This Day in Geek History: January 1
The novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley is first published. The first edition is published anonymously. Many will come to be considered the first fully-realized science fiction novel. Download a copy of the book at Project Gutenberg.
After having poisoned his mistress, Sarah Hart, with prussic acid in Slough, England, John Tawell escapes by train to London, where he is arrested police on arrival at Paddington Station because of an electric telegram that arrived before him. The event will generate an enormous amount of publicity for the new technology.
Samuel Morse opens a fifty-mile electric telegraph line between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland, using his Morse code for messages.
The first radio broadcast demonstration in the U.S. is given by Nathan B. Stubblefield at Fairmont Park in Philadelphia. His voice is the first to be carried on the air-waves during a public exhibition during which he transmits his voice to a receiver a full mile distant. He will keep the details of the invention secret until he receives a patent, but he will ultimately be unable to find a suitable buyer for his invention. (US No. 887,357)
In the “Discussions” section of the January issue of Amazing Stories magazine, editor T. O’Conor Sloane uses the term “science fiction” in the modern sense for the first time. In the column, he writes, “Remember that Jules Verne was a sort of Shakespeare of science fiction, and we would feel derelict if we did not give his stories in our columns.”
The Associated Press launches its Wirephoto service for transmitting photographs by wire to its member newspapers. To transmit an image, a photo is wrapped around a drum, which is rotated around a light-sensitive photocell capable of translating differences in brightness. The device then transmits signals via telephone lines to subscribing newspapers. At the receiving end, a piece of photographic paper is rotated on a drum around a cylinder lit by a pinpoint of light which is focused onto the paper in varying strength according to the signal received. The photographic paper can then be processed in a darkroom.
The New York Herald Tribune becomes the first newspaper to begin archiving current issues of its newspaper on microfilm. The previous year, the New York Times archived back-issues of its paper for the years 1914-27, but it has not yet done the same for its current issues.
Dave and Lucile Packard move into a rented home located at 367 Addison Avenue in Palo Alto, California. William R. Hewlett rents a cottage located behind the house. David and William, ex-fellow Stanford classmates, establish the Hewlett-Packard (HP) company in the house’s garage, which will later be designated as California registered historical landmark #976, the birthplace of “Silicon Valley.” A coin toss decides the order in which their names appear in the corporate name. The US$538 investment used to start the business is borrowed from Fred Terman, a renowned radio engineering professor at Stanford. Terman will later come to be considered Hewlett and Packards’ mentor. By 1982, Hewlett-Packard will become the world’s largest manufacturer of electronic measuring and testing devices. In the meantime, their first successful product will be an audio oscillator (model 200A, US$55) for testing sound equipment. Walt Disney will buy eight of the second model (200B) for use in the production of the animated feature film Fantasia. Read more at Hewlett-Packard.
The first Chinese animated feature film, Princess Iron Fan, directed by Wan Guchan and Wan Laiming is released in China. It is adapted from the Chinese fairy tale Journey to the West. IMDB listing Running-time: 1 hr 13 mins
African Journey becomes the first feature-length foreign film shown on American television.
John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert sign a contract to build the first general-purpose electronic digitally-stored program computer ever designed, the EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Computer.) Even before the ENIAC is unveiled in 1946, Eckert and Mauchly will already be designing their next machine. The EDVAC won’t be completed until 1952, long after Eckert and Mauchly will have left the University of Pennsylvania.
The construction of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first purely electronic computer, is completed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert. It was built at the Moore School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and it’s design is based on ideas developed by John Atanasoff of Iowa State College. Though it isn’t the first computer ever built, the ENIAC is regarded as the first successful, general-use digital computer. It weighs over 27,000kg (60,000lb) and contains more than eighteen thousand vacuum tubes. A staff of six technicians will replace about two thousand of the tubes each month to maintain the system. Many of the computer’s early uses will be for military purposes, such as calculating ballistic firing tables and designing atomic weapons. Since ENIAC isn’t originally built with the ability to store programs, it will have to be manually reprogrammed for each new task.