4485 entries. 93 themes. Last updated October 28, 2014.

Communication Timeline

Theme

2,500,000 BCE – 8,000 BCE

Early Attempt to Record Information or Early Art? Circa 75,000 BCE – 73,000 BCE

Pieces of ochre rock decorated with geometric patterns found at Blombos Cave in South Africa, nearly 200 miles from Cape Town, in 2002, have been dated to the Middle Stone Age, equivalent to the European Middle Paleolithic.

"This ocher plaque has marks that may have been used to count or store information. A close-up look at the object shows that the markings are clearly organized. This systematic pattern suggests to some researchers that the markings represent information rather than decoration" (http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/blombos-ocher-plaque, accessed 05-10-2010).
View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Known Examples of Figurative Art Circa 38,000 BCE – 33,000 BCE

The Venus of Schelklingen.

"Despite well over 100 years of research and debate, the origins of art remain contentious. In recent years, abstract depictions have been documented at southern African sites dating to approx 75 kyr [75,000 years] before present (bp) and the earliest figurative art, which is often seen as an important proxy for advanced symbolic communication, has been documented in Europe as dating to between 30 and 40 kyr [30-40,000 years before present]. Here I report the discovery of a female mammoth-ivory figurine in the basal Aurignacian deposit at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany during excavations in 2008. This figurine was produced at least 35,000 calendar years ago, making it one of the oldest known examples of figurative art. This discovery predates the well-known Venuses from the Gravettian culture by at least 5,000 years and radically changes our views of the context and meaning of the earliest Palaeolithic art" (Nicholas J. Conard, "A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany," Nature, 459, 248-252 (14 May 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature07995).

The small figurine has been called The Venus of Schelklingen (Venus of Hohle Fels). was found near Schelklingen, Germany.  Belonging to the early Aurignacian, at the very beginning of the Upper Paleolithic and the earliest presence of Homo sapiens (Cro-Magnon) in Europe, "the discovery of the Venus of Schelklingen pushes back the date of the oldest prehistoric sculpture, and the oldest known figurative art altogether, by several millennia, establishing that works of art were being produced throughout the Aurignacian.

"The figurine was discovered in September 2008 in a cave called Hohle Fels (Swabian German for "hollow rock") near Schelklingen, some 15 kilometres (9 mi) west of Ulm, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, by a team from the University of Tübingen led by Prof. Nicholas Conard, who reported their find in Nature.

"The figurine, made of a mammoth tusk, is a representation of the female body, putting emphasis on the vulva and the breasts, and is consequently assumed to be an amulet related to fertility. In place of the head, the figurine has a perforation so that it could be worn as a pendant. Archaeologist John J. Shea suggests it would have taken "tens if not hundreds of hours" to carve. The figurine was found in the cave hall, about 20 metres (66 ft) from the entrance, and about 3 metres (10 ft) below the current ground level. It was broken into fragments, of which six have been recovered, with the left arm and shoulder still missing" (Wikipedia article on Venus of Schelklingen, accessed 05-14-2009).

• In 2003 Nicholas Conard reported the discovery of a carved waterbird looking something like a diving cormorant, and a carved horse head from the same Hohle Fels cave. These are thought to date from 31,000 to 28,000 BCE:

N.J. Conard, "Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art," Nature 426 (2003) 830–832.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Zoomorphic / Anthropomorphic Sculpture Circa 30,000 BCE

The 'Lion Man,' preserved in the Ulmer Museum in Ulm, Germany. (View a full-scale image.)

 The so-called Lionheaded Figurine, a zoomorphic /anthropomorphic sculpture 29.6 cm high, 5.6 cm wide and 5.9 cm thick. carved out of mammoth ivory, was discovered in 1939 in a cave named Stadel-Höhle im Hohlenstein in the Lonetal, Swabian Alps, Germany.

"Due to the beginning of the Second World War, it was forgotten and only rediscovered thirty years later. The first reconstruction revealed a humanoid figurine without head. During 1997 through 1998 additional pieces of the Sculpture were discovered and the head was reassembled and restored."

"The sculpture shares certain similarities with French cave wall paintings, which also show hybrid creatures. The French paintings, however, are several thousand years younger than the German sculpture.

"After this artifact was identified, a similar, but smaller, lion-headed sculpture was found, along with other animal figures, in another cave in the same region of Germany. This leads to the possibility, that the lion-figure played an important role in the mythology of humans of the early Upper Paleolithic"(Wikipedia article on Lion man, accessed 05-14-2009).

The figurine is preserved in the Ulmer Museum in Ulm, Germany, which maintains a website for the figurine

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Advantages of Orally Transmitted Traditions Circa 30,000 BCE

Dependent as we are on written culture we should not lose sight of the advantages of orally transmitted traditions:

"Some might argue that, without writing, the same beliefs could not have prevailed over such a long period of time, but in reality, oral traditions are far more faithfully passed on than the written word. A written account can be open to multiple interpretations, distortions, and transformations, depending on the time and situation, economic imperatives, or the whims of political or religious leaders. Orally transmitted traditions, in contrast, must be rigorously and accurately passed on in order to survive in all their subtlety, and in the smallest of details. Furthermore, the written word, thought to be the surer and safer means of communication, is not only less reliable but also more permeable to outside aggression than are the more secret codes of an oral system. During the time of the Roman Empire, for instance, the fact that the Celts were still 'prehistoric'—meaning that they hadn't recorded their history, ways, and beliefs— made it much harder for the conquering Romans to devise an appropriate strategy to subjugate them" (Desdemaines-Hugon, Stepping-Stones. A Journey Through the Ice Age Caves of the Dordogne [2010] 75).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest Known Ceramic Figurine 29,000 BCE – 25,000 BCE

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice. (View Larger)

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice (Czech: Věstonická Venuše), a ceramic Venus figurine, found at a Paleolithic site in the Moravian basin south of Brno,  is, together with a few others from nearby locations,  the oldest known ceramic in the world, predating the use of fired clay to make pottery. It is 111 millimeters (4.4 inches) tall, and 43 millimeters (1.7 inches) at its widest point, and is made of a clay body fired at a relatively low temperature.

"The palaeolithic settlement of Dolní Věstonice in Moravia, then Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic has been under systematic archaeological research since 1924, initiated by Karel Absolon. In addition to the Venus figurine, figures of animals - bear, lion, mammoth, horse, fox, rhino and owl - and more than 2,000 balls of burnt clay have been found at Dolní Věstonice.

"The figurine was discovered on July 13, 1925 in a layer of ash, broken into two pieces. Once on display at the Moravian Museum in Brno, it is now protected and only rarely accessible to the public. Last time it was exhibited in the National Museum in Prague from 2006-10-11 till 2007-09-02 as a part of the exhibition Lovci mamutů (The Mammoth Hunters).  Scientists periodically examine the statuette. A tomograph scan in 2004 found a fingerprint of a child estimated at between 7 and 15 years of age, fired into the surface; the child who handled the figurine before it was fired is considered by Králík, Novotný and Oliva (2002) to be an unlikely candidate for its maker" (Wikipedia article on Venus of Dolní Vestonice, accessed 05-14-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Venus of Willendorf Circa 24,000 BCE – 22,000 BCE

The Venus of Willendorf. (View Larger)

The Venus of Willendorf, an 11.1 cm (4 3/8 inches) high statuette of a female figure, was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria near the city of Krems. It is preserved in the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna.

For a long time this sculpture, carved from an oolitic limestone not local to its area, and tinted with red ochre, was thought to be the earliest sculpture of a human.

Since the figure's discovery and naming, several similar statuettes and other forms of art have been discovered, including earlier examples. They are collectively referred to as Venus figurines, although they pre-date the mythological figure of Venus by thousands of years. The purposes of these carvings have been subject to much speculation.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

One of the Earliest Known Realistic Representations of a Human Face Circa 23,000 BCE

The Venus of Brassempouy. (View Larger)

The Venus of Brassempouy or La Dame de Brassempouy,  a fragmentary ivory figurine from the Upper Palaeolithic, Gravettian industry, discovered in the Grotte du Pape at Brassempouy, France in 1892, by Édouard Piette, is one of the earliest known realistic representations of a human face. 

"She is 3.65 cm high, 2.2 cm deep and 1.9 cm wide. Her face is triangular and seems tranquil. While forehead, nose and brows are carved in relief, the mouth is absent. A vertical crack on the right side of the face is linked to the internal structure of the ivory. On the head is a checkerboard-like pattern formed by two series of shallow incisions at right angles to each other; it has been interpreted as a wig, a hood, or simply a representation of hair.

"Even though the head was discovered so early in the development of modern archaeology that its context could not be studied with all the attention it would have deserved, there is no doubt that the Venus of Brassempouy belonged to an Upper Palaeolithic material culture, the Gravettian (29,000–22,000 BP), more precisely the Middle Gravettian, with "Noailles" burins circa 26,000 to 24,000 BP.

"She is more or less contemporary with the other Palaeolithic Venus figurines, such as those of Lespugue, Dolní Věstonice, Willendorf, etc. Nonetheless, she is distinguished among the group by the realistic character of the representation" (Wikipedia article on Venus of Brassempouy, accessed 05-14-2009).

The Venus of Brassempouy is preserved in the Musée d'Archéologie nationale, Saint-Germain-En-Laye.

Randall White, "The women of Brassempouy: A century of research and interpretation," Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13.4, December 2006:251ff.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

Horse Domestication Revolutionizes Transportation, Communication, and Warfare Circa 3,500 BCE

The Botai culture originated from the Akmola province of Kazakhstan, highlighted in green. (View Larger)

Horse domestication revolutionized transportation, accelerated communication, and transformed warfare in prehistory.  Yet the identification of early domestication processes has been problematic.

In a paper published in the journal Science on March 6, 2009 archaeologist Alan K. Outram and seven co-authors published "three independent lines of evidence demonstrating domestication in the Eneolithic Botai Culture of Kazakhstan, dating to about 3500 B.C.E. Metrical analysis of horse metacarpals shows that Botai horses resemble Bronze Age domestic horses rather than Paleolithic wild horses from the same region. Pathological characteristics indicate that some Botai horses were bridled, perhaps ridden. Organic residue analysis, using δ13C and δD values of fatty acids, reveals processing of mare's milk and carcass products in ceramics, indicating a developed domestic economy encompassing secondary products" (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/323/5919/1332, accessed 03-06-2009).

Prior to discovery of this evidence horse domestication was thought to have occurred around 2500 BCE.


♦ Before horses were domesticated it appears that prehistoric people mainly killed horses for food.  One of the most celebrated collections of horse and reindeer bones was found beneath the precipice at the paleolithic site of Solutré in France.  Though prehistoric people primarily hunted the reindeer for food and other necessities of life, an explanation for the immense deposit of bones at Solutré is that prehistoric people stampeded reindeer and horses over the cliff as a means of killing them.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Printing was Stamped into Soft Clay in Mesopotamia Circa 2,291 BCE – 2,254 BCE

MS 5106 of the Schoyen Collection, a brick printing block with a large loop handle from the period of Naram-Sîn. (View larger)

The earliest printing was the stamping of inscriptions into the soft clay of bricks before firing, done under the rule of the Sumerian king Naram-Sîn of Akkad  (Narām-Sîn, Naram-Suen), ruler of the Akkadian Empire, who built the Temple of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare. Prior to Naram-Sîn the inscriptions on the bricks were written by hand.

MS 5106 in the Schøyen Collection is a brick printing block, 13x13x10 cm, 3 lines in a large formal cuneiform script with large loop handle from the period of Naram-Sîn.

Only two other brick printing blocks of Naram-Sîn are known: one intact with a cylindrical handle in Istanbul, and a tiny fragment in British Museum.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

Using Carrier Pigeons to Communicate the Results of the Olympic Games Circa 750 BCE

"By the eighth century B.C., Greeks were using pigeons to send the results of Olympic Games from town to town" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/science/pigeons-a-darwin-favorite-carry-new-clues-to-evolution.html?hpw, accessed 02-04-2012).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Filed under: Communication

The Skytale: An Early Greek Cryptographic Device Used in Warfare Circa 650 BCE

The skytale (scytale, σκυτάλη "baton"), a cylinder with a strip of parchment wrapped around it on which was written a message, was used by the ancient Greeks and Spartans to communicate secretly during military campaigns. It was first mentioned by the Greek poet Archilochus (fl. 7th century BCE), but the first clear indication of its use as a cryptographic device appeared in the writings of the poet and Homeric scholar, Apollonius of Rhodes, who also served as librarian at the Royal Library of Alexandria. 

Plutarch, writing in the first century CE, provided the first detailed description of the operation of the skytale:

The dispatch-scroll is of the following character. When the ephors send out an admiral or a general, they make two round pieces of wood exactly alike in length and thickness, so that each corresponds to the other in its dimensions, and keep one themselves, while they give the other to their envoy. These pieces of wood they call scytalae. Whenever, then, they wish to send some secret and important message, they make a scroll of parchment long and narrow, like a leathern strap, and wind it round their scytale, leaving no vacant space thereon, but covering its surface all round with the parchment. After doing this, they write what they wish on the parchment, just as it lies wrapped about the scytale; and when they have written their message, they take the parchment off and send it, without the piece of wood, to the commander. He, when he has received it, cannot otherwise get any meaning out of it,--since the letters have no connection, but are disarranged,--unless he takes his own scytale and winds the strip of parchment about it, so that, when its spiral course is restored perfectly, and that which follows is joined to that which precedes, he reads around the staff, and so discovers the continuity of the message. And the parchment, like the staff, is called scytale, as the thing measured bears the name of the measure.
—Plutarch, Lives (Lysander 19), ed. Bernadotte Perrin (quoted in Wikipedia article on Scytale, accessed 04-05-2014).

From Plutarch's description we might draw the conclusion that the skytale was used to transmit a transposition cipher. However, because earlier accounts do not confirm Plutarch's account, and because of the cryptographic weakness of the device, it was suggested that the skytale was used for conveying messages in plaintext, and that Plutarch's description is mythological. Another hypothesis is that the skytale was used for "message authentication rather than encryption. Only if the sender wrote the message around a scytale of the same diameter as the receiver's would the receiver be able to read it. It would therefore be difficult for enemy spies to inject false messages into the communication between two commanders" (Wikipedia article on Scytale, accessed 08-05-2014).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Royal Road Circa 450 BCE – 420 BCE

King Darius I

By the time of Herodotus (circa 484-425 BCE) the Persian Royal Road ran some 2,857 km from the city of Susa on the lower Tigris to the port of Smyrna (modern Izmir in Turkey) on the Aegean Sea.  A highway built by the Persian king of kings Darius I to facilitate rapid communication and intelligence gathering throughout the Persian Empire,  the Royal Road was protected by Persian rulers and later used by the Romans. On this road couriers, riding in relays, could travel 1,677 miles (2,699 km) in seven or nine days.

