Holmdel 20th Anniversary, a history of the legendary Bell Labs facility designed by Eero Saarinen

Discovery it always comes back to discovery. In 1933 Karl Jansky, a bell laboratories scientist,
discovered the center of our galaxy. Jansky was working to conquer the problem of shortwave radio noise at the labs in Holmdel, New Jersey. Using a custom-designed antenna he measured the levels of static in the
atmosphere. After months of investigation Jansky determined that the hiss he heard came from the center of our Milky Way. Although no one knew it at the time, it
was the beginning of a new field of study: Radio astronomy That’s the way it’s been at Holmdel Then and now. For more than fifty years Holmdel has
been the setting for new developments discoveries and application of
technology and telecommunications Since 1962 this work has been done in this immense, dynamic building. Twenty
years. It seems a fitting time to celebrate; to
celebrate the life of Holmdel; to look at Holmdel through the years,
because Holmdel now is a reflection of Holmdel then. The experience at
Holmdel began in 1929. Initially researchers worked at making
shortwave radio a practical means for long-distance
communications. In fact the work that Harrald Friss and his
colleagues did ultimately changed much of the world’s thinking about radio. Holmdel through the thirties was an exciting and highly charged atmosphere as researchers and scientists
imaginatively looked for problems to solve, questions to answer. Fundamental work
essential to improved communications was pursued at Holmdel. This work
continued through the forties and fifties in buildings that for the most part had
been built in the thirties. Something had to change. It did. Partially in response to the increasing
demands of the telephone business Bell Laboratories decided to construct a
major development center in Holmdel. A Bell Labs committee developed criteria
that the new building design would have to meet. The unanimous choice was designed by the noted architect, Eero Saarinen. Construction began in 1959. Saarinen’s design incorporated Bell
Laboratories’ requirement and went a few steps further. Based on
his research Saarinen decided that the offices and
laboratories would use interior building space and be
windowless. The size of an individual lab would be flexible, allowing for the most
efficient use of space. The common service facilities such as
the library, medical, restaurant, computer, and repro-
duction services would be centrally located. And the
design, four buildings sharing common roof and
outside walls, would create a striking center court. Occupancy was scheduled for early 1962. While construction progressed so did research. Holmdel was once again
in the news. The first echo balloon test took place
on August 12, 1960. it was a total success A very sensitive horn antenna at
Crawford Hill, where operations had moved during
construction, picked up the message: “This is President Eisenhower speaking,”
bouncing off the echo satellite Communication via satellite have begun. The building was nearly complete in late ’61 the first support staff groups
moved to the new Holmdel. Included were the mailroom, stockroom and
restaurant staffs. The building began to breath. The stage was
set. The move began. In all endeavors there comes a
moment of truth. All the planning, research and studies
resulted in a stunning new building. A new era had begun at Holmdel. At
Crawford hill there was another advancement in satellite communications: Telstar, an active communication
satellite, was launched and began to receive, amplify, and
retransmit messages. These signals, both voice and data, were received at Crawford Hill from the
Andover, Maine ground station. It was a major
breakthrough in telecommunications. As business at the Labs got started,
so did extracurricular activities. New clubs sprang up as more people moved in. The first softball league began play in
June. Work had begun in earnest on the Unicom system and by September a production model of
the electronic central office was under construction. A new lab
building at Crawford Hill was completed. Everything that year was a first, from Pioneer sales to Radio Club
meetings. There were concerts by the Holmdel
instrumental group, Christmas choruses, doll & toy nights, and plantings sponsored by the Garden
Club. Through the early sixties work progressed in many different areas.
A new antenna was developed for space communications. The data communications department
developed data phone sets that could transmit
printed material from a customer’s facsimile machine. The winter of ’64 proved to be a
memorable one. Holmdel, along with the rest of the area, was snowed in, so much so that many
people had to stay overnight. People slept where they could. It was quite a time. Construction began on buildings 3 & 4 in June 1964. Completion was scheduled
for mid-1966. The people of Holmdel continued to
get involved in a variety of activities. The Flying Club held a barbecue and gave plane rides over the New Jersey coast. The Astronomy Club began building a
telescope to observe the rings of Saturn. And for the second year Holmdel
employees gave time and energy to tutor area grammar and high school
students. The first pay off, so to speak, of the research at Holmdel took place in May 1965. The first
electronic switching system was installed in Succasunna, New Jersey. Much of the
development work on the number one was done at Holmdel. The late sixties brought an air of
change to Holmdel. There was development of new data equipment for NASA; an experimental telephone system for use on high-speed trains; a battery-operated line-less extension
phone; and a picture phone trial between
Holmdel, Murray Hill, and AT&T. Activities reflected the times. The
Pioneers filled ditty bags for the boys in Vietnam, and folk singers played
guitar in the atrium. There were blood-mobile drives, the
garden club’s annual flower show, the model railroad club’s competition and the first arts and crafts show. It
was increasing emphasis on the social issues that faced us all. There was more
work being done in the community. As always the geese returned in the
spring, as did walks on the nature trail. softball, and something new – jogging. During this period there were
developments that helped the Bell System do its job more efficiently. The first TSPS switchboard was installed
at Holmdel in 1969. And the dial-a-test system made
it easier for operating companies to repair pay phones. There was the development of the
transaction telephone for business customers to check credit cards in seconds. As the Seventies began, the people of Holmdel involved themselves in more diverse activities. Ski clubs, road rallies, bicycle clubs, golf tournaments. There were speakers who spoke about racial
issues, women’s issues, education and the arts. Through this time the research in Holmdel brought new
products and services for the Bell System. There was the development of an improved mobile phone system; the combination of computer software,
integrated circuit design, and systems engineering research resulted in the RMAT system, designed
to troubleshoot and repair dimension PBXes. In 1978 a major event took place. Arno Penzias and Bob Wilson won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Their
work, studying cosmic radiation, proved The Big Bang
Theory. Working in their Crawford Hill lab they
were continuing the research tradition that was the
watermark of Holmdel in the thirties. The pioneers were also
active in the late seventies. They designed Braille books, tested
preschoolers for hearing dysfunction. There were classical music concerts, square dances and a computer chess tournament. In 1979 after months of study Bell
Laboratories decided to expand the Holmdel laboratory. Ground was broken in July for the east and west wings. The extensions
would maintain the architectural integrity of the building. Technical organizations at Holmdel
we’re expanding. Lab and office space was scarce. So over the next two years several
satellite labs were opened. The first was West Long Branch, followed
by South Plainfield, Freehold, and Neptune. Later in 1980 another satellite lab opened in Lincroft The watchwords for the ’80s were
competition and deregulation. Bell Laboratories entered the decade clearly on the leading edge
of telecommunications research. There was the development of a high-speed
integrated circuit, the digital signal processor. Work was
done to develop telemarketing software and improvements
were made on the unmanned cable submarine SCARAB. As changes in technology developed Holmdel added some new blossoms. there were innovative art shows, bigger
model railroad layouts, and with Holmdel’s multinational
population celebrations of national heritage. The
Pioneers took to the local cable TV airwaves to talk about their work. It seemed that everyone was jogging or
exercising. Through all of this construction continued. {music} Slowly the additions began to take shape. The expanded
Holmdel is now nearly complete. The adventure
is twenty years young. It has been an incredible time with more
yet to come. The next few years could be the most
interesting in Holmdel’s history. Cafeteria conversation speculate about
what may be ahead It’s not polite to eavesdrop – so here’s a
look at the new cafeteria and conference center. There will be changes ahead, but regardless of what the future may
hold Holmdel will continue to do what it has always
done: Thrive, change, challenge and achieve. Imagination and curiosity. These words define the experience at Holmdel, from the time Harald Friss and his
colleagues charted the course of radio telephony to now, as president Ian Ross guides the
labs from his Holmdel office. Imagination and curiosity have been the guidelines of research. This, fused with a sense of belonging and
caring, has produced a truly human experience. We look forward to the coming years with
excitement and confidence, knowing where we’ve been, knowing what we’ve accomplished allows
us to set our sights high, assured of success. The next 20 years are beginning now. It is
there to discover. It always comes back to discovery.

