This Day in Geek History: March 10
Thomas Jefferson presents a paper on the Megalonyx to the American Philosophical Society. It will be published as “A Memoir on the Discovery of Certain Bones of a Quadruped of the Clawed Kind in the Western Parts of Virginia,” Transactions of American Philosophical Society 4:255-256, along with an account by Caspar Wistar (1761-1818). This is arguably the first American publication in paleontology, but it is certainly the only paleontology paper written by Jefferson. In 1822, this huge extinct sloth will be named “Megalonyx jeffersoni” by a French naturalist. It is a bear-sized ground sloth species, over two meters tall, which was widespread in North America during the last Ice Age. Read more about Jefferson’s Ground Sloth at Yukon Beringia.
Abraham Lincoln becomes the first United States president to apply for a patent. (US No. 6,469) The patent is described as a method of “Buoying vessels over shoals.” Read the patent application at Google Patents Search.
The United States issues the first modern first paper money, commonly called “Greenbacks” to replace Demand Notes. Greenbacks will be issued until 1971. On the brink of bankruptcy and pressed to finance the Civil War, Congress had authorized the United States Treasury to issue paper money for the first time in the form of non-interest bearing Treasury Notes called Demand Notes in 1861. These Demand Notes bore no resemblance to modern money.
Purdue University in Indiana admits its first student.
Alexander Graham Bell, age 29, makes the first telephone call in history between two neighboring rooms of his laboratory in a boarding house at 5 Exeter Place, Boston. In an excited voice, he shouts “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!” In truth, Bell didn’t immediately realize that his demonstration had worked. He was hurriedly setting things up and when he spilled acid. Bell’s plea was directed to a nearby Mr. Watson, in the hope that he would come to help quickly clean up the spill. Rather than hearing Bell through the wall, Watson heard his voice through the device. This was Bell’s first successful experiment with the telephone, which is recorded in the March 10th entry of his Lab Notebook. In his notebook, Bell writes: “I then shouted into M (the mouthpiece) the following sentence: ‘Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you.’ To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said.” The same day, Bell writes to his father about his “great success” and speculates that “the day is coming when telegraph [phone] wires will be laid on to houses just like water and gas – and friends converse with each other without leaving home.” Bell received the first telephone patent three days earlier, despite his device having never actually worked. Later in the year, Bell will succeed in making a phone call over outdoor lines.
Almon Brown Strowger is issued a patent for his electromechanical switch to automate telephone exchanges. (US No. 447,918) Strowger didn’t invent the idea of automatic switching (it was first invented in 1879 by Connolly and McTigthe), but Strowger is the first to put it to effective use. Stowger, a Kansas City Undertaker, began designing an automatic telephone switching system after he became concerned that the telephone operator in his city was routing all of his potential customers’ calls to a competitor. (Legend has it that the town’s operator was a personal friend of his competitor.) Stowger built the central office switching system using a collar box and bits of scrap metal. His selector uses electromagnets and pawls to move a wiper (with contacts on the end) vertically around a bank of many other contacts to make a connection with any one of them. Strowger will form the Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange in October 1891. This “Strowger Switch” will first be put into use in LaPorte, Indiana in 1892, and the design will be improved upon until the first “Step by Step, Up-and-Around” switching systems are in place. However, the system patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 will ultimately beat out Stowger’s patent in terms of popularity. These automatic switching systems will later be vital in removing the need for human intervention in routing telephone calls.
Typewriter salesman Harry C. Gammeter of Cleveland, Ohio, patents the first commercially successful device to simplify the printing process, the Multigraph duplicating machine. (US No. 722,404) The device, which consists of a metal drum with vertical channels running across it, allows laymen to rearrange a set of movable type to produce professionally lettered messages.