AT&T's Bell Laboratories always calibrated the birth of the laser to 1958 — the publication date of AT&T Labs continues laser research related to communications as well. Here are some of the highlights of that laser history (below); some of these are touched upon in this video, which gives the background to the development of laser theory and technology, then profiles the laser's applications and new developments to 1988.
The film includes interviews with both Townes and Schawlow.
1960: Ali Javan and William Bennett Jr. develop the first helium-neon laser.
1960: the first phone call is transmitted via laser at Bell Labs.
1962: the first yttrium aluminum garnet laser is developed at Bell Labs.
1964: Kumar Patel at Bell Labs invents the carbon dioxide laser; it is the primary tool in laser surgery.
1964: the Nd:YAG laser is invented by Joseph Geusic and Richard Smith at Bell Labs.
1965: the first tunable laser is developed by J. Giordmaine and Robert Miller.
1965: a laser is used at Bell Labs to create the first 2-color hologram.
1970: Arthur Ashkin invents optical trapping, a process in which atoms are trapped by lasers.
1971: Izuo Hayashi and Morton Panish design the first semiconductor laser that runs at room temperature.
1972: laser beams are used to etch circuits on ceramic materials.
1977: the first laser-fiber-optic communications system is installed in Chicago.
1983: Linn Mollenauer and Roger Stolen create the soliton laser.
1983: the cleaved-coupled-capacity laser is patented by Won-Tien Tsang.
1985: Steven Chu, L. Hollberg, J.E. Bjorkhom, A. Cable and A. Ashkin first observe the optical cooling of atoms, referred to as "optical molasses."
1993: Bell Labs develops the first self-focusing lasers, called zone lasers.
1994: the first quantum cascade laser is invented at Bell Labs by Jerome Faist, Federico Capasso, Deborah L. Sivco, Carlo Sirtori, Albert L. Hutchinson and Alfred Y. Cho.
An excellent article about the ruby laser at Bell Labs was published in 2010 in Physics Today, it was written by three Bell Labs scientists who were there at the beginning.
Footage Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