This Day in Geek History: May 5
Mary Kies becomes the first woman to be granted a U.S. patent. The patent is granted for a technique to weave straw with silk or thread. The technology will be used to manufacture straw bonnets.
William Whewell writes a letter to Michael Faraday concerning names to describe the process of electrolysis which he was investigating. Whewell suggests the names Anode and Cathode. The terms are based on the Greek prefixes “ana-” meaning “up” and “kata-” meaning “down.” The chosen prefixes refer to the idea that that electric current flowed from a battery’s positive to a negative pole, in the manner that water would flow down from a hillside to a valley. He suggests the term ion for the two together, rather than Zetodes or Stechions. Faraday would later reply that he was “delighted with the facility of expression which the new terms give me and I shall ever be your debtor for the kind assistance you have given me.”
High school science teacher John Scopes, age 24, is arrested in Dayton, Tennessee for teaching Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in a Tennessee’s public school. Scopes had agreed to act as defendant in a case intended to test Tennessee’s new law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in its public schools. On May 4, the day before Scopes’s arrest, the Chatanooga Times had run an ad in which the American Civil Liberties Union of New York, concerned by the law’s infringement on constitutional rights, offered to pay the legal fees of a Tennessee teacher who was willing to act as a defendant in a test case. George W. Rappelyea and other resident leaders of the small mining town of Dayton met at Robinson’s drug store. Rappelyea saw the publicity that would accompany such a trial as an opportunity to promote the town. He approached John T. Scopes, a teacher and football coach, who, hesitant at first, agreed to test the legality of the law in court.
The film curator of the Library of Congress, Howard Walls, announces that about 5,000 films will be preserved by the library.
The only WW II civilian deaths in the mainland United States results from a Japanese bomb dropped over Gearhart Mountain, Oregon by an unmanned balloon. The deaths occur when the bomb is disturbed, killing the civilians who discovered it during a picnic: five children and Elsie Mitchell, the pregnant wife of a minister. Sand in the ballast bags carried by the balloon will be identified under a microscopic as having come from Japan. Earlier, on February 23, 1942, the mainland was first bombed (without casualties) by shells fired from a Japanese submarine about a half-mile offshore of Ellwood, California.
A squadron of jets is carried aboard a carrier craft for the first time in history.
The NIMROD electronic computer, created by the British electrical engineering Ferranti, is unveiled to the public at the Exhibition of Science in South Kensington, London, as part of the Festival of Britain. The NIMROD is the first computer in history built specifically to play a game, though it was inspired by the Nimatron, a mechanical computer exhibited at the 1939 New York World ‘s Fair. Using a panel of lights as a display, the machine is designed exclusively to play the game of Nim (German for “Takes!”), a game first introduced by Harvard mathematician Charles Bouton to demonstrate the advantages of a binary number system. In the game, players are each presented with several piles of “matches.” In turn, each player removes matches from one of the piles. The play who empties a pile first wins. Though the machine’s program is relatively simple, it is physically huge. It measures twelve feet wide, five feet tall, and nine feet deep, most of which is devoted to housing the vacuum tubes required by they system’s display. The NIMROD, billed as an “electronic brain,” will make national headlines during the exhibition for being nearly impossible to beat. In his coverage of the event, BBC radio journalist Paul Jennings will report, “Like everyone else I came to a standstill before the electric brain or, as they prefer to call it, the Nimrod Digital Computer. This looks like a tremendous grey refrigerator…. It’s absolutely frightening…. I suppose at the next exhibition they’ll even have real heaps of matches and awful steel arms will come out of the machine to pick them up.” Download a NIMROD simulator.