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Pacific Bell

Pacific Bell Telephone Company
AT&T California
Private (Subsidiary of AT&T Inc.)
Industry Telecommunications
Founded 1906
Headquarters PacBell Building
San Francisco, California, USA
Area served
Products POTS, DSL
Parent AT&T Co. (1906-1983)
Pacific Telesis (1984-1997)
SBC/AT&T Inc. (1997-present)
Subsidiaries Nevada Bell

Pacific Bell Telephone Company (Pacific Bell) provides telephone service in California. The company is owned by AT&T Inc. through AT&T Teleholdings. The company has been known by a number of names during which its service area has changed. The name "Pacific Bell" is no longer commonly used.


  • History 1
    • San Francisco graft 1.1
    • Growth 1.2
    • Southern California service 1.3
    • Northern California operations 1.4
    • Dial service conversion 1.5
    • Northwest acquisitions 1.6
    • Separation from AT&T 1.7
  • Mergers and subsequent growth 2
  • References 3


Pacific Telephone logo used in the 1920s

The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company managed the Bell System's telephone operations in California. It grew by acquiring smaller telephone companies along the Pacific coast. It built and occupied San Francisco's Pacific Telephone Building[1] on New Montgomery Street which has been described as a "monument to western progress and foresight".[2]

San Francisco graft

During the San Francisco graft trials, the company was implicated in paying bribes to obtain an operations franchise in San Francisco. Theodore Halsey, a confidential political agent for the Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Company, paid attorney Abe Ruef a retainer of $1,250 a month for "advice" on municipal issues. Ruef was the political boss behind S.F. Mayor Eugene Schmitz. In 1906, San Francisco was one of the most promising places for investment in all of the United States. Many companies were vying for a piece of the money to be made. The city's supervisors had run on a platform that included the city acquiring its own telephone system which both Home Telephone Company and Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Company wanted to prevent. The Home Telephone Company, financed by investors from Southern California and Ohio, was trying to wrest the telephone franchise held exclusively by Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Company in Northern California.[3]:p31

After the massive earthquake of 1906, the Home Telephone Company contributed $75,000 to a relief fund for the city, but asked that it be held until their franchise was approved.[3]:p51 It was later revealed that the city's supervisors had received payoffs through Ruef from both the Home Telephone Company and Pacific States Telephone Co. Home Telephone paid 10 supervisors $3,500 each and seven supervisors $6,000 each (about $91,869 to $157,489 in 2016). Pacific States Telephone Co. paid 10 supervisors $5,000 each ($52,496 today). After the graft prosecutions, E.F. Pillsbury, General Counsel for the telephone company, revealed that he had never heard of Ruef's employment, and would have objected to Ruef receiving compensation greater than his own $1,000 per month.[3]


During the first part of the 20th century, Pacific Telephone & Telegraph, along with the rest of the Bell System, initially resisted automating its services,[4] on the premise that their people could provide better service than machines. When it acquired competing providers, if the company provided automatic dial service, Bell removed the automatic equipment and replaced it with manual telephones and manual operator switchboards. However the company soon realized its best manual systems were unable to keep up with the growing demand for telephone service. In the early 1920s, following the 1921 installation of the nation's first large panel switch in Omaha, the Bell operating companies began to install automated switching equipment.

Southern California service

Los Angeles and San Francisco employed different approaches for adopting new automatic switching technology. The Los Angeles Telephone Co. had merged with the Sunset Telephone Co. of northern California in 1883. Sunset was subsequently acquired by Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co. in 1906. Following the purchase by PT&T, the southern California company remained a separate operation and used the Sunset name.

The Los Angeles area was also served by a competitor, The Home Telephone Co., which began offering automatic (dial) service in 1902. The Sunset Telephone Co. subscribers were able to make local and long distance calls via the Bell System, but Home Telephone Co. customers could make only local calls to other Home customers. To reach both exchanges, businesses were required to pay for a line from each company. In 1916, under pressure from local politicians and subscribers, Sunset Telephone Co. agreed to acquire the Home Company's operations. The new entity was called The Southern California Telephone Co.. The two company's operations were fully integrated in 1918.[5]

At the time of the 1918 merger, Home had 60,000 customers served from 16 dial offices. Sunset had 68,000 subscribers served from nine manual offices. Home's operations were sizable and the public felt Home provided better service than Sunset, so Pacific Telephone didn't convert the dial offices to manual as it had in the past.[6] Instead, they took the highly unusual step of adding a dial and trunk lines to every manual switchboard position. In this way, former Sunset customers could reach the former Home subscribers via their central office operator.[7]

The last Los Angeles manual exchange was THornwall 6, in Burbank, which operated until the late 1950s.[8] The last manual office in southern California was in Avalon, on Catalina Island, dating from a radiotelephone service installed in the early 1920s. Pacific Telephone later laid two submarine cables to link the island to the mainland. Avalon was converted to dial in 1978, using switching equipment 23 miles away in the San Pedro central office.[9]

Northern California operations

San Francisco continued to install manual offices throughout the 1920s. When PT&T took over the operations of its San Francisco and Oakland competitor, Home Telephone Co. in the early 1920s, their customers were switched from Home's dial service to Pacific Telephone manual exchanges.[10] A 1927 Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co. publication proudly describes the company's newest manual offices, without a word of plans to introduce dial service.[11] San Francisco's first dial office, ORdway, opened on 23 March 1929.[12] The first suburban step-by-step (electromechanical stepping switch) office opened in Palo Alto in 1929.[8]

