These days, if you want to make a phone call, you have plenty of choices in phones, service providers, minute plans, data plans, and pay-as-you-go plans.
Not so long ago, however, throughout much of the era of landlines, you had just one choice: AT&T.
Since the breakup of the AT&T monopoly, a choice has expanded exponentially. Costs have gone up. And it’s a lot more complicated these days to just talk on the phone.
Up until 1982, AT&T controlled almost the entire American telephone network under the Bell System. If you wanted a phone, you rented one from AT&T (and only AT&T) and connected primarily to AT&T telephone lines.
The break up of the Bell System was a long time coming, with AT&T facing lawsuits throughout the 20th century. AT&T worked with the American government to avoid breakups and reached milestone agreements in 1913 and 1956.
The 1956 consent decree agreement was particularly important, as AT&T was forced to focus on running the national telephone system and special projects with the government. They couldn’t enter other markets.
Still, AT&T protected its turf. For example, AT&T long fought to keep the Caterfone, a mobile communications system, from connecting to its telephone lines. Then in 1968, the FCC decided that Americans could connect any lawful device to telephone lines.
Tensions between AT&T, the government, and rival telephone companies continued to simmer before finally boiling over. In 1982, an agreement was reached to break up AT&T into regional rivals.
In exchange, the new Baby Bells would no longer be restricted to the national telephone system and could enter new markets, such as computers and later, the Internet.
These days, mobile phone networks are similarly dominated by the Big Four: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. The FCC found that these four companies soaked up 98 percent of mobile wireless service revenue in 2014.
Sprint has since joined forces with T-Mobile, further solidifying control. Still, consumers have alternate mobile service options today, such as Google Fi, which uses T-Mobile’s network, but is managed by tech giant Alphabet.
Canning history: How canned food revolutionized society
You might not realize it, but the humble cans of soup gathering dust in your pantry helped revolutionize the world. And believe it or not, canned food started as a war weapon.
Canning was invented in 1809 by Nicolas Appert in response to a request by the French army to create a method for preserving foods for a long period of time. Large armies require lots of food, especially if they are deployed for extended periods. And if armies are operating far from their home territory, securing supplies and food, in particular, can be difficult. Canning made it far easier to preserve food. This, in turn, made it easier to supply armies, explorers, and others who had to rely on preserved foods.
While Appert invented the canning process, he didn’t actually understand why it worked. It would take another half a century for Louis Pasteur to unwind the mysteries of canning. When food is canned, it is placed in a can or similar container, such as a glass jar. The container is then sealed, which prevents outside organisms from getting in. Next, the canned food is heated to kill off any germs still alive inside. Pasteur was the first to prove that microbes caused food to spoil.
Ultimately, canned foods made it easier for explorers to travel through the American West and cross oceans the world over. For better or worse, canned foods made it easier to deploy large armies for longer periods. This may have made the American Civil War and Crimean War in Europe, among other conflicts, bloodier as armies were able to march farther and stay in the field longer.
By the early 1900s, canning food was a popular home technology, adopted by women worldwide after the invention of new sealable jars by Charles Ball and Alexander Kerr.
Canned foods also help make food in general cheaper. Up until the 20th century, food took up a much larger portion of the average family’s budget.
Leaders: Peter Thiel looks to future
When you think of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO may come to mind first. But venture capitalist Peter Thiel also played a major role in Facebook, and he’s also had a big part in other tech companies. These days, Thiel is perhaps as well known for his political and social activism as he is for investing.
Born in Germany, Thiel’s family immigrated to the United States while Peter was still an infant. A strict upbringing helped shape Thiel’s philosophical outlook, which to this day leans libertarian.
Thiel eventually received a law degree from Stanford and even clerked for a judge in Atlanta. But as computers and the Internet boomed in the early 1990s, Thiel eschewed a law career and raised money to fund tech investments instead.
A few years later, Thiel co-founded PayPal, which grew into one of the largest online payment platforms in the world. Thiel was Facebook’s first outside investor, and without his resources, the social media platform might not have become the tech giant it is today. Since then, Thiel has raked in many millions more with investments in Lyft, Asana, Airbnb, and other hot tech platforms.
As an investor, Thiel has a good eye for spotting tech companies that could revolutionize society and industries. Part of this likely comes down to his business philosophy, which focuses on disruptive innovation. In his best-selling business book, “Zero to One,” Thiel argues that:
“Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”
Savings interest rates may rise slowly
When you open a savings account, you are, in effect, lending money to your bank, and in return, you get a very safe investment and a little interest.
