The History of Sprint PCS

by Jennifer Eblin; Updated September 26, 2017

Sprint Corporation is one of the largest providers of cell phones in the world and one of the largest companies specializing in communications. As of 2007 the company had over 23 million customers and provided service to over 70 countries. Interestingly, the roots of Sprint date back to the late nineteenth century.

Southern Pacific Railroad

The origins of Sprint are connected to the Southern Pacific Railroad, which began the Southern Pacific Communications Corporation (SPCC) in the early twentieth century. The Railroad formed this organization as a way of converting older and obsolete telegraph wires and poles into telephone wires and poles. The company continued working on its own systems, even though others switched to the equipment available from the Bell Company. Even during the 1940s the Railroad was still relying on its own wires and poles for communication.

Southern Pacific Communications Corporation

The SPCC continued working until the 1950s when most railroads switched to radio systems. Prior to this time the company was still responsible for maintaining all the wires along the railroad. The company was still called upon to maintain the wires for communications in the offices, but by the 1970s there was no need for the company. GTE, which also owned General Telephone, purchased the entire SPCC brand and subsidiaries in 1983, in the hopes of creating a larger company capable of competing with AT&T. The company became known as GTE Sprint.

Brown Telephone Company

The Brown Telephone Company, based in Kansas, was also responsible for the formation of Sprint as it’s known today. The company began in 1899 and was one of the largest telephone companies not owned by Bell or AT&T by the 1950s. In 1972 the company became known as United Telecommunications and started marketing long-distance plans under the name US Telecom in 1984. It was one of the only companies that didn’t rely on AT&T lines.

Merger

In the 1980s GTE Sprint began using fiber optic cable lines and US Telecom decided to build its own fiber network. The two companies met in a series of secret meetings in 1986 before announcing plans to merge the two companies. The new company would be known by the name US Sprint, with its own logo. The company doubled its customer base, issued "fon cards" that let customers use its long distance service anywhere in the world and issued a toll-free long distance number for customers.

1990s and On

United Telecom became the primary owner of Sprint in the early 1990s and began Sprint International, a company capable of handling international long distance calls. In the late 1990s it leapt into the world of wireless communications and offered cell phones to customers. The wireless communications continued to grow in the early 2000s and the company eventually purchased Nextel. With Nextel, it also became the primary sponsor for the NASCAR Cup Series. As of 2009 it was one of the largest cell phone companies in the world.

About the Author

Jennifer Eblin has been a full-time freelance writer since 2006. Her work has appeared on several websites, including Tool Box Tales and Zonder. Eblin received a master's degree in historic preservation from the Savannah College of Art and Design.

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