This Day in Geek History: December 20
Thomas Edison privately demonstrates his incandescent light bulb at Menlo Park, in New Jersey. He invented the lamp on October 21, 1879 after thirteen months of experimentation to discover a suitable material for the filament and discovery that carbonized cotton filaments could operate for forty hours in the vacuum of a glass bulb. The first public demonstration of the incandescent light bulb will be given at Menlo Park on December 31, 1879.
Physicist Albert Michelson becomes the first U.S. scientist to receive the Nobel Prize. He is awarded the prize “for his optical precision instruments and the spectroscopic and metrological investigations.” Specifically, he designed the highly accurate Michelson interferometer and used it to accurately measure the speed of light, establishing the Michelson Effect, which states that the speed of light is a constant.
Volta Picture Theatre, Ireland’s first cinema, opens in a disused Dublin warehouse at 45 Mary Street under the management of James Joyce. The opening night features an eclectic program that includes the comedy Devilled Crab, the mystery Bewitched Castle, La Pourponierre, The First Paris Orphanage, and The Tragedy of Beatrice Cency.
Thomas Watson Jr. informs Harvard University President James B. Conant that popular American theatrical and industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes will be designing the cover of the Harvard Mark I computer. Bel Geddes’ past work includes the Philco radio cabinets and the GM pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair. He was well known for his interest in “futuristic designs.”
The first electricity ever generated from nuclear energy begins flowing from the Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-1) turbine generator at 1:50pm when Walter Zinn and his Argonne National Laboratory staff of scientists bring EBR-1 to criticality (a controlled, self-sustaining chain reaction) with a core about the size of a football. The reactor initially powers four light bulbs, but gradually increases its output over several hours. The next day, EBR-1 will generate enough to supply all of the electricity necessary to power its own building. Additional power and core experiments will then be conducted until the reactor is decommissioned in December 1963. Construction began in 1949, between Idaho Falls and Arco, Idaho. EBR-1 will later become a Registered National Historic Landmark.
Columbia Pictures releases the science fiction film Mysterious Island, directed by Cy Endfield and starring Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, and Herbert Lom, to U.S. theaters. It is based on the book The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne. In it, Union POWs end up stranded on a South Pacific island, inhabited by giant plants and animals during the U.S. Civil War. They must use their ingenuity to survive the dangers, and to devise a way to return home. IMDB listing Running time: 1 hr 41 mins
Southern Bell forms the South Central Bell Telephone Company to operate in five of the nine states in its territory.
Steve Jobs drops out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, after attending for only one semester, but he will remain on campus, in friends’ dorms, while he audits classes. When he leaves campus, it will be to join Atari.
The International Business Machines (IBM) Data Processing Division releases new versions of the IBM 3741 data station, a key component in the IBM 3740 family of data entry products, to enable users at remote or decentralized sites to process and edit information quickly before it is enters into a computer and to write and execute their own 3741 programs.
The homepage of the NASA Ames Research Center is anonymously hacked, not for the first or last time.
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