For the past several years, the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low. This meant cheaper mortgages, but also microscopic earnings on savings deposits. In fact, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reports that the national savings interest rate was a tiny .07 as of May 2022, up from .06 percent in December 2021. Go back to 2010 and rates averaged .2 percent. Peek further back in time, however, and you can find rates in excess of 7 percent.
So with Fed interest rates on the rise, will you see interest paid on savings accounts increase? Probably, but only marginally. As the Fed rates tick up, so too will savings account rates. But even optimistic experts are predicting that rates will rise to 2 percent or thereabouts in late 2022. Rates will rise as banks compete for deposits, but the increase will probably be slow and incremental.
Large, historically-established banks have been slow to increase rates. Less well-known online banks, however, are courting customers more aggressively and even offering rates in excess of 1 percent.
From farming to mapping the world: Meet Gladys West
Catch a road trip movie from the 70s or 80s and you might see folks juggling with maps or else asking for directions. These days? There’s an app for that. Cars, planes, and even trains all rely on GPS.
Ever wondered where it came from? In part, it came from Gladys West, one of the chief architects of the Global Positioning System (GPS).
West was born in 1930 in Virginia. Coming into the world amid the Great Depression, and as an African-American in a segregated nation, you might not think her work would change the world. But it did.
During her childhood, West spent summers helping on the family farm. When school was in session, it was a three-mile walk, both ways, each day.
West quickly saw her education as her ticket to prosperity. After years of studying, she earned a scholarship to Virginia State College, where she majored in mathematics. Eventually, this led to a job as a programmer at a Virginia naval base, where she was one of four Black employees.
Toiling long hours, West contributed to space exploration and later programmed the IBM 7030 Stretch computer to build an accurate geodetic Earth model. This work laid the foundation for the Global Positioning System that helps the modern world go round.
In 2018, she was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame.
Today, she is 91. She and her husband, Ira, have three children and seven grandchildren. While she pioneered GPS, she still prefers paper maps.
The history of Independent Retailer Month
July is Independent Retailer Month, an event that encourages people to visit their local shops and markets and support their community’s business sector. After all, small businesses are the backbone of the economy.
How it started
Independent Retailer Week was created in 2003 by Tom Shay, the founder of Profits Plus, a web-based company providing support to small businesses. With this event, he sought to educate small business owners on the importance of engaging with their communities and customers.
Six years later, Kerry Bannigan, a co-founder of Nolcha, launched her own version of Independent Retailer Week. This time, the campaign targeted New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. The event focused on independent fashion retailers and was a tremendous success.
In 2011, Shay and Bannigan discussed creating a new, more inclusive event that celebrated and raised awareness of the importance of independent retailers of all kinds. Independent Retailer Month was born in July 2011 and quickly spread around the globe to places like the UK and Canada.
How it’s celebrated today
Today, Independent Retailer Month is an annual event that brings together independent retail associations, small business groups, and thought leaders to highlight independent retailers’ positive social and economic impacts on towns and cities.
Although July is Independent Retailer Month, local merchants need your support all year long.
In pursuit of the well-trimmed lawn
Few things say Americana like a well-trimmed lawn. Yet the modern lawn is a modern invention. Throughout most of history, trimmed yards were a luxury for the wealthy, who could hire people to cut and trim by hand. Most regular people only cleared land for farming or other agricultural purposes. Sometimes, grazing animals, like goats, were used to keep nature in check. By and large, however, people didn’t cut the grass in the modern sense.
In 1830, Edwin Beard Budding introduced the lawnmower to the world, taking inspiration from local clothing mills. This early lawnmower looks comical by today’s standards and was too heavy to easily use. However, Budding’s ideas cut the way for human-powered reel-type mowers, which while less common, are still used today.
In 1859, Thomas Green created a chain-driven mower. Squint really, really hard, and this mower looks vaguely similar to the motorized push mowers found in many garages and sheds today. A steam power motor appeared in the 1890s, and a large commercial combustion mower hit the turf in 1902. The first gas power mower started cutting in 1915.
These days, many folks opt for riding lawnmowers. Why push when you can rest? The first self-propelled riding lawnmower, the so-called “Triplex,” was introduced in 1922. Still, while mower technology advanced, many folks skipped cutting lawns. In 1952, as modern lawn care sensibilities were emerging, Briggs and Stratton developed a lightweight aluminum engine, which, in turn, allowed for light and easy-to-handle mowers.
The next several decades saw modern push and riding lawnmowers become more effective, cheaper, and easier to handle. Thus, more and more people started cutting their lawns. Now, you can purchase automated lawnmowers guided by AI to trim your grass. And rather than pushing or driving, you can enjoy a glass of lemonade on your porch while the mower does the work.