Herodotus wrote:

“There is nothing that travels faster, and yet is mortal, than these couriers; the Persians invented this system, which works as follows. It is said that there are as many horses and men posted at intervals as there are days required for the entire journey, so that one horse and one man are assigned to each day. And neither snow nor rain nor heat nor dark of night keeps them from completing their appointed course as swiftly as possible. The first courier passes on the instructions to the second, the second to the third, and from there they are transmitted from one to another all the way through, just as the torchbearing relay is celebrated by the Hellenes in honor of Hephaistos. The Persians call this horse-posting system the angareion" (Strassler [ed] The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories [2007] 8.98, p. 642). 

By having fresh horses and riders ready at each relay, royal couriers may have carried messages the entire distance in 7 to 9 days, though normal travelers, or an army on foot, might have taken about three months. This Royal Road linked into many other routes in the overall trade network known as the Silk Road. Some of these roads, such as the routes to India and Central Asia, were also protected, encouraging regular contact between India, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. There are accounts in the Old Testament Book of Esther of dispatches being sent from Susa to provinces as far out as India and Cush (Kush) during the reign of Xerxes (485-465 BCE).

"The postal system during the reign of Xerxes I is also described in the Biblical Book of Esther. While the historical details of the Book of Esther are difficult to verify, it would appear that a swift messenger system connecting all provinces of the Persian Empire was at the disposal of the ruler. In this case, the system was used not to gather information about provincial affairs but to send royal decrees throughout the realm. Thus, when Hāmān secured the King’s permission to kill the Jews of the empire, ‘Letters were sent by courier to all the King’s provinces with orders to destroy, slay and exterminate all Jews’ (Esther 3: 13). When, through the efforts of Mordecai and Esther, the King agreed to spare the Jews, ‘Letters were sent by mounted couriers riding on horses from the royal stable. By these letters the King granted permission to the Jews in every city to unite and defend themselves …’ (8: 10); thus ‘the couriers, mounted on their royal horses, were despatched post-haste at the King’s urgent command; and the decree was issued also in Susa the capital’ (8: 14).

"In this case, the Achaemenid postal system was employed to circulate royal decrees throughout the provinces of the empire, using riders ‘on horses from the royal stable’. The English translation of these verses is deceptively readable and cannot be seen as loyal to the complexities of the original Hebrew text. For instance, the term aḥashtranīm (Esther 8: 10, 14) used to describe the royal mounts has conveniently been ignored in the English version. In fact, this word is a hapax legomenon and has generated exegetical controversy" (Silverstein, Postal Systems in the Pre-Islamic World [2007] http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521858687&ss=exc, accessed 01-14-2010).

Until the development of effective optical telegraph systems at the end of the 18th century, messengers on horseback, riding over a good road system, remained the fastest method of sending a message overland.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

How Herodotus Used Writing and Messages in his Histories Circa 450 BCE – 420 BCE

As Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος) was the founder of historical writing, references to written or archival records in his Histories (The History) are of particular interest. By the mid-fifth century BCE writing in Greece had existed for only about 300 years. Because writing was relatively new, and only a small portion of society was literate, it may not be surprising that Herodotus appears to have consulted few written sources in compiling his Histories. From Herodotus's own account it seems that most often he did not find it necessary, or perhaps practical, to verify information that he compiled from personal observation through the consultation of written records. Herodotus also expected his Histories to be read aloud, in which case citing written sources within the Histories might have been a kind of distraction.

Herodotus begins his Histories with a sentence that has been translated in various ways: "Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time."  Another translation of the same sentence reads, "What follows is a performance of the enquiries of Herodotus from Halicarnassus." According to Robert Strassler, editor of The Landmark Herodotus (2007) 3, Proem.b, "This almost certainly implies that Herodotus performed (read aloud) his text, in whole or in part, to an audience gathered to hear him."

Herodotus usually refers to records in the context of government, law, or communication. He often refers to dispatches sent by leaders as part of political or military negotiations, such as dispatches sent in the context of war. He describes attempts to send secret messages. He also refers to records used for the enforcement of laws, which were, of course, in written form. He is aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of writing over oral communication.

"Herodotus recognized the usefulness of writing for interpersonal communication, but he also knew that it could be problematic. Because writing fixed a message in time and space, a written document that seemed objective and straightforward could also be full of paradoxes. In the generation after Herodotus, Socrates would complain (in the dialogue Phaedrus, set down by Plato) that writing represented 'no true wisdom, . . . but only its semblance.' Written words 'seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent,' the philosopher said, 'but if you ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed, they go on telling you the same thing for ever.' Even worse, once something is put in writing it 'drifts all over the place, getting into the hands not only of those who understand it, but equally of those who have no business with it; it doesn't know how to address the right people, and not address the wrong. '  

"Like Socrates, Herodotus knew that writing was full of ambiguities. Since a written document could not be cross-examined as a speaking person could, it might be used not to inform but to deceive. Themistocles, the Athenian general who led the resistance to the invasion of Xerxes. knew this too. Both sides in the war were vying for the help of the Ionians, descendants of Greek settlers who had colonized the Aegean islands and the adjacent mainland coastal areas of present-day Turkey. Most Ionians sided with the Persians, their powerful near-neighbours, but the Greeks sought their aid on the grounds of common ancestry. Themistocles used the ambiguity of writing to enlist their help, or at least to minimize the potential harm they might do to the Greek cause. He sent men to the "drinkable-water places" where Ionian ships put in for resupply, and he had them cut written messages into the rocks there, urging the Ionians to abandon Xerxes and join the Greek side. His plan was clever: either the Ionians who read the messages would be persuaded to rebel against the Persians, he reasoned, or Xerxes himself would see the messages and distrust his allies, withholding them from the order of battle (8.22). As it happened, only a few Ionians defected to the Greeks (see 8.85), but a more important point had been made: writing could send a deliberately confusing message as well as a direct one. Writing was not always so straightforward as it appeared to be.

"Writing could also be useful for sending messages in secret, and Herodotus provided several examples of how written records promoted secrecy. There was a danger in committing anything to writing since, if the document were intercepted, secrecy would be lost. Histiaeus, who had been made Despot of Miletus by Darius, learned this lesson when he sought through secret messages to stir up a revolt against his benefactor. The King's brother intercepted these letters, read them, and then sent them on to their original destination, having meanwhile profited from knowing what plans were afoot. When the revolt came, the loyal forces 'killed a great number ... when they were thus revealed' (6.4). Still, writing out a message and smuggling it to a confederate could be safer than entrusting it orally to a messenger, who could be bribed or tortured into talking if apprehended. Because of the possibility of such discovery, special care was needed over secret communications, and Herodotus found several instances of such security precautions.

"These stories present the historian at his anecdotal best, and we may well doubt whether any of them actually happened. Their very dramatic content, however, highlights the problem Socrates complained of; namely, writing drifting 'all over the place' and getting into the wrong hands. In one case, a Mede named Harpagus plotted with Cyrus to overthrow the King and install the young man in his place. 'Because the roads were guarded,' a secret message had to be smuggled through by some 'contrivance.' Harpagus took a hare and split open its belly, leaving the fur intact. Next, he inserted "a paper on which he wrote what he wanted," stitched the animal back together, and entrusted it to a servant, disguised as an innocuous huntsman. The servant made it past the guards along the road and delivered the message to its intended recipient (1.123; the text of the message itself is at 1.124)" (O'Toole, "Herodotus and the Written Record," Archivaria 33 [1991-92] 153-54).

Whatever Herodotus's ideas regarding the written record, his Histories survived because he wrote them down, and because they were re-copied. According to Roger Pearse, tertullian.org, 18 papyrus fragments of Herdotus survived, all fragments of a page, with little overlap. Most of these fragments date from the first or second centuries CE. Pearse cites nine medieval manuscript exemplars. The earliest, Laurentian 70, 3, known as Codex A, dates from the 10th century C.E. This was carefully written by two scribes in succession. The text contains marginal summaries and the remains of scholia, copied from its exemplar, as well as much later marginal notes, especially in book 1.

Pearse provides the following general comments on the surviving sources for Herodotus: "The manuscripts and papyri do not give us information on all the forms of the text of Herodotus that were known in antiquity. This we can see from the quotations of the text in other ancient authors. . . . Both the manuscripts and papyri appear to derive from a common ancient edition which was widely circulated in the early centuries AD. Who made this is unknown. . . ."

(This entry was last revised on 04-24-2014.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Hydraulic Telegraph 350 BCE

Polybius (View Larger)

According to Polybius, a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period, Aeneas Tacticus, one of the earliest Greek writers on the art of war, invented the hydraulic telegraph about 350 BCE. It was a semaphore system used during the First Punic War to send messages between Sicily and Carthage.

"The system involved identical containers on separate hills; each container would be filled with water, and a vertical rod floated within. The rods were inscribed with various predetermined codes.

"To send a message, the sending operator would use a torch to signal the receiving operator; once the two were synchronized, they would simultaneously open the spigots at the bottom of their containers. Water would drain out until the water level reached the desired code, at which point the sender would lower his torch, and the operators would simultaneously close their spigots."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Surviving Letter Written in Greek Circa 325 BCE

The Greek historian Philochorus of Athens (Φιλόχορος) is credited with the invention of the "typically scientific letter and the polemical pamphlet." A letter by Philochorus written on lead plates, μολυβδινη επιστολη, survived from the early fourth century CE and was preserved in the Kgl. Museen, Berlin. 

Adolf Wilhelm, "Der älteste grieschische Brief," Jahreshefte des oesterreichen Archäologischen Institutes in Wien, 7 (1904) 94-105 (with illustrations of the original letter written on lead).

Jenö Platthy, Sources on the Earliest Greek Libraries with the Testimonia (1968) 29. 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

300 BCE – 30 CE

Postal and Communication Infrastructure in Ancient India Circa 300 BCE

About 300 BCE the economic growth and political stability under the Maurya Empire in ancient India saw the development of civil infrastructure, including an early mail service. Common chariots called Dagana were sometimes used as mail chariots in ancient India.

"In ancient times the kings, emperors, rulers, zamindars or the feudal lords protected their land through the intelligence services of specially trained police or military agencies and courier services to convey and obtain information through runners, messengers and even through pigeons. The chief of the secret service, known as the postmaster, maintained the lines of communication ... The people used to send letters to [their] distant relatives through their friends or neighbors." (Wikipedia article on Postal System, accessed 12-17-2011)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Filed under: Communication

The Cursus publicus: The Courier Service of the Roman Empire Circa 20 BCE

Augustus. (View larger)

About 20 BCE the emperor Augustus created the Cursus publicus, the courier service of the Roman empire, to transport messages, officials, and tax revenues from one province to another. Though Augustus based the Roman system on the Persian model of relay riders passing a message from one courier to the next, he switched to a system in which one man made the entire journey carrying the message. This had the advantage of enabling the messenger to be questioned regarding additional information, and it may have provided additional security. However, it also slowed down the speed of communication.

Various authorities have estimated that the average speed of a messenger over the Roman road system was about 50 miles per day—a substantial reduction in speed from the relay methods used by the Persian Empire. The riders may have used light carriages called rhedæ with fast horses. Additionally, there was another slower service equipped with two-wheeled carts (birolæ) pulled by oxen. This slower service was reserved for government correspondence.

It has also been estimated from surviving accounts of Roman voyages that the fastest Roman ships sailed at five knots or 120 miles per day in good weather, and two knots or 50 miles per day in unfavorable weather.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

30 CE – 500 CE

The Oldest Surviving Handwritten Documents in Britain Circa 100 CE

Vindolanda Tablet 309, an inventory of wooden goods dispatched dispatched by and to civilians working for the military. (View Larger, with translation.)

The Vindolanda Writing Tablets, excavated from the Roman fort at Vindolanda, one of the main military posts on the Northern frontier of Britain before the building of Hadrian's Wall, were written in carbon ink on wafer-thin slices of wood around 100 CE. The tablets were excavated in 1973 near the modern village of Bardon Mill from waterlogged conditions in rubbish deposits in and around the commanding officer's residence. Experts have identified the handwriting of hundreds of different people in these documents. They confirm that the officers of Vindolanda were most certainly literate, and that some soldiers in the ranks may also have been literate.

"These, and hundreds of other fragments which have come to light in subsequent excavations, are the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain.

"Most of the tablets are official military documents relating to the auxiliary units stationed at the fort. However, others are private letters sent to or written by the serving soldiers. The content is fascinating, giving us a remarkable insight into the working and private lives of the Roman garrison. They also display a great variety of individual handwriting, which adds to our knowledge of Roman cursive writing around AD 100.

"The tablets are not made of wood and wax, previously thought to be the most popular medium for writing in the Roman world apart from papyrus. Instead they are wafer thin slices of wood, written on with carbon ink and quill-type pens. Even after specialised conservation the exacavated tablets are fragile and require a carefully controlled environment" (British Museum, Our Top Ten British Treasures, accessed 05-10-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

A Door-to-Door Bookseller in Egypt, Second Century CE Circa 150 CE

P. Petaus 30, an Egyptian papyrus fragment of a private letter in Greek from Roman Julius Placidus to his father, written about 150 CE by Petaus (Petaus komogrammateus) a village scribe of Ptolemais Hormou (El-Lahun) and surrounding villages, reads in translation as follows:

"Julius Placidus to his father Herclanus, greeting. Dius came to us and showed us six parchment codices (tas membranas hex). We selected none of those, but collated eight, for which I paid on account 100 drachmas. You will be on the lookout in any case. . . I hope you are well. . .by Julius Placidus."

"We get a glimpse here of the ancient counterpart of the door-to-door bookseller. Among his offerings are parchment codices. These were apparently inscribed with texts but were perhaps not well inscribed, since six were not bought. It is not clear whether the eight others that were collated and purchased were rolls or codices . . . (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church [1995] 53).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

700 – 800

Traversing the Mediterranean in Twenty Days 700

"Water is to all primitive systems of transport what railways have been in modern times: the one, indispensable artery for heavy freight. Once a cargo left the waters of the Mediterranean or of a great river, its brisk and inexpensive progress changed to a ruinous slow motion. It cost less to bring a cargo of grain from one end of the Mediterranean to another than to carry it another seventy-five miles inland.

