This Day in Geek History: May 15
The first U.S. copyright law is enacted by the state of Massachusetts.
The “Defence” rapid-fire gun, the world’s first machine gun, is patented by a London lawyer, James Puckle. (UK No. 418) The design is a flintlock revolver with a barrel 3 feet long and a bore of 1.25 inches. A pre-loaded “cylinder” held eleven charges and could fire sixty-three shots in seven minutes. It’s firing rate of nine shots per minute is three times faster than the fastest loading time of an infantryman. The patent describes it as “A portable gun or machine called a Defence, that discharges so often and so many bullets, and can be so quickly loaded as renders it next to impossible to carry any ship by boarding,” indicating that the weapon was initially designed for shipboard use. Puckle will begin to manufacture the guns at the White Cross Alley factory in 1721.
AT&T becomes the first corporation to have one million stockholders.
The animated short “Plane Crazy“, featuring the first appearance of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, is released. The cartoon was co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Iwerks is also the main animator for this short. He reportedly spent six weeks on it.
At the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Albert Einstein is awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal for his outstanding fundamental contributions to theoretical physics, especially his relativity theory. According to Time magazine, “A throng of scientists and dignitaries was assembled to hear what the medalist had to say. Einstein genially informed the chairman that he had nothing to say, that inspiration which he had awaited until the last moment had failed him. The chairman, much more embarrassed than the medalist, conveyed this information to the audience.” In atonement, Einstein wrote a 44-page essay entitled “Physics and Reality,” published in the March 1936 issue of the Journal of the Franklin Institute.
McDonald’s, which will grow into the world’s largest chain of fast-food restaurants, is founded when brothers Dick and Mac McDonald on Route 66 in San Bernardino, California. Its menu consists of twenty-five items, mostly barbecue. As is common at the time, they employ around twenty-five carhops. It becomes a popular and highly profitable teen hangout.
Stanley L. Miller publishes his paper on the synthesis of amino acids under conditions that simulate primordial Earth’s atmosphere in the journal Science. Miller had applied an electric discharge to a mixture of CH4, NH3, H2O, and H2, which is believed to be the atmospheric composition of early Earth. Instead of producing a random mixture of organic molecules, the surprising result is a mixture of amino acids, hydroxy acids, and urea. These compounds are so significant in the biochemistry of life, that this discovery marks the beginning of the search to understand the origin of life on Earth. Miller’s paper comes only a few weeks after Watson and Crick reported their DNA double-helix model was published in the magazine Nature.
Great Britain tests its first hydrogen bomb in the air off Christmas Island in the central Pacific Ocean in Operation Grapple. In doing so, Britain becomes the third nation, after the United States and the Soviet Union, with thermonuclear capabilities. The bomb is dropped by a four-engined jet, Valiant of Number 49 Squadron Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command, normally based at RAF Wittering, Northants.
The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 3, the first space laboratory.
An intelligible voice message is bounced off the moon from Jodrell Bank in the United Kingdom to the Cambridge Research Centre in Massachusetts.