This Day in Geek History: December 7
At the offices of the Scientific American magazine, Thomas Edison demonstrates his improved phonograph, using a cylinder wrapped with tinfoil instead of wax-coated paper. Just the day prior, he made the first recording using the device to demonstrate it to John Kruesi, the machinist who built it from Edison’s sketches.
Leo Baekeland of Yonkers, New York, receives a patent for the first completely synthetic (artificial) plastic thermosetting plastic. (US No. 942,699) The patent for “an improvement in methods of making insoluble condensation products of phenol-formaldehyde” covers the creation of what Baekeland dubbed Bakelite. Bakelite is the beginning of the plastics industry. It is a nonflammable material cheaper and more versatile than other known plastics. It will be used in a wide variety of application, from inexpensive jewelry to sophisticated electronics.
W1XAV in Boston, Massachusetts broadcasts video from the CBS radio orchestra program, The Fox Trappers. The broadcast features the first television commercial in the United States, an advertisement for I.J. Fox Furriers, the radio show’s sponsor. The station will be fined for running the advertisement, however, as the station is not authorized to sell commercial television time. (There are some references to an earlier ad aired by W1XAY in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1928, but no substantive evidence.)
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper begins a two-year experiment to deliver an abbreviated version of the paper by UHF radio to fifteen households equipped with special receivers.
CBS broadcasts the first instant news special.
Percy Spencer patents the microwave oven after accidentally discovering that microwaves could heat food. Spencer, an eighth-grade dropout and electronic wizard, works for the Raytheon Manufacturing Corporation of Massachusetts developing a radar machine that involves microwave radiation.
Universal Pictures releases the horror film House of Dracula, directed by Erle C. Kenton and starring Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Martha O’Driscoll, and Lionel Atwill, to U.S. theaters. It is a sequel to House of Frankenstein and features Universal’s three most popular monsters: Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and The Wolf Man. IMDB listing
“Forever Female” becomes the first movie to premiere on television in the U.S.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) releases the science fiction film Village of the Damned, directed by Wolf Rilla and starring George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Martin Stephens, and Michael Gwynn, to U.S. theaters. It is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. It was produced on a budget of US$200,000. IMDB listing
The UK electrical engineering firm Ferranti introduces Atlas, the world’s most powerful computer, at an inauguration ceremony at Manchester University, in England. Among its advances are the world’s first paging system and pipelined operations. (In computer operating systems, paging is a method by which memory allocation algorithms, also called memory address translation, divide computer memory into small partitions, and allocate memory using a page as the smallest building block.)
Apollo 17, the sixth and last Apollo moon mission, is launched from Cape Canaveral. It will land on the Moon December 11 at 3:15pm. The crew take the photograph known as “The Blue Marble” as they leave the Earth. Flight Commander Eugene Cernan will be the last man to step on the Moon for decades to come.
What will become the most famous image of the initial staff of the staff of Microsoft is taken. From left to right the picture includes, in the top row: Steve Wood, Bob Wallace, Jim Lane. In the middle row: Bob O’Rear, Bob Greenberg, Marc McDonald, Microsoft’s first salaried employee, Gordon Letwin, lead architect of the OS/2 operating system. In the bottom row: Co-founder Bill Gates, Technical writer Andrea Lewis, Marla Wood, Co-founder Paul Allen.
Paramount Pictures releases the science fiction film Star Trek: The Motion Picture, directed by Robert Wise and starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett, to 857 U.S. theaters. In it, Admiral Kirk resumes command of the Starship Enterprise in order to intercept, examine, and hopefully stop a destructive space entity that is rapidly approaching Earth. Produced on a budget of US$35 million, it will gross US$11,926,421 domestically in its opening weekend. IMDB listing (MPAA Rating: G) Running Time: 2 hrs 12 mins
Erik Labs releases BiModem, a new file transfer protocol that allows users to simultaneously upload and download files, and initiate chats during the file transfer. The protocol was developed for use in BBS systems. Download an archived version of the application.
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