How AT&T Shut Down the Development of Magnetic Tape

In 1934, Clarence Hickman, a Bell Labs engineer, invented an early telephone answering machine. The innovation that led to this machine was a revolutionary form of data storage: magnetic tape. Bell Labs ordered that the project be shelved and Hickman to end his research. Why? At Gizmodo, Tim Wu explains:

AT&T firmly believed that the answering machine, and its magnetic tapes, would lead the public to abandon the telephone.

More precisely, in Bell's imagination, the very knowledge that it was possible to record a conversation would " greatly restrict the use of the telephone," with catastrophic consequences for its business. Businessmen, for instance, the theory supposed, might fear the potential use of a recorded conversation to undo a written contract. Tape recorders would also inhibit discussing obscene or ethically dubious matters. In sum, the very possibility of magnetic recording, it was feared, would " change the whole nature of telephone conversations" and " render the telephone much less satisfactory and useful in the vast majority of cases in which it is employed."[...]


Link | Photo by Flickr user Tom Raftery used under Creative Commons license

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@Gutza

It certainly doesn't mean nothing. Lots of things are discovered and yet don't find mainstream (or any) uses for many years.

Given its size and deep connection to society, had AT&T decided to develop a magnetic tape machine for business and consumer use in the 1930s rather than be fearful of it, the impact of such actions could have been significant indeed, if only for introducing consumer answering machines 25 years or so earlier.
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I read the article with great interest; I even read the comments. And one of the comments reveals that magnetic tape was in fact invented in... 1928, in Germany. By 1933 they had already invented the ring shaped tape head (source: Wikipedia). So the fact that AT&T shelved the "discovery" of the magnetic tape in 1934 means exactly nothing.
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That's amazing how we could have had that technology so soon. You have to wonder how technologically advanced we would be if inventions like this were never held back.
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