"So the Roman empire always consisted of two, overlapping worlds. Up to A D 700, great towns by the sea remained close to each other: twenty days of clear sailing would take the traveller from one end of the Mediterranean, the core of the Roman world, to the other. Inland, however, Roman life had always tended to coagulate in little oases, like drops of water on a drying surface. The Romans are renowned for the roads that ran through their empire; but the roads passed through towns where the inhabitants gained all that they ate and most of what they used, from within a radius of only thirty miles" (Brown, The World of Late Antiquity AD 150-750 [1989] 12-13).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Surviving Letter Known to Have Been Written from One Englishman to Another 704 – 705

In 1704 Bishop Wealdhere of London wrote a "letter close" , i.e. a letter for private communication, to Archbishop Brihtwold of Canterbury.

This letter, formerly in the library of Robert Cotton, and preserved in the British Library (Brit. Lib. MS Cotton August II, 18), is the earliest surviving

"letter known to have been written by one Englishman to another. . . . Although the letter has no dating clause, internal evidence shows that it cannot have been written earlier than 704, the year of Centred's accession to the Mercian throne, or later than 705, the year of Bishop Haedde's death" (Pierre Chaplais, "The letter from Bishop Wealdhere of London to Archibshop Brihtwold of Canterbury: the earliest original 'letter close' extant in the West", Parkes and Watson (eds.) Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts & Libraries. Essays presented ot N.R. Ker [1978] 3-4).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1200 – 1300

Postal System within the Mongol Empire and China Circa 1200

About 1200 the Genghis KhanGreat Khan (emperor) of the Mongol Empire, installed an empire-wide messenger and postal station system named Örtöö within the Mongol Empire. During the Yuan Dynasty under Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, this system also covered the territory of China. Postal stations were used not only for the transmission and delivery of official mail, but were also available for traveling officials, military men, and foreign dignitaries. These stations aided and facilitated the transport of foreign and domestic tribute, and trade in general. 

By the end of Kublai Khan's rule there were more than 1,400 postal stations in China alone, which in turn had at their disposal about 50,000 horses, 1,400 oxen, 6,700 mules, 400 carts, 6,000 boats, over 200 dogs and 1,150 sheep. The postal stations were 15 to 40 miles apart, and had reliable attendants. Couriers reaching postal stations would be provided food, shelter and spare horses. It was estimated that couriers could travel 20-30 miles per day. Foreign observers, such as Marco Polo attested to the efficiency of this early postal system.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

More than 1000 Birch-Bark Documents Have Been Excavated from Mud in Veliky Novgorod, Russia 1250

On October 18, 2014 David M. Herszenhorn published an article in The New York Times entitled "Where Mud is Archaeological Gold, Russian History Grew on Trees." The article described and illustrated examples of the over 1000 documents, including many letters, written on birch-bark that were excavated from the mud of the Russian city, Veliky Novgorod or Novgorod in Russia. The city, founded in the late 10th century CE, has been the site of numerous invaluable archaeological finds excavated from mud. The large number of documents, which survived since birch-bark does not decay in mud, provide a window into diverse aspects of society in the region during the Middle Ages.

In October 2014 a Russian website (gramoty.ru) concerning the birch-bark documents was available at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Tabula Peutingeriana: the only Roman World Map that Survived from Antiquity Circa 1250

Rome and its vicinity, as depicted on a reproduction the Tabula Peutingeriana. (View Full Map - Very Large)

The Tabula Peutingerianaan itinerarium or Roman road map, is the only Roman world map that survived from antiquity. It depicts the road network of the Roman Empire. The map ssurvives in a unique copy, preserved at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, made by a monk in Colmar, Alsace, in the thirteenth century, of a map that was last revised in the fourth or early fifth century. That, in turn, was a descendent of the map prepared under the direction of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a friend of Augustus. After Agrippa's death the map was engraved on marble and placed in the Porticus Vipsaniae, not far from the Ara Pacis Augustae in Rome.

Description of the Map

The Tabula Peutingeriana "is a parchment scroll, 0.34 m high and 6.75 m long, assembled from eleven sections, a medieval reproduction of the original scroll. It is a very schematic map: the land masses are distorted, especially in the east-west direction. The map shows many Roman settlements, the roads connecting them, rivers, mountains, forests and seas. The distances between the settlements are also given. Three most important cities of the Roman Empire, Rome, Constantinople and Antioch, are represented with special iconic decoration. Besides the totality of the Empire, the map shows the Near East, India and the Ganges, Sri Lanka (Insula Taprobane), even an indication of China. In the west, the absence of the Iberian Peninsula indicates that a twelfth original section has been lost in the surviving copy.

Constantinople, on the original Tabula Peutingeriana. (View Full Scan - WARNING: 30mb File!)

"The table appears to be based on "itineraries", or lists of destinations along Roman roads, as the distances between points along the routes are indicated. Travellers would not have possessed anything so sophisticated as a map, but they needed to know what lay ahead of them on the road, and how far. The Peutinger table represents these roads as a series of roughly parallel lines along which destinations have been marked in order of travel. The shape of the parchment pages accounts for the conventional rectangular layout. However, a rough similarity to the coordinates of Ptolemy's earth-mapping gives some writers a hope that some terrestrial representation was intended by the unknown compilers.

"The stages and cities are represented by hundreds of functional place symbols, used with discrimination from the simplest icon of a building with two towers to the elaborate individualized "portraits" of the three great cities. Annalina and Mario Levi, the Tabulas editors, conclude that the semi-schematic semi-pictorial symbols reproduce Roman cartographic conventions of the itineraria picta described by Vegetius, of which this is the sole testimony."

History of Ownership and Early Publication

The map is named after Konrad Peutinger, a German humanist and antiquarian, who inherited it from Konrad Birkel or Celtes, who claimed to have "found" it somewhere in a library in 1494.  It was copied for Ortelius and published shortly after his death in 1598. A partial first edition was printed at Antwerp in 1591 as Fragmenta tabulæ antiquæ by Johannes Moretus. Moretus printed the full Tabula in December 1598. The map remained in the Peutinger family until 1714, when it was sold.  After that it passed between royal and elite families until it was purchased by Prince Eugene of Savoy for 100 ducats.  Upon the prince's death in 1737 the map was purchased for the Habsburg Imperial Court Library (Hofbibliothek) in Vienna. 

♦ In preparing his 2010 book Rome's World: The Peutinger Map Reconsidered, historian Richard Talbert collaborated with the staff of the Ancient World Mapping Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and with ISAW's Digital Programs team at New York University, to produce digital tools to record and analyze the map. These were published online, and could be accessed in October 2013: 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Carrying the Pope's Response to Kublai Khan 1271

A map of the Polos' eastward journey, begun in 1271. (View Larger)

In 1271 Maffeo and Niccolò Polo set out on a second journey carrying Pope Clement IV's response to Kublai Khan, in 1271. This time Niccolò took his son Marco. When Marco Polo arrived at Kublai Khan's court he became a favorite of the khan and was employed in China for 17 years. "In the 8th Year of Zhiyuan (1271), Kublai Khan officially declared the creation of the Yuan Dynasty, and proclaimed the capital to be at Dadu (Chinese: 大都; Wade–Giles: Ta-tu, lit. "Great Capital", known as Daidu to the Mongols, at today's Beijing) in the following year. His summer capital was in Shangdu (Chinese: 上都, "Upper Capital", a.k.a. Xanadu, near what today is Dolonnur)" (Wikipedia article on Kublai Kahn, accessed 01-25-2012).

"In his book, Il Milione, Marco explains how Kubilai officially received the Polos and sent them back — with a Mongol named Koeketei as an ambassador to the Pope. They brought with them a letter from the Khan requesting educated people to come and teach Christianity and Western customs to his people, and the paiza, a golden tablet a foot long and three inches wide, authorizing the holder to require and obtain lodging, horses and food throughout the Great Khan's dominion. Koeketei left in the middle of the journey, leaving the Polos to travel alone to Ayas in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From that port city, they sailed to Saint Jean d'Acre, capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem."  

"The long sede vacante — between the death of Pope Clement IV, in 1268, , and the election of Pope Gregory X, in 1271— prevented the Polos from fulfilling Kublai’s request. As suggested by Theobald Visconti, papal legate for the realm of Egypt, in Acres for the Ninth Crusade, the two brothers returned to Venice in 1269 or 1270, waiting for the nomination of the new Pope (Wikipedia article on Niccolò and Marco Polo, accessed 04-04-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1300 – 1400

Routine Everyday Messages Inscribed on Rune-Sticks Circa 1350

Since 1955 670 runic inscriptions on wood dating from the fourteenth century were excavated from the medieval city at Bryggen, Bergen, Norway. Excavation took place after a disastrous fire swept through a historic waterfront district. Many of the Bryggen inscriptions are letters and everyday messages cut into small wooden sticks or tablets which were easily transported. 

Before these inscriptions were excavated there was doubt whether the runes were ever used for anything else than inscriptions of names and solemn phrases. The Bryggen find showed that runes were used for routine, everyday messages in this area, and presumably also in other parts of Scandinavia. Another important aspect of the find was that many of the inscriptions dated as recently as the 14th century. Prior to the discoveries at Bryggen it was believed that the use of runes in Norway had died out long before. Since these findings, many more runic inscriptions of this type have been found in Norway.

"There is some evidence for rune-stick letters in Scandinavian contexts as far back as the ninth century. It is possible that the early Anglo-Saxons made extensive use of rune-sticks for practical communications, bu the absence of even one surviving example makes it difficult to proceed beyond speculation. We do have some evidence for familiarity with the runic alphabet among the educated classes of society. For instance, the solution to certain Anglo-Saxon riddles depends upon knowledge of runes . . . ." (Kelly, Anglo-Saxon lay society and the written word," IN: Mckitterick (ed) The Uses of Literarcy in Early Mediaeval Europe [1990] 37).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1450 – 1500

The Inca Road System 1453 – 1533

A map of the Inca road system. (View Larger)

"Among the many roads and trails constructed in pre-Columbian South America, the Inca road system, or Qhapaq Ñan was the most extensive and highly advanced for its time. The network was based on two north-south roads. The eastern route ran high in the puna and mountain valleys from Quito, Ecuador to Mendoza, Argentina. The western route followed the coastal plain except in coastal deserts where it hugged the foothills. More than twenty routes ran over the western mountains, while others traversed the eastern cordilla in the montana and lowlands. Some of these roads reach heights of over 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) above sea level. The trails connected the regions of the Inca empire from the northern provincial capital in Quito, Ecuador past the modern city of Santiago, Chile in the south. The Inca road system linked together about 40,000 km of roadway and provided access to over three million km² of territory.

"These roads provided easy, reliable and quick routes for the Empire's civilian and military communications, personnel movement, and logistical support. The prime users were imperial soldiers, porters and llama caravans, along with the nobility and individuals on official duty. Permission was required before others could walk along the roads, and tolls were charged at some bridges. Although the Inca roads varied greatly in scale, construction and appearance, for the most part they varied between about one and four meters in width.

"Much of the system was the result of the Incas claiming exclusive right over numerous traditional routes, some of which had been built centuries earlier. Many new sections were built or upgraded substantially: through Chile's Atacama desert, and along the western margin of Lake Titicaca, as two examples.

"Spanish chroniclers frequently described lengthy journeys made by the Inca ruler, carried on a litter, and surrounded by thousands of soldiers and retainers, to various parts of his empire.

"Because the Incas did not make use of the wheel for transportation, and did not have horses until the arrival of the Spanish in Peru in the 16th century, the trails were used almost exclusively by people walking, sometimes accompanied by pack animals, usually the llama.

"Relay messengers, or chasqui, stationed at intervals of 6 to 9 km, carried both messages and objects such as fresh marine fish for the rulers in the sierra. Messages consisted of knotted-cord records known as quipu along with a spoken message. Chaskis could cover an estimated 240 km per day.

"There were at least 1,000 and perhaps 2,000 way stations or tambos, placed at even intervals along the trails. These structures were intended to lodge and provision itinerant state personnel.

"Various means were used to bridge water courses. Rafts were used to cross wide meandering rivers. Bridges built of stone or floating reeds were used in marshy highlands. Inca rope bridges provided access across narrow valleys. A bridge across the Apurimac River, west of Cuzco, spanned a distance of 45 meters. Ravines were sometimes crossed by hanging baskets, or oroya, which could span distances of over 50 meters. Bridges were sometimes built in pairs" (Wikipedia article on Inca Road System, accessed 07-24-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Beginning of Printing in Venice September 1469

Portrait of Andrea Navagero Beazzano and Augustine by Raphael, 1516. (Click on image to view larger.)

In September 1469, in order to initiate the new technology in their community, the Venetian Senate granted the German printer Johannes de Spira (Speyer) a five-year monopoly on printing in the city. This was the first monopoly on printing granted by a European government. Speyer probably set up shop in Venice well before September, since issued Cicero's Epistolae ad familiares in an edition of 100 copies in 1469. (ISTC no. ic00504000). "Four months" later he issued a second edition of 300 copies (ISTC no. ic00505000). Also in 1469 he published the first edition of Pliny's Historia naturalis, a long text, in an edition of 100 copies (ISTC no. ip00786000). In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the copy of the first edition of Pliny in the Bibliothèque de Saint Geneviève was available at this link.

From the text of the decree it appears that the Venetian Senate granted the monopoly to Speyer as a way of supporting his ongoing work, which they much admired. The manuscript of the grant is preserved in the Venetian State Archives (ASV, NC, reg. 1, c.55r). It is reproduced in color and translated in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org, from which I quote:

"The art of printing books has been introduced into our renowned state, and from day to day it has become more popular and common through the efforts, study and ingenuity of Master Johannes of Speyer, who chose our city over all the others. Here he lives with his wife, children and whole household; practices the said art of printing books; has just published, to universal acclaim, the Letters of Cicero and Pliny's noble work On Natural History, in the largest type and with the most beautiful letter-forms; and continues every day to print other famous volumes so that [this state] will be enriched by many, famous volumes, and for a low price, by the industry and fortitude of this man. Whereas such an innovation, unique and particular to our age and entirely unknown to those ancients, must be supported and nourished with all our goodwill and resources and [whereas] the same Master Johannes, who suffers under the great expense of his household and the wages of his craftsmen, must be provided with the means so that he may continue in better spirits and consider his art of printing something to be expanded rather than something to be abandoned, in the same manner as usual in other arts, even much smaller ones, the undersigned lords of the present Council, in response to the humble and reverent entreaty of the said Master Johannes, have determined and by determining decreed that over the next five years no one at all should have the desire, possibility, strength or daring to practice the said art of printing books in this the renowned state of Venice and its dominion, apart from Master Johannes himself. Every time that someone shall be found to have dared to practice this art and print books in defiance of this determination and decree, he must be fined and condemned to lose his equipment and the printed books. And, subject to the same penalty, no one is permitted or allowed to import here for the purpose of commerce such books, printed in other lands and places. . . ."


