January 1, 1939

Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett establish Hewlett-Packard with an initial capital investment of $538. The company’s name was determined by the flip of a coin. Their first product was a sound oscillator sold to Walt Disney Studios for use on the soundtrack of Fantasia. Packard and Hewlett work from a garage at the back of 367 Addison Avenue in Palo Alto, California which was later designated a California registered historical landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places., as the birthplace of “Silicon Valley.”

January 2, 1979

Software Arts is incorporated by founders Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston for the purpose of developing VisiCalc, the world’s first spreadsheet program, which will be published by a separate company, Personal Software Inc. (later named VisiCorp). VisiCalc will come to be widely regarded as the first “killer app” that turned the PC into a serious business tool.

January 2, 1839

Louis Daguerre takes the first photograph of the Moon. In December 1839, John W. Draper made a daguerreotype of the moon with the camera he built, becoming the first person in the US to photograph a celestial body.

January 3, 1983

Time magazine put the PC on its cover as “machine of the year.” Time publisher John A. Meyers wrote: “Several human candidates might have represented 1982, but none symbolized the past year more richly, or will be viewed by history as more significant, than a machine: the computer.”

January 4, 1972

The HP-35 is introduced. The world’s first handheld-sized scientific calculator, ultimately made the slide rule, which had previously been used by generations of engineers and scientists, obsolete. Named for its 35 keys, it performed all the functions of the slide rule to 10-digit precision and could determine the decimal point or power-of-10 exponent through a full 200-decade range. The HP-35 was 5.8 inches (150 mm) long and 3.2 inches (81 mm) wide, and said to have been designed to fit into one of William Hewlett’s shirt pockets.

January 6, 1976

IBM introduces Virtual Storage Personal Computing, “a new program product to allow people with little or no data processing experience to use a computer terminal to solve problems.” The terminals were connected to remote IBM mainframes via telephone lines.

January 7, 1839

The Daguerreotype photography process is presented to the French Academy of Sciences by Francois Arago, a physicist and politician. Arago told the Academy that it was “…indispensable that the government should compensate M. Daguerre, and that France should then nobly give to the whole world this discovery which could contribute so much to the progress of art and science.”

January 9, 1894

New England Telephone and Telegraph installed the first battery-operated switchboard in Lexington, Massachusetts. With what became to be known as the “common battery” (replacing the local battery attached to the telephone), the subscriber could signal the operator simply by lifting the receiver from its hook. With this development, the average time spent by an operator on a call was reduced from 50.77 seconds to 16.63 seconds.

January 12, 1910

Opera is first heard on the radio in what is considered the first public radio broadcast. On January 12, Lee De Forest conducted an experimental broadcast of part of the live Metropolitan Opera performance of Tosca and, on January 13, a broadcast of Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn singing arias from Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci. Susan Douglas tells the story in Inventing American Broadcasting: “The timing of the actual moment of insight remains uncertain, but sometime during the insecure winter of 1906-7, De Forest conceived of radio broadcasting. It was an insight fueled less by a compelling technical vision and more by the desired and longings of the social outcast. During De Forest’s impoverished and lonely spells, he would cheer himself up by going to the opera. Usually he could only afford a twenty-five-cents ticket which bought him a spot to stand in at the back of the opera house. De Forest was an ardent music lover, and he considered unjust the fact that ready access to beautiful music was reserved primarily to the financially comfortable. … De Forest was convinced that there were thousands of other deprived music fans in America who would love to have opera transmitted to their homes. He decided to use his radiophone not only for point-to-point message sending, but also for broadcasting music and speech.”

January 13, 1946 

Chester Gould introduces in Dick Tracy’s 2-Way Wrist Radio, having drawn inspiration from a visit to inventor Al Gross. It became one of the strip’s most immediately recognizable icons, and was eventually upgraded to a 2-Way Wrist TV in 1964.

January 15, 2001

Wikipedia is launched. It has grown rapidly into one of the largest reference websites, attracting 374 million unique visitors monthly as of September 2015. There are more than 70,000 active contributors working on more than 35,000,000 articles in 290 languages.

January 16, 1956

The development of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) is disclosed to the public. SAGE’s use of telephone lines to communicate from computer to computer and computer to radar laid the groundwork for modems. The control program, the largest real-time computer program written at that time, spawned a new profession, software development engineers and programmers.

January 19, 1983

Apple introduces Lisa, a $9,995 PC for business users. Many of its innovations such as the graphical user interface, a mouse, and document-centric computing, were taken from the Alto computer developed at Xerox PARC, introduced as the $16,595 Xerox Star in 1981. Jobs recalled that he and the Lisa team were very relieved when they saw the Xerox Star: “We knew they hadn’t done it right and that we could–at a fraction of the price.” Walter Isaacson in Steve Jobs: “The Apple raid on Xerox PARC is sometimes described as one of the biggest heists in the chronicles of industry.” Isaacson quotes Jobs on the subject: “Picasso had a saying–‘good artists copy, great artists steal’–and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

January 24, 1984

The Apple Macintosh is launched, together with two applications, MacWrite and MacPaint, designed to show off its interface. It was the first mass-market personal computer featuring an integral graphical user interface and mouse. By April 1984, 50,000 Macintoshes were sold.

January 25, 1839

William Henry Fox Talbot displays his five-year old pictures at the Royal Society, 18 days after the Daguerreotype process was presented before the French Academy. In 1844, Talbot published the first book with photographic illustrations, The Pencil of Nature (the very same title of the 1839 article heralding the daguerreotype in The Corsair), saying “The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.” Talbot’s negative/positive process eventually became, with modifications, the basis for almost all 19th and 20th century photography.

January 25, 1915

Alexander Graham Bell inaugurates the first transcontinental telephone service in the United States with a phone call from New York City to Dr. Thomas Watson in San Francisco. Richard John in Network Nation: “The spanning of [the 2,900-mile] distance was made possible by the invention of the three-element high-vacuum tube, the invention that marks the birth of electronics.”

January 26, 1926

John Logie Baird conducts the first public demonstration of a television system that could broadcast live moving images with tone graduation. Two days later, The Times of London wrote: “Members of the Royal Institution and other visitors to a laboratory in an upper room in Frith-Street, Soho… saw a demonstration of apparatus invented by Mr. J.L. Baird, who claims to have solved the problem of television. They were shown a transmitting machine, consisting of a large wooden revolving disc containing lenses, behind which was a revolving shutter and a light sensitive cell…  The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred, but substantiated a claim that through the ‘Televisor’ as Mr.Baird has named his apparatus, it is possible to transmit and reproduce instantly the details of movement, and such things as the play of expression on the face. ”

January 27, 1948

IBM’s Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator (SSEC) is announced and demonstrated to the public. “The most important aspect of the SSEC,” according to Brian Randell in the Origins of Digital Computers, “was that it could perform arithmetic on, and then execute, stored instructions – it was almost certainly the first operational machine with these capabilities.”

January 28, 1878

The first commercial switchboard begins operating in New Haven, Connecticut. It served 21 telephones on 8 lines consequently with many people on a party line. On February 17, Western Union opened the first large city exchange in San Francisco. The public switched telephone network was born. On June 15, 2018, the last call will be made using this network, replaced by an all-digital, packet switching (Internet speaking) network.

January 31, 1940

Ida M. Fuller becomes the first person to receive an old-age monthly benefit check under the new Social Security law. Her first check was for $22.54. The Social Security Act was signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt on August 14, 1935. Kevin Maney in The Maverick and His Machine: “No single flourish of a pen had ever created such a gigantic information processing problem… IBM won the contract to do all of the New Deal’s accounting – the biggest project to date to automate the government.”