The term “global warming” appears for the first time

The term “global warming” appears for the first time in print on August 8, 1975, with the publication of Wallace Smith Broecker’s paper “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” in the journal Science

Five years earlier, in 1970, Broecker, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, published a study of ocean sediment cores that revealed the Ice Age had seen rapid transitions in its climate, with ice sheets taking tens of thousands of years to develop in freezing temperatures, followed by sudden warm periods that melted the ice.

Broecker built on this discovery in his 1975 paper, which hypothesized that the Ice Age’s rapid fluctuations had been caused by changes in “thermohaline circulation”: the ocean currents and wind systems that move heat from the equator up north towards the poles and transport cold water toward the equator. Broecker later named this the “Great Ocean Conveyor.” He believed that rapid changes in climate were once again possible if this conveyor belt were changed or “turned off.”

Broecker argued that there was an increasingly likely scenario for this to happen: the ongoing rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide content created by fossil fuel emissions would soon begin to warm the planet, in turn warming surface waters in the ocean and melting ice into fresh water. This would reduce the waters’ density, thereby preventing cold water from sinking, altering ocean currents and effectively shutting off the conveyor belt. If that were to happen, he postulated, Europe would grow cooler as it did during the Ice Age. The more disruptive effect would come from unpredictable “on-and-off flickers” in global temperature. As Broecker put it in 1998, “the climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.”

His assessment of global warming trends remains relevant today. In 2017, a Columbia University publication found that as the planet was warming, fresh water was entering oceans at a higher rate. 

Broecker died in 2019.

READ MORE: Key Moments That Forced Americans to Confront Climate Change


Pierre Lallement, inventor of the bicycle, arrives in the U.S.

Month Day
July 20

On July 20, 1865, a Frenchman named Pierre Lallement arrives in the United States, carrying the plans and components for the first modern bicycle. Lallement constructed and patented the first bicycle in the United States, but received no significant reward or recognition for introducing the nation to an invention that soon became ubiquitous.

Born near Nancy, France, Lallement trained as a mechanic. He was working as a carriage builder when he first saw a dandy horse—similar to a bike, but powered directly by the rider’s feet pushing it along the ground—and began drawing up plans for a similar machine. Lallement’s major innovation was adding a transmission and pedals, which allowed for a smoother, faster, and somewhat more dignified ride. Along with another carriage builder, Pierre Marchaux, Lallement is credited with building the first working prototype for a bicycle. Due to a dispute between himself, Marchaux and his son, and the Olivier brothers with whom Marchaux went into business, however, Lallement found himself shut out of the first mass-produced bicycle business in France.

Upon arriving in the United States, Lallement settled in Ansonia, Connecticut. He demonstrated his invention for the locals—one of whom reportedly fled in terror at the sight of a “devil on wheels”—and eventually found an investor, James Carroll, to support his efforts. In 1866, he applied for and was granted a patent for the nation’s first pedaled bicycle.

Despite being the first to patent the idea, Lallement was unable to capitalize on his invention. Failing to acquire enough funds to open a factory, he sold the rights to the patent in 1868and moved back to France, where Michaux’s bike had achieved enormous popularity and set off a “bike boom” that soon spread throughout Europe. Albert Pope, who came into possession of the patent in 1876, made a small fortune producing the Columbia bicycle and became one of the foremost proponents of the bike, forming the League of American Wheelmen in 1880. Lallement, however, died in obscurity in Boston in 1881. It would be over a century before cycling historians identified the important role he had played in the invention of the bicycle.  


Keeling Curve, showing increase of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, is discovered

In March of 1958, Dr. Charles David Keeling begins regularly measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawai’i. Over the ensuing years, his research will reveal what is now known as the Keeling Curve: a graph of continuously-taken measurements showing the rapid accumulation of carbon dioxide.

Previously, scientists had not regularly measured the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. As part of the International Geophysical Year, an international scientific project that took place between 1957 and 1958, Keeling received funding to conduct monitoring at Mauna Loa and at the South Pole. Some colleagues questioned why sustained monitoring was necessary, but Keeling was steadfast in his desire to take detailed and continuous measurements. Though budget cuts forced him to abandon the South Pole monitoring in the 1960s, the Mauna Loa testing continues to this day.

