This Day in Geek History: January 31
Thomas Edison is issued two patents. (US No. 490,953 -4) The first patent is described as the “Art of Generating Electricity” for a cell made with positive and negative electrodes in a heated chamber containing dry chemicals which are sufficiently exhausted for the gases generated to become good electrical conductors. The second patent is described as the “Manufacture of Carbon Filaments for Electric Lamps.” In it, Edison describes the process of heating vegetable fibers, such as bamboo, in a furnace until the fibers are carbonized, before soaking them in a sugar syrup to fill the material’s pores before reheating them until they are wholly carbonized. This process is fundamental to the creation of incandescent bulbs.
The 3M Company first begins to market Scotch Tape the first waterproof, transparent, pressure-sensitive tape. The product was invented in 1925 by mechanical engineer Richard Drew, who developed the process of coating strips of cellophane with adhesive five years after inventing masking tape. The tape was developed to provide grocers with a moisture proof method of sealing packages. Visit the official 3M website.
The Green Hornet premieres on radio station WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan, the same station that produces The Lone Ranger. The radio program will later spawn a television and comics series. Visit the official website of The Green Hornet franchise.
The United States Social Security Board issues its first check to Ida May Fuller, age 65, of Vermont. The check, number 00-000-001, is for US$22.54. The U.S. Social Security, which is characterized as “the largest bookkeeping operation in the history of the world” is made possible by a series of computers custom built for the purpose by International Business Machines (IBM) which track of the twenty-six million people participating in the government program with hundreds of millions of punch cards. The paper punch cards were so numerous that, there is “no building in Washington had floors sturdy enough” to hold them all. Another problem will soon presented itself. Individual paper punch cards have a very limited capacity for storing data. However, in 1955, just as the punch cards will approach their capacity for the first generations of social security recipients, they will be replaced by IBM’s first general-purpose computer. Read a history of the Social Security Administration’s use of punch cards and IBM machines.
United States President Harry S. Truman announces the existence of the program to develop the American hydrogen bomb (H-Bomb) in a public address. “I have directed … work on all forms of atomic weapons, including the so called hydrogen or superbomb. Like all other work in the field of atomic weapons, it is being and will be carried forward on a basis consistent with the overall objectives of our program for peace and security … until a satisfactory plan for international control of atomic energy is achieved. We shall also continue to examine all those factors that affect our program for peace and this country, security.” The announcement comes in response to the growing public concern over Truman’s earlier announcement on September 23, 1949 in which he disclosed that, “We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the USSR.”
Edwin H. Armstrong, the inventor of radio frequency modulation (FM), commits suicide by jumping from the thirteenth floor window of his New York City apartment. Armstrong had become depressed by a long-running dispute over his FM patent.
Explorer 1, the first U.S. Earth-orbiting satellite, is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard an Army Jupiter-C rocket. Explorer 1 will orbit the Earth every 115 minutes. The launch comes four months after the Soviet launch of Sputnik. Its orbit will carry it from an orbit of about 220 miles to an orbit of nearly 1,600 miles. Explorer 1 measures cosmic radiation that will later lead to the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt.
NASA launches a four year old male chimpanzee named Ham (the first hominid in space) on a Mercury-Redstone 2 rocket into suborbital flight to test the Mercury capsule. During the capsule’s 16.5 minute suborbital flight, Ham experiences seven minutes of weightlessness, a peak altitude of one hundred eight miles, and a top speed of thirteen thousand miles per hour. During the mission, Ham performs some simple tasks, including pulling levers in response to the activation of a light to receive banana pellets. Three months after Ham’s successful flight and safe recovery, NASA will launch the first Mercury astronaut, Alan Shepard, into sub-orbital flight. Visit the NASA website for the Mercury Project.