Sprint Born From Railroad, Telephone Businesses

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Melissa Block explores the long family history of the companies that comprise what became Sprint. It all began in Kansas in the late 19th century and came to include a long distance system created by the Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Network Telecommunications, or SPRINT.


We're going to linger for a minute more on Sprint and its remarkable family tree. The company has roots on one side in the Brown Telephone Company of Abilene, Kansas, founded in 1899, and, on the other, a railroad, the Southern Pacific. In fact, the name Sprint is an acronym. When it was first coined, the SPR stood for Southern Pacific Railroad. The Southern Pacific traces its roots back to the 1860s. It would later operate thousands of miles of track and the telegraph wire along those tracks. Here's former Southern Pacific communications control wire chief Brijet Neff.

BRIJET NEFF: In 1972, a request came in from the president of the railroad to seek out a way to use our already existing communications lines for long-distance dialing.

BLOCK: Well, this was new territory for the railroad. By the mid-1970s, Neff says Southern Pacific was selling time on its extensive microwave communications system to private customers. The move put a dent in AT&T's longstanding long-distance monopoly.

NEFF: They decided to hold a contest after we were able to prove that everything worked, and the winning title was Sprint, which stood for Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony.

BLOCK: Telephony according to Brijet Neff gave way to telecommunications, and the name Sprint was born.

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