December 1, 1898

Valdemar Poulsen files a patent application in Denmark for the first functioning magnetic recorder. Paulsen got interested in magnetic recording when, as an employee of the Copenhagen Telephone Company, he became frustrated by the inability of telephone users to leave a message when there was no answer. Experimenting with the application of magnetism to the recording of telephone messages, Paulsen discovered a fundamentally new way of recording sound and data, paving the way for audio cassettes and computer disks, CDs and DVDs, MP3 audio players and the iPod.

December 1, 1998

Diamond Multimedia ships the Rio PMP300, one of the first portable consumer MP3 digital audio players, and the first commercially successful. Diamond sold a total of 200,000 players after successfully fighting a legal challenge from the Recording Industry Association of America.

December 2, 1942

Enrico Fermi and his team at the University of Chicago demonstrate the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction and the controlled release of nuclear energy. The site of the first nuclear reactor was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

December 4, 1998

Japan-based Clarion launches AutoPC in the United States, the world's first in-vehicle computer. It uses software developed by Clarion and Microsoft and features speech recognition, providing drivers access to personal information and driving directions as well as wireless services such as e-mail, paging and traffic alerts. It retails for $1,299.

December 5, 1965

Richard L. Wexelblat becomes the first candidate in a computer science program to complete a dissertation. Many graduate students had performed computer-related work by that time, but Wexelblat’s diploma, presented by the University of Pennsylvania, was the first one to carry the designation “computer science.”

December 6, 1877

Thomas Edison records his voice on the phonograph for the first time, reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Here is his re-enactment of that first recording.

December 6, 1967

The United States Department of Defense issues a four-month contract to Stanford Research Institute (SRI) for the purpose of studying the “design and specification of a computer network.” The study will result in the creation of the ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet.

December 8, 1968

Today in 1968, Doug Engelbart demonstrated the oNLine System (NLS) to about one thousand technology specialists at the Fall Joint Computer Conference held by the American Federation of Information Processing. The demonstration introduced the first computer mouse, dynamic linking, e-mail, graphical user interfaces, hypertext, object addressing, and video teleconferencing. The presentation became to be known as “the mother of all demos.”

December 12, 1901

Guglielmo Marconi succeeds in transmitting the letter “S” (in Morse Code) via radio telegraph from a transmitter at Poldhu in Cornwall, England, to a receiver in Newfoundland. There was no independent observer present and there were many skeptics. To prove them wrong, the next February Marconi documented the transmission of signals from the Poldhu station to the SS Philadelphia hundreds of miles away. But as Steven Lubar notes in InfoCulture, “there wasn’t much of a market for transatlantic wireless telegraphy because transatlantic cables could do the job better. At the turn of the century, there were twelve telegraph cables operating across the Atlantic, carrying more than 25 million words a year at about twenty-five cents a word.”

December 12, 1893

Cornele B. Adams is awarded the first US patent for aerial photography. His method of photogrammetry can produce a topographic map by means of photographing the same tract of land from different points from an unmanned stationary balloon on a tether. Keyhole, Inc. launched the Earth Viewer application in 2001 and was acquired by Google in 2004. Google Earth was launched the following year.

December 13, 1977

Bob Metcalfe, David Boggs, Charles Thacker, and Butler Lampson receive a patent for the Ethernet, titled “Multipoint Data Communication System with Collision Detection.” Over the course of its history, Ethernet data transfer rates have been increased from the original 2.94 megabits per second (Mbit/s) to the latest 100 gigabits per second (Gbit/s), with 400 Gbit/s expected by late 2017.

December 14, 1994

The first meeting of the Advisory Committee of the World-Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is held at MIT. Tim Berners-Lee in Weaving the Web: “The meeting was very friendly and quite small with only about twenty-five people. Competitors in the marketplace, the representatives came together with concerns over the potential fragmentation of HTML…if there was any centralized point of control, it would rapidly become a bottleneck that would restrict the Web’s growth and the Web would never scale up. Its being ‘out of control’ was very important.”

