My email brought unwelcome news today: Amos E. Joel, Jr., a former Bell Labs engineer, died on October 25. He was 90 years old.
I don't know what Mr. Joel's official title was at Bell Labs; he was described to me simply as "the head of switching." And indeed, he was the primary author of the 639-page "Switching Technology (1925-1975)" volume of the History of Science and Engineering in the Bell System series.
I had spoken to Mr. Joel several times in the last few years while researching my book. While he was cagey about discussing certain measures the telephone company took to detect phone phreaks, he was always as helpful as he felt he could be, suggesting several good leads and making a few important introductions on my behalf.
The New York Times obituary called him a "cellphone pioneer" and noted that although he had more than 70 patents, he was "perhaps best known for 3,663,762, a 1972 patent that allows a telephone user to make an uninterrupted call while moving from one region to another." I.e., it enabled cell phones as we know them today.
But when I think of Mr. Joel I think of patent 2,925,957, issued February 23, 1960. According to an article in the New York Times at the time, "The Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. of New York received this week the largest patent ever granted. It covers elaborate improvements to the AT&T automatic accounting system for customers' charges on long distance direct dialing. [It] weights ten pounds and 12 ounces. It consists of 354 sheets of drawings and 266 printed pages."
Phone phreaks will instantly recognize the system by its acronym: AMA -- Automatic Message Accounting.
Here is a proud A. E. Joel, Jr. with his giant patent. Goodnight, Mr. Joel, wherever you are.