This Day in Geek History: August 1
The element Oxygen is independently discovered for the third time by Joseph Priestley, a British Presbyterian minister and amateur chemist. Priestley discovered that mercury heated in air becomes coated with a red rust, which, heated separately, would convert back to mercury and give off “air.” Studying this “air,” Priestley observes that candles burn very brightly in it. Upon further experimentation, he also discovers that a mouse in a sealed vessel could breathe much longer with the gas present than a mouse sealed in a vessel without it. Joseph Priestley will publishes his conclusions in 1775, giving the element a name and, historically, receiving most of the credit for its discovery.
The first United States census, which is mandated by the country’s constitution, is conducted under the direction of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. The enormous undertaking of conducting the national census will be one of the driving forces behind the development of the earliest computers. A century later, the tabulating machines for which Herman Hollerith received the first three computer patents in history will be used to compile the results of the nation’s eleventh census. The introduction of the computers will reduce the time taken to tabulate the results from the seven years it took for the 1880 results to just two and a half years.
Germany declares war on Russia, marking the beginning of World War I. The war will spur the progression of many technologies into high gear.
At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, the Deutsche Reichspost sets up twenty-eight viewing rooms around the city equipped with Fernseh projectors to screen daily transmissions. The projector receives and displays images in a 375-line interlaced format, producing a picture approximately 48 in x 42 in in size.
United States President Harry S. Truman signs the Atomic Energy Act into law, creating the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission about one year after World War II. Congress establishes the Commission to foster and control the peace time development of atomic technology.
A secretary of the Federal Communications Commission, sends a letter to L.E. Parsons, a cable television pioneer in Astoria, Oregon, requesting that he “furnish the Commission full information with respect to the nature of the system you may have developed and may be operating.” This is the FCC’s first known involvement in cable. The FCC will determine that the Commission can exercise common carrier jurisdiction over the medium.
Canada and the U.S. jointly announce the creation of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a unified military unit, to provide advanced monitoring and defense of the two countries’ airspace. The unit’s technological requirements will drive the development of several key computer technologies in the decades to come.
The United States Navy recalls Captain Grace Murray Hopper, who had helped build both the Harvard Mark I and Mark II, to active duty. Along with a team drawn from major U.S. computer manufacturers and Pentagon personnel, Hopper will develop the COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language) programming language with businesses in mind. The language is designed to be easily read by human and almost completely machine independent, unlike its predecessors, which were largely low-level and system-specific.
The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission tests the first long-distance database as part of a study. The connection is established between a computer in Palo Alto, California and a computer at the European Space Resource Organization in Paris, France. The test concludes that the database could be made accessible the world over.