The name came from an internal contest trying to figure out a better consumer name than Southern Pacific Communications. The clear winner was and acronym for Southern Pacific Railroad Intelligent Network of Telecommunications.
The railroad had as you can imagine a great asset in its right of way, first using the right of way along the tracks for Telegraph, then later for a series of microwave transmission for their own communications and eventually private networks. Eventually they used this same right of way to connect the first nationwide fiber optic network.
After the breakup of the Bell Operating System and the ability to compete in the lucrative long distance business, SPRINT quickly became the third largest carrier. While they were only able to obtain 9% or so of the long distance business, that provided the company with $7 billion in revenue, not bad for a bit player. It was not only the fiber optic network that provided them with a “clear” advantage (does anybody remember the commercial “sound so clear you could hear a pin drop”?), they also took advantage of a major TV star, Candice Bergen to run their ads, she became almost as famous for her “Dime Lady” as she was for playing Murphy Brown.
Actually the origins of the company go way back to 1898, when Cleyson Brown and a partner Carlos Florendo started a small rural telephone company to compete with the Bell System, the company Brown Telephone
was in Adeline, Kansas. In 1938 after Brown emerged from bankruptcy they changed the name to United Utilities, and begun acquiring other small Telco’s. In 1972 they changed their name again to United telecommunications, and were providing local phone service to many small Midwest and Southern communities.
IN 1982 GTE, then the largest non-Bell local phone company purchased Sprint from Southern Pacific, preparing to compete with AT&T. The new company now called GTE Sprint ended up merging with United Telecommunications in 1986 and again changed the name to US Sprint. In a two part agreement, United first took operational control purchasing an additional 30% from GTE, financed through its own sale of part of its network to Centel, by 1991 United Telecom eventually bough the rest of the GTE owned portion and had total control of the company. Interestingly enough SPRINT went back and purchased all of Centel in 1995 which
gave them local service in 18 states to go along with their long distance
business. 1995 also had quite a bit of wireless activity for the company but
that is for a later blog.
Do you recall from the History of MCI, that in 1999 MCI and Sprint had agreed to the largest merger in US History? A deal valued at $129 Billion! Well as you know the deal fell through because of monopoly concerns by
the US Justice Department as well as the European Union. What a deal that would have been, it would have created a company larger than AT&T. In 2006 SPRINT spun off the local business into a newly formed Embark Communications, which eventually sold its operations to Century Tel in 2008. In our own payphone business, we have utilized SPRINT or variations of them for several things SS7 was a great enhancement that allowed our long distance calls to process faster, Centel, Embark and now Century Tel have been our LEC for payphones in Las Vegas, so these guys have been important to Public Telephone.
Someday soon we will go into the SPRINT PCS and SPRINT Nextel organizations, but for now you will have to be satisfied with the wire
line business history.
~ Scott De Long