READ MORE: When Global Warming Was Revealed by the Keeling Curve

On a micro level, the curve zig-zags due to the imbalance in the amount of vegetation in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres – there is more land in the Northern Hemisphere and therefore more plants to “breathe out” oxygen in the Northern summer, lowering CO2 levels, which rise again in the Northern winter. Over many years, however, a stark and undeniable picture has emerged. Keeling’s data points form a curve that is steadily increasing, incontrovertible evidence that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising over time. As other scientists began to study atmospheric carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, a consensus emerged that levels were rising to problematic levels. The recognition of this fact, made possible by Keeling, was one of the earliest and most important steps in mankind’s awakening to the reality of climate change.

READ MORE: Climate Change History


World Wide Web (WWW) launches in the public domain

Month Day
April 30

On April 30, 1993, four years after publishing a proposal for “an idea of linked information systems,” computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee released the source code for the world’s first web browser and editor. Originally called Mesh, the browser that he dubbed WorldWideWeb became the first royalty-free, easy-to-use means of browsing the emerging information network that developed into the internet as we know it today.

READ MORE: The Invention of the Internet

Berners-Lee was a fellow at CERN, the research organization headquartered in Switzerland. Other research institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University had developed complex systems for internally sharing information, and Berners-Lee sought a means of connecting CERN’s system to others. He outlined a plan for such a network in 1989 and developed it over the following years. The computer he used, a NeXT desktop, became the world’s first internet server. Berners-Lee wrote and published the first web page, a simplistic outline of the WorldWideWeb project, in 1991.

CERN began sharing access with other institutions, and soon opened it up to the general public. In releasing the source code for the project to the public domain two years later, Berners-Lee essentially opened up access to the project to anyone in the world, making it free and (relatively) easy to explore the nascent internet.

Simple Web browsers like Mosaic appeared a short time later, and before long the Web had become by far the most popular system of its kind. Within a matter of years, Berners-Lee’s invention had revolutionized information-sharing and, in doing so, had dramatically altered the way that human beings communicated. The creation and globalization of the web is widely considered one of the most transformational events in human history. 4.39 billion people, including you, are now estimated to use the internet, accounting for over half the global population. The average American now spends 24 hours a week online. The internet’s rise has been the greatest expansion in information access in human history, has led to the exponential growth in the total amount of data in the world, and has facilitated a spread of knowledge, ideas and social movements that was unthinkable as recently as the 1990s.

READ MORE: The World’s First Web Site 


Auto-factory architect Albert Kahn dies

On December 8, 1942, the architect and engineer Albert Kahn—known as “the man who built Detroit”—dies at his home there. He was 73 years old. Kahn and his assistants built more than 2,000 buildings in all, mostly for Ford and General Motors. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Kahn “revolutionized the concept of what a great factory should be: his designs made possible the marvels of modern mass production, and his buildings changed the faces of a thousand cities and towns from Detroit to Novosibirsk.”

Albert Kahn was born in Germany in 1869. When he was 11, his family moved to the United States and settled in Detroit, where the teenager took a job as an architect’s apprentice. In 1902, after working at a number of well-known architectural firms in Detroit, Kahn started his own practice.

While building factories for Packard, the young architect found that swapping reinforced concrete for wood or masonry sped up the construction of manufacturing plants considerably. It also made them sturdier and less combustible. Moreover, reinforced-concrete buildings needed fewer load-bearing walls; this, in turn, freed up floor space for massive industrial equipment. Kahn’s first concrete factory, Packard Shop No. 10, still stands today on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit.

“Architecture,” Kahn liked to say, “is 90 percent business and 10 percent art.” His buildings reflected this philosophy: they were sleek, flexible, and above all functional. Besides all that utilitarian concrete, they incorporated huge metal-framed windows and garage doors and acres of uninterrupted floor space for conveyor belts and other machines. Kahn’s first Ford factory, the 1909 Highland Park plant, used elevators and dumbwaiters to spread the Model T assembly line over several floors, but most of his subsequent factories were huge single-story spaces: Ford’s River Rouge plant (1916), the massive Goodyear Airdock in Akron (1929), the Glenn Martin aeronautics factory in Maryland (built in 1937 around an assembly floor the size of a football field) and, perhaps most famous of all, the half-mile-long Willow Run “Arsenal of Democracy,” the home of Ford’s B-24 bomber in Ypsilanti.

