This film, The Far Sound, examines how technologies invented at Bell Laboratories and developed by the Bell System contributed to making direct-dial, long-distance telephone service possible. It depicts how the various fields and departments at the Labs came together in this singular enterprise, culminating in common service for all. The film’s title, The Far Sound, is the alternate translation of the Greek “Telephone.”
1961, the year this film was made, was a very exciting time to be at Bell Labs. Telstar was under development. BellComm was about to be spun off, to work with NASA on the moon project. Technologies involving the transistor, laser, and the solar cell were underway. Scientists were just starting to explore what a computer was and what it might accomplish. In the middle of this wave of innovation was the Bell System’s core business—providing telephone service to almost the entire country.
A decade earlier, a few cities had been given direct dial long distance telephone service. Now, 10 years later, direct long distance was a novelty in some communities, while taken for granted in others. But this film showed how au-courant technologies at the time like the “electronic central office” (later to become the ESS), the optical MASER (aka laser), and satellites would later converge to form the modern telephone and data network.
Don’t miss the “two-headed” stereo test, 20 minutes into the film, and a cameo from Claude Shannon at 25 minutes.