This Day in Geek History: December 24
Henry Ford completes the construction of his first usable gas motor, and he and his wife test the small one-cylinder engine in their kitchen. Ford is the chief steam engineer at the main Detroit Edison Company plant with responsibility for maintaining electric service in the city. Because he was on call with no regular hours, he had time to experiment to his heart’s content. His wages barely paid his living expenses, but his wife was very supportive. A later two cylinder version of the engine powers Ford’s first completed automobile when on its inaugural drive on June 4, 1896.
Reginald A. Fessenden transmits the world’s first (public) radio broadcast from Brant Rock Station, Massachusetts. He had been working since 1898 on transmitting audio, rather than just Morse code, since 1898. The transmitter’s 2kW 100kHz high-frequency alternator (US Patent No. 1,008,577) was built by Ernst F. W. Alexanderson. The world’s first radio broadcast includes a religious service which includes a violin solo of Gounod’s “O Holy Night” and a scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke. Three days earlier, Fessenden will demonstrate his transmitter to representatives of several organizations, including American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T). Fessenden and his financiers hoped that AT&T will buy the rights to the patents covering the new system; however, while AT&T believed the system is “admirably adapted to the transmission of news, music, etc.,” the company feels that the system isn’t yet refined enough for commercial telephone service.
The first radioactive isotope medicine is administered in Berkeley, California.
On the ABC network, Bing Crosby Specials becomes the first television special ever to be broadcast in color.
The crew of the Apollo 8 broadcasts a live program from orbit around the Moon in a program that will famously become known as the Christmas Eve Broadcast. The broadcast proves to be one of the most watched in history, as well as one of the most emotional moments in the history of space flight. American astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William Anders read verses from the Book of Genesis and call for “Peace on Earth” before a global audience.
Tom Jennings announces in FidoNews that the first intercontinental FidoNet message was sent from Jakarta, Indonesia, to St. Louis, United States. FidoNets had already previously been sent internationally, appearing in Canada nearly immediately after the network’s founding.
CompuServe and Unisys announce that they expect companies developing software that creates or displays images in the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) to license the technology for a modest fee. Software developers will react to the announcement with something on the order of hysteria. Many developers threaten to stop using the format altogether. The League for Programming Freedom will be particularly vehement in their protest, launching a “Burn All GIFs” campaign. The announcement leads to the later development of the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format, which will be released on October 1, 1996.
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