The combined vision of John F. O’Connell and Sigurd L. Odegard, coupled with steadfast determination and a passionate belief n the future of the local telephone business, evolved into GTE Corporation, serving some 20 million access lines in 40 states.
Learning the trade while employed by the Wisconsin Railroad Commission in 1915, O’Connell and Odegard soon realized that a market existed for quality telephone service not only in metropolitan areas, but throughout rural America.
In 1918, they began to purchase small telephone companies, beginning with the Richland Center Telephone Company. By 1920, they had acquired additional properties in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Michigan and California, forming the nucleus of the former General Telephone System.
The company prospered. Subscribers in outlying areas were able to enjoy the benefits of readily available, efficient telephone facilities with an emphasis on service, thanks to the company philosophy of “all we have to sell is service.”
As accounting and management functions were consolidated, the operating units quickly grew, producing a base for corporate expansion into broader fields which included radio networks and manufacturing companies. In the 1920’s, with subsidiaries in 25 states, it was clear that O’Connell and Odegard had developed the largest independent telephone group in the United States.
The joint vision of creating a single management team to operate multiple companies across state boundaries led to one of the first major consolidations in the independent industry; 340 companies were merged into 45 companies in the early 1930’s, beginning a management concept which has become standard for the telephone industry today. O’Connell died in 1945.