Dial service conversion

Telephone service conversion from manual to dial systems was slowed by World War II. In preparation for operator distance dialing, the San Francisco Bay Area standardized telephone numbers to the 2L-5N format, e.g. EXchange 1-2345, in December 1947. In July 1948, Pacific Telephone converted most of the cities on the San Francisco Peninsula. The company announcement, "Most Peninsula cities now have exchange names,"[13] confirmed that the old four or five digit numbers had been converted to the seven-digit exchange format. The 1948 directory shows San Carlos, Belmont, Pescadero, and Half Moon Bay with manual service.[13] Other examples included:

  • DAvenport 2 - Palo Alto
  • OXford - Millbrae
  • DIamond 3 - Burlingame, San Mateo
  • DIamond 4 - Burlingame, San Mateo
  • FIreside 5 - San Mateo
  • EMerson 6 - Redwood City

To place calls to other exchanges, such as Sacramento, Stockton, and Vallejo in Northern California, customers dialed 0 to reach an operator. The operator dialed through the tandem switch and directly called numbers in those cities. For other call destinations, customers dialed 211 to reach a long distance operator who would manually connect the customer to another operator.

The manual 25th Street office in San Francisco, serving the MIssion, ATwater, and VAlencia exchanges, was converted by Pacific Telephone to a dial system in 1952. Pacific Telephone converted its operations to 2L-5N (seven figure) calling in 1947 and stopped using the last manual prefix, RAndolph (on Russia Street in the Excelsior District of San Francisco), designating the office as JUniper 6. On September 6, 1953, JUniper 6, the last manual office within the City and County, cut over its 2700 subscribers to brand-new crossbar equipment in the new Juniper central office on Onondaga Avenue.[14] Riverside maintained a large manual office until 1956.[15] That exchange was converted to dial service on September 6, 1953. Berkeley converted AShberry 3, its last manual office, to dial in 1963. Crockett, the final Bay Area manual office, was converted to dial in 1969.[8]

Northwest acquisitions

Acquisitions over the years extended Pacific Telephone's territory into Oregon, Washington, and northern Idaho. Those operations were split off on July 1, 1961 to form Pacific Northwest Bell. In the 1980s Pacific Telephone's assets were valued at $14.5 billion, making it the biggest of any of the 21 wholly owned Baby Bells owned by AT&T, which also made Pacific Telephone the "crown jewel" of the operating companies.[16] However, Pacific Telephone was one of the least profitable Bells due to very tough local telephone regulations in California.

Separation from AT&T

Pacific Bell logo, 1984-1997

Prior to the AT&T breakup in 1984, AT&T held 89.8% of Pacific Telephone. After the breakup, The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company changed its name to Pacific Bell Telephone Company and was often referred to as PacBell. Because Pacific Bell owned Nevada Bell, the Nevada company was omitted from the Modification of Final Judgment that broke up the Bell System.

Mergers and subsequent growth

In 1997, Pacific Telesis Group was acquired by SBC Communications, and although the Pacific Telesis corporate name disappeared fairly quickly, SBC continued to operate the local telephone companies separately under their original names.

Pacific Bell logo, 1999-2001

In September 2001, SBC rebranded the telephone company "SBC Pacific Bell". In late 2002, the companies were rebranded again as "SBC". Meanwhile, employees of SBC working in California who support SBC's non-regulated services and/or services provided both within and outside California were transferred to other SBC subsidiaries, like "Pacific Telesis Shared Services" and "SBC Operations, Inc." However, for legal and regulatory purposes, employees supporting local regulated services were still employed by "Pacific Bell Telephone Company dba SBC California ("SBC California")" which is the SBC subsidiary that provides regulated local exchange carrier telephone services within the franchise territory in California.

Pacific Bell logo, 2001-2002

On November 18, 2005, SBC completed its acquisition of AT&T Corp. to form AT&T Inc. Pacific Bell is now known as "Pacific Bell Telephone Company", dba AT&T California.

In 2006, the company's direct parent, originally Ameritech, became AT&T Teleholdings due to an internal reorganization at AT&T. Its former direct parent, Pacific Telesis Group was legally merged into AT&T Teleholdings.

In 2007, local telephone service in California was further deregulated, resulting in price increases for AT&T California customers.


  1. ^ "On Hold in San Francisco". 2009-01-30. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 
  2. ^ "Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company Building - 1925". 1924-01-01. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 
  3. ^ a b c Hichborn, Frank (1915). The System. San Francisco: The James H. Barry Company. Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Why the Bell System Opposed the Automatic Dial Telephone, Part I by Roger Conklin". Singing Wires. October 2008. Retrieved 2013-06-12. 
  5. ^ "Los Angeles Telephone History". Los Angeles Telephone. Retrieved 2013-06-12. 
  6. ^ "Why the Bell System Opposed the Automatic Dial Telephone, Part I by Roger Conklin". Singing Wires. October 2008. Retrieved 2013-06-12. 
  7. ^ "Early LA Telephone Service Article TCI SW, March 2009". 1917-05-01. Retrieved 2013-06-12. 
  8. ^ a b c "Telephone Exchange Name Project, Yahoo! Groups". TEN Project. Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  9. ^ "Los Angeles Pacific Bell-SBC". Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  10. ^ "333 Grant » Art and Architecture - San Francisco". Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  11. ^ R. S. Masters (1927). "An historical review of the San Francisco Exchange". The Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co. Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  12. ^ "TCI Library - Downloads | Publications and Educational Documents (by Date) | Western Electric/Bell System | Catalogs, Manuals, Educational Docs (by Company)". The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co. 1953. Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  13. ^ a b "Telephone directory for communities in San Mateo County". 1948-07-04. Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  14. ^ "Pacific Telephone News. (by Date) | Western Electric/Bell System | Catalogs, Manuals, Educational Docs (by Company)". Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co. 1953. Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  15. ^ "Yahoo! Groups". Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  16. ^  
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