This Day in Geek History: July 2
Thomas Savery patents the first steam engine.
The Donati Comet was first seen and named after its discoverer.
While Alexander Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson are working on Edison’s “harmonic telegraph,” they stumble upon the inspiration that will eventually lead to the creation of the first telephone. In the transmitter room, Watson produces a twang while trying to free a reed that had been wound too tightly to the pole of its electromagnet. Bell, working in the receiving room, hears the twang and realizes that his dream of speech transmission must be possible, because the complex overtones and timbre of the twang he had just heard bore a striking similarity to the sound of the human voice.
A hydroelectric power plant generates alternating current electricity available to consumers for the first time. A thirteen mile power line links the Willamette Falls Electric Co. power plant to Portland, Oregon. Two 300hp Stilwell & Bierce waterwheels together drove a single phase, 720 kilowatt generator. It isn’t the first hydroelectric power plant. Another one had been demonstrated in Appleton, Wisconsin, on September 30, 1882 with a small dynamo. It is the use of alternating current that makes this station significant because it makes it possible to transmit power over great distances.
Thomas Edison is issued a patent for a “Sextuplex Telegraph,” four years to the day after the application date. A second application made that same day for a similar device won’t be issued until 1894. (US No. 453,601)
The first radio patent is issued to Guglielmo Marconi in England for his wireless telegraphy apparatus for “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical Impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus Therefor.” (UK No. 12,039)
The United States Federal Radio Commission (FRC) grants the first television broadcasting license to Jenkins Television Corporation of Maryland, creating station W3XK. The station will use mechanical scanning system invented by Charles Francis Jenkins. Because of the station’s limited bandwidth (10kH), its programming only appears as silhouettes for electronics enthusiasts to who have built their own receivers.
Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappear over the Pacific Ocean during an attempt to make the first equatorial round-the-world flight. Her last transmission is received by the Coast Guard cutter Itasca off Howland Island. “KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you — but gas is running low….” Errors on the part of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca will later be identified as a contributing factor upon later investigation into the disappearance. Read more about Amelia Earhart.
The first regularly scheduled gameshow, CBS Television Quiz, debuts. It will run until May 25, 1942.
An object speculated to be a UFO crashes near Roswell, New Mexico, though the United States Air Force claims it is a weather balloon.
International Business Machines (IBM) announces the IBM 650, the world’s first mass-produced computers. The IBM 650 line will dominate the computer market through the early sixties. The IBM 650 ran programs from punch cards and stores numbers up to ten digits long on a rotating magnetic drum. The system’s most notable advance over previous IBM systems is that the system will automatically resume its program if interrupted by any “random processing error.” Previous computers required an operator to restart a program. Read more about the IBM 650 at the IBM website.
The first hands-free speakerphones go into limited production.
The Grayback (SSG-574), the first submarine designed to fire guided missiles (Regulus II sea-to surface missiles), is launched. In September 1958, the Grayback successfully launched its first missile, marking a revolutionary advance in the power of navies.
Frustrated in his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot due to poor eyesight, California truck driver Larry Walters uses forty-five eight-foot helium weather balloons and a lawnchair to lift himself to an altitude of sixteen thousand feet above San Pedro. Walters had only intended to ascend to an altitude of thirty feet, but his rig rose as an estimated rate of a thousand feet a minute. Ninety minutes after lift-off, after shooting out several of his balloons with a pistol, Walters descended and , after being extricated from the powerlines in which his balloons had become entangled, was promptly arrested by the LAPD. He will eventually be charge with with operating an aircraft near an airport “without establishing and maintaining two-way communications with the control tower,” and fined US$1,500.
Warner Communications sells the Consumer Electronics and Home Computer divisions of Atari Inc. to Tramel Technologies Limited, and the company is renamed “Atari Corporation.” The assets of Atari were acquired from Warner Communications by promising US$240 million in long-term notes and a 32% interest in the acquired divisions. Warner communications retains the arcade game and telecommunications (AtariTel) divisions of Atari. The deal with the Tramiels was initiated by Warner with a phone call to Garry Tramiel who was working as a broker at Merill-Lynch in Sunnyvale. J.J. Morgan, president of Atari, issues a memo to employees announcing the acquisition of assets by Tramel Technology, Ltd. Prior to the acquisition, Warner had offered a comprehensive severance package to employees who volunteered to leave Atari. By late Monday morning, several Atari employees such as Jerry Jessop pleaded to be allowed to take advantage of that severance offer, but, the offer was discontinued when the Tramiels took Atari over. Read more about the history of Atari.
The European Space Agency (ESA) launches the Giotto robotic space probe on a mission to conduct close-up observations of Halley’s Comet. It will make its closest approach to the comet on March 13, 1986.
A Brief History of Time by British physicist Stephen Hawking, sets a British publishing record for remaining on the nonfiction bestseller list for three and a half years and selling over three million copies in twenty-two languages. (ISBN: 0-593-01518-5) Visit Stephen Hawking’s official website.
20th Century Fox releases the sci-fi movie Independence Day, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox, Judd Hirsch, Mary McDonnell, Robert Loggia, and Randy Quaid, to some U.S. theaters. The official release is July 3, but many theaters open the film on the second because it is the same day the the action begins in the film itself. Referred to by many as “the Star Wars of the nineties,” the film is packed with computer generated scenes of buildings, cities, and space ships exploding with amazing realism as aliens attempt an extermination of all mankind. Produced on a budget of US$75 million, the film will gross US$50,228,264 domestically in its opening weekend. IMDB listing (MPAA Rating: PG-13) Length: 2 hrs 33 mins
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