The Michigan Bell Telephone Company

by Amber Maupin-Clark

Beginnings of the Company

The Bell Telephone Company was incorporated in Boston on July 9, 1877. By October 1877 a license was granted to the Michigan Telephone and Telegraph Construction Company to operate phone lines in the Detroit area. In August 1878 The American Bell Telephone Company entered the business by constructing a series of local telephone exchanges. The first Michigan exchange opened in the Detroit office of the American District Telegraph Company. In 1904 the Michigan State Telegraph Company was incorporated as the successor to Michigan Bell with control over all telephone exchanges in the state of Michigan. The Great Depression effected Michigan Bell the most and as a result share prices decreasing and the company losing up to a million dollars. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the company finally got their sales back up. By 1924 the company was known as Michigan Bell again.[1]


Around 1974 AT&T came under fire and by the early 1980’s was forced to dissolve its dealings in the American Telephone System. Ameritech was a holding company. A holding company is a company that has ownership of one or more companies outstanding stock [2]. Acting as a subsidiary to AT&T the company had control of five Bell companies for its first nine years.

Additional Services of Michigan Bell (Ameritech) and Headline News

1989 was a busy year for Michigan Bell!

In 1989 Michigan Bell began working towards phasing in seven digit dialing. Customers would be able to make calls between Detroit and Ann Arbor without dialing “1” first. This new plan offers customers easier dialing as well as allowing the company to create more telephone numbers so it can expand. Between June and October of 1989 there were specific procedures to be followed for any 313 area code exchanges which helped customers. The “1” dialed before any number was used for all calls but required for toll calls. It was projected the by 1991 customers in the 313 area would only be able to complete calls using seven digit dialing and by 1995 seven digit dialing would be standard through the country. [3]

In October 1989 the company began phasing in Call Identification Service (CIS). It was an optional service provided to one party exchange customers in areas it was permitted. A Michigan Bell product manager at the time said individual phone numbers “could make life less hectic for parents with teenagers and would help customers with small businesses operate on a more profession level..”[4] The CIS numbers were only given out to special parties known to customers and allowed the customer to identify and caller.

November 1992 voice mail was introduced. Today voice mail is a bit of a hit and miss. Everyone is on the move and even with a phone in our pocket we can still miss voice mails or they can be overlooked. But in the 90’s it was a big deal. While one person is on the phone the person trying to reach them can leave a message instead of hearing the busy signal. At this point in time people were becoming more and more busy and what voice mail was meant to do was help the people gain more control over the professional and personal lives.The voice mail was advertised as the best thing ever. Customers wouldn’t have to worry about distorted messages because the digital technology at the time was also improving. But the only catch was that the voice mail service was only available to 800,000 people in the Metro Detroit area and everyone else would see the service made available to them within the following year. [5]

[1] Internation Directory of Company Histories, vol. 14. St. James Press, 1996.


[3]PR Newswire, 23 May 1989, p. 0523DE009

[4]PR Newswire, 9 Oct. 1989, p. 1009DE025

[5]PR Newswire, 9 Nov. 1992, p. 1109A8789