and should not be retransmitted in electronic or paper form, either in full or in part, or used for any other purpose. Others who wish to read it may request their own copies from this same page. Please fill out the information below. A download key will be sent to your email address.

Comments and corrections may be sent as email to frenkiel (AT) Winlab (DOT) Rutgers (DOT) edu.