Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Sprint, the global communications company based in Westwood, Kansas, has its rather humble origins in Abilene, Kansas. There, in 1902, Jacob and C. L. Brown chartered the Brown Telephone Company, seeking to target the rural market that tended to be overlooked by the Bell Telephone Company, which dominated the industry. In 1911 the Brown Telephone Company incorporated with three other Kansas independents as the United Telephone Company, making it the second largest such company in the state. The groundwork had been laid for a century of virtually uninterrupted expansion.

By 1925, United Telephone and Electric, or UT&E, as it was then called, controlled 68 companies, mainly telephone companies. UT&E rode out the Depression, when millions of impoverished subscribers gave up their phones, and by the 1950s the againrenamed United Utilities was the nation's third largest independent phone company.

United Utilities grew rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s, diversifying its concerns (into telecommunications equipment manufacturing, for example) and modernizing its operations (to dial operation in the 1960s, then into digital systems in the late 1970s). The company'snew name, United Telecom (adopted in 1972), captured its new high-technology image and priorities. In 1986, following the breakup of "Ma Bell," United Telecom and gte Sprint, the low-cost long-distance telephone company, entered into an equal partnership and immediately took advantage of the nation's new fiber-optic network. In 1991 United Telecom fully acquired Sprint and took the name Sprint Corporation. During the 1990s, Sprint extended its operations globally, entering into agreements with French, German, Canadian, and Mexican communications companies. Sprint has also consolidated its domestic market and now has services in forty-eight states. In all, Sprint, the end product (so far) of the Browns' small Abilene telephone company, serves more than 17 million customers and returns about $17 billion in annual revenues.

David J. Wishart University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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