February in the history of technology

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The highlights of what happened in February in the unfolding story of technological innovations, ventures, and personalities.

February 1, 1893

Thomas Edison completes the construction of the first motion picture studio, the Black Maria. Formally called the Kinetographic Theater, it was later nicknamed “The Black Maria,” the slang term for the dark, cramped, and uncomfortable police wagons with which Edison’s staff compared the simple studio.

February 2, 1919

During World War I, numerous U.S. Navy ships were outfitted with new vacuum-tube radio transmitters, which were occasionally used to broadcast concerts. Telephone Engineer reports in “Music by Wireless”:

The radio department of Rockwell field at San Diego gave a treat to music lovers February 2 which, so far as is known, was never tried in the world before. The treat was entitled "Moonlight Witches Dance," the music coming from the battleship Marblehead transmitted by wireless telephone.

February 3, 1837

The U.S. House of Representatives passes a resolution requesting the Treasury Secretary, Levi Woodbury, to report to the House at its next session, “upon the propriety of establishing a system of telegraphs for the United States.”  The winning proposal, submitted by Samuel F. B. Morse, is the only one proposing that the transmission of information will be made over a wire by electrical impulses. All the other seventeen proposals assumed that the telegraph would be optical (i.e., a semaphore telegraph), with information conveyed by means of visual signals.

February 4, 1890

Thomas Edison receives a patent for the Quadruplex Telegraph, his most important telegraph invention. It transmits and receives four independent signals over a single wire, two in one direction and two in the opposite direction. It allowed Western Union to increase the number of messages the company could send without building new lines and to use its existing lines more efficiently to meet seasonal increases in message traffic.

February 4, 2004

Social network Facebook is launched when Thefacebook.com goes live. Its home screen read, says David Kirkpatrick in The Facebook Effect, “Thefacebook is an online directory that connects people though social networks at colleges.” Zuckerbeg’s classmate Andrew McCollum designed a log using an image of AL Pacino he’s found online that he covered with a fog of ones and zeros.

Four days after the launch, more than 650 students had registered and by the end of May, it was operating in 34 schools and had almost 100,000 users. “The nature of the site,” Zuckerberg told the Harvard Crimson on February 9, “is such that each user’s experience improves if they can get their friends to join in.” In December 2015, Facebook had 1.04 billion daily active users, on average.

February 6, 1959

Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments (TI) files for a patent on the integrated circuit. For this invention he received the 2000 Nobel Prize for Physics.

February 7, 1958

In response to the launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 four months earlier, the U.S. Department of Defense issues Directive 5105.15, establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The agency, later renamed DARPA, went on to instigate “technological innovations that have fundamentally reshaped much of the technological landscape, with breakthrough advances in information technologies, sensors, and materials that have had pervasive economic and societal benefits.” One of these innovations was the ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet.

February 8, 1924

John Joseph Carty, Chief Engineer of AT&T, spoke on the first nationwide radio hookup in the United States. According to this National Academy of Sciences 1936 memoir “Carty connected seven large broadcasting stations by a telephone circuit extending from San Francisco to Havana, a distance of more than five thousand miles.”

February 9, 1971

The BBC files for a patent on Teledata, the first teletext system, which will later be renamed Ceefax.

February 10, 1996 

Deep Blue becomes the first machine to win a chess game against a reigning world champion, Garry Kasparov, under regular time controls.

“As technology continues to advance in the second half of the chessboard, taking on jobs and tasks that used to belong only to human workers, one can imagine a time in the future when more and more jobs are more cheaply done by machines than humans.”–Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee, “Why workers are losing the war against machines,” The Atlantic Monthly, October 2011

February 13, 1895 

Auguste and Louis Lumière patented the Cinematographe, a device that recorded, developed, and projected films.

February 14, 1876

Alexander Graham Bell applies for a patent on his telephone apparatus, the “speaking telegraph,” less than three hours before Elisha Gray files a caveat at the Patent Office for a similar device. The patent will be granted three weeks later, on March 3rd. After a long legal battle, the United States Supreme Court will eventually uphold Bell’s patent, leaving him the official inventor of the telephone.

February 14, 1946

The New York Times announces the unveiling of "an amazing machine that applies electronic speeds for the first time to mathematical tasks hitherto too difficult and cumbersome for solution... Leaders who saw the device in action for the first time," the report continued, "heralded it as a tool with which to begin to rebuild scientific affairs on new foundations." With those words, ENIAC, the world´s first large-scale electronic general-purpose digital computer, developed at The Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, emerged from the wraps of secrecy under which it had been constructed in the last years of World War II.

February 16, 1978

The first public dial-up Bulletin Board System, the Computerized Bulletin Board System, or CBBS, goes online. It was developed by Ward Christensen and Randy Suess and reportedly connected more than 250,000 callers before it was finally retired with the rise of the World Wide Web. According to Wikipedia, “Ward Christensen coined the term ‘Bulletin Board System’ as a reference to the traditional cork-and-pin bulletin board often found in entrances of supermarkets, schools, libraries or other public areas where people can post messages, advertisements, or community news.

February 17, 1977

13-year-old Jonathan Rotenberg establishes the Boston Computer Society (BCS), an organization for personal computer users which will eventually grow into the largest such organization in the world. Four people attended the first meeting of this group, which, at its peak, reached thirty thousand members from all 50 states and over forty other countries. Apple, IBM, Lotus Software, and other computer companies made major product announcements at BCS meetings. With the rise in sophistication of PC users and the advent of the World Wide Web, the organization’s membership have shrunk considerably and BCS closed down in 1996.

February 19, 1971

The first warrant to search a computer was issued in San Jose, California. The search ultimately led to a conviction for theft of trade secrets.

February 21, 1878 

George Willard Coy and a group of investors from the District Telephone Company of New Haven publish the world’s first telephone directory, a single sheet with only 50 names.

February 22, 1924

Calvin Coolidge delivers the first political speech by a sitting president to be broadcast on the radio. It was carried on five stations, with an estimated five million listeners. As radio broadcasting took off in the early 1920s, “Silent Cal” (it was said that he could be silent in five languages) used it on many occasions.

February 23, 1927

President Calvin Coolidge signs the 1927 Radio Act, creating the Federal Radio Commission, forerunner of the Federal Communications Commission (established in 1934). The Radio Act of 1927 was based on a number of assumptions: that the equality of transmission facilities, reception, and service were worthy political goals; the notion that the spectrum belonged to the public but could be licensed to individuals; and that the number of channels on the spectrum was limited when compared to those who wanted access to it.

February 25, 2007

Netflix announces it has delivered 1 billion DVDs.

February 25, 2010

Apple announces that it has sold the ten billionth song through its iTunes Store since the service’s launch in 2003.

February 26, 1935

Scottish physicist Robert Watson-Watt demonstrates the feasibility of radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging) to Air Ministry officials in Daventry, England. Watson-Watt had discovered the possibility of using radio waves to detect aircraft while experimenting with methods of using radio waves to locate thunderstorms.

February 28, 1956

Jay Forrester of MIT is awarded a patent for his magnetic core memory. It became the standard for computer memory until it was supplanted by solid state RAM in the mid-seventies. It has continued to be used, however, in special environments (e.g., on the space shuttle), because its content was not lost when the power was shut off.