This Day in Geek History: March 7
Alexander Graham Bell, age 29, receives a patent for an “Improvement in Telegraphy,” which will later come to be known as the variable resistance telephone. (US No. 174,465) It will go on to become one of the single most hotly-contested patent in history. The patent application was submitted on February 14th, allegedly just two hours ahead of Elisha Gray. This first telephone has only one transducer for both listening and speaking. Originally envisioned as a way to transmit music to homes from a central location, the phone will soon gain popularity as a means of communication, becoming indispensable and highly lucrative. On March 10th, Bell will speak the famous words “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you” through a phone to his assistant after spilling some acid in their workshop. The message will be the first transmitted over a telephone. At the time of his patent is granted, Bell’s device had never yet worked. Due to suspicious circumstances surrounding this critical patent, many historians will later credit Gray and not Bell with the invention.
According to later historical investigations, Bell’s lawyer had been holding Bell’s patent application at the ready for several months in Washington, D.C., while awaiting a patent grant in Britain, where patents are, at the time, were only granted to inventions not previous patented elsewhere. When his lawyer learned that Gray would be submitting a caveat featuring a (water) liquid transmitter, a brief seven sentence description of the innovation not present in the British application was appended to Bell’s own application. Bell’s lawyer then hand-delivered the application to the patent office just before noon, hours after Gray’s application. However, he also demanded that the application be taken straight to the patent examiner. Several weeks later, when the examiner noticed the conflicting patents, Bell was called to Washington to prove under the patent office’s first to invent rules that the Mercury liquid transmitter in his application had been his idea. Bell offered a previous patent that used Mercury as a circuit break as proof, and on March 3rd, Bells patent application is approved, despite the fact that the Mercury described by Bell’s lawyer in the application would later be proven to be ineffectual as a liquid transmitter. Within a days of receiving the patent, the Bell Company (Bell’s newly formed corporation) is besieged by lawsuits and challenges to the patent. The United States Supreme Court will ultimately upholding Bell’s patent, and Bell will go down in history as the inventor of the telephone.
The first successful trans-Atlantic radio-telephone conversation is held between New York City and London.
The game Monopoly is created and trademarked by Charles Darrow in Atlantic City. It is preceded by several other real estate games. The first, called “The Landlord’s Game,” was invented by Lizzie Magie of Virginia (patented 1904). In it, players rented properties, paid utilities and avoided “Jail” as they moved around the board. Darrow set about creating his own version, modeled on his favorite resort, Atlantic City. He introduced several innovations in his game, which had a circular, cloth board. He color-coded the properties and deeds for them, and allowed properties to be bought, rather than rented. The playing pieces are modeled on items from around his own house. The game will be mass marketed by Parker Brothers in 1935.
NBC airs the musical “Peter Pan” starring Mary Martin as Peter Pan and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook live on the anthology series “Producers’ Showcase.” It’s the first full-length Broadway production ever broadcast on color television. The show attracts an all-time record audience of 65 million and garners widespread critical acclaim. It’s success inspires a flurry of Broadway re-stagings in the coming year as well as an encore performance in January 1956.
The MITS Altair newsletter, “Computer Notes,” announces the release of the Altair BASIC programming language. The language is the first product released by Micro-Soft. It will be distributed by MITS for the Altair 8800, which was released in January and sold through Popular Electronics and other hobby magazines.
Scientists discover a ring around Jupiter while examining photographs taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. The rings of Saturn were discovered in 1610, and the rings around Uranus were discovered in 1977.