"Scholars and writers too went more readily to Venice than to any other city, in their search for publishers, attracted by the excellence of the local paper stock and typography as much as relatively liberal atmosphere in the city. In contrast to other early modern states where censorship and state regulation took on early to encourage and protect the nascent trade, in Venice, the trade was left virtually uncontrolled in the first years of its development. It was only in 1515 when Andrea Navagero was appointed for the task of the official revision of books that the state began to exercise a degree of control over what was printed. Even then, this literary censorship was primarily concerned with the quality of printed books to secure commercially successful correct editions. Thus the natural play of economic forces had left printers free to establish their printing enterprises and compete against each other in an open market. In other words, Venice was an ideal place from which to begin the 'printing revolution.'

"The rapid expansion of the printing industry leaves no doubt that Venice was the first city in the world to feel the full impact of printing, and to experience the most important revolution in human communications, and a favourable territory in which the system of copyright could develop. This, however, did not make Venice into a champion of literary property. It would take a long time before the copyright holder was identified with the moral or aesthetic personality of the writer.

"The best-known explanation for the emergence of author's rights is a technological one, viewing the need to protect literary production as a consequence of the invention of printing. In a manuscript culture, texts were treated as common property, and copying another man's work was often considered more of a favour than an injury. . . .

"It is not so much printing as the existence of a market in books and ideas that introduced concepts of intellectual property. As the literary market increased in importance, authors, who might well be writing for a living and competing for recognition, began to stress the distinctiveness of their products, in other words their intellectual or literary originality. Printing encouraged the development of such a market and expanded the concept of a book as a commodity (selling object). However, the concept of a book as a particular category of commodity - the work of the mind - was slow to develop" (Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org, accessed 07-24-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1500 – 1550

Avvisi: Hand-Written Newsletters Conveying Political, Military and Economic News 1500 – 1700

Before the development of the first regularly issued printed newspapers in the mid-17th century, from about 1500 to 1700, hand-written newsletters, known in Europe by various names such as avvisi, reporti, gazzette, ragguagli, nouvelles, advis, corantos, courantes, zeitungen, were the fastest and most efficient means by which military and political news could be circulated. From the middle of the 16th century newsletter writers in Italy especially, called menanti, reportisti, or gazzettieri, set up news services, the regularity of which may have been dictated by the postal service network in their region.  By this time postal services in various forms had developed over all of Europe. 

Used to convey political, military and economic news quickly, avvisi first developed in Italy, especially in Rome and Venice, generated by the political intrigues and debates which were a feature of Italian courts at the time. and the desire of each court to know the activities of opposing and even allied courts.  Courts

"were perennially precoccupied with projecting a specific image of their own activities and equally, were comitted to penetrating the political activities and secrets of other courts. Printed gazettes, however, first developed as reports political activities involving the German states and the Flemish area, even though for a long time there was a link between these and the earlier, hand-written, manuscript Italian forms.

"The avvisi produced in Rome in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century are very interesting for many reasons, in particular because they offered the rest of Europe a fairly well-developed, evolved model. . . . Perhaps, indeed, the sixteen-century roots of the avvisi lie in Venice rather than in Rome, but by the middle of the century they were well established in both cities. The news arrived, was gathered, 'packaged' and broadcast.

"It is not difficult to understand why these two cities, in particular, should have played a central role in the development of a 'news service'. The words of Vittorio Siri, explaining his reasons for choosing the place where he would work as a contemporary historian, offer one explanation. He says he needed 'a city like that which Plutarch sought for a historian, that is, where there was a great and powerful court, full of ambassadors and minsters', where 'more than in any other city in the world one could see a multitude of personages and soldiers who had been ambassadors at all the courts of Europe and where civil questions were managed by nobles, where people practiced who possessed refined judicial abilities and were knowledgeable about the affairs of princes. Sir was referring to Venice, bu the capital of the Roman Catholic church was no different. Indeed, only a few years earlier Maiolino Bisaccioni, one of the many adventurous historian-gazsetteers of the period, had declared 'Rome, as you know [is] the place where all the news in the world is found" ( Infelise, "Roman Avvisi: Information and Politics in the Seventeenth century" IN: Signorotto & Visceglia (eds) Court and Politics in Papal Rome, 1492-1700 [2002] 212-213).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1550 – 1600

The First "Unbreakable" Text Autokey Cipher 1553

Table of reciprocal alphabet from a 1555 book by Giovan Battista Bellaso.

In 1553 Italian cryptologist Giovan Battista Bellaso published La Cifra del Sig. Giovan Battista Bel[l]aso, describing a text autokey cipher that was considered unbreakable for four centuries. "He suggested identifying the alphabets by means of an agreed-upon countersign or keyword off-line. He also taught various ways of mixing the cipher alphabets in order to free the correspondents from the need to exchange disks or prescribed tables.

"In 1550 Bellaso "was in the service of Cardinal Duranti in Camerino and had to use secret correspondence in the state affairs while his master was in Rome for a conclave. Versed in research, able in mathematics, Bellaso dealt with secret writing at a time when this art enjoyed great admiration in all the Italian courts, mainly in the Roman Curia. In this golden period of the history of cryptography, he was just one of many secretaries who, out of intellectual passion or for real necessity, experimented with new systems during their daily activities. His cipher marked an epoch and was considered unbreakable for four centuries. As a student of ciphers, he mentioned among his enthusiasts many eminent gentlemen and ‘‘great princes’’. In 1552, he met count Paolo Avogadro, count Gianfrancesco Gambara, and the renowned writer Girolamo Ruscelli, also an expert in secret writing, who urged him to reprint a reciprocal table that he was circulating in loose-leaf form, in print and manuscript. The table was to be duly completed with the instructions. Copies of these tables exist in contemporary private collections in Florence and Rome" (Wikipedia article on Giovan Battista Belaso, accessed 12-22-2008).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1600 – 1650

The First Prepaid Letter Sheets 1608

The Venetian government issued prepaid letter sheets— the first offically sold prepaid postal stationery.

At the top of the sheets the letters "AQ" (a contraction of acque) were printed, as the pre-paid sheets were intended to generate revenue for the repair and upkeep of the waterworks in the city by the Collegio alle Acque. Below the large letters "AQ" and the lion of Venice was a statement of the statute by which the system operated with a surcharge of 4 soldi on the cost of posting a letter.  Each sheet had an identification number printed at the top left, and the name of the revenue officer by whom they were issued. The system  remained in operation until the end of 1797. (Samuel Gedge Ltd., Rare Books Catalogue V [2008] 97.)

A value of these sheets was that the user could assume that the letter would definitely be delivered. Most private  postal services operating at the time charged the recipient for the delivery with the result that mail was often refused.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1650 – 1700

A Universal Language Based on a Classification Scheme or Ontology, and a Universal System of Measurement 1668

In An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language English clergyman and natural philosopher John Wilkins attempted to create a universal, artificial language, based upon an innovative classification of knowledge, by which scholars and philosophers as well as diplomats, scholars, and merchants, could communicate. Wilkins intended his "universal language" as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, existing "natural" languages. His scheme has been called ingenious but completely unworkable.

In this book Wilkins also called for the institution of a "universal measure" or "universal metre," which would be based on a natural phenomenon rather than royal decree, and would also be decimal rather than the various systems of multipliers, often duodecimal, that coexisted at the time. The meter or metre would not gain traction until after the French Revolution.

By "real character" Wilkins meant:

"an ingeniously constructed family of symbols corresponding to an elaborate classification scheme developed at great labor by Wilkins and his colleagues, which was intended to provide elementary building blocks from which could be constructed the universe's every possible thing and notion. The Real Character is emphatically not an orthography in that it is not a written representation of oral speech. Instead, each symbol represents a concept directly, without (at least in the early parts of the Essay's presentation) there being any way of vocalizing it at all; each reader might, if he wished, give voice to the text in his or her own tongue. Inspiration for this approach came in part from (partially mistaken) accounts of the Chinese writing system.

"Later in the Essay Wilkins introduces his "Philospophical Language," which assigns phonetic values to the Real Characters, should it be desired to read text aloud without using any of the existing national languages. (The term philosophical language is an ill-defined one, used by various authors over time to mean a variety of things; most of the description found at the article on "philosophical languages" applies to Wilkins' Real Character on its own, even excluding what Wilkins called his "Philosophical Language")

"For convenience, the following discussion blurs the distinction between Wilkins' Character and his Language. Concepts are divided into forty main Genera, each of which gives the first, two-letter syllable of the word; a Genus is divided into Differences, each of which adds another letter; and Differences are divided into Species, which add a fourth letter. For instance, Zi identifies the Genus of “beasts” (mammals); Zit gives the Difference of “rapacious beasts of the dog kind”; Zitα gives the Species of dogs. (Sometimes the first letter indicates a supercategory— e.g. Z always indicates an animal— but this does not always hold.) The resulting Character, and its vocalization, for a given concept thus captures, to some extent, the concept's semantics.

"The Essay also proposed ideas on weights and measure similar to those later found in the metric system. The botanical section of the essay was contributed by John Ray; . . .  

 "Jorge Luis Borges wrote a critique of Wilkins' philosophical language in his essay El idioma analítico de John Wilkins (The Analytical Language of John Wilkins). He compares Wilkins’ classification to the fictitious Chinese encyclopedia Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, expressing doubts about all attempts at a universal classification. Modern information theory also suggests that it is a bad idea to have words with similar but distinct meanings also sound similar, because mishearings and the resulting confusion would be much more prominent than in real-world languages. In The Search for the Perfect Language, Umberto Eco catches Wilkins himself making this kind of mistake in his text, using Gαde (barley) instead of Gαpe (tulip)" (Wikipedia article on An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, accessed 06-16-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The World's First Postage Stamp from the First Postal Service to Allow Registration and Pre-Payment April 1 – December 1680

On April 1, 1680 English merchant William Dockwra, with partner Robert Murry, founded the first Penny Post in London, for mail delivery within the city of London and its suburbs to a distance of 10 miles.  The service worked on the basis that the one penny postage was paid when the letter was accepted. This was in contrast to alternative private courier systems which were paid upon delivery of mail by the recipient. Under that system mail was often refused. 

Dockwra's London Penny Post was the first postal system to use hand-stamps to postmark the mail to indicate the place and time of mailing and that the postage was prepaid, but handstamps were not used in the first months of the post's existence. The earliest knnown Penny Post postmark is dated December 13, 1680.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Filed under: Communication

1750 – 1800

Faster than a Messenger on Horseback March 2, 1791

On March 2, 1791 inventor Claude Chappe sent his brother the first transmission over their optical telegraph: “si vous reussissez, vous serez bientôt couvert de gloire” (If you succeed, you will soon bask in glory). The initial experimental line ran between Brulon and Parcé.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Invention of Steel Engraving Circa 1792 – 1819

In 1792 American inventor Jacob Perkins invented steel engraving for the process of banknote printing. In America Perkins was unable to commercialize the process successfully.  Motivated by a £20,000 prize offered by the British government for development of unforgable banknotes, in 1818 Perkins moved to England. He and associates "set up shop in England, and spent months on example currency, still on display today. Unfortunately for them, Sir Joseph Banks thought that 'unforgable' also implied that the inventor should be English by birth. Sir Joseph Banks's successors awarded future contracts to the English printing company started with Charles Heath" (Wikipedia article on Jacob Perkins, accessed 10-21-2012).  

In 1819 Perkins received British patent No. 4400 for: "Certain Machinery and Implements Applicable to Ornamental Turning and Engraving, and to the Transferring of Engraved or Other Work from the Surface of One Piece of Metal to another Piece of Metal, and to the Forming of Metallic Dies and Matrices; and also Improvements in the Construction and Method of Using Plates and Presses for Printing Bank Notes and other Papers, whereby the Producing and Combining various Species of Work is effected upon the same Plates and Surfaces, the Difficulty of Imitation increased, and the Process of Printing facilitated; and also an Improved Method of Making and Using Dies and Presses for Coining Money, Stamping Medals, and other Useful Purposes."  The patent included six large folding engineering drawings.  

In England Perkins entered into business arrangements with English engraver, currency and stamp printer, book publisher and illustrator Charles Heath. To produce steel engravings engravers such as Heath had to use special plates supplied by Perkins.  These plates had to be printed on presses designed and provided by Perkins; both the plates and the presses were described in Perkins's patent.  The publisher who first recognized the aesthetic and economic advantages of steel engraving was Longman, who issued twenty books containing, all together, around seventy steel engravings beginning in 1821. Longman's first production using steel engravings was the edition of Thomas Campbell's The Pleasures of Hope issued by Longman on January 10, 1821. Heath's four engraved illustrations for this work, including its engraved title page, were dated 1820. According to Longman's ledgers, 3000 copies of this edition were printed, and in November 1824 a further 3000 copies were printed from the same plates, reflecting the extreme durability of steel engravings compared to engravings from copperplates. There was also a printing dated 1822, as I have a copy in my collection bearing that date. 

Roughly twenty years later in 1840 Perkins's methods reached true mass production when they were used to print the world's first adhesive postage stamp. The process, which proved the extreme durability of steel plates compared to any other available graphic reproduction medium of the time, remained in use until 1879:

"Henry Courbould made a drawing of Queen Victoria from the Medal struck on her accession to the throne for which Perkins, Bacon and Petch paid him £12.00. A piece of steel 3" square x 9/16" thick was annealed several times to remove the carbon and when completely soft the background was engraved with the aid of the geometric lathe, followed by the engraving of Queen's head and the inscription "Postage - One Penny". After hardening, the die became harder than it had been originally and 240 impressions were transferred to the printing plate using the Roll Transfer Press. This Master Die 1 was in use from 1840 to 1855 with master Die 2 being used until 1879 - a tribute to the excellence of Jacob Perkins' plate hardening system. It was proved that fully 400,000 imprints could be taken from a single plate without signs of wear. Altogether, over twenty-two thousand million stamps for Great Britain and the Colonies were printed by the Perkins' process during these years" (http://www.bphs.net/GroupFacilities/J/JacobPerkinsPrinting.htm, accessed 06-24-2012).

