April 12, 1961
Yuri Gagarin, age 27, becomes the first man to orbit the Earth aboard the Soviet spacecraft, Vostok 1. He remains in space for an hour and forty-eight minutes before re-entering the atmosphere. This ultimately was Gagarin’s only space flight. He died on March 27, 1968 when the MiG-15 he was piloting crashed near Moscow. Reportedly, at the time of his death, Yuri Gagarin was in training for a second space mission.
April 11, 1985
Almost exactly 2 years after joining Apple, John Sculley, asks Steve Jobs to step down as head of the Macintosh division at an Apple Computer board meeting. With the backing of the company’s other executives, Jobs is stripped of nearly all responsibilities at Apple. While Jobs retains the title of Chairman, he has no authority and eventually leaves Apple.
April 11, 1957
The Ryan X-13 Vertijet makes its first vertical take off and landing, marking the first time a jet-powered aircraft successfully completed a VTOL flight. Militaries around the world at the time were experimenting with the concept of VTOL as a way of having aircraft that could take off and land from areas with no runway. While the X-13 was tested successfully, the program was cancelled after only two years. The X-13 concept proved unfeasible for the United States military due to a variety of issues, including payload and range capabilities.
April 10, 1943
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania begin work on the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), which when completed, will become the first general-purpose fully electronic computer, capable of making calculations one thousand times faster than any other prior computer. The work will be carried out in secret since the computer is intended for military purposes, though it won’t actually be completed until after World War II ended. ENIAC will be unveiled to the public in February 1946.
April 9, 1959
NASA announces the selection of the United States’ first seven astronauts, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Donald Slayton, The seven were chosen from 110 applicants to participate in the Mercury program, the nation’s first manned space program. The news media quickly dubs the group the “Mercury Seven.” On May 5th, 1961, Shepard will become the first American in space during the flight of Freedom 7.
April 8, 1983
John Sculley is named president and CEO of Apple Computer after Steve Jobs convinced him to leave his position as president of PepsiCo. While Steve Jobs wanted the position of president for himself, then-CEO Mike Markkula did not think Jobs was ready to take on that responsibility.
Jobs wanted Sculley based on his success growing Pepsi’s marketshare against Coke. He wanted that same type of marketing success for Apple against IBM. Part of computer industry lore, Jobs reportedly asked Sculley, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
Ultimately, Sculley and Jobs entered into a power struggle, Sculley convinced Apple’s board of directors to strip Jobs of all power within the company, and Jobs left Apple. One has to wonder how the computer industry would be different today if Steve Jobs had been given lead of his company in 1983 instead of Apple opting for “adult supervision”. Recent history with companies such as Facebook, Google, and even Apple since Jobs’ return, has shown that visionaries can make great leaders of technology companies.
Mary Hawes, a computer scientist for the Burroughs Corporation holds a meeting of computers users, manufacturers, and academics at the University of Pennsylvania for the purpose of creating a common business oriented programming language. At the meeting, representative Grace Hopper suggested that they ask the Department of Defense to fund the effort to create such a language. Also attending was Charles Phillips who was director of the Data System Research Staff at the DoD and was excited by the possibility of a common language streamlining their operations. He agreed to sponsor the creation of such a language. This was the genesis of what would eventually become the COBOL language. To this day COBOL is still the most common programming language used in business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments, primarily on mainframe systems with around 200 billion lines of code still in production use.
Steve Crocker, a graduate student at UCLA and part of the team developing ARPANET, writes the first “Request for Comments“. The ARPANET, a research project of the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), was the foundation of today’s modern Internet. RFC 1 defined the design of the host software for communication between ARPANET nodes. This host software would be run on Interface Message Processors or IMPs, which were the precursor to Internet routers. The “host software” defined in RFC 1 would later be known as the Network Control Protocol or NCP, which itself was the forerunner to the modern TCP/IP protocol the Internet runs on today.
There is a very interesting history to how RFCs came about, itself fittingly documented in RFC 1000. Long story short, the initial design of the ARPANET was not well defined. The students and researchers on the ARPANET team were expecting professionals from the government to come in and define their objectives more clearly. As it started to become evident that there was no specific design forthcoming and possibilities were being discussed informally, the working group decided that they should start writing down and organizing their ideas. However, they were also concerned that by formally documenting their concepts that it might seem like they were taking authority and would possibly offend some hypothetical “official protocol designers” from the government. Therefore Steve Crocker chose to carefully title the document “Request for Comments” so that the point was made that these were not official publications and that in fact, they were asking for others working on the project to add their input. As more RFC documents were written describing and defining the earliest building blocks of the ARPANET, these became the unofficial method of documentation and discussion within the ARPANET Networking Working Group (itself loosely defined in RFC 3). This laid the foundation for the eventual Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) which today establishes many official Internet Standards. Today RFCs are the official publication of the IETF where Internet developments are proposed and official Internet Standards are defined. As of early 2023 there have been nearly 9500 RFCs published.
April 7, 1964
IBM launches the System 360 mainframe architecture, which comprised six compatible models complete with 40 peripherals. The line, dubbed the “360″ because it addressed all types and sizes of customer, cost IBM over five billion dollars to develop, and it is widely considered one of the riskiest business gambles of all time.
Up until this time, computer systems, even from the same manufacturer, were generally incompatible with each other. Software and peripherals from old systems would not work with new systems. This stifled acceptance and deployments of new systems as business customers were hesitant to lose their investments in their current systems. By developing a mutually compatible series of mainframes, customers were assured that their investments would not be lost if they purchased further System 360 models.
IBM’s gamble paid off handsomely as in just the first three months of its release, IBM will receive $1.2 billion in orders. Within five years, over thirty-three thousand units will be sold, popularizing the concept of a computer “upgrade” around the world. The 360 family was the most successful IBM system of all time, generating over $100 billion in revenue through the mid-1980’s. It became the basis for all subsequent IBM mainframe architectures, which would hold a 65% marketshare in the 1990’s.
The 360 architecture also introduced a number of industry standards to the marketplace, such as the worldwide standard of the 8-bit byte. Its enormous popularity catapulted the business world into the technology age and transformed the computer industry. Not bad for a bunch of suits!
April 6, 1992
Microsoft releases Windows 3.1, priced at $149.00, selling three million copies over the next two months. Windows 3.1 added multimedia extensions allowing support for sound cards, MIDI, and CD Audio, Super VGA (800 x 600) monitors, and increased the speed of modem it would support to 9600 bps. For many of us that were into computers back in the day, it was the first version of Windows we actually used, as previous versions were still gaining consumer acceptance and Windows 95 wasn’t released until 3 years later.