Though Kahn designed a number of non-factory buildings, including the Ford and GM office towers in downtown Detroit, he is best known for building factories that reflected the needs of the industrial age. 


British physicist J.J. Thomson announces the discovery of electrons

Month Day
April 30

On April 30, 1897, British physicist J.J. Thomson announced his discovery that atoms were made up of smaller components. This finding revolutionized the way scientists thought about the atom and had major ramifications for the field of physics. Though Thompson referred to them as “corpuscles,” what he found is more commonly known today as the electron.

Mankind had already discovered electric current and harnessed it to great effect, but scientists had not yet observed the makeup of atoms. Thomson, a highly-respected professor at Cambridge, determined the existence of electrons by studying cathode rays. He concluded that the particles making up the rays were 1,000 times lighter than the lightest atom, proving that something smaller than atoms existed. Thomson likened the composition of atoms to plum pudding, with negatively-charged “corpuscles” dotted throughout a positively-charged field.

The plum pudding analogy was disproved by Ernest Rutherford, a student and collaborator of Thomson’s, in Thomson’s lab at Cambridge in 1910. Rutherford’s conclusion that the positive charge of an atom resides in its nucleus established the model of the atom as we know it today. In addition to winning his own Nobel Prize, Thomson employed six research assistants who went on to win Nobel Prizes in physics and two, including Rutherford, who won Nobel Prizes for chemistry. His son, George Paget Thomson, also won a Nobel Prize for his study of electrons. Combined with his own research, the network of atomic researchers Thomson cultivated gave humanity a new and detailed understanding of the smallest building-blocks of the universe.


First nonstop flight from Europe to North America

Month Day
April 13

German pilot Hermann Köhl, Irish aviator James Fitzmaurice and Baron Ehrenfried Günther Freiherr von Hünefeld, the expedition’s financier, complete the first Europe to North America transatlantic flight, taking off from Ireland and landing safely on a small Canadian island.

The prevailing winds in the North Atlantic blow from North America towards Europe, hastening Eastbound airplanes on their way but making headwinds a major problem for those flying West. Köhl, who had flown in the German Army Air Service in World War I, and von Hünefeld, who had been turned away from the Air Service due to his health, attempted the crossing in 1927 but turned back due to poor weather. With the addition of Fitzmaurice, who had served in the British Royal Air Force before resigning to join the Irish Air Corps, they staged a second attempt the following April, using one of von Hünefeld’s two Junkers W33 aircraft, the Bremen.

The trio gathered in Dublin in late March, but foul weather delayed takeoff for 17 days. Finally, on April 12, they took off from Baldonnel Aerodrome, intending to fly to New York. Things went smoothly at first, but a combination of storm clouds and a faulty compass put them roughly 40 degrees off course as they approached Canada. Their problems didn’t end there; the aviators soon realized they had an oil leak, at which point they abandoned the plan to land in New York and looked for the nearest place to set the plane down, which turned out to be Greenly Island.

Köhl and Fitzmaurice put the Bremen down in a frozen pond, damaging it in the process, but they walked away unharmed and having made the first-ever East-West crossing of the Atlantic.

When they later arrived in New York (having left the Bremen behind for repairs) the “Three Musketeers of the Air” received a parade and a hero’s welcome. They spent the next several months traveling the United States and Europe, meeting with dignitaries and enjoying similar celebrity status to what Charles Lindbergh (who completed the first North America-Europe transatlantic flight) had experienced the previous year. Though today their accomplishment is overshadowed by his in the popular imagination, their semi-planned landing in Canada on April 13, 1928 represents an equally important moment in aviation history, the first successful nonstop flight from Europe to North America.

READ MORE: 10 Fascinating Facts About Charles Lindbergh


Coca-Cola sold in glass bottles for the first time

Month Day
March 12

Though today there is almost nothing as ubiquitous as a bottle of Coca-Cola, this was not always the case. For the first several years of its existence, Coke was only available as a fountain drink, and its producer saw no reason for that to change. It was not until March 12, 1894 that Coke was first sold in bottles.

Originally developed as a non-addictive substitute for morphine, then marketed as a non-alcoholic “temperance drink,” Coca-Cola was invented by John Pemberton, a druggist in Columbus, Georgia, in 1886. It was soon popular throughout the region, and the rights to the brand passed to Asa Griggs Candler. Candler’s nephew had advised him that selling the drink in bottles could greatly increase sales, but Griggs apparently wasn’t interested. The first person to bottle Coke was Joseph A. Biedenharn, owner of a candy store in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Correctly determining that bottles could boost sales, Biedenharn put the drink into Hutchinson bottles, a common and reusable glass bottle that bore no resemblance to the modern Coke bottle. He sent Candler a case, but Candler continued to stick with fountain sales.