Hunnisett, Engraved on Steel. The History of Picture Production using Steel Plates (1998) 112.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Chappe Telegraph 1794

Having been appointed Ingénieur-Télégraphiste and charged with establishing a line of stations between Paris and Lille, a distance of 230 kilometres (about 143 miles), Claude Chappe succeeded in completing his first optical telegraph, or semaphore telegraph

The Chappe telegraph was used to carry dispatches for the war between France and Austria, and communicated  news of a French capture of Condé-sur-l'Escaut from the Austrians less than an hour after it occurred.

"The first symbol of a message to Lille would pass through 15 stations in only nine minutes. The speed of the line varied with the weather, but the line to Lille typically transferred 36 symbols, a complete message, in about 32 minutes. Paris to Strasbourg with 50 stations was the next line and others followed soon after."

Chappe's system was the first widely adopted system to transmit messages overland faster than a messager or horseback can carry a message over a good road system. That speed had remained essentially fixed since Roman times. 

"In the Chappe system messages were encrypted and translated by semaphore signals built on the tops of towers miles apart. A telegrapher in the next tower would read the semaphore signals through a telescope and retransmit the message to the following tower. This process would be repeated, with error-correction checks in place at each repetition, until the message reached the end of the line. Because optical telegraph systems using semaphores required that messages be continually restransmitted from tower to tower, there was no fail-safe way to eliminate error. Furthermore it was necessary to encrypt all messages so that the operators would not be privy to secret information. Thus only the directors of the system and the inspectors were allowed to know the code for message signals. The two operators in each signaling tower knew only the limited set of control codes used for error correction, clock synchronizations, etc. The actual codes were written in codebooks. Claude Chappe's 1795 codebook had 8,940 words and phrases. By 1799 he had added four supplementary codebooks with additional words and phrases, and names of places and people. Thus each message had to include a citation of the code book employed" (Norman, From Gutenberg to the Internet [2005] 174).

"All signals on the semphore telegraph were passed one at a time, in strictly synchronus fashion. The operators were required to check [by telescope] their neighboring stations every few minutes for new signals, and reproduce them as quickly as possible. The operator then had to verify that the next station inline reproduced the signal correctly, and set an error signal if it failed to do so. Each symbol had to be recorded in a logbook, as soon as it was carried to completion. Since no symbolic or numeric code system for representing the semaphore positions was described this was done in the form of little pictograms. . . " (Hotzmann & Pehrson, The Early History of Data Networks [1995] 87).

The Chappe optical telegraph eventually covered France with "a network of 556 stations stretching a total distance of 4,800 kilometres." It was be used for military and national communications until the 1850s.

"By 1824, the Chappe brothers were promoting the semaphore lines for commercial use, especially to transmit the costs of commodities. Napoleon Bonaparte saw the military advantage in being able to transmit information between locations, and carried a portable semaphore with his headquarters. This allowed him to coordinate forces and logistics over longer distances than any other army of his time. However because stations had to be within sight of each other, and because the efficient operation of the network required well trained and disciplined operators, the costs of administration and wages were a continuous source of financial difficulties."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1800 – 1850

Phasing Out Latin as the International Language 1800

Around the year 1800 publication of scientific and medical books in Latin— the international language of scholarship, religion, and science since the Roman Empire— gradually ceased. As the 19th century unfolded most scientific and medical books were published in their vernacular language of authorship, or in French, German or English. Works of scholarship or bibliography that involved Latin texts, and assumed knowledge of Latin, continued to be published in Latin mainly through the first half of the 19th century.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Working Electric Telegraph 1816

In 1816 English meteorologist and inventor Francis Ronalds built the first working electrostatic telegraph. This was the first "electric" medium for communication. Ronalds's device involved two synchronized clocks whose dials were marked with the letters of the alphabet. Instead of hands, each clock had a rotating disk with a notch cut into it so that only one letter on the clock face was visible at a time. Ronalds placed one clock at each end of eight miles of wire insulated by glass tubing that he had laid down in an elaborate series of back & forth coils in his garden in Hammersmith, London, and used electrical impulses to transmit signals between them. He wrote to Viscount Melville, First Lord of the British Admiralty, offering to demonstrate his telegraph, describing his invention as "a mode of conveying telegraphic intelligence with great rapidity, accuracy, and certainty, in all states of the atmosphere, either at night or in the day, and at small expense." However John Barrow, secretary to the admiralty, wrote back to Ronalds saying that "telegraphs of any kind are now [after the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars] totally unnecessary, and that no other than the one now in use [a semaphore telegraph] will be adopted" (quoted in DNB). Ronalds never patented his work. Eventually Charles Wheatstone and William Fothergill Cooke patented and popularized Ronalds's system. 

Ronalds first published an account of his invention in Descriptions of an Electrical Telegraph, and of some other Electrical Apparatus (London, 1823).

Ronalds was also a pioneer collector of books and pamphlets on electricity, magnetism and telegraphy.  Alfred J. Frost edited a catalogue of his library: Catalogue of books, papers... electricity, magnetism, telegraph in the Ronalds Library (1880).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Common Carrier Railroad in the United States July 4, 1828 – May 24, 1830

Construction of the first line on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first common carrier railroad, carrying passengers and freight, in the United States, began on July 4, 1828. The first section, from Baltimore west to Ellicott's Mills (now known as Ellicott City), opened on May 24, 1830.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Braille System of Printing and Reading for the Blind 1829

In 1829, at the age of 20, Louis Braille, a student at l'Institut Royale des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, who had been blind since the age of 5, published Procede pour écrire les Paroles, la Musique et le Plain-chant au moyen de points, a l’usage des aveugles et dispose pour eux. This large quarto volume of 4 preliminary leaves and 32 pages included the first presentation of the Braille system of printing and reading for the blind, which represents letters and numbers by combinations of six dots.

Though Braille introduced his six dot system briefly in his 1829 work, most of the Procede pour écrire was published through the traditional system of printing for the blind using raised letters that was invented by the founder of l'Institut Royale des Jeunes Aveugles, Valentin Haüy.

In 1837 Braille added symbols for mathematics and music to his six dot system.

“The Braille system was not given an immediate welcome; it was only in 1854 that it was officially accepted by the Institute itself. But at an international congress in Paris in 1878 it was adopted throughout Europe. It is now in use virtually throughout the literate world” (Carter & Muir, Printing & the Mind of Man [1967] no. 292.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Origins of the Morse Code 1837

In 1837 Samuel F. B. Morse invented a practical form of electromagnetic telegraph using an early version of his “Morse code.” 

Morse originally devised a cipher code similar to that used in existing semaphore telegraphs, by which words were assigned three or four-digit numbers and entered into a codebook. The sending operator converted words to these number groups and the receiving operator converted them back to words using this codebook. Morse spent several months compiling this code dictionary.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Penny Post: Perhaps the Greatest Single Stimulus to Written Communication 1837 – 1840

Until the development and widespread adoption of the electric telegraph, letter writing was the only way to communicate with people at a distance, and because of the high cost of telegraph, until the invention of the telephone, and later of email, letter writing remained the primary method. However, prior to 1840 sending a letter could cost as much as a day's wage for the working classes, and those receiving a letter had to pay for its delivery. Prepayment was also social slur on the recipient; one had to be financially solvent to receive a letter. If the recipient could not afford to pay for a letter, it was returned to sender. Thus for the working classes, leaving home often meant losing touch with family and friends.

In 1837 English teacher, inventor and social reformer Rowland Hill circulated his privately printed pamphlet, Post Office Reform: its Importance and Practicability. In this Hill explained why the postal system needed reform, and laid out his principles for reform. It may be validly argued that Hill's invention of the Penny Post was the greatest stimulus to written communication in history, making written communication affordable to all classes of society.

"The penny post inaugurated and administered by Rowland Hill required the adoption of four novel principles: (1) prepayment of postage, (2) payment by weight instead of by the number of sheets, (3) the use of envelope, (4) the use of adhesive stamps on letters. Prior to this reform, for example, the use of an envelope would have been a novelty to most letter-writers and entailed double postage" (Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man [1967] 306a).

"In the 1830s, charges were notoriously inconsistent since the Post Office determined single, double, or triple rates according to the number of miles a letter traversed to get to its destination and the number of sheets of paper (and enclosures) a writer used. A letter might not necessarily travel the most direct or economical route. In addition, postal workers used “candling” — an inexact method of holding a letter up to the light — to assess the number of letter sheets or enclosures. Any reader of Jane Austen’s Emma (1815) knows that to save costs, cross writing was common — a writer turned his or her letter horizontally and “crossed” (or wrote over) the original text at a right angle rather than use an additional sheet of paper. Folded letters with a wax seal may look quaint, but like cross writing, this was also a pre-1840s cost cutting measure since that same missive, posted in an envelope, would receive double charge." 

"One of the first things Queen Victoria did when she came to the throne in 1837 was to appoint a Select Committee on Postage, chaired by Robert Wallace MP and charged to look into the condition of the post with a view towards postal rate reduction. Victoria, on August 17, 1839, gave royal assent to the Postage Duties Bill and, in 1840, ushered in Uniform Penny Postage and the enormously popular adhesive postage stamp, prepaid by the sender (an unpaid letter cost the recipient 2 pence to encourage prepayment). The Penny Post abolished the much-abused system of franking — postmarks granting Members of Parliament and the Queen free carriage of mail — and transformed the mail from an expensive tax for revenue to a civic service affordable to all social classes" (http://www.victorianweb.org/technology/letters/intro.html, accessed 04-17-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Foundation of the First Parcel Express Agency in the U.S. 1839

"The first parcel express agency in the United States is generally considered to have been started by William Harriden, who in 1839 began regular trips between New York City and Boston, Massachusetts as a courier transporting small parcels, currency and other valuables" (Wikipedia article on Railway Express Agency, accessed 11-07-2013). 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Probably the World's Oldest Picture Postcard 1840

What has been characterized as "the world's oldest picture postcard" was sent in 1840 to a writer named Theodore Hook who lived at Fulham in London. The image on the hand-colored card with a Penny Black stamp caricatures the postal service by showing post office "scribes" sitting around an enormous inkwell.  It is thought that Hook, a playwright and novelist noted at the time for his "wit and drollery," probably sent the postcard to himself as a practical joke.

The significance of Hook's card was not realized until 2001, when postal historian Edward B. Proud discovered it in a stamp collection. Until then it had been thought the postcard was invented in Austria, Germany or the United States in the 1860s. 

In March 2002 Hook's postcard sold for £31,750 including buyer's premium, at an auction at the London Stamp Exchange.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Penny Black May 1, 1840

As part of the postal reforms initiated by Rowland Hill, the world's first adhesive postage stamp was distributed in London. With an elegant engraving of the young Queen Victoria, the Penny Black was an immediate success. The first stamps were not perforated. 

Although May 6 was the official date that the stamps became available, there are covers postmarked May 2, due to postmasters selling the stamps from May 1. A single example is known on an envelope with a postmark dated  May 1, 1840. 

"The Penny Black was in use for only a little over a year. It was found that a red cancellation was hard to see on a black background and the red ink was easy to remove, making it possible to re-use stamps after they had been cancelled. In 1841, the Treasury switched to the Penny Red and issued cancellation devices with black ink, much more effective as a cancellation and harder to remove. However, the re-use of stamps with the un-cancelled portions of two stamps to form an unused whole impression continued, and in 1864 the stars in the top corners were replaced by the check letters as they appeared in the lower corners, but in reverse order" (Wikipedia article on Penny Black, accessed 01-31-2012).

 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Morse Transmits the First Message by Morse Code May 24, 1844

On May 24, 1844 Samuel F. B. Morse transmitted the first message on a United States experimental telegraph line (Washington to Baltimore) using the “Morse code” that became standard in the United States and Canada. The message, taken from the Bible, Numbers 23:23, and recorded on a paper tape, had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellworth, the young daughter of a friend. It was “What hath God wrought?” The recipient of Morse's message was Morse's associate in developing the telegraph, machinist and inventor Alfred Vail

Vail, who had worked with Morse since September 1837, expanded Morse's original experimental numeric code based on a optical telegraph codes, to include letters and special characters, so it could be used more generally. Vail determined the frequency of use of letters in the English language by counting the movable type he found in the type-cases of a local newspaper in Morristown. The shorter marks were called "dots", and the longer ones "dashes", and the letters most commonly used were assigned the shorter sequences of dots and dashes. Vail was thus responsible for inventing the most useful and efficient features of the Morse Code.

The Morse Code became the first widely used data code.

Probably the first publication of the Morse Code was in Vail's Description of the American ElectroMagnetic Telegraph: Now in Operation between the Cities of Washington and Baltimore (1845). Vail issued two versions of this in 1845: a 24-page pamphlet, which was probably the first, and a much-expanded 208-page book.

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace  (2002) no. 208.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"Notes and Queries", An Early Newsgroup, Begins Publication November 3, 1849

English writer, folklorist, and demographer William John Thoms edited the first issue of Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-Communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiqaries, Genealogists, Etc. published on November 3, 1849. It's motto, quoting Captain Cupple from Dickens's Dombey and Son, which had been published between October 1846 and April 1848, was "When found, make a note of." 

The format of the periodical consisted of "Notes" or miscellaneous findings of correspondents that they and the editors considered of interest to the readership, and "Queries", and responses to queries, which formed the bulk of the publication. Because of its frequent publication, and the question and answer nature of the contents, the magazine may be considered a print analogy to a moderated Internet newsgroup, or an early form of social media.

In 2011 the magazine was published as an academic journal by Oxford University Press.

