John Ambrose Fleming applies for a US patent on what he called the “oscillation valve“, the first example of the vacuum tube. Vacuum tubes would form the basis of electronic technology for nearly 50 years until the development of the transistor. Fleming’s invention has been described as one of the most important developments in the history of electronics.
German Physics Professor Wilhelm Röntgen stumbles upon what he would later describe as “X-rays” while experimenting with electrical discharge tubes. Curious as to what was causing a faint green glow on a nearby fluorescent screen, Röntgen began systematically studying the unknown rays and published the first paper on the phenomenon less than two months later. He referred to the rays as “X”, indicating that they were an unknown form of radiation at the time. The name has stuck, although in several languages, X-rays are referred to as Röntgen rays, in tribute to his discovery. Incidentally, Röntgen was awarded the very first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 for his work on X-rays.
The Industrial Development Engineering Associates company begins selling the Regency TR-1, the world’s first commercial transistor radio. Texas Instruments designed and developed the transistor technology who then partnered with IDEA to design and manufacturer the completed radio. The TR-1 sold over 100,000 units, ushering in the commercial transistor industry.
Orson Welles broadcasts his radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, which reportedly caused panic among listeners who believed the theatrical presentation was a real news broadcast. Regardless of the actual levels of panic caused, The War of the Worlds is one of the most famous radio broadcasts in history.
US President Bill Clinton signs into law the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The law is intended to criminalize production and dissemination of technology designed to circumvent digital copyright protection (known as Digital Rights Management or DRM). However, the law has been very controversial, with accusations of abuse of the law to stifle innovation and competition.
In a makeshift lab on the second floor of a rental house, Chester Carlson and his assistant Otto Kornei successfully invent the process that would lead to the photocopier. Carlson had written “10.-22.-38 ASTORIA” on a piece of paper and these became the historic words that were the first photocopied. Ironically, Kornei had so little faith in the invention that within a year he quit working for Carlson and willingly gave up any claims he had on the process. However, Carlson would later gift Kornei 100 shares of the Xerox corporation that would eventually be worth $1 million.
Thomas Edison perfects the first commercially practical incandescent light bulb. Using a filament of carbonized cotton thread, his first attempt at this design results in a bulb that lasts about 13.5 hours before burning out. He later extends the life of the bulb to 40 hours. Edison’s successful design came only after he had tested over 6,000 different vegetable fibers during a span of over 18 months running 1,200 experiments and spending $40,000.
Thomas Edison and a group of investors form the Edison Electric Light Company. The goal of the company was to provide financial support for Edison’s electric light experiments and work on developing an electrical lighting system for an entire city. The long-lasting carbonized filament light bulb was developed by Edison while working for this company. Eventually this and several other Edison companies were merged to form General Electric.