About the author


  1. And now Bell Labs are a tiny little part of a foreign telecom company called Alcatel. How the fortunes have changed.

  2. Родные мои, вы определенно издеваетесь над зрителями, выкладывая видео в настолько низком разрешении. Ау, проснитесь, на дворе не 1920-е годы, когда практиковали механическое ТВ, и даже не 80-е, когда массово использовали VHS. Уже телевизоры в 4k начали массово появляться в наших домах, а они все еще выкладывают видео в 144p. За что вы так с нами?

  3. 1978 was the year I started at Western Electric Allentown Works.  I visited Holmdel a few times in my 15 years with the Bell System.  What is really ironic is that now part of the former Western Electric facility in Allentown has an unemployment office in it.

  4. "The watch words for the 80s were competition and deregulation"

    Ah, if only the makers of this film knew what the next few years would be like…

  5. 10:20 south plainfield was a temporary location, open only while holmdel was expanded. once holmdel expansion was completed we moved back to holmdel.

  6. ABANDONEDAMERICA US – on this site you can find more interior photos of the abandoned era of The Bell Labs Holmdel Complex in Holmdel, New Jersey

  7. The part of Bell Labs that went with AT&T is still going strong. Now known as AT&T Labs. There are many projects ongoing now. The roll out of the new all digital 9-1-1 network ESINet.

    New mobile technologies and new video delivery systems along with development of a worldwide cloud based computer network. I have been a Bell System Employee and now AT&T for over 40 years and still working in the Labs.

  8. I lived in Ho kneel, dad worked in this building, in the 70's 5000 people worked in this building.
    Officially Holmdel's population was less then 5000

  9. When I think of American ingenuity, Bell Labs is one of the first names I think of. So many great discoveries and advances were made there

  10. 9:20 — "their worked proved the Big Bang theory" — LOL,so much for proof. See THUNDERBOLTS PROJECT and ROB SKIBA

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