The Other Telephone and Telegraph Company IT&T

The other phone companyYou’ve heard of AT&T, how about IT&T? AT&T stands for American Telephone & Telegraph, one of the behemoths of the telecommunications industry.

IT&T stands for International Telephone & Telegraph, a company formed in the early 1900s modeled after — you guessed it — American Telephone & Telegraph.

Both companies still exist. While AT&T is a household name, you may be less familiar with IT&T. In fact, it’s now known as ITT, and is no longer a telephone company, but rather a “focused global multi-industrial company.” Let’s take a quick stroll through history.

IT&T’s story begins with two brothers, Sosthenes and Hernand Behn, sugar brokers from Puerto Rico who wound up with their own phone company, the Puerto Rico Telephone Company, as part of settling a bad debt. They saw the potential of the telephone and began expanding phone service throughout Puerto Rico and Cuba in 1917.

After a short stint of service in WWI, the brothers’ vision had extended beyond the shores of Puerto Rico. They wanted to build an international telephone system. They formed the International Telephone & Telegraph Corporation. The name was no accident. It was nearly identical to American Telephone & Telegraph Company, which was established by Alexander Graham Bell in 1885. According to Telecommunications History Group’s Virtual Museum, the name was a deliberate attempt to confuse foreign investors with AT&T.

The company grew through a series of acquisitions and indeed became a global player in the telecommunications industry.

After World War II, IT&T shifted gears, moving away from telecom and into other business types. This wasn’t a simple matter of diversification. Politics had a lot to do with it. For example, IT&T owned a telephone company in Cuba, but when Fidel Castro came into power, telephone service was nationalized. The company’s president at the time, Harold Geneen, turned to businesses that they could control.

Thus, IT&T acquired companies like: Hartford Insurance, Avis Rent-a-Car, and Sheraton Hotels. Instead of being a telecommunications company, IT&T found itself in the insurance, car rental, and hotel business — as well as in education, baking, and gaming to name a few. In all, the company acquired more than 350 businesses from 1960 to 1977, growing its annual sales from about $760 million to more than $17 billion.

To better manage its diverse portfolio, the company has restructured several times. It was initially split into separate entities; there was an acquisition, a few name changes, and a few spinoffs. The most recent restructuring occurred in 2016 with the parent company formally named ITT Inc.

Today, ITT Inc., whose motto is “engineered for life,” manufactures critical components and offers customized technology solutions for transportation, industrial and energy markets. Though the ITT name still exists, there’s not a telephone or telegraph in sight.
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“History | ITT Inc.” n.d. Accessed May 31, 2018.
“History of International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation – FundingUniverse.” n.d. Accessed May 31, 2018.
“Telecommunications Virtual Museum.” n.d. Accessed May 31, 2018.