a strong belief in both human perfectibility and the unique optimal design of any system. It was the last decades of Utopia Victoriana, an era of faith in technological planning, applied science, and social conditioning that had seen the rise of eugenics, Frederick Taylor’s “scientific management,” socialism, and Darwinism, to name but a few disparate systematizing strains of thought.
Those closer to—often at the trough of—existing industries face a remarkably constant pressure not to invent things that will ruin their employer. The outsider has nothing to lose.
It was a scientific Valhalla, hiring the best men (and later women) they could find and leaving them more or less free to pursue what interested them.
In short, Bell Labs has been a great force for good. It is, frankly, just the kind of phenomenon that makes one side with Theodore Vail about the blessings of a monopoly. For while AT&T was never formally required to run Bell Labs as a research laboratory, it did so out of exactly the sort of noblesse oblige that Vail espoused. AT&T ran Bell Labs not just for its corporate good but for the greater good as well.