World Wide Web (WWW) launches in the public domain

Year
1993
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 

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

Year
1897
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.

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First nonstop flight from Europe to North America

Year
1928
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

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Coca-Cola sold in glass bottles for the first time


Year
1894
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

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


Year
1968
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.

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First American “test-tube baby” is born


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Year
1981
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.

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Smallpox is officially declared eradicated


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Original:
Year
1979
Month Day
December 09

On December 9, 1979, a commission of scientists declare that smallpox has been eradicated. The disease, which carries around a 30 percent chance of death for those who contract it, is the only infectious disease afflicting humans that has officially been eradicated.

Something similar to smallpox had ravaged humanity for thousands of years, with the earliest known description appearing in Indian accounts from the 2 Century BCE. It was believed that the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses V died of smallpox in 1145 BCE; however, recent research indicates that the actual smallpox virus may have evolved as late as 1580 CE. A type of inoculation—introducing a small amount of the disease in order to bring on a mild case that results in immunity—was widespread in China by the 16th century.

There is no record of a smallpox-like illness in the Americas before European contact, and the fact that Europeans brought pox with them was a major factor in their conquest and near-eradication of many of the indigenous peoples of North, South and Central America. Smallpox was the leading cause of death in 18th century Europe, leading to many experiments with inoculation. In 1796 the English scientist Edward Jenner discovered a vaccine. Unlike other types of inoculation, Jenner’s vaccine, made from a closely-related disease that affects cows, carried zero risk of transmission.

Many European countries and American states made the vaccination of infants mandatory, and incidents of smallpox declined over the 19th and early 20th centuries. Compared to other epidemic diseases, such as polio or malaria, smallpox eradication was relatively simple because the disease lives only in humans, making human vaccination highly effective at stopping its spread, and its symptoms appear quickly, making it easy to identify and isolate outbreaks.

Starting in 1967, the World Health Organization undertook a worldwide effort to identify and stamp out the last remaining outbreaks of the disease. By the mid-70s, smallpox was only present in the Horn of Africa and parts of the Indian subcontinent. The last naturally occurring case was diagnosed in Somalia in 1977. Two years later, doctors proclaimed its eradication. The elimination of smallpox is one of the major successes in the history of science and medicine.

READ MORE: How an African Slave in Boston Helped Save Generations from Smallpox

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The birth of quantum theory


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Original:
Year
1900
Month Day
December 14

German physicist Max Planck publishes his groundbreaking study of the effect of radiation on a “blackbody” substance, and the quantum theory of modern physics is born.

Through physical experiments, Planck demonstrated that energy, in certain situations, can exhibit characteristics of physical matter. According to theories of classical physics, energy is solely a continuous wave-like phenomenon, independent of the characteristics of physical matter. Planck’s theory held that radiant energy is made up of particle-like components, known as “quanta.” The theory helped to resolve previously unexplained natural phenomena such as the behavior of heat in solids and the nature of light absorption on an atomic level. In 1918, Planck was rewarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on blackbody radiation.

Other scientists, such as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Louis de Broglie, Erwin Schrodinger and Paul M. Dirac, advanced Planck’s theory and made possible the development of quantum mechanics–a mathematical application of the quantum theory that maintains that energy is both matter and a wave, depending on certain variables. Quantum mechanics thus takes a probabilistic view of nature, sharply contrasting with classical mechanics, in which all precise properties of objects are, in principle, calculable. Today, the combination of quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of relativity is the basis of modern physics.

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Microsoft founded

Year
1975
Month Day
April 04

On April 4, 1975, at a time when most Americans used typewriters, childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen found Microsoft, a company that makes computer software. Originally based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Microsoft relocated to Washington State in 1979 and eventually grew into a major multinational technology corporation. In 1987, the year after Microsoft went public, 31-year-old Gates became the world’s youngest billionaire.

