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Sprint Corporation

This telecommunications giant that now serves more than 40 million customers in more than 70 countries began as a small independent telephone company in a town of fewer than 7,000 persons.

In the fall of 1899, Cleyson Leroy Brown built an electric company on the south shore of the Smoky Hill River in Abilene, Kansas. The rapid success of the Abilene Electric Light Works allowed Brown to expand into the communications business.

Cleyson Leroy Brown
Cleyson Leroy Brown

The Bell Telephone Company, which owned all important patents related to the telephone, enjoyed a monopoly on local telephone service. But in small towns, including Abilene, Bell service was expensive and often viewed by the public as "big business from the East." In addition, Bell's patents were about to expire, paving the way for entrepeneurs to offer alternatives.

On October 26, 1899, Brown announced the formation of his own phone company. The first long distance circuit was hooked up in February 1900, and the Brown Telephone Company was chartered in October 1902. In September 1911, Brown consolidated his company with three other Kansas independent telephone companies. United Telephone Company now controlled seven major telephone exchanges and was the second largest telephone company in Kansas. In 1925, Brown formed United Telephone and Electric (UT&E) in order to purchase stock in subsidiary companies across widely separated geographical areas. At its peak, UT&E controlled 68 other companies, of which almost 70 per cent were telephone companies.

United Telephone continued to grow during the first two years of the Great Depression. In fact, the company acquired large telephone holdings in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois during this period. By 1933, however, the total number of subscribers had dropped dramatically and new government regulations prevented UT&E from selling additional stock. This situation, as well as his declining health, prompted Brown to relinquish active administration of UT&E in 1934; he died in 1935.

Economic recovery began about 1937. Expansion and acquisitions led to a reorganization of UT&E into United Utilities in 1939. By the 1950's United Utilities had become the nation's third largest independent telephone company, conducting business across five states.

United Utilities continued to grow, and in 1972 changed its name to United Telecommunications, Inc. (also known as United Telecom). In 1984 United Telecom acquired one of the largest low-cost long distance telephone businesses in the country, and by the end of 1985 it had more than 4,700 miles of fiber optic network in place. That same year United Telecom formed a partnership with GTE, which had recently acquired Sprint, a low-cost long distance carrier. In 1989, United Telecom and Sprint merged into one company with two major divisions -- long distance (Sprint) and local service (United Telecom). In 1991, United Telecom completed its acquisition of Sprint and changed its corporate name from United Telecommunications to Sprint Corporation.

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Abilene, Kansas

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The Robinson Library >> Economics >> Transportation and Communications >> Telephone Industry

This page was last updated on September 24, 2017.