December 14, 2014

Norman Joseph Woodland, the co-inventor of the bar code that labels nearly every product in stores dies at 91. When a supermarket executive visited Drexel University, looking for a way to encode product information, graduate student Woodland decided to find a solution. Sitting on a beach in Miami one day in 1949, during a visit to his grandfather, he drew four lines in the sand. “I poked my four fingers into the sand and for whatever reason — I didn’t know — I pulled my hand toward me and drew four lines,” Woodland told Smithsonian Magazine in 1999. “I said: ‘Golly! Now I have four lines, and they could be wide lines and narrow lines instead of dots and dashes [as in Morse Code].'”

Woodland and another graduate student, Bernard Silver, developed and patented (in 1952) a circular version of the barcode. In the early 1970s, an IBM team which included Woodland and was led by George Laurer, developed the rectangular version which was introduced to the world in 1974.

Today, according to GS1, the global Universal Product Code (UPC) standard-setting body, “the standards behind the barcode have grown into the global GS1 System, used by more than one million companies doing business in 150 countries across more than 20 industries.”

December 18, 1839

John W. Draper makes a daguerreotype of the moon with the camera he built, becoming the first person in the US to photograph a celestial body. Around the same time, he also made what may be the first human portrait taken in the United States, of his sister Dorothy Catherine Draper.

December 22, 1877

Scientific American publishes a note that started “Mr Thomas A. Edison recently came to this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine inquired us to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was very well and bid us a cordial goodnight.”

The article ends with a few predictions, including: “It is already possible by ingenious optical contrivances to throw stereoscopic photographs of people on screens in full view of an audience. Add the talking phonograph to counterfeit their voices, and it would be difficult to carry the illusion of real presence much further.”

December 23, 1900

Reginald Aubrey Fessenden says into a microphone: “Is it snowing where you are, Mr. Thiessen? If it is, telegraph back.” His voice radiated from a 50-foot antenna on Cobb Island in the Potomac River, Maryland, to another 50-foot antenna a mile away. The sound was rough, but Professor Thiessen heard well enough to telegraph back that it was indeed snowing. According to Harold Evans in They Made America, when Fessenden asked Thomas Edison, some 20 years earlier, what he thought of the possibility of broadcasting voices, Edison answered: “Fezzie, what do you say are man’s chances of jumping over the moon? I think one is as likely as the other.”

December 24, 1877

Thomas Edison applies for a patent for an “improvement in phonograph or speaking machines,” writing that “the object of this invention is to record in permanent characters the human voice and other sounds, from which characters such sounds may be reproduced and rendered audible again at a future time.” Its main application, however, became the recording and playing back of music. Steven Lubar in InfoCulture: “With the invention of the phonograph, music had changed. It had become a commodity, something to be bought and sold. And music had become an ‘industry.’”

December 26, 1906

The world’s first full-length feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, is shown at the Melbourne Town Hall in Australia. The film traces the life of the legendary bushranger Ned Kelly (1855–1880). In 2007, the film was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

December 28, 1895

The first public screening of films at which admission was charged is held by the Lumière brothers at the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris. It featured ten short films, including their first film, Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory). Each film was 17 meters long, which, when hand cranked through a projector, ran approximately 50 seconds. By 1900, the Lumière brothers had produced 1,299 short movies. For the World Fair that year, they developed their new Lumière Wide format which, at 75 mm wide, has held the record for over 100 years as the widest film format.

December 30, 2006

A live HD broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera is transmitted for the first time to 100 movie theaters across North America plus others in Britain, Japan and one in Norway.

In the 2013-14 season, Live in HD featured ten cinema transmissions seen in more than 2,000 movie theaters in more than 65 countries around the world with total attendance at just under 2.5 million. And the HD Live in Schools program allowed thousands of students in 33 school districts across the United States to experience Met HD transmissions free of charge. The Met’s website streamed 34 live performances.