Gates and Allen started Microsoft—originally called Micro-Soft, for microprocessors and software—in order to produce software for the Altair 8800, an early personal computer. Allen quit his job as a programmer in Boston and Gates left Harvard University, where he was a student, to focus on their new company, which was based in Albuquerque because the city was home to electronics firm MITS, maker of the Altair 8800. By the end of 1978, Microsoft’s sales topped more than $1 million and in 1979 the business moved its headquarters to Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, where Gates and Allen grew up. The company went on to license its MS-DOS operating system to IBM for its first personal computer, which debuted in 1981. Afterward, other computer companies started licensing MS-DOS, which had no graphical interface and required users to type in commands in order to open a program. In 1983, Allen departed Microsoft after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma; he was successfully treated for the disease and went on to pursue a variety of other business ventures.

In 1985, Microsoft released a new operating system, Windows, with a graphical user interface that included drop-down menus, scroll bars and other features. The following year, the company moved its headquarters to Redmond, Washington, and went public at $21 a share, raising $61 million. By the late 1980s, Microsoft had become the world’s biggest personal-computer software company, based on sales. In 1995, amidst skyrocketing purchases of personal computers for home and office use, Windows 95 made its debut. It included such innovations as the Start menu (TV commercials for Windows 95 featured the Rolling Stones singing “Start Me Up”) and 7 million copies of the new product were sold in the first five weeks. During the second half of the 1990s, Internet usage took off, and Microsoft introduced its web browser, Internet Explorer, in 1995.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice and 20 state attorneys general charged Microsoft with violating antitrust laws by using its dominance to drive competitors out of business; in 2001, the company reached a settlement with the government that imposed restrictions on its corporate practices. Also in 2001, Microsoft joined the video-game market with the launch of its Xbox console. 

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UNIVAC, the first commercially produced digital computer, is dedicated

Year
1951
Month Day
June 14

On June 14, 1951, the U.S. Census Bureau dedicates UNIVAC, the world’s first commercially produced electronic digital computer. UNIVAC, which stood for Universal Automatic Computer, was developed by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, makers of ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer. These giant computers, which used thousands of vacuum tubes for computation, were the forerunners of today’s digital computers.

The search for mechanical devices to aid computation began in ancient times. The abacus, developed in various forms by the Babylonians, Chinese, and Romans, was by definition the first digital computer because it calculated values by using digits. A mechanical digital calculating machine was built in France in 1642, but a 19th century Englishman, Charles Babbage, is credited with devising most of the principles on which modern computers are based. His “Analytical Engine,” begun in the 1830s and never completed for lack of funds, was based on a mechanical loom and would have been the first programmable computer.

By the 1920s, companies such as the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) were supplying governments and businesses with complex punch-card tabulating systems, but these mechanical devices had only a fraction of the calculating power of the first electronic digital computer, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC). Completed by John Atanasoff of Iowa State in 1939, the ABC could by 1941 solve up to 29 simultaneous equations with 29 variables. Influenced by Atanasoff’s work, Presper Eckert and John Mauchly set about building the first general-purpose electronic digital computer in 1943. The sponsor was the U.S. Army Ordnance Department, which wanted a better way of calculating artillery firing tables, and the work was done at the University of Pennsylvania.

ENIAC, which stood for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator, was completed in 1946 at a cost of nearly $500,000. It took up 15,000 feet, employed 17,000 vacuum tubes, and was programmed by plugging and replugging some 6,000 switches. It was first used in a calculation for Los Alamos Laboratories in December 1945, and in February 1946 it was formally dedicated.

Following the success of ENIAC, Eckert and Mauchly decided to go into private business and founded the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. They proved less able businessmen than they were engineers, and in 1950 their struggling company was acquired by Remington Rand, an office equipment company. On June 14, 1951, Remington Rand delivered its first computer, UNIVAC I, to the U.S. Census Bureau. It weighed 16,000 pounds, used 5,000 vacuum tubes, and could perform about 1,000 calculations per second. On November 4, 1952, the UNIVAC achieved national fame when it correctly predicted Dwight D. Eisenhower’s unexpected landslide victory in the presidential election after only a tiny percentage of the votes were in.

UNIVAC and other first-generation computers were replaced by transistor computers of the late 1950s, which were smaller, used less power, and could perform nearly a thousand times more operations per second. These were, in turn, supplanted by the integrated-circuit machines of the mid-1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, the development of the microprocessor made possible small, powerful computers such as the personal computer, and more recently the laptop and hand-held computers.

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