Youth Solves a Typewriter Problem


A 1910 Anderson automatic carriage return

Today in 1906, the New York Times reports that “Youth says he solved a typewriter problem” by inventing the automatic carriage return. “Springs cause the carriage to slide back to starting point when end of a line Is reached,” said the New York Times about the solution of the 18-year-old Robert Eugene Turner to “a problem that has puzzled manufacturers of typewriters for years” as “it was recognized long ago, experts assert, that an automatic carriage return would add from 25 to 30 percent  to the speed of the operation.”

Robert Messenger, in the World of Typewriters 1714-2014, says that “the automatic carriage return was invented by Neal Larkin Anderson, a Presbyterian minister and doctor of divinity of Salem-Winston, North Carolina, who was issued with a series of six unassigned patents on the device over 20 years between 1897-1917.”

See also The Rise and Fall of Typewriters

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Farnsworth Succeeds in Transmitting Images Electronically

Farnsworth's_Image_DissectorToday in 1927, 21-year-old Philo T. Farnsworth succeeded in transmitting through purely electronic means an image of a line with a device he called an “image dissector.”

From the IEEE Global History Network

“Farnsworth’s Image Dissector worked pretty well, but it was not sensitive enough to capture scenes unless there was lots of light. Very hot and bright arc lights sometimes had to be used, and these made it hard for people to stand near the camera. Although Farnsworth improved the tube later and showed how it could be used for TV, his competitors at RCA, most notably Vladimir Zworykin, were working on a different tube they call the Iconoscope. When commercial broadcasts began in the late 1930s, Farnsworth’s tube was left behind. However, it had certain advantages over the Iconoscope, and it remained in use for many years, but not for regular TV. There were certain uses of closed-circuit TV where an Image Dissector was useful, such as when engineers wanted to monitor the bright, hot interior of an industrial furnace.

Eventually, Farnsworth won a patent battle with RCA over his claim to have invented the first “all electronic” television camera, but that victory would have been more glorious if his technology had become the standard in TV broadcasting.”

farnsworthToday in 1957, the original version of the animated NBC peacock logo, used to denote programs “brought to you in living color,” made its debut at the beginning of “Your Hit Parade.” Quoting Wikipedia: “In a 1996 videotaped interview by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Elma Farnsworth recounts Philo’s change of heart about the value of television, after seeing how it showed man walking on the moon, in real time, to millions of viewers:

Interviewer: The image dissector was used to send shots back from the moon to earth.
Elma Farnsworth: Right.
Interviewer: What did Phil think of that?
Elma Farnsworth: We were watching it, and, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Phil turned to me and said, “Pem, this has made it all worthwhile.” Before then, he wasn’t too sure.
In March 2013, Philo Farnsworth was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
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Interface Message Processor Proposed

IMPToday in 1968, Larry Roberts and Jerry Elkind finished writing a proposal for building the first Interface Message Processor (IMP) and submitted it to ARPA. 

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The BookBook (Video)

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U. S. Copyright Clause Born

copyright_clauseToday in 1787, the language of Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, known as the Copyright Clause, was proposed to the Constitutional Convention. It empowers the United States Congress To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.


On September 17, 1787, the members of the Convention unanimously agreed to the proposed language, without debate, and this language was incorporated into the Constitution.

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The Disk Drive is Born

IBM-RAMACToday in 1956, IBM introduced the disk drive.

In 1953, Arthur J. Critchlow, a young member of IBM’s advanced technologies research lab in San Jose, California, was assigned the task of finding a better information storage medium than punch-cards. Visiting a number of customers, Critchlow learned that punch-card equipment performed well when the processing of information could be done in batches or sequentially stored information but became problematic when random access was needed.

Inventory control was such an activity. In warehouse operations, for example, each order typically required several cards to be manually located, removed from a stack of cards, the inventory information updated, and the updated cards returned to their original locations. To facilitate this activity, drawers of cards were set out on work tables so that several people could access cards from the same file. This manner of organizing and processing information, widely known as the “tub file,” was time consuming and error-prone.

The IBM project’s staff evaluated every existing storage technology in an attempt to find the best technological solution to the loss of productivity and poor quality associated with “tub files.” In addition to superior capacity and reliability, the storage technology eventually selected, magnetic disks, could provide random access to information. A new method (encoded in software) for finding stored information when its physical location on the disk was unknown, ensured the success of the new way to store, organize, and share business records.

