This Day in Geek History: April 25
At a small college in Eastern France, German geographer Martin Waldseemüller publishes a map with the region of the world commonly referred to as “the New World” labeled as “America” for the first time ever in a book entitled Cosmographiae Introductio. In the book, Waldseemüller credits Amerigo Vespucci with discovering the continent.
New York becomes the first state in the United States to require automobiles to bear license plates. The initial licensing fee is one dollar. The first city to issue automobile license plates was Paris, France in 1893. Boston first city in the U.S. to require drivers to be licensed will be Boston.
The first round-the-world telephone call is made when Walter S. Gifford, president of the AT&T Company, talks with T.G. Miller, vice president in charge of the Long Lines Department, in another room in the same building (32 Sixth Avenue) over a 23,000 mile circuit of wire and radio channels. The phone used in the call will later be preserved at the Smithsonian Institute.
DC Comics debuts what will become its second major superhero, Batman, in issue 27 of Detective Comics (the May issue).
The journal Nature publishes the one page article Molecular structure of nucleic acids: a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid written by Francis Crick and James D. Watson. In it, Crick and Watson reveal the double helix structure of DNA and explain how DNA transmits hereditary information between cells and across generations. The key to their discovery was an X-ray diffraction photograph of a DNA molecule, “photograph 51,” captured by Rosalind Franklin. Crick and Watson will earn a Nobel Prize for their work in 1962.
“This structure has two helical chains each coiled around the same axis… Both chains follow right-handed helices… The novel feature of the structure is the manner in which the two chains are held together by purine and pyrimidine bases… They are joined together in pairs, a single base from one chain being hydrogen-bonded to a single base from the other chain, so that the two lie side by side with identical z-co-ordinates.”
Warner Brothers studios releases the first 3-D color feature film, House of Wax, directed by André de Toth and starring Vincent Price, to U.S. theaters. The film is also notable for being Vincent Price’s first major horror role. Produced on a budget of roughly US$1 million, it will gross US$23,750,000 domestically. IMDB listing Running Time: 1 hr 28 mins
In New York City, Bell Labs announces the development of the first solar battery.
At the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, near Simi Valley, California, the first experimental sodium nuclear reactor achieves criticality (controlled nuclear fission). The purpose of the experiment is to demonstrate the feasibility of a liquid metal cooled reactor as a heat source for a commercial power reactor. On July 12, 1957, the Sodium Reactor Experiment will become the first nuclear reactor in the U.S. to generate electricity for a commercial power grid.
The first submerged circumnavigation of the Earth is completed by a Triton submarine.
Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor is granted a patent for a “Semiconductor Device-and-Lead Structure,” the integrated circuit, even as it considered the application of Jack Kilby. (US No. 830,507) The patent will precipitate a prolonged controversy between Noyce and Kilby over the rights to the patent. Kilby had recorded his initial ideas concerning the integrated circuit in July 1958, a half year before Noyce, but Noyce had solved most of the practical problems that Kilby had not. Noyce’s chip was constructed of silicon, while Kilby’s chip was made of germanium. Integrated circuits will eventually replace transistors in computers, allowing the machines to be manufactured in increasingly smaller sizes.