The Z3

Z3 at Deutsches MuseumMay 12, 1941

German engineer Konrad Zuse unveils the Z3, now generally recognized as the first fully functional, programmable computer. Because Germany was fighting World War II, not much was known about the Z3 until after the war.

VisiCalc Unveiled

VisiCalcMay 11, 1979

At the West Coast Computer Faire, Harvard MBA candidate Daniel Bricklin and programmer Robert Frankston give the first demonstration of VisiCalc, the original spreadsheet software. First released for the Apple II, VisiCalc made a business machine of the personal computer. VisiCalc was a huge success, selling more than 100,000 copies in the first year. VisiCalc also spurred the sales of the Apple II, as people would buy the Apple II just to run VisiCalc. Overall, the spreadsheet validated the usefulness of the home computer and was likely a major factor for IBM accelerating their entry into the PC market.

*Some sources list VisiCalc’s first demonstration as May 12th. I’d like to find a definitive source.

The Birth of Wireless

Guglielmo MarconiMay 10, 1894

“Wireless” is born when Guglielmo Marconi sends a radio wave three-quarters of a mile. Three years later the Marconi Company will successfully communicate “ship to shore” over a distance of twelve miles. Marconi’s work leads to the commercialization and proliferation of most of the radio technologies we know today.

Linux Gets Happy Feet

Tux the PenguinMay 9, 1996

Linus Torvalds decides to adopt Tux the penguin as a mascot for the Linux operating system. Perhaps had he known the movie Happy Feet would be released a little over 10 years later, he would have chosen a Warbler instead.

Germans Can Be So Dry

Gassner BatteryMay 8, 1886

German scientist, Dr. Carl Gassner, is issued a German patent for the first “dry” cell battery, which uses zinc as its primary component. A U.S. patent will be issued to Gassner in 1887. His battery is much like today’s carbon-zinc, “general purpose” batteries, although most people use alkalines.

IBM 704 Introduced

IBM 704May 7, 1954

IBM announces the IBM 704 Data Processing System, the world’s first mass produced computer to feature floating point arithmetic hardware. Besides this ultra-geeky distinction, the IBM 704 will leave its mark in computer history before it is discontinued on April 7, 1960. Both the FORTRAN and LISP programming languages were first developed for the IBM 704, as well as the first music application, MUSIC. Physicist John Larry Kelly, Jr. of Bell Labs will synthesize speech for the first time in history on an IBM 704. Not bad for a mainframe.

“i” is for Apple

Bondi Blue iMacMay 6, 1998

At the Flint Center Theater, the same place where the Mac was first unveiled in 1984, Steve Jobs introduces the original iMac. This iMac was later known as the “Bondi Blue”, after the color of its case (named for a beach in Australia). According to Jobs, the iMac is “the Internet-age computer for the rest of us.” Originally slated to be available in ninety days, it will actually be released on August 15th. Apple will book an unprecedented 150,000 orders before its release, marking the beginning of Apple’s renaissance. It also ushered in the era of Apple adding the letter “i” to just about every product it created. But hey, Apple has about $80 billion over $137 billion in cash right now, so who’s arguing?

Wolfenstein 3D Blasts Onto Scene

Wolfenstein 3DMay 5, 1992

Id Software Inc. releases the game Wolfenstein 3D, the original first person shooter game for DOS computers. The game becomes an instant success, putting id Software on the map and launching the first person shooter genre. If you’re curious, you can play the game today on an iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad.

First American in Space

Alan ShepardMay 5, 1961

NASA astronaut Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space when he makes a fifteen minute suborbital flight aboard the Mercury capsule Freedom 7. He reaches an altitude of 115 miles, during which he experiences about five minutes of weightlessness.

Love Stinks

ILOVEYOU Bug

May 4, 2000

The Love Letter computer virus, aka the “ILOVEYOU” bug, spreads to personal computers running Windows around the world in just six hours. Spreading through e-mail, the virus entices victims to open the message with the subject of “ILOVEYOU”. About 2.5 to 3 million PCs will become infected. The cost of system downtime is later estimated at $8.7 billion. It is thought to be the fastest-moving and most widespread virus in history.