 "The articles are typically much longer than they were during the journal's early years, though they are still shorter than those of the typical academic journal. In addition, the 'Notes' now far outweigh the 'Queries', and book reviews have also been introduced. The focus is now almost entirely on literature" (Wikipedia article on Notes and Queries, accessed 06-05-2011).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1850 – 1875

Reuter Uses a Fleet of 45 Carrier Pigeons to Deliver News Faster than Railroads 1850

In 1850 Paul Julius Reuter (originally named Israel Beer Josaphat) set up an information service, later called Reuters, using a "fleet of 45 carrier pigeons", to deliver news and stock prices between Brussels and Aachen—terminal points of the German and French-Belgian telegraph lines. Reuter's pigeons carried the messages between Brussels and Aachen within two hours, beating the railroad by six hours.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Incunabula of the Zulu Language, and a Zulu Beadwork Love Letter 1850 – 1937

On March 1, 2014 Claudia Funke, Curator of Rare Books at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, drew my attention to a non-written Zulu beadwork love letter preserved in the "Curosities Cabinet" at the UNC rare book collection. Zulu, the language of about 10 million people, 95% of whom live in South Africa, was not a written language until contact with missionaries from Europe, who documented the language using Latin script. The first grammar book of the Zulu language was published in Norway, rather than in South Africa, by the Norwegian missionary Hans Schreuder, founder of the first Christian mission in Zululand: Grammatike for Zulu-sproget, forfattet af H.P.S. Schreuder (Christiania [Oslo], 1850). According to the Wikipedia, the first published book printed in Zulu was a Bible translation: Ibaible eli ingcwele; eli Netestamente Elidala, Nelitya, kukitywa kuzo izilimi zokuqala, ku lotywa ngokwesizulu. The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, translated out of the original tongues, into the Zulu language (New York: American Bible Society, 1883). Considering how late reading and writing came to the Zulus, we can well understand how non-written communication evolved in this culture in interesting ways.

According to Claudia Funke,

"In 1937, Daniel M. Malcolm, Chief Inspector of Native Education in Natal, South Africa, brought the letter to UNC-Chapel Hill as a visual aid for a lecture he gave at that year’s “Conference on Education of American Negroes and African Natives.” Malcolm explained that the letter was written by a girl to her beloved. The white beads indicate the purity of her heart, and the red beads show that her heart is broken and bleeding for her beloved. The four black squares represent four questions about their relationship that he must answer. Malcolm gave the love letter to UNC and its Hanes Foundation for the Study of the Origin and Development of the Book. It subsequently became part of the RBC’s “Curiosities Cabinet,” which houses many other non-codex objects of significance for the history of the book, such as cuneiform tablets and papyrus fragments."

It may be impossible to date the Zulu beadwork love letter at UNC accurately, so I assigned the accession date at UNC as a terminal date for this entry.

Long after Zulus achieved literacy, the tradition of non-written, or at least partly non-written, Zulu love letters appears to be continuing, as reflected in the 2004 film Zulu Love Letter:

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Using a Fleet of 200 Carrier Pigeons and the Telegraph 1851

In 1851 Paul Julius Reuter founded the Reuters news agency in London using telegraph lines, and a fleet of carrier pigeons that grew to exceed 200. Reuter opened an office in London’s financial center close to the main telegraph offices. He transmitted stock market quotations and news between London and Paris over the new Dover-Calais submarine telegraph cable, using his "telegraph expertise."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Cyrus Field Intends to Lay an Atlantic Cable 1854 – 1856

In New York in 1854 entrepreneur and promoter Cyrus Field organized the New York, Newfoundland, and London Electric Telegraph Company with the intention of laying an Atlantic Cable. Working with Samuel Morse and the Brett brothers, the company laid a cable from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to Cape Ray on the west coast of Newfoundland in 1855. The next challenge was to lay a 400 mile cable across Newfoundland to St John’s on its east coast. This was completed in 1856. At the end of this cable was a telegraph station at Trinity Bay.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Cyrus Field and Partners Found The Atlantic Telegraph Company 1856

In 1856 Cyrus W. Field in New York and Charles Bright, John Brett, and Jacob Brett in England formed The Atlantic Telegraph Company to lay and exploit commercially a telegraph cable across the Atlantic ocean. 

"The project stemmed from an agreement between the American Cyrus Field and the Englishmen John Watkins Brett and Charles Tilston Bright, and was incorporated in December 1856 with £350,000 capital, raised principally in London, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. The board of directors was composed of eighteen members from the UK, nine from the U.S. and three from Canada. The original three projectors were joined by E.O.W. Whitehouse as chief electrician. Curtis M. Lampson served ably as vice-chairman for over a decade. 

"The board recruited the physicist William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), who had publicly disputed some of Whitehouse's claims. The two enjoyed a tense relationship before Whitehouse was dismissed when the first cable failed in 1858" (Wikipedia article on Atlantic Telegraph Company, accessed 12-25-2012).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Attempt to Lay the Atlantic Cable Fails August 11, 1857

The first attempt to lay the Atlantic Cable used the American navy vessel Niagara and the British steam and sail powered battleship HMS Agamemnon. The Niagara was then the largest navy ship in the world: 345 feet long, 55 feet wide and 5,800 tons. On August 11, 1857 the cable snapped.and an inquiry was held on August 20 to assess the causes of failure. One conclusion arising from this was that any future expedition should commence mid-ocean with the two ships splicing their respective halves of the Atlantic cable before sailing in opposite directions towards Newfoundland and Ireland.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Reuters Expands, Following Telegraph Lines 1858

In 1858 Reuters opened offices all over Europe, following telegraph lines.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Distance Learning Program 1858

In 1858 Queen Victoria chartered the University of London's External Programme, making it the first university to offer distance learning degrees by mail to students. Charles Dickens referred to the non-denominational University of London as the "People's University" because it provided access to higher education to students from less affluent backgrounds,

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Atlantic Cable Operates Successfully for Three Weeksication on the Cable Fails Within 3 Weeks August 16 – September 18, 1858

On August 16, 1858 communication was established on the Atlantic Cable. The first message sent from Cyrus StationValentia Island, Ireland, to the Directors Atlantic Co, New York read as follows:

"Europe and America United by Telegraph! Glory to God in the Highest! On earth peace and good will to men!" 

in 23 days of operation a total of 271 messages, totalling 14,168 letters, were sent from Newfoundland to Valentia Island and 129 messages totalling 7,253 letters were sent from Valentia Island to Newfoundland. However, on the 18th September 1858 the cable failed.

On March 4-5, 2014 Christie's in New York auctioned the original transcript of the first telegraph message to be sent across the Atlantic Cable. According to their description, the message was sent to director Watts Sherman (1812-1865). Sherman, a prominent New York banker and co-founder of Duncan, Sherman & Co., was among the Honorary Directors, who also included luminaries such as August Belmont and Peter Cooper.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Pony Express: Operational for Just a Little More than One Year April 3, 1860 – October 26, 1861

The legendary Pony Express, a fast mail service crossing the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California was operational only for little more than one year, from April 3, 1860 to October 26, 1861. Carrying messages by horseback riders in relays to stations across the prairies, plains, deserts and mountains of the western United States, it reduced the transit time for messages between the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts to about 10 days, with telegraphic communication covering about half the distance and couriers on horseback covering the rest.

"In 1860 there were about 157 Pony Express stations that were about 10 miles (16 km) apart along the Pony Express route. This was roughly the distance a horse could travel at a gallop before tiring. At each station stop the express rider would change to a fresh horse, taking only the mail pouch called a mochila (from the Spanish for pouch or backpack) with him. The employers stressed the importance of the pouch. They often said that, if it came to be, the horse and rider should perish before the mochila did. The mochila was thrown over the saddle and held in place by the weight of the rider sitting on it. Each corner had a cantina, or pocket. Bundles of mail were placed in these cantinas, which were padlocked for safety. The mochila could hold 20 pounds (10 kg) of mail along with the 20 pounds of material carried on the horse. Included in that 20 pounds were a water sack, a Bible, a horn for alerting the relay station master to prepare the next horse, a revolver, and a choice of a rifle or another revolver.  Eventually, everything except one revolver and a water sack was removed, allowing for a total of 165 pounds (75 kg) on the horse's back. Riders, who could not weigh over 125 pounds, changed about every 75–100 miles (120–160 km), and rode day and night. In emergencies, a given rider might ride two stages back to back, over 20 hours on a quickly moving horse.

"It is unknown if riders tried crossing the Sierra Nevada in winter, but they certainly crossed central Nevada. By 1860 there was a telegraph station in Carson City, Nevada. The riders received $25 per week as pay. A comparable wage for unskilled labor at the time was about $1 per week" (Wikipedia article on Pony Express, accessed 12-24-2010).

Completion of the first transcontinental telegraph line on October 24, 1861 made the Pony Express obsolete, and it shut down two days later.  Remarkably, this legendary U.S. mail service existed for only one year and seven months!

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Origins of Network Neutrality June 16, 1860

The U.S. Federal Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860, passed June 16, 1860 to subsidize a telegraph line that would complete telegraphic communication between the east and west coast of the United States, incorporated one of the earliest statements of network neutrality: 

"messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception, excepting that the dispatches of the government shall have priority. . ." (Wikipedia article on Network neutrality, accessed 12-24-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

New York and San Francisco are Connected by Telegraph October 24, 1861

The first transcontinental telegraph line connected New York and San Francisco.  As a result of the completion of this line, the Pony Express was immediately obsolete, and it ceased operations two days later.

The single overland telegraph line was operated until 1869, when it was replaced by a multi-line telegraph that had been constructed alongside the route of the Transcontinental Railroad.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The True Inventor of the Telephone? October 27, 1861

Johann Philipp Reis, a German schoolteacher and physicist, announced his invention of the telephone in a lecture before the Physical Society of Frankfurt. He published "Ueber Telephonie durch den galvanischen Strom" in Jahres-Bericht des physikalischen Vereins zu Frankfurt am Main fur des Rechungshahr 1860-1861 (1861). 

Reis's transmitter worked by alternatively making and breaking connection with a battery, while his receiver was designed to operate on the principle of magnetorestriction -- the property of ferromagnetic material such as iron to change shape on applicate of a magnetic field. Neither of these principles was adequate for constructing a successful speech-transmitting telephone, which requires continous contact and an undulating current; however,

"If the sound entering a Reis transmitter is not too strong, contact between the metal point and the metal strip will not be broken. Instead, the pressure of the former on the latter will fluctuate with the sound causing fluctuations in the electrical resistance and therefore in the current. Similarly the receiver will respond to continuously fluctuating as well as to intermittent currents (but not by magnetorestrction). The sensitivity, however, is extremely low. . . ." (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 15th edition.)

This may explain the partial but real success of Reis's telephone in transmitting intelligible speech.

Between 1858 and 1863 Reis constructed three different models of his telephone, the third and best-known of which was demonstrated to scientific societies throughout Europe and America. One of those who saw Reis's machine was Alexander Graham Bell, who was shown Reis's telephone at the Smithsonian Institution in March 1875, and who might have seen an earlier model demonstrated in Edinburgh as early as 1862.

Reis had no interest in profiting from his telephone, freely giving out information on it to anyone who asked, and selling models of it at a reasonable price. Reis died of tuberculosis in 1874 at the early age of 40.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

In the Second Attempt to Lay the Atlantic Cable, the Cable Snaps after 1200 Miles July 1865

Using the Great Eastern steamship, the attempt to lay the second Atlantic Cable was undertaken in July 1865. The cable snapped after twelve hundred miles.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Third and Successful Atlantic Cable July 27, 1866

On July 27, 1866, roughly ten years after the project began, the Great Eastern laid the third and successful Atlantic Cable, connecting the cable at Heart’s Content, a fishing village in Newfoundland, with the Telegraph Field (also known as Longitude Field) Foilhommerum Bay, Valentia Island, in western Ireland.  Communication by electric telegraph between Europe and America was finally established on a permanent basis. The first message sent over the cable was “A treaty of peace has been signed between Austria and Prussia."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Baudot Code: The First Means of Digital Communication 1870 – 1874

In 1870 French telegraph engineer Émile Baudot invented the Baudot code, a character set predating EDCDIC and ASCII, which has been called the first means of digital communication. In Baudot's code each character in the alphabet is represented by a series of bits sent over a communication channel. The symbol rate measurement (symbols per second or pulses per second) is known as baud in Baudot's honor.

"Baudot invented his original code during 1870 and patented it during 1874. It was a 5-bit code, with equal on and off intervals, which allowed telegraph transmission of the Roman alphabet and punctuation and control signals. It was based on an earlier code developed by Carl Friedrich Gauss and Wilhelm Weber in 1834.

"Baudot's original code was adapted to be sent from a manual keyboard, and no teleprinter equipment was ever constructed that used it in its original form. The code was entered on a keyboard which had just five piano type keys, operated with two fingers of the left hand and three fingers of the right hand. Once the keys had been pressed they were locked down until mechanical contacts in a distributor unit passed over the sector connected to that particular keyboard, when the keyboard was unlocked ready for the next character to be entered, with an audible click (known as the "cadence signal") to warn the operator. Operators had to maintain a steady rhythm, and the usual speed of operation was 30 words per minute." (Wikipedia article on Baudot code, accessed 12-22-2011).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Pigeon Post into Paris: The First Important Application of Microfilm September 19, 1870 – January 28, 1871

During the four and a half months, from September 19, 1870 to January 28, 1871, of the Siege of Paris by German armies in the Franco-Prussian War normal channels of communication were interrupted, and the only way for the provincial government in Tours to communicate with Paris was by pigeon post.

During the Siege French photographer and inventor of microfilm René Dagron "proposed to the authorities to use his microfilming process to carry the messages by carrier pigeons. Rampont, the man in charge of the carrier pigeon program, agreed and a contract was signed on 11 November. According to the contract Dagron was to be paid 15 francs per 1000 characters photographed. A clause in the contract, signed by an official named Picard, gave Dagron the title of "chief of the photomicroscopic correspondence postal service" mentioning in French: 'M. Dagron a le titre de chef de service des correspondences postales photomicroscopiques. Il relève directement du Directeur Général des Postes,' which translates as 'Mr. Dagron has the title of the chief of the photomicroscopic correspondence postal service. He reports directly to the Director General of the Post Office.'

"After a period of difficulties and through hardships brought on by the war and the lack of equipment, Dagron finally achieved a photographic reduction of more than 40 diameters. The microfilms so produced weighed approximately 0.05 grams each and a pigeon was able to carry up to 20 at a time. Up to that point a page of a message could be copied in a microfilm approximately measuring 37 mm by 23 mm but Dagron was able to reduce this to a size of approximately 11 mm by 6 mm which was a significant reduction in the area of the microphotograph.

"Dagron photographed pages of newspapers in their entirety which he then converted into miniature photographs. He subsequently removed the collodion film from the glass base and rolled it tightly into a cylindrical shape which he then inserted into miniature tubes that were transported fastened on the wings of pigeons. Upon receipt the microphotograph was reattached to a glass frame and was then projected by magic lantern on the wall. The message contained in the microfilm could then be transcribed or copied. By 28 January 1871, when Paris and the Government of National Defense surrendered, Dagron had delivered 115,000 messages to Paris by carrier pigeon" (Wikipedia article on René Dagron, accessed 04-26-2009).

