This Day in Geek History: April 20
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe is published by Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It will widely be considered to be the first detective story. Read the story online at Project Gutenberg.
The first national chemical society in the United States, the American Chemical Society, is organized in New York City. Visit the official American Chemical Society website.
Western Electric and Warner Bros. introduce Vitaphone, a process to add sound to film and one of the first to use electronic amplification.
David Sarnoff, president of Radio Corporation of America (RCA), delivers a speech to an NBC camera announcing the launch of regular public television service with the formal opening of the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Flushing, New York on April 30th. “Now we add radio sight to sound. It is with a feeling of humbleness that I come to this moment of announcing the birth in this country of a new art so important in its implications that it is bound to affect all society. It is an art which shines like a torch of hope in a troubled world. It is a creative force which we must learn to utilize for the benifit of all mankind.” The speech is broadcast by RCA subsidiary NBC to two hundred televisions across the state of New York. Despite its miniscule audience, the event marks the birth of commercial television. By the end of the year, a thousand receivers will be sold in the U.S. Screens are initially only about five inches across.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, RCA publicly demonstrates the first electron microscope ever seen in the United States. The ten foot tall, half a ton apparatus is capable of magnifying an object one hundred thousand times. It was developed by Dr. Vladimir Zworykin at Radio Corporation of America (RCA) laboratories in Camden, New Jersey.
On the popular “See It Now” television show, hosted by journalist Edward R. Murrow, scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) demonstrate the Whirlwind machine, the first computer to operate in real time and to feature video displays. Jay Forrester, the head of the system’s development team, describes the Whirlwind as a “reliable operating system,” running thirty-five hours a week at ninety percent utility using an electrostatic tube memory that stores up to 2,048 sixteen-digit words. The machine uses 4,500 vacuum tubes and 14,800 diodes, taking up a total of 3,100 square feet.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave approves FM stereo broadcasting. However, it will be at least another five years before FM stations grow in popularity. Visit the official FCC website.
The first transcontinental picturephone call is made between the Bell System exhibit at the World’s Fair in New York City and Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The device consists of a telephone handset and a small monitor. The system allows users to see each other as a fuzzy video image as they talk. A three-minute call between the special booths AT&T set up in Chicago, New York, and Washington cost between US$16 and US$27. The system will be offered commercially in Chicago, but it will never become popular.