This Day in Geek History: April 17
In the court of Richard II, Geoffrey Chaucer recites the Canterbury Tales for the first time. Scholars will later identified this as the date (in 1387) on which the book’s characters begin their pilgrimage to Canterbury.
Harvard University President James Conant writes to IBM founder Thomas Watson Sr. to report that the Harvard Mark I is up and running smoothly. He also notes that the Mark I is “being used for special problems in connection with the war effort.”
Bell Laboratories announces the development of magnetic tape machine capable of transmitting a thousand words per minute, sixteen times faster than a conventional teletypewriter machines.
The spacecraft Surveyor 3 is launched from Cape Kennedy, Florida. It will become the second U.S. spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon, where it will study the lunar surface and send more than 6,300 pictures back to Earth. In all, seven Surveyors will be sent to the Moon.
AT&T unveils an experimental telephone at its annual meeting in Boston. The phone is smaller, lighter, and largely electronic. It’s unveiling marks the beginning of the end for the rotary telephone.
The Apollo 13 mission ends safely with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, four days after the spacecraft aborted its mission four-fifths of the way to the Moon. The shuttle was crippled when a tank of liquid oxygen burst. Upon his return, mission commander Jim Lovell becomes the first American astronaut to travel over 700 hours in space.
On the second day of the West Coast Computer Faire, Apple Computer formally introduces the Apple II, Apple’s first popular microcomputer, shortly after the company’s one year anniversary. The computer features a 6502 CPU, 4KB RAM, 16KB ROM, a built-in keyboard, an 8-slot motherboard, game paddles, a color display, and built-in BASIC. Initial models feature cassette tape drives, but later models will include 5¼-inch floppy disk. It stands out from its major competitors by being the first personal computer to feature color graphics, and it is also the first product to carry the soon-to-be-famous rainbow striped Apple logo. Many historians would later mark this release as the beginning of the popularity of the personal computer, as the Apple II will be the first computer to boast a “killer app,” Dan Bricklin’s VisiCalc spreadsheet software. Price: US$1,298
Knight-Ridder becomes the first U.S. newspaper publisher to announce that it will undertake a videotex project. Videotex is an early information service, bearing a crude resemblance to the Internet. The program is called the Viewtron.
Texas Instruments, Inc. introduces the Logo programming language to qualified school districts for the TI-99/4 home computer. It won’t be released to the general public until the Summer Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in June.
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