After the seige was over Dagron issued from Paris in 1871 a very small 24-page pamphlet in 12mo format describing the achievements of the Pigeon Post, La poste par pigeons voyageurs. Souvenir du Siège du Paris. Spécimen identique d'une des pellicules de dépêches portées a Paris par pigeons voyageurs. When issued the pamphlets contained actual samples of two pieces of microfilm presented in a glassine envelope inserted in a small printed folder inside the pamphlet.  Most of the surviving copies of the pamphlet no longer contain the microfilms.

J. D. Hayhurst, The Pigeon Post into Paris 1870-1871 (1970) provides a comprehensive account, and reproduces a number of original documents including photomicrographs.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1875 – 1900

Bell Invents and Patents the Telephone February – May 10, 1876

In February 1876 Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in Boston and applied for the patent. Patent no. 174,465, Improvement in Telegraphy, was issued to Bell on March 7, 1876, by the U.S. Patent Office. Bell's patent covered "the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically . . . by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound." In his invention of the telephone Bell was preceded by Philip Reis, who perfected his device in 1861, and numerous other inventors played lesser or greater roles. However, Bell was the first to create a telephone that could reproduce intelligible speech at the receiving end, and was also the first to patent the telephone. Because of the numerous other inventors involved there was unusually extensive and historic litigation over the telephone patents, culminating in Bell's victory. Among the controversies was the question of the priority of Elisha Gray in the invention.

As the well-known story goes, on March 10, 1876 Bell spoke the first words through the instrument to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, in the next room. Bell said, "Mr. Watson— come here— I want to see you." This was Bell's first proof that his invention actually worked.

Bell presented his first report on the telephone to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston on May 10, 1876. His report, "Researches in telephony," was published in Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, new series 4 (whole series 12) (1877) 1-10.  Bell's telephone did not become commercially viable until 1878.

♦In December 2013 a digital facsimile of Bell's laboratory notebook recording his March 10, 1876 experiment was available from the Library of Congress at this link.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science & Medicine (1991) no. 164.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Regular Telephone Line & The First Telephone Switchboard 1877

Construction of the first regular telephone line was completed in 1877. It ran from Boston to Somerville, Massachusetts. Also in 1877, the first telephone switchboard was set up in Boston.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Foundation of International Parcel Post Service 1878 – 1896

"The term "parcel post" refers to the sending of packages through the mail service. In 1878, the Congress of the Universal Postal Union established an international parcel post system. Four years later, the British parliament approved a bill implementing domestic, colonial and foreign parcel post services. Other countries quickly followed suit. The US Post Office Department agreed to deliver parcels sent into the country but refused to institute a domestic service.

"In the late 1800's, the National Grange and similar organizations concerned with farmers' welfare lobbied Congress for the free delivery of mail to rural households. Many rural residents had to travel for days to retrieve their mail from distant post offices or pay private express companies for delivery. Finally, in October 1896, Congress approved the establishment of rural free delivery. It was a heady taste of life for rural Americans and soon increased the demand for delivery of packages containing foodstuffs, dry goods, drugs, tobacco and other commodities not easily available to farmers.

"Private express companies and rural retail merchants fought tenaciously against parcel post but rural residents comprised 54 percent of the country's population and they were equally vociferous. While the question was still being debated in Congress, one of the major express companies declared a large stockholder dividend. Public indignation at the exorbitant profits spurred Congress to resolve the issue quickly" (http://www.sil.si.edu/ondisplay/parcelpost/intro.htm, accessed 11-07-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Wireless Telephone Communication April 1, 1880

On April 1, 1880 American inventor Alexander Graham Bell and his then-assistant Charles Summer Tainter transmitted the first wireless telephone message 213 meters on a beam of light between the roof of the Franklin School and the window of Bell's Washington, D. C. laboratory using the photophone

"The photophone used crystalline selenium cells at the focal point of its parabolic receiver. This material's electrical resistance varies inversely with the illumination falling upon it, i.e., its resistance is higher when it is in the dark, and lower when it is exposed to light. The idea of the photophone was thus to modulate a light beam: the resulting varying illumination of the receiver would induce a corresponding varying resistance in the selenium cells, which were then used by a telephone to regenerate the sounds captured at the receiver. The modulation of the transmitted light beam was done by a mirror made to vibrate by a person's voice: the thin mirror would alternate between concave and convex forms, thus focusing or dispersing the light from the light source. The photophone functioned similarly to the telephone, except the photophone used light as a means of projecting information, while the telephone relied on a modulated electrical signal carried over a conductive wire circuit" (Wikipedia article on Photophone, accessed 03-27-2010).

Bell's and Tainter's invention, for which Bell received the master patent (U.S. Patent 235,199) in December 1880, was the forerunner of wireless telecommunications and the far-advanced forerunner of fiber-optic telecommunications.

According to Long & Groth, Bibliography of Early Optical (Audio) Communications (2005) Bell's first paper on the photophone, "Prof. A. G. Bell on Selenium and the Photophone," was first published in The Electrician No 5, 18 September 1880, 220-221 and 2 October 1880, 237. The complete paper also was published in Nature (London) Vol 22, 23 September 1880, 500 - 503. Thus the first complete publication appears to be the version published in Nature.

Bell's longer paper "On the Production and Reproduction of Sound by Light: the Photophone" was first published in American Assocation  for the Advancement of Science, Proceedings, Vol 29., October 1880, 115-136. This paper was widely reprinted in other journals. "In these papers, Bell accords the credit for the first demonstrations of the transmission of speech by light to a Mr A C Brown of London 'in September or October 1878' "(Wikipedia article on Photophone, accessed 03-27-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Telautograph July 31, 1888

Inventor Elisha Gray of Highland Park, Illinois received the first of six patents for the Telautograph, an early precursor of the fax machine.  

The telautograph transmitted electrical impulses recorded by potentiometers at the sending station to servomechanisms attached to a pen at the receiving station, reproducing a drawing or signature made by the sender at the receiving station.  It was the first device to transmit drawings to a stationary sheet of paper; previous inventions in Europe had used rotating drums to record these transmissions.

In an interview in The Manufacturer & Builder (Vol. 24: No. 4 (1888) 5–86) Gray made this statement:

"By my invention you can sit down in your office in Chicago, take a pencil in your hand, write a message to me, and as your pencil moves, a pencil here in my laboratory moves simultaneously, and forms the same letters and words in the same way. What you write in Chicago is instantly reproduced here in fac-simile. You may write in any language, use a code or cipher, no matter, a fac-simile is produced here. If you want to draw a picture it is the same, the picture is reproduced here. The artist of your newspaper can, by this device, telegraph his pictures of a railway wreck or other occurrences just as a reporter telegraphs his description in words. The telautograph became very popular for the transmission of signatures over a distance, and in banks and large hospitals to ensure that doctors' orders and patient information were transmitted quickly and accurately" (quoted in Wikipedia article on Telautograph, accessed 03-02-2011).

Gray's patents on the telautograph are:

Gray, Elisha. "Art of Telegraphy", United States Patent 386,814, July 31, 1888.

Gray, Elisha. "Telautograph", United States Patent 386,815, July 31, 1888.

Gray, Elisha. "Telautograph", United States Patent 461,470, October 20, 1891.

Gray, Elisha. "Art of and Apparatus for Telautographic Communication", United States Patent 461,472, October 20, 1891.

Gray, Elisha. "Telautograph", United States Patent 491,347, February 7, 1893.

Gray, Elisha. "Telautograph", United States Patent 494,562, April 4, 1893.

Jean Renard Ward, History of Pen and Gesture Computing http://rwservices.no-ip.info:81/pens/biblio70.html#Gray1888b, accessed 03-02-2011

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Lewis Carroll Wrote or Received 98,000 Letters January 14, 1898

On January 14, 1898 the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican clergyman, and photographer, best known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, died. He had spent nearly his entire life at Christ Church College, Oxford, in various capacities. In addition to his published writings, which included Alice in Wonderland, Dodgson maintained a meticulous ledger recording his incoming and outgoing correspondence over his lifetime. As a reflection of how many letters an individual could exchange in this era before telephone, Dodgson/Carroll wrote or received approximately 98,000 letters.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1910 – 1920

The U. S. Post Office Begins Parcel Post Service January 1, 1913

"The service began on January 1, 1913. And begin it did. At the stroke of midnight Postmaster Edward M. Morgan in New York City and Postmaster General Hitchcock dropped packages addressed to each other into the mail, racing to be the first to use the service. They were not alone in looking to create a “first” out of the new service. These cups were the first objects officially mailed under the new service. But the first package to be delivered was 11 pounds of apples sent to New Jersey governor (and President-Elect) Woodrow Wilson. The Woodrow Wilson Club of Princeton deposited the apples at a local post office at precisely 12:01 a.m. By prearrangement, the carrier assigned to normally deliver the governor’s mail, David Gransom, received the parcel “before the cancelling ink was dry” and set off “driving furiously down the muddy street for the president elect’s home.” He delivered the apples to the waiting Wilson at 12:04 a.m. Wilson met Gransom at the door, signed for the package, and presented the carrier with the pencil" (http://www.npm.si.edu/parcelpost100/p3.html, accessed 11-07-2013).

"Parcel post service began on January 1, 1913 and was an instant success. During the first five days of service, 1,594 post offices reported handling over 4 million parcel post packages. The effect on the national economy was electric. Marketing through parcel post gave rise to great mail-order businesses. In addition, parcel post created an immediate demand for special packaging suitable for mailing the wide array of commodities considered deliverable under the system" (http://www.sil.si.edu/ondisplay/parcelpost/intro.htm, accessed 11-07-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1920 – 1930

A Logarithmic Law for Communication 1924

In “Certain Factors Affecting Telegraph Speed,” Bell System Technical Journal 3 (1924) 324–346, information theorist Harry Nyquist analyzed factors affecting telegraph transmission speed, presenting the first statement of a logarithmic law for communication, and the first examination of the theoretical bounds for ideal codes for the transmission of information.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Sarnoff Creates NBC 1926

In 1926 David Sarnoff of Radio Corporation of America (RCA) created the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) for radio broadcasting.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Hartley's Law 1928

In 1928 information theorist Ralph V. R. Hartley of Bell Labs published “Transmission of Information,” in which he proved "that the total amount of information that can be transmitted is proportional to frequency range transmitted and the time of the transmission."

Hartley's law eventually became one of the elements of Claude Shannon's Mathematical Theory of Communication.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1930 – 1940

The Voder, the First Electronic Speech Synthesizer: a Simplified Version of the Vocoder 1936 – 1939

Between 1936 and 1939 electronic and acoustic engineer Homer Dudley and a team of engineers at Bell Labs produced the first electronic speech synthesizer, called the Voder ("Voice Operation DEmonstratoR").

The Voder was demonstrated at the 1939-1940 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York and the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, San Francisco Bay, by experts who used a keyboard and foot pedals to play the machine and emit speech.

♦ The Voder was a simplified version of the Vocoder (short for voice encoder) developed by Dudley from 1926 onward, and for which Dudley received US patent 2151091 A for Signal Transmission on March 21, 1939. Dudley's vocoder was used in the SIGSALY system built by Bell Labs engineers in 1943. SIGSALY was used for encrypted high-level voice communications during World War II.  Since then the Vocoder has been widely applied in music, television production, filmmaking and games, usually for robots or talking computers.

On August 19, 2014 Nate Lavey and Jay Caspian Kang posted an outstanding video in NewYorker.com as Object of Interest: The Vocoder. The video, which is embedded here, can be slow to load.

(This entry was last revised on 08-20-2014.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1940 – 1950

The Nyquist-Shannon Sampling Theorem 1940

In 1940 American mathematician, electrical engineer, and cryptographer Claude Shannon wrote Communication in the Presence of Noise. Because of World War II censorship the report was not published until 1949.

"The sampling theorem was implied by the work of Harry Nyquist in 1928 ('Certain topics in telegraph transmission theory'), in which he showed that up to 2B independent pulse samples could be sent through a system of bandwidth B; but he did not explicitly consider the problem of sampling and reconstruction of continuous signals. About the same time, Karl Küpfmüller showed a similar result, and discussed the sinc-function impulse response of a band-limiting filter, via its integral, the step response Integralsinus; this bandlimiting and reconstruction filter that is so central to the sampling theorem is sometimes referred to as a Küpfmüller filter (but seldom so in English).

"The sampling theorem, essentially a dual of Nyquist's result, was proved by Claude E. Shannon in 1949 ('Communication in the presence of noise'). V. A. Kotelnikov published similar results in 1933 ('On the transmission capacity of the 'ether' and of cables in electrical communications', translation from the Russian), as did the mathematician E. T. Whittaker in 1915 ('Expansions of the Interpolation-Theory', 'Theorie der Kardinalfunktionen'), J. M. Whittaker in 1935 ('Interpolatory function theory'), and Gabor in 1946 ('Theory of communication')" (Wikipedia article on Nyquist-Shannon Sampling Theorem, accessed 01-04-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Actress Hedy Lamarr Invents Spread-Sprectrum 1940

In 1940 Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr and her neighbor, avant-garde composer George Antheil, invented “frequency-hopping” transmission, now called spread-spectrum. The following year Lamarr patented "frequency-hopping" under her then-married name of H. K. Markey, and assigned the patent to the U.S. Government. This early version of frequency hopping used a piano-roll to change between 88 frequencies, and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam.

♦ In 2011 historian and writer Richard Rhodes told this unusual story in detail in Hedy's Folly. The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Communication by Geosynchronous Satellites Predicted October 1945

In October 1945 British science fiction writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke published "Extra-Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage?," Wireless World (October 1945) 205-308. In article Clarke envisaged a group of three manned space stations arranged in a triangle around the earth, launched by versions of the German V-2 (A4), or the larger planned, but not constructed, German A10 intercontinental ballistic missile.

The idea of satellites in geostationary orbit was first proposed by Herman Potočnik in his 1929 book issed in Berlin, Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums - der Raketen-Motor. Clarke cited this work as a reference in his 1945 paper.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"A Mathematical Theory of Communication" July – October 1948

During July and October 1948 Claude Shannon of MIT and Bell Labs published his Mathematical Theory of Communication. The theory determined how much information could be sent per unit of time in a system with a given, limited amount of transmission power. In this work Shannon also introduced the term "bit" into the literature, and provided its current meaning in the context of information.  Shannon attributed the origin of this word usage to John W. Tukey, who had written a Bell Labs memo on January 9, 1947 in which Tukey contracted "binary digit" to simply "bit".  

