May in the History of Technology | Straighttalk

Newsletter Subscription

Keep up with new content on the site, receive exclusive content and commentary, and learn about activities within the Straight Talk community.

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

May 1, 1844

Samuel Morse sends the first telegraphic message in a demonstration of the experimental 38-mile (61 kilometers) telegraph line between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland, along the right-of-way of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The message is about news of the Whig Party's nomination of Henry Clay for U.S. President, telegraphed from the party's convention in Baltimore to the Capitol Building in Washington D. C.  The line will officially be opened May 24th.

May 3, 1978

Possibly the first spam message ever, the first unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail is sent by Gary Thuerk, a marketing representative of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) to all 393 users of the ARPANET on the west coast of the United States. The e-mail is an invitation to a demonstration of DEC’s new Decsystem-20 computer. The message took several days to prepare, as all of the addresses had to be typed in manually. It elicited an immediate and negative reaction. Thuerk received a torrent of complaints and an official reprimand from the administrators of the government-run network.

May 4, 1536

Florentine merchant Francesco Lapi employs the @ sign as an indication of a measure of weight or volume for the first time in recorded history.  The @ sign represented an amphora, a measure of capacity based on the terracotta jars used to transport grain and liquid in the ancient Mediterranean world. Sent from Seville to Rome, the letter described the arrival in Spain of three ships bearing treasure from Latin America. In late 1971, Ray Tomlinson used @ to distinguish local email from network email on the nascent Internet, to indicate that the user was “at” some other host rather than being local.

May 5, 1951

The Nimrod Digital Computer, created by British electrical engineering firm Ferranti, is unveiled to the public at the Exhibition of Science in South Kensington, London, as part of the Festival of Britain. The twelve-by-nine-by-five-foot Nimrod was built specifically to play a game, the game of Nim, as demonstration of Ferranti’s computer design and programming skills.

May 6, 1949

The Electronic Delayed Storage Automatic Computer (EDSAC), the world's first stored-program computer to operate a regular computing service, runs its first program and performs its first calculation.  

May 7, 1946

More than twenty members of the Tokyo Telecommunications Research Institute, founded by Masaru Ibuka in the previous year, attend the inauguration ceremony which officially established the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation. Ibuka’s father-in-law, Tamon Maeda, was appointed president of the new company. In his speech at the ceremony, Maeda said: “Today our small company has made its start. With its superior technologies and spirit of perfect unity, the company will grow. As it does so, we can certainly make a contribution to society.”

In 1958, the company changed its name to Sony Corporation.

May 10, 1950

The Pilot ACE, one of the first computers built in the United Kingdom, is completed at England’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and runs its first program.

May 13, 1884

The American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) is established in New York. 

May 17, 1865

The first International Telegraph Convention is signed in Paris by the 20 founding members, and the International Telegraph Union (ITU) is established to facilitate subsequent amendments to this initial agreement. 

May 19, 1924

AT&T demonstrates long distance telephotography, now known as fax, with the transmission of pictures over telephone wires between Cleveland and New York. Commercial service began in a handful of cities the following year. For many decades, telephotography had one major use — sending photos of distant events for use by newspapers.

May 19, 1932

John Logie Baird demonstrates the Visiophone in Paris, France, a telephone capable of transmitting both audio and video.

May 22, 1973

At Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), twenty-seven-year-old Bob Metcalfe turned on his IBM Selectric, “pulled out a wad of Ko-Rec-Type, snapped on an Orator ball, and banged out the memo inventing Ethernet.” As Metcalfe explained to Scott Kirsner years later in a Wired interview: “That is the first time ethernet appears as a word, as does the idea of using coax as ether, where the participating stations, like in AlohaNet or Arpanet, would inject their packets of data, they’d travel around at megabits per second, there would be collisions, and retransmissions, and back-off.”

May 22, 1980

Namco releases in Japan Pac-Man, an arcade game developed by Japanese video game designer Toru Iwatani. Immensely popular from its original release to the present day, Pac-Man is considered one of the classics of the medium, virtually synonymous with video games, and an icon of 1980s popular culture.

May 24, 1844

Samuel Morse sends the message “What Has God Wrought” to officially open the first telegraph line, between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, launching an industry and ending a rocky journey that began with the 1837 resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives requesting the Treasury Secretary to recommend how “a system of telegraphs for the United States” should be established.

May 24, 1961

Wes Clark begins his work on LINC, or the Laboratory Instrument Computer, at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory. His plan was to create a computer for biomedical research, that was easy to program and maintain, that could be communicated with while it operated, and that could process biotechnical signals directly. Building on his previous experience in developing the Whirlwind, TX-0, and other early computers, Clark set to work on one of the earliest examples of a "user friendly" machine -- setting the standard for personal computer design in the following decades.

May 25, 1994

The First International WWW Conference is held at CERN, Geneva. Tim Berners-Lee in Weaving the Web: “It was the first time the people who were developing the Web were brought together with all sorts of people who were using it in all sorts of ways. The connections were electric…. The conference marked the first time that the people who were changing the world with the Web had gotten together to set a direction about accountability and responsibility, and how we were actually going to use the new medium.”

May 26, 1854

William and Frederick Langenheim make eight sequential photographs of the first total eclipse of the sun visible in North America since the invention of photography. Although six other daguerreotypists and one calotypist are known to have documented the event, only these seven daguerreotypes survive. In the northern hemisphere, the moon always shadows the sun from right to left during a solar eclipse; these images therefore seem odd because they are, like all uncorrected daguerreotypes, reversed laterally as in a mirror.

May 28, 1959

A committee is formed to develop COBOL, or Common Business Oriented Language. The group of researchers drawn from several computer manufacturers and the Pentagon designed a program for business use that sought easy readability and as much machine independence as possible. Although programmer Howard Bromberg prematurely made a tombstone for COBOL out of fear that the language had no future, it continues to be used by businesses. But most programming in COBOL today is purely to maintain existing applications.

May 31, 1961

Leonard Kleinrock submits his PhD thesis proposal at MIT, “Information Flow in Large Communication Nets,” establishing, in his words, “the underlying principles of data networks that are the basis of the Internet.” From the citation for the most recent award Kleinrock received, the Dan David Prize: “Leonard Kleinrock has made seminal research contributions in communication networks, establishing the fundamental principles upon which many of the most important aspects of computer networking and information communications are based. He developed the key mathematical background to packet switching, the fundamental building block of the Internet. Furthermore, his theoretical work on hierarchical routing is now critical to the operation of today’s world-wide Internet.”