Announced on September 4, 1956, the IBM 350 Disk Storage Unit

came with fifty 24-inch disks and a total capacity of 5 megabytes; its first customer was United Airlines’ reservations system. Incorporated into the 305 RAMAC(Random Access Memory Accounting Machine, announced ten days later), it promised, as the IBM press release said, “that business transactions will be completely processed right after they occur. There will be no delays while data is grouped for batch processing. People running a business will be able to get the fresh facts they need, at once. Random access memory equipment will not only revolutionize punched card accounting but also magnetic tape accounting.” Later, it was exhibited in the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, where visitors could query “Professor RAMAC” using a keyboard and get answers in any of ten languages.  This public relations coup heralded a day when millions of people would access and retrieve information from the largest tub file ever assembled – the World Wide Web.

The RAMAC became obsolete within a few years of its introduction as the vacuum tubes powering it were replaced by transistors. But disk drives, invented more than 55 years ago in a search for faster access to information, are still used as the containers for almost all digital information today.

Today, you can buy from Seagate a 3TBs disk drive, the size and weight of a small book, for $199.99 (the entire 305 RAMAC system leased for $3,200 per month or $25,784.96 in 2010 dollars). The market for disk drives in 2011 is projected to reach $28.1 billion, according to iSuppli.

And tomorrow? Steve Lohr in the New York Times: “Flash [memory] stores data in the cells of semiconductor chips instead of on spinning magnetic disks. The data-storing density of hard disks has improved at an extraordinary pace… But the performance bottleneck has been the scant improvement in the speed of finding and transferring the data from the spinning disks — the mechanical side of hard-disk storage.

As companies grapple with a flood of new data — from the Web, social networks, sensors and video — the constraint of traditional storage only becomes greater. That, analysts say, is a crucial reason flash will sooner or later become a mainstream technology in data centers.

‘It will become increasingly difficult to do tomorrow’s work with today’s storage technology,’ said Mark Peters, an analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, a research firm. ‘Flash is the only way to deal with big data-crunching challenges ahead.’”

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The first issue of the first daily newspaper in the U.S is published

NewYorkSun1834Today in 1833, the first issue of the The New York Sun was published. Steven Lubar in InfoCulture: “New technology, in fact, came along after (italics mine) the renaissance of the newspaper. The New York Sun was the first ‘penny paper,’ featuring sensational stories aimed at mass audience… it stretched the limit of its hand presses with its 10,000 copies a day. (When a series of stories announcing the discovery of life on the moon appeared, it sold 20,000 copies in a day; by then it had switched to a steam-powered press). Benjamin Day, its published, bragged about its power: ‘Since the Sun began to shine upon the citizens of New York, there had been a great and decided change in the condition of the laboring classes, and the mechanics. Now every individual, from the rich aristocrat who lolls in his carriage to the humble laborer who wields a broom in the streets, reads the Sun.’… Between 1828 and 1840 the number of daily newspapers doubled from 852 to 1,631 and total circulation increased from 68 million to 195 million. More daily newspapers were printed in the United States than in the rest of the world.”

Day also introduced a new way of selling papers– newsboys hawking their newspapers on the streets. After paying a visit to the United States, Charles Dickens described (in Martin Chuzzlewit, 1844) the newsboys greeting a ship in New York Harbor: “’Here’s this morning’s New York Stabber! Here’s the New York Family Spy! Here’s the New York Private Listener! … Here’s the full particulars of the patriotic loco-foco movement yesterday, in which the whigs were so chawed up, and the last Alabama gauging case … and all the Political, Commercial and Fashionable News. Here they are!’ … ‘It is in such enlightened means,’ said a voice almost in Martin’s ear, ‘that the bubbling passions of my country find a vent.’”

Another visitor from abroad, the Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, could discern (inPortrait of America, 1876) in the mass circulation of newspapers, the American belief about the universal need for information: “In Poland, a newspaper subscription tends to satisfy purely intellectual needs and is regarded as somewhat of a luxury which the majority of the people can heroically forego; in the United States a newspaper is regarded as a basic need of every person, indispensable as bread itself.”

Basic need for information, of all kinds, as Mark Twain observed (in Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1897): “The old saw says, ‘Let a sleeping dog lie.’ Right. Still, when there is much at stake, it is better to get a newspaper to do it.”

Today, the need for “serious” and “sensational” information is satisfied less and less by newspapers alone. The Pew Research Center (March 2010): “The days of loyalty to a particular news organization on a particular piece of technology in a particular form are gone. The overwhelming majority of Americans (92%) use multiple platforms to get news on a typical day, including national TV, local TV, the internet, local newspapers, radio, and national newspapers. Some 46% of Americans say they get news from four to six media platforms on a typical day. Just 7% get their news from a single media platform on a typical day.” 

And tomorrow? Nick Bilton of the New York Times: “Paper is dying, but it’s just a device. Replacing it with pixels is a better experience.”

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