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1914 to 1918: Political turmoil and technological innovation

The period between 1914 and 1918 encompassed both the global turmoil of World War I and also major technological advancements such as the first long-distance call between New York and San Francisco, the first voice transmission across the Atlantic and the launch of long distance telephone service between Montréal and Vancouver.

Because Canadians were primarily focused on the war effort, Bell’s management at the time suggested that 1917 be known as a “year of service” for the company, with more focus on the customer, and less focus on canvassing for new subscribers. Bell ads during this period sought to create the impression that corporations, especially communications providers, are necessary and beneficial to the public good. C.E. Fortier, Bell’s advertising manager at the time, wrote “This advertising, we believe, has done some good in giving subscribers a better understanding of our business and a more just appreciation of our desire to provide outstanding customer service.”

As the war progressed, Bell faced many challenges, including ongoing shortages in labour and materials. A new advertising campaign appealed for public co-operation. C.E. Fortier, wrote “The great scarcity of all kinds of telephone material, and the fact that we are not actively canvassing for new business, has presented an excellent opportunity for advertising along purely educational lines.” Educating the public on telephone technology and the ways that Canadians could help protect communications infrastructure turned out to be a good strategy, helping to ensure a high standard of service throughout the war years.

1918 marked the end of WWI but is also remembered for the Spanish Influenza epidemic that began that year. As always, Bell team members rose to the challenge, with many working beyond their normal duties to keep up with the increased demand for our services and to relieve fellow workers who were ill.