Where Ideas Were Born

A new book recounts the unique culture and history of Bell Labs, which ushered in an unprecedented era of technological advancement.

Courtesy of publisher.

With the perception of New Jersey long distorted by popular media, it is easy to forget the Garden State’s importance as a hotbed of intellectual and scientific thought. Jon Gertner provides a reminder with The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.

Many of the transformational technologies we take for granted today trace their origins to Bell Labs which, over the course of six decades, maintained spacious campuses in Murray Hill, Whippany and Holmdel. From these centers of innovation sprang ground-breaking work by certified geniuses; 13 employees would earn Nobel prizes. These brilliant scientists gave us the indispensable building blocks of the modern age, including the transistor, the laser, fiber optics, satellite communications technology and cellular telephony.

Gertner recounts how Bell Labs came to be and how its unique culture encouraged employees to work together in a way that had not been attempted previously—and has not been exceeded since. Through their free-wheeling interactions, scientists and theorists of disparate backgrounds and expertise were able to share in the single-minded purpose of creating, improving and expanding communications technology.

As the world moves away from idea factories and becomes more reliant on visionary entrepreneurs, the significance of Bell Labs becomes increasingly clear. To follow along with Gertner as he charts the company’s history is to recognize our state’s deep reservoir of intellect. You won’t find that depicted in any reality show.

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