Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Returning to Victorian Competition, Ownership, and Regulation: An Empirical Study of European Telecommunications at the Turn of the Twentieth Century


This article uses an original dataset to test the effects of government monopoly service, competition, and regulation on the development of the telephone industry in Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Like today, there were stateowned monopolies in some countries, vigorous competition in others, and others with private firms operating under restrictive concessions. The main determinant of government control of the telephone sector was the state's involvement in the telegraph. Countries with competition between telephone providers and whose governments did not threaten to expropriate firms' assets saw higher telephone penetration and lower prices, even in rural areas.

Hide All
American Telephone and Telegraph. 1912. “Telephone Statistics of the World.” 35. Office of Statistician, American Telephone and Telegraph.
American Telephone and Telegraph. 1913. “Telephone and Telegraph Statistics of the World.” Office of Statistician, American Telephone and Telegraph,
Andersson-Skog Lena. 2000National Patterns in the Regulation of Railways and Telephony in the Nordic Countries to 1950.” Scandinavian Economic History Review 48, no. 2 pp. 3046.
Bennett A. R. 1895. The Telephone Systems of the Continent of Europe, London: Longmans, Green, and Co.,
Bertho-Lavenir Catherine. 1988. “The Telephone in France 1879 to 1979: National Characteristics and International Influences.” In Development of Large Technical Systems, edited by Renate Mayntz and Thomas P. Hughes, 69104. Boulder, CO: Westview Press,
Casson Herbert N. 1910. The History of the Telephone, Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co.,
Crandall Robert, and Leonard Waverman. 1995. Talk is Cheap: The Promise of Regulatory Reform in North American Telecommunications, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution,
Crocker Keith J., and Scott E. Masten. 2002. “Prospects for Private Water Provision in Developing Countries: Lessons from 19th Century America.” In Thirsting for Efficiency: The Economics and Politics of Urban Water System Reform, edited by Mary M. Shirley, 31747. Amsterdam: Pergamon,
Field Alexander J. 1994French Optical Telegraphy, 1793–1855: Hardware, Software, Administration.” Technology and Culture 35, no. 2 31547.
Field Alexander J. 1998The Telegraphic Transmission of Financial Asset Prices and Orders to Trade: Implications for Economic Growth, Trading Volumes, and Securities Market Regulation.” Research in Economic History 18 14594.
Foreman-Peck James. 1985Competition and Performance in the British Telecommunications Industry.” Telecommunications Policy 9, no. 3 21528.
Foreman-Peck James. 1991. “International Technology Transfer in Telephony, 1876–1914.” In International Technology Transfer in Europe, Japan, and the USA 1700–1914, edited by David Jeremy, 12252. Brookfield, VT: Edward Elgar,
Foreman-Peck James, and Robert Millward. 1994. Public and Private Ownership of British Industry 1820–1990, Oxford: Oxford University Press,
Gabel David. 1994Competition in a Network Industry: The Telephone Industry 1894–1910.” This JOURNAL 54, no. 3 54372.
Gabel Richard. 1969The Early Competitive Era in Telephone Communication, 1893–1920.” Law and Contemporary Problems 34, no. 2 34059.
Glaeser Edward L. 2001. “Public Ownership in the American City.” Harvard Institute of Economic Research, Research Paper No. 1930. Cambridge, MA,
Helgesson Claes-Fredrik. 1999. Making a Natural Monopoly: The Configuration of a Techno-Economic Order in Swedish Telecommunications, Stockholm: Stockholm School of Economics,
Henisz Witold. 2000. “The Institutional Environment for Infrastructure Investment.” Wharton School Working Paper. Philadelphia,
Holcombe A. N. 1906The Telephone in Great Britain.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 21, no. 1 96135.
Holcombe A. N. 1907Municipal Ownership of Telephones in Great Britain.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 21, no 4 64550.
Holcombe A. N. 1911. Public Ownership of Telephones on the Continent of Europe, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company,
Holzmann Gerard J., and Bjorn Pehrson. 1995. The Early History of Data Networks, Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society Press,
Jayakar Krishna P. 1999Local Exchange Competition in Early U.S. Network development: Considerations for Developing Countries.” Telecommunications Policy 23, no. 5 37587.
Judson Katharine, ed. 1914. Selected Articles on Government Ownership of Telegraph and Telephone, New York: The H.W. Wilson Company,
Kanazawa Mark T., and Roger G. Noll. 1994. “The Origins of State Railroad Regulation: The Illinois Constitution of 1870.” In The Regulated Economy: A Historical Approach to Political Economy, edited by Claudia Goldin and Gary D. Libecap, 1354. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press,
Keefer Philip. 1996Protection Against a Capricious State: French Investment and Spanish Railroads, 1845–1875.” This Journal 56, no. 1 17092.
Kingsbury J. E. 1915. The Telephone and Telephone Exchanges: Their Invention and Development, London, New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.,
Maddison Angus. 1995. Monitoring the World Economy, 1820–1992, Paris: OECD,
Megginson William L., and Jeffrey M. Netter. 2001From State to Market: A Survey of Empirical Studies on Privatization.” Journal of Economic Literature 39, no. 2 32189.
Mueller Milton Lawrence. 1989. “The Telephone War: Interconnection, Competition, and Monopoly in the Making of Universal Telephone Service.” Communications 374 University of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia.
Mueller Milton Lawrence. 1997. Universal Service: Competition, Interconnection, and Monopoly in the Making of the American Telephone System, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
Noam Eli. 1992. Telecommunications in Europe, Oxford: Oxford University Press,
Noll Roger. 2000. “Telecommunications Reform in Developing Countries.” SIEPR Policy Paper: Stanford, CA,
Petrazzini Ben A. 1995. The Political Economy of Telecommunications Reform in Developing Countries: Privatization And Liberalization In Comparative Perspective, Westport, CT: Praeger,
Post Office Department. 1914. “Government Ownership of Electrical Means of Communication.” Washington, DC
Ros Agustin J. 1999Does Ownership or Competition Matter? The Effects of Telecommunications Reform on Network Expansion and Efficiency.” Journal of Regulatory Economics 15, no. 1 6592.
Standage Tom. 1998. The Victorian Internet, New York: Berkley Publishing Group,
The National Civic Federation. 1914. “Shall the Government Own and Operate the Railroads, the Telegraph and Telephone Systems? Shall the Municipalities Own Their Utilities?New York,
Thomas Frank. “The Politics of Growth: The German Telephone System.” In The Development of Large Technical Systems, edited by Renate Maynz and Thomas P. Hughes, 1988. 179214. Boulder, CO: Westview Press,
Troesken Werner. 1996. Why Regulate Utilities? The New Institutional Economics and the Chicago Gas Industry, 1894–1924, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press,
Troesken Werner, and Rick Geddes. 2001. “The Municipalization of U.S. Waterworks, 1897–1915.” Working Paper: Pittsburgh, PA; Ithaca, NY,
Wallsten Scott. 2001An Econometric Analysis of Telecom Competition, Privatization, and Regulation in Africa and Latin America.” Journal of Industrial Economics 49, no. 1 120.
Webb Herbert Laws. 1910. The Development of the Telephone in Europe, London: Electrical Press Ltd.,
Wellenius Bjorn, and Peter Stern. 1994. “Implementing Reforms in the Telecommunications Sector: Lessons From Experience.” In Implementing Reforms in the Telecommunications Sector: Lessons From Experience, edited by Bjorn Wellenius and Peter Stern, 163. Washington, DC: The World Bank,
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 12 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 261 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 21st October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.