Five years later, Candler finally sold the national bottling rights to Coke—excluding the right to bottle it in Vicksburg—to two brothers from Chattanooga. Still convinced that bottling would not be a major source of revenue, Candler sold the bottling rights for a dollar and reportedly never collected even that. The contract stipulated that a bottle of Coke would cost 5 cents and had no end date, a legal oversight that resulted in the price remaining the same until 1959. In 1915, the bottlers put out a call for a new design, one so distinctive that one could recognize it if it were in pieces on the ground or by feeling it in the dark. The winning design, produced by the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, gave the world the iconic contoured bottle we know today.

READ MORE: How the ‘Blood Feud’ Between Coke and Pepsi Escalated During the 1980s Cola Wars


First 9-1-1 call is placed in the United States

Month Day
February 16

February 16, 1968 sees the first official “911” call placed in the United States. Now taken for granted as first course of action in the event of emergency by nearly all of the nation’s 327 million people, 911 is a relatively recent invention and was still not standard across the United States for many years after its adoption by Congress.

As telephones became common in U.S. households, fire departments around the country recommended establishing a single, simple number to be dialed in the event of a fire or other emergency. A similar system had been implemented in the United Kingdom decades earlier, in 1936, when the code 999 was chosen for emergency telegraph and phone communications. The Federal Communications Commission decided to act in 1967, but the number itself came not from the government but from AT&T, the corporation that controlled nearly all phone lines in the U.S. via its long-distance service and ownership of local Bell Telephone subsidiaries. At the time, AT&T was considered a “natural monopoly,” a monopoly allowed to exist because high infrastructure costs and barriers to entry prevented challengers from emerging. AT&T suggested the number 911 because it was easy to remember and, crucially, had not yet been designated as an area code or other code, which would make the transition easier.

The first 911 call was placed by Rep. Rankin Fite, the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, in the town of Haleyville, AL on February 16th of the following year. Nome, Alaska adopted the system a week later. Still, it would years before the system was widespread and decades before it was uniform. It was only in 1973 that the White House issued an official statement in favor of 911, and even that a suggestion rather than a law or executive order. By 1987, 50 percent of the nation was using the system. Canada chose to adopt the same number for its emergency calls, and 98% of the US and Canada can now contact emergency services by dialing 911. 999 is in use in a number of former British colonies, and the number 112 is used in Russia, Brazil, and other nations, even sometimes routing to the same services as 911 in the U.S.


First American “test-tube baby” is born

Month Day
December 28

On December 28, 1981, the first American “test-tube baby,” a child born as a result of in-vitro fertilization, is born in Norfolk, Virginia. Considered a miracle at the time, births like that of Elizabeth Jordan Carr are now common.

In-vitro fertilization is a process in which doctors fertilize an egg outside of a woman’s body and implant the developing embryo in the womb. In this way, women with damaged or missing Fallopian tubes, which carry fertilized eggs from ovaries to the uterus, are able to become pregnant. Doctors carried out the first successful in-vitro fertilization of a rabbit in 1959, and the first human test-tube baby was born in England in 1978. One of the doctors responsible, Dr. Robert Edwards, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010.

A number of successful IVF-induced pregnancies followed, leading the husband-and-wife team of Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones to open an IVF clinic at Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1980. “I think this is a day of hope,” Howard Jones said after Carr and her mother were declared to be in perfect health, citing the roughly 600,000 American women who could theoretically give birth thanks to the procedure.

IVF was not without its critics. Many in the medical community were cautious about “playing God.” IVF drew condemnation from figures like Rev. Jerry Falwell and others in the “Moral Majority,” a socially conservative movement that was in its ascendancy in the early 1980s. The Roman Catholic Church opposes IVF on the grounds that it separates marital sex from the act of conception, while others continue to criticize what they perceive as an industry built around selling IVF to couples with fertility issues. Nonetheless, the procedure has been refined over several decades and is now fairly common, leading to an estimated 5 million total births as of a 2012 study. It is estimated that IVF now accounts for over one percent of American births every year.