Artifact Details


The idea factory : Bell Labs and the great age of American innovation

Catalog Number



Moving image




Gertner, Jon, Speaker
Iverson, Dave, Speaker


Computer History Museum

Place of Publication

Mountain View, California





Copyright Holder

Computer History Museum


Bell Laboratories, which thrived from the 1920s to the 1980s, was the most innovative and productive institution of the twentieth century. Long before America's brightest scientific minds began migrating west to Silicon Valley, they flocked to this sylvan campus in the New Jersey suburbs built and funded by AT&T. At its peak, Bell Labs employed nearly fifteen thousand people, twelve hundred of whom had PhDs. Thirteen would go on to win Nobel prizes. It was a citadel of science and scholarship as well as a hotbed of creative thinking. It was, in effect, a factory of ideas whose workings have remained largely hidden until now.

New York Times Magazine writer Jon Gertner unveils the unique magic of Bell Labs through the eyes and actions of its scientists. These ingenious, often eccentric men would become revolutionaries, and sometimes legends, whether for inventing radio astronomy in their spare time (and on the company's dime), riding unicycles through the corridors, or pioneering the principles that propel today's technology. In these pages, we learn how radar came to be, and lasers, transistors, satellites, mobile phones, and much more.

Even more important, Gertner reveals the forces that set off this explosion of creativity. Bell Labs combined the best aspects of the academic and corporate worlds, hiring the brightest and usually the youngest minds, creating a culture and even an architecture that forced employees in different fields to work together, in virtually complete intellectual freedom, with little pressure to create moneymaking innovations. In Gertner's portrait, we come to understand why both researchers and business leaders look to Bell Labs as a model and long to incorporate its magic into their own work.

Join author Jon Gertner for a fascinating conversation with KQED’s Dave Iverson about the people and history of Bell Labs, and the ways it fostered a culture of innovation and ideas.

Our partner Kepler's Books will be on-site selling copies of Idea Factory before and after this event.

We are very pleased that C-SPAN's Book TV will be taping this event for future broadcast.

We are also pleased that KQED Radio will be onsite to tape this event and broadcast it on April 4 at 8pm.

This event is part of our 2012 Revolutionaries series, featuring conversations with some of the most distinguished minds in the computing field. Be sure to visit our exhibition, Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing. It is rich with images, artifacts and stories of the people and innovations of Bell Labs.

Watch this event on CHM's YouTube channel:



Collection Title

CHM Lecture Collection

Lot Number