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Theodore Newton Vail
(1845-1920)

US telephone industrialist, president of AT&T (then American Telephone & Telegraph) from 1885 to 1889, and again from 1907 to 1919.

His philosophy of using closed systems, centralized power, and exercising as much network control as possible in order to maintain monopoly power, has been called vailism. His "one system, one policy, universal service" credo led to the Kingsbury Commitment, which provided AT&T with a regulated monopoly on telephone service lasting until an antitrust lawsuit brought by the US Department of Justice resulted in the breakup of AT&T in 1982.

Vail had originally planned to study medicine, but also studied telegraphy, which led to his being hired at a telegraph office in New York. He later worked for Union Pacific Railroad, then the Railway Mail Service, eventually to become that agency's youngest General Superintendent at the age of 31. Vail helped put postal employees under the general civil service laws and established a system of six months' probationary appointments, which were subsequently adopted by all federal agencies.

Gardiner G. Hubbard, father in law of Alexander Graham Bell and organizer of the American Bell Telephone Co. was impressed with Vail and offered him the position of general manager of the company in 1878.

He first visited Vermont in 1883 and eventually purchased a 1,500-acre farm in Lyndon, "Speedwell Farms," site of conferences which culminated in the creation of American Telephone & Telegraph.

Vail defended the Bell patents successfully from challenges from Western Union and others, and introduced the use of copper wire in telephone and telegraph lines.

In 1888, Vail retired and devoted his time to travel, promoting the use of the telephone abroad.

In 1910, he founded the Vermont School of Agriculture in Lyndon, Vermont, which was subsequently merged into a preparatory school, Lyndon Institute.

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October 14, 2013