Thesis ID: CBB684765035

Frozen in Time: The Disconnection of the Bell Picturephone (2023)


This American Studies dissertation explores in detail the Bell Picturephone project of 1956 to 1972 and the device as it was first publicly exhibited at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. This dissertation utilizes extensive archival research at the AT&T Archives and History Center in Warren, New Jersey, and reviews the Bell Picturephone’s inception, the limitations of its adoption, and the “freezing” of the project. To understand the extent of the Picturephone’s achievement, this dissertation explores not just the device itself but also the contemporaneous technological, political, and economic culture, each influencing Picturephone’s reception and lack of adoption. The Bell Picturephone was an interactive mode of communication, an innovative joining, and augmenting of audiovisual capabilities. Nevertheless, it was an innovation faltering on needed support from other, unsteadily emerging technology as well as the disruptions and uncertainties of social crises of the times. Without developing broad marketing opportunities, and not resonating with the times to capture the home audience that might have made a significant difference, the Bell Picturephone foundered between limited acceptance and a narrow marketing strategy. Yet despite the sense of loss in a promised future it may have provoked, the Bell Picturephone was an instrument leading us along the path of videotelephony and technology in general. It remains a model for many later, similar devices.

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Authors & Contributors
Bissell, Chris C.
Fletcher, Amy L.
Gertner, Jon
Gethmann, Daniel
Lanzerotti, Louis J.
Lucas, Matthew James William
American Heritage of Invention and Technology
British Journal for the History of Science
Comparative Technology Transfer and Society
History and Technology
History of Physics Newsletter
IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
University of Toronto
MIT Press
Peter Lang
W. W. Norton & Co.
George Washington University
Technological innovation
Science and economics
Science and politics
Satellites, artificial
Buckley, Oliver E.
Carey, James W.
Jewett, Frank B.
Benson, Gary (1954-)
Time Periods
20th century, late
20th century
21st century
20th century, early
United States
Tennessee (U.S.)
Bell Telephone Laboratories
International Business Machines Corporation
University of Toronto
United States. National Air and Space Museum

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