This Day in Geek History: March 28
Benjamin Franklin writes the first of the famous series of letters in which he describes his experiments with electricity to Peter Collinson a fellow of the Royal Society of London, England. In this first letter, he writes, “For my own part I never was before engaged in any study that so totally engrossed my attention and my time as this has lately done; for what with making experiments when I can be alone, and repeating them to my friends and acquaintances, who, from the novelty of the thing, come continually in crowds to see them, I have, during some months past, had little leisure for anything else.” Read more about Franklin’s experiments at The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary website.
Frenchman Henri Fabre becomes the first pilot to take off from the water aboard his seaplane, Le Canard.
The world’s first microfilm device is introduced.
Robert H. Goddard successfully uses gyroscopes to correct the course of a rocket’s flight for the first time. The Goddard A series rocket achieves an altitude of 4,800 feet or 0.91 miles (1.46km) at an average speed of 550mph over twenty seconds.
German manufacturer Arnold & Richter delivers the world’s first motion picture camera with a mirror-reflex shutter to stores. Its shutter allows filmmakers to view the exact image being captured on the film where previous cameras had featured viewfinders that were affected by parallax distortion. The camera also features a battery unit which doubles as a handle, a rotating turret with three lenses, and quick-release daylight-loading magazines.
Universal Pictures releases the science fiction film Man Made Monster, directed by George Waggner and starring Lon Chaney Jr. and Lionel Atwill, to U.S. theaters. In it, a mad scientist transforms a man into a monster which does his bidding. It is a Chaney’s horror debut, but he will go on to become famous for his roles in monster movies. IMDB listing Running Time: 59 mins
The United States Census Bureau and the National Bureau of Standards meet to discuss the possibility of acquiring a computer. The agencies will ultimately agree to purchase UNIVAC, the world’s first general all-purpose business computer, from J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly for US$225,000. However, UNIVAC cost far more than US$225,000 to develop. Eckert and Mauchly’s venture will fail as the company continues to build and program UNIVAC computers for less than development costs.
The last episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century airs after fifteen years on the radio. The Buck Rogers, which began with as a comic strip, is a forerunner of many later popular science fiction franchises.
NASA launches the Saturn I rocket from Cape Canaveral on its fourth successful suborbital test. The S-I Saturn stage reaches an altitude of 80 miles (129km) and a peak velocity of 3,660mph (5,906kph).
Radio Caroline, the first UK off-shore pirate radio station, begins broadcasting. The rock station will quickly garner an enormous following across Britain by offering a hipper, more lively alternative to BBC radio, while stymieing attempts to shut it down by remaining outside the jurisdiction of authorities. Read more about the history of Radio Caroline at the station’s official website.
Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) introduces the PDP-11 microcomputer, featuring 16-bit words and an Unibus for attaching peripherals. This architecture will remain popular for decade, selling over a quarter of a million units in a variety of configurations. Read more about the history of the PDP at Hampage.
In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a reactor cooling system pump fails in Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, resulting in the evaporation of contaminated water and a series of equipment failures that bring the plant close to a Uranium core meltdown. Officials decide against officially ordering an evacuation of the surrounding population, but over a hundred thousand people flee Middletown, Pennsylvania and the surrounding are by the end of the twelve day incident. No injuries will occur directly as a result of radiation, but the incident raises public awareness of the dangers of nuclear plants.
In Melbourne, Australia, Zoe Leyland becomes the first child born from a frozen embryo.
U.S. District Court Judge Fern Smith grants Nintendo’s request for a preliminary injunction against Atari Games, in the lawsuits over Atari Games’ compatible security chip for Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game cartridges. The injunction bars Atari Games from selling or copying copyrighted Nintendo programs for use in video game cartridges. Smith accuses Atari Games of lying to obtain Nintendo’s 10NES security program from the Copyright Office, then lying that it had independently developed a compatible code.
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