This Day in Geek History: May 4
Florentine merchant Francesco Lapi uses the @ sign for the first time in recorded history in a letter.
The first U.S. national arts and science society is incorporated. It is chartered in Boston, Massachusetts “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, dignity, honor and happiness of a free, independent and virtuous people.” The first society president is James Bowdoin. The original incorporators will later be joined by Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Bulfinch, Alexander Hamilton, and John Quincy Adams, among others.
The first photograph of a flash of lightning is taken in the U.S. by W.C. Gurley of the Marietta Observatory in Ohio. The flash is about three miles distant from the camera.
Three patents for recording and reproducing sound relating to a phonograph disk records are issued to Chichester Bell and Charles S. Tainter. (US No. 341,212-4) Alexander Graham Bell is a joint partner on two of the patents. From these designs, Bell & Tainter manufacture the first practical phonograph, an improvement on Edison’s original called a graphophone. What this new device lacks in sound volume compared with Edison’s tin-foil cylinders, it more than makes up for in clarity and reduced surface noise. Although more suitable for listening through ear-tubes, it also allows for greater recording time per cylinder by using a narrower groove pitch. It can be powered by foot-treddles or an electric motor, resulting in a more consistent pitch.
Emile Berliner applies for a U.S. patent on a “gramophone”, that initially makes use of a cylinder, but that will use a disc by the time the first model is shown a year later. His principal innovation at this stage is the use of lateral cutting of the recording groove, as used in Scott’s phonautograph and later proposed by Charles Cros and Charles Tainter rather than the vertical “hill and dale” cutting of Edison’s phonograph.
Igor Sikorsky is granted a patent for helicopter controls.
As part of the Festival of Britain, the Telekinema shows 3D and stereophonic films, as well as live large-screen transmissions of interviews from a nearby studio. The Telekinema later becomes the National Film Theatre. Read more about the event at Luxonline.
The Sears Building in Chicago, Illinois becomes the first building over fourteen hundred feet tall, at 1,454 feet or 1,707 feet, if you count its antennas. The Sears Tower was designed to accommodate more than twelve thousand occupants. It takes the title of world’s tallest building from the 1,250 foot tall Empire State Building of New York City, which had been dedicated on May 1, 1931. Read more about the world’s tallest buildings.