Corporate Learning and Quality Control at the Bell System, 1877-1929

Business History Review, Vol. 79, pp. 39-72, Spring 2005

Posted: 7 May 2006

See all articles by Paul J. Miranti

Paul J. Miranti

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Accounting & Information Systems

Abstract

From 1877 to 1929, the Bell System extended its quality-assurance capabilties, a step that was critical to the company's ability to certify the reliability of its equipment and apparatus and to provide economical service. Learning in this context involved the gradual development of an organizational structure for coordinating and controlling quality-assurance activities at both the staff and line levels and between the corporate elements of the Bell System. Over the course of the initiative, innovative methods of analysis emerged that provided useful insights into the manufacturing process. The company's adaptation of probability theory, for example, enabled it to launch a comprehensive inspection regime, which became known as statistical quality control (SQC). Based on this new approach, Bell succeeded in broadening its manufacturing knowledge, quantifying definitions of quality, reducing costs and risks, thus assuring the more reliable operation of its vast telephone netwrok. Eventually this upgrading of learning led to the formation of a new profession of quality engineering, which found adherents across many industries in the United States and abroad.

Keywords: quality assurance, quality engineering, corporate learning, organizational learning, technology management, probability theory, statistical quality control, Bell System

JEL Classification: c4, d2, d8, l1, l2,l5, l9, n6, n61, n62o3, 031, 03

Suggested Citation

Miranti, Paul J., Corporate Learning and Quality Control at the Bell System, 1877-1929. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=899384

Paul J. Miranti (Contact Author)

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Accounting & Information Systems ( email )

180 University Ave
Newark, NJ 07102
United States
973-353-5184 (Phone)

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