Then he entered the Railway Mail service; in this service he completely revolutionized the system and introduced reforms that exist at the present time. A natural bent had apparently directed Vail's mind towards methods of communication, a fact that may perhaps explain the youthful enthusiasm with which he took up the new venture and the vision with which he foresaw and planned its future. For the chief fact about Vail is that he was a business man with an imagination. The crazy little machine which he now undertook to exploit did not interest him as a means of collecting tolls, floating stock, and paying dividends. He saw in it a new method of spreading American civilization and of contributing to the happiness and comfort of millions of people. Indeed Vail had hardly seen the telephone when a picture portraying the development which we are familiar with today unfolded before his eyes. That the telephone has had a greater development in America than elsewhere and that the United States has avoided all those mistakes of organization that have so greatly hampered its growth in other lands, is owing to the fact that Vail, when he first took charge, mapped out the comprehensive policies which have guided his corporation since.
Vail early adopted the "slogan" which has directed the Bell activities for forty years--"One System! One Policy! Universal Service." In his mind a telephone company was not a city affair, or even a state affair; it was a national affair. His aim has been from the first a universal, national service, all under one head, and reaching every hamlet, every business house, factory, and home in the nation. The idea that any man, anywhere, should be able to take down a receiver and talk to anyone, anywhere else in the United States, was the conception which guided Vail's labors from the first. He did not believe that a mass of unrelated companies could give a satisfactory service; if circumstances had ever made a national monopoly, that monopoly was certainly the telephone. Having in view this national, universal, articulating monopoly, Vail insisted on his second great principle, the standardization of equipment. Every man's telephone must be precisely like every other man's, and that must be the best which mechanical skill and inventive genius could produce. To make this a reality and to secure perfect supervision and upkeep, it was necessary that telephones should not be sold but leased. By enforcing these ideas Vail saved the United States from the chaos which exists in certain other countries, such as France, where each subscriber purchases his own instrument, making his selection from about forty different varieties. That certain dangers were inherent in this universal system Vail understood. Monopoly all too likely brings in excessive charges, poor service, and inside speculation; but it was Vail's plan to justify his system by its works. To this end he established a great engineering department which should study all imaginable mechanical improvements, with the results which have been described. He gave the greatest attention to every detail of the service and particularly insisted on the fairest and most courteous treatment of the public. The "please" which invariably accompanies the telephone girl's request for a number--the familiar "number, please"--is a trifle, but it epitomizes the whole spirit which Vail inspired throughout his entire organization. Though there are plenty of people who think that the existing telephone charges are too high, the fact remains that the rate has steadily declined with the extension of the business. Vail has also kept his company clear from the financial scandals that have disgraced so many other great corporations. He has never received any reward himself except his salary, such fortune as he possesses being the result of personal business ventures in South America during the twenty years from 1887 to 1907 that he was not associated with the Bell interests.
Vail's first achievement was to rescue this invention from the greatest calamity which would have befallen it.