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AT&T Inc. (T): A Look Back

On this day in economic and business history…

AT&T Inc.On May 15, 1951, young car salesman Brady Denton became the 1 millionth unique shareholder of AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T). It was the first time in history that any company had achieved such a broad base of ownership, and at a market cap of $12 billion, it meant that the average shareholder possessed a rather modest holding of $12,000 in the telecom monopoly. To commemorate the occasion, AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) flew Denton, his wife, and two of his three small children (an infant stayed behind with relatives) to New York City for pomp and circumstance befitting such an event. Calls rang in from around the country congratulating Denton, who said with pride, “I hope I never have to cash this certificate number one million.”

Retired AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) vice president Arthur Page delivered a strong speech that day, one which all long-term shareholders like Mr. Denton ought to appreciate. Here are some highlights:

It ought to be a normal thing for every family to own a part of the country in which they live. But in the history of mankind it has not been normal. In this country it is. If you add up those who own houses, farms or all or part of a business, you will have the greater part of the population.

You may define that as capitalism. I think it is more accurate to say that it is the natural result of freedom, for any man who is free to do so tries to accumulate for himself, his family and for good causes in which he is interested. …

You can’t run a business by a committee of a hundred thousand or a million people. They must trust some few to act for them. And those who do act in this capacity have a public trust as sacred as that attached to any governmental public office.

Adding the millionth stockholder does not change the responsibilities of directors, but is does make an appropriate occasion to reaffirm our belief that the trust of millions of people deserves the most meticulous care that men can give it, especially as this trust is the basis of the tremendous effectiveness of American industry which makes the strength of the country both in peace and in war. …

Big business has to be run with an eye to the long view. The research in material things and in management practice, which makes for better and cheaper products, is a long-term project. The building of management that has good men always coming up and opportunities to encourage good men is a long term project. The creation of confidence in the public mind is a long-term project. …

We are trustees for your investment and the American method of operating big enterprise, and we shall do our utmost to see that it prospers to your benefit.