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1950 – 1960

The Hamming Codes 1950

In 1950 Richard W. Hamming of Bell Labs and the City College of New York published Error Detecting and Error Codes.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

After 1954 More News Was Distributed Electronically than on Paper 1950

According to Asa Brigg’s The History of British Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Vol. 4, p. 524, newspaper circulation in Britain as a distribution medium for news reached its peak in 1950 and 1954. Thereafter more news was distributed over radio and television than through print.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Miller's "Language and Communication" 1951

In 1951 American cognitive psychologist George Armitage Miller, then teaching at Harvard, published Language and Communication. Influenced by Claude Shannon's A Mathematical Theory of Communication (1948), this book

"used a probabilistic model imposed on a learning-by-association scheme borrowed from behaviorism, with Miller not yet attached to a pure cognitive perspective.The first part of the book reviewed information theory, the physiology and acoustics of phonetics, speech recognition and comprehension, and statistical techniques to analyze language. The focus was more on speech generation than recognition. The second part had the psychology: idiosyncratic differences across people in language use; developmental linguistics; the structure of word associations in people; use of symbolism in language; and social aspects of language use " (Wikipedia article on Goerge Armitage Miller, accessed 12-30-2012).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Sputnik is Launched October 4, 1957

On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite, during the International Geophysical Year from Site No.1/5, at the 5th Tyuratam range, in Kazakh SSR (now at the Baikonur Cosmodrome).  This began the "Space Race" between the United States and the Soviet Union.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

An Improved Modem 1958

Though modems existed for teletype since the 1940s, these transmitted at speeds of about 150 bpi. To meet demands of the U.S. military, in 1958 researchers at Bell Labs developed an improved modem (modulator-demodulator), using amplitude magnification to provide a way to convert digital signals to analog signals and back for transmission at speeds up to 1600 bpi over analog telephone lines.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The U.S. Launches Explorer-1 January 31, 1958

On January 31, 1968, four months after the Soviets launched Sputnik, the United States launched its first artificial satellite, Explorer-1, officially known as Satellite 1958 Alpha, from Cape Canaveral Missile Annex, Florida. It was built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, and it ceased transmission on May 23 after less than 4 months.

Explorer I is credited with the most important discovery of the International Geophysical Year: the discovery of one of the belts of radiation surrounding the earth. They were subsequently named the Van Allen Belts after James Van Allen, the scientist who identified them.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Voice Transmission from the First Communications Satellite December 19, 1958

On December 19, 1958 President Eisenhower's brief Christmas greeting was transmitted from the Project SCORE (Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment) satellite. This was the first voice transmission from the world's first communications satellite. Eisenhower said:

"This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from a satellite traveling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America's wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere."

 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Human Versus Machine Intelligence and Communication (1959) 1959

"Somewhat the same problem arises in communicating with a machine entity that would arise in communicating with a person of an entirely different language background than your own. A system of logical definition and translation would have to be available. In order that meanings should not be lost, such a system of translation would also need to be precise. We are all familiar with the unhappy results of language translations which are either lacking in precision or where suitable words of equivalent meaning cannot be found. Likewise, translating into a machine language cannot be anything but an exact operation. Machines even more than people must be addressed with clarity and unambiguity, for machines cannot improvise on their own or imagine that about which they have not been specifically informed, as a human might do within reasonable limits of error. . . .

"We must now ascertain how concepts are formulated within the framework of computer language. For analogy, let us first consider the manner in which instructions are usually given to a non-mechanical entity. When we instruct, for example, a human being, we are aided by the fact that the human is usually able to fill in gaps in our instructions through acumen acquired from his own past experiences. It is seldom necessary that instructions be either detailed or literal, although we may have lost sight of this fact.

"The computer in a correlate example is a mechanical 'being' which must be instructed at each and every step. But it can be given a very long list of instructions upon which it can be expected to subsequently act with great speed and accuracy and with untiring repetition. Machine traits are: low comprehension, high retention, extreme reliability, and tremendous speed. The use of superlatives here to describe these traits is not exaggerative. Since speed becomes in practice the equivalent of number, the machine might be, and has sometimes been, equated to legions — an army, if you will — of lowgrade morons whose conceptualization is entirely literal, who remember as long as is necessary or as you desire them to, whose loyalty and subservience is complete, who require no holidays, no spurious incentives, no morale programs, pensions, not even gratitude for past service, and who seemingly never tire of doing elementary repetitive tasks such as typing, accounting, bookkeeping, arithmetic, filling in forms, and the like. In about all these respects the machine may be seen to be the exact opposite of nature's loftiest creature, the intellligent human being, who becomes bored with the petty and repetitious, who is unreliable, who wanders from the task for the most trivial reasons, who gets out of humor, who forgets, who requires constant incentives and rewards, who improvises on his own even when to do so is impertinent to the objectives being undertaken, and who in summary (let's face it) is unsuitable to most forms of industry as the latter are ideally and practically conceived in our times. It becomes apparent in retrospect that the only excuse we might ever have had for employing him to do many of civilization's more literal and repetitious tasks was the absence of something more efficient with which to replace him!

"It is not the purpose of this volume to explore further the ramifications of the above statements of fact. . . ."(Nett & Hetzler, An Introduction to Electronic Data Processing [1959] 86-88).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1960 – 1970

Technical Basis for the Development of Phreaking November 1960

In November 1960 C. Breen and D. A. Dahlbaum of Bell Labs in New York published "Signaling Systems for the Control of Telephone Switching," Bell System Technical Journal, 39 (1960) 1381-1444.

"Telephone signaling is basically a matter of transferring information between machines, and between humans and machines. The techniques developed to accomplish this have evolved over the years in step with advances in the total telephone art. The history of this evolution is traced, starting from the early simple manual switchboard days to the present Direct Distance Dialing era. The effect of the increasing sophistication in automatic switching and transmission systems and their influence on signaling principles are discussed. Emphasis is given to the signaling systems used between central offices of the nationwide telephone network and the influence on such systems of the characteristics of switching systems and their information requirements, the transmission media and the compatibility problem. A review is made of the forms and characteristics of some of the interoffice signaling systems presently in use. In addition, the problem of signaling between Bell System and overseas telephone systems is reviewed with reference to delivering information requirements, signaling techniques and new transmission media. Finally, some speculation is made on the future trends of telephone signaling systems" (abstract of the paper).

According to http://www.historyofphonephreaking.org/docs.php, the Breen and Dahlbaum paper is

"often cited as the article that gave away the keys to the kingdom," leading to the development of the underground "phreaker" culture.  Other papers that included the in-band trunk signaling tones which provided the technical information needed to build Blue Boxes are cited at http://www.lospadres.info/thorg/bstj.html, accessed 09-17-2009).

My thanks to Jeffrey Odel for this reference.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"Compatible Time Sharing System," Precursor of Word Processing and Email 1961

In 1961 Fernando J. Corbató and team at MIT developed one of the first time-sharing operating systems, CTSS (Compatible Time-Sharing System.)

CTSS had one of the first computerized text formatting utilities, called RUNOFF, the precursor of word processing, and one of the first inter-user messaging implementations, presaging instant messaging and electronic mail.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

McLuhan Issues "The Gutenberg Galaxy" 1962

In 1962 Canadian professor of English literature, literary critic, rhetorician, and communication theorist at the University of Toronto Marshall McLuhan published The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man in which he divided history in four epochs: oral tribe culture, manuscript culture, the Gutenberg galaxy and the electronic age.

McLuhan argued that a new communications medium was responsble for the break between each of the four time periods. Writing before computing was pervasive in society, he was concerned with the influence of radio, television and film on print culture, and on the impact of media, independent of content, upon thinking, and social organization:

"The main concept of McLuhan's argument (later elaborated upon in The Medium is the Massage) is that new technologies (like alphabets, printing presses, and even speech itself) exert a gravitational effect on cognition, which in turn affects social organization: print technology changes our perceptual habits ('visual homogenizing of experience'), which in turn impacts social interactions ('fosters a mentality that gradually resists all but a. . . specialist outlook'). According to McLuhan, the advent of print technology contributed to and made possible most of the salient trends in the Modern period in the Western world: individualism, democracy, Protestantism, capitalism, and nationalism. For McLuhan, these trends all reverberate with print technology's principle of 'segmentation of actions and functions and principle of visual quantification."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Fritz Machlup Introduces the Concept of "The Information Economy" 1962

In 1962 Austrian-American economist Fritz Machlup of Princeton published The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States.

In this book Machlup introduced the concept of the knowledge industry.

"He distinguished five sectors of the knowledge sector: education, research and development, mass media, information technologies, information services. Based on this categorization he calculated that in 1959 29% per cent of the GNP in the USA had been produced in knowledge industries" (Wikipedia article on Information Society, accessed 04-25-2011).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

TELSTAR 1: The First Satellite to Relay Signals from Earth to Satellite and Back July 10, 1962

On June 10, 1962 a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral launched the AT&T TELSTAR 1 satellite, designed and built at Bell Labs. It was the first privately owned active communications satellite, and the first satellite to relay signals from the earth to a satellite and back.

"Belonging to AT&T, the original Telstar was part of a multi-national agreement between AT&T (US), Bell Telephone Laboratories (US), NASA (US), GPO (UK) and the National PTT (France) to develop experimental satellite communications over the Atlantic Ocean. Bell Labs held a contract with NASA, reimbursing the agency three million pounds for each launch, independent of success.[citation needed] The US ground station was Andover Earth Station in Andover, Maine, built by Bell Labs. The main British ground station was at Goonhilly Downs in southwestern England. This was used by the BBC, the international coordinator. The standards 525/405 conversion equipment (filling a large room) was researched and developed by the BBC and located in the BBC Television Centre, London. The French ground station was at Pleumeur-Bodou (48°47′10″N 3°31′26″W) in north-western France" (Wikipedia article on Telstar 1, accessed 10-28-2014).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Telstar 1 Relays the First Live Trans-Atlantic TV Broadcasts July 11 – July 23, 1962

On July 11, 1962 thw Telstar 1 satellite relayed the first, and non-public, television pictures—a flag outside Andover Earth Station—to Pleumeur-Bodou on July 11, 1962. Almost two weeks later, on July 23, at 3:00 p.m. EDT, it relayed the first publicly available live transatlantic television signal.The broadcast was made possible in Europe by Eurovision and in North America by NBCCBSABC, and the CBC

"The first public broadcast featured CBS's Walter Cronkite and NBC's Chet Huntley in New York, and the BBC's Richard Dimbleby in Brussels.The first pictures were the Statue of Liberty in New York and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The first broadcast was intended to have been remarks by President John F. Kennedy, but the signal was acquired before the president was ready, so the lead-in time was filled with a short segment of a televised game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The batter, Tony Taylor, was seen hitting a ball pitched by Cal Koonce to the right fielder George Altman. From there, the video switched first to Washington, DC; then to Cape Canaveral, Florida; to the Seattle World's Fair; then to Quebec and finally to Stratford, Ontario. The Washington segment included remarks by President Kennedy, talking about the price of the American dollar, which was causing concern in Europe" (Wikipedia article Telstar 1, accessed 10-28-2014).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Geosynchronous Communications Satellite is Launched July 26, 1963

On July 26, 1963 the first geosynchronous communications satellite, Syncom 2, was launched by NASA on a Delta rocket B booster from Cape Canaveral. "Its orbit was inclined rather than geostationary. . . The satellite successfully kept stationary at the altitude calculated by Herman Potočnik Noordung in the 1920s.

"During Syncom 2's first year, NASA conducted voice, teletype, and facsimile tests, as well as 110 public demonstrations to acquaint people with Syncom's capabilities and invite their feedback. In August 1963, President John F. Kennedy in Washington, D.C., telephoned Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa aboard USNS Kingsport docked in Lagos Harbor; the first live two-way call between heads of state by satellite. The Kingsport acted as a control station and uplink stationa' (Wikipedia article on Syncom, accessed 05-24-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

SYNCOM 3, The First Geostationary Communication Satellite, Is Launched August 19, 1964

On August 19, 1964 the first geostationary communication satellite, Syncom 3, was launched by NASA with a Delta D #25 launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral.

"The satellite, in orbit near the International Date Line, was used to telecast the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to the United States. It was the first television program to cross the Pacific ocean" (Wikipedia article on Syncom, accessed 05-24-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Tom Van Vleck & Noel Morris Write One of the First Email Programs 1965

Though its exact history is murky, email (e-mail) began as a way for users on time-sharing mainframe computers to communicate. Among the first systems to have an email facility were System Development Corporation of Santa Monica's programming for the AN/FSQ-32  (Q32) built by IBM for the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC), and MIT's Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS). The authors of the first email program for CTSS were American software engineer Tom Van Vleck and American computer scientist Noel Morris. The two men created the program in the summer of 1965.

"A proposed CTSS MAIL command was described in an undated Programming Staff Note 39 by Louis Pouzin, Glenda Schroeder, and Pat Crisman. Numerical sequence places the note in either Dec 64 or Jan 65. PSN 39 proposed a facility that would allow any CTSS user to send a message to any other. The proposed uses were communication from "the system" to users informing them that files had been backed up, and communication to the authors of commands with criticisms, and communication from command authors to the CTSS manual editor.

"I was a new member of the MIT programming staff in spring 1965. When I read the PSN document about the proposed CTSS MAIL command, I asked "where is it?" and was told there was nobody available to write it. My colleague Noel Morris and I wrote a version of MAIL for CTSS in the summer of 1965. Noel was the one who saw how to use the features of the new CTSS file system to send the messages, and I wrote the actual code that interfaced with the user. The CTSS manual writeup and the source code of MAIL are available online. (We made a few changes from the proposal during the course of implementation: e.g. to read one's mail, users just used the PRINT command instead of a special argument to MAIL.)  

"The idea of sending "letters' using CTSS was resisted by management, as a waste of resources. However, CTSS Operations did need a faclility to inform users when a request to retrieve a file from tape had been completed, and we proposed MAIL as a solution for this need. (Users who had lost a file due to system or user error, or had it deleted for inactivity, had to submit a request form to Operations, who ran the RETRIEVE program to reload them from tape.) Since the blue 7094 installation in Building 26 had no CTSS terminal available for the operators, one proposal for sending such messages was to invoke MAIL from the 7094 console switches, inputting a code followed by the problem number and programmer number in BCD. I argued that this was much too complex and error prone, and that a facility that let any user send arbitrary messages to any other would have more general uses, which we would discover after it was implemented" (http://www.multicians.org/thvv/mail-history.html, accessed 06-20-2011).

♦ On June 19, 2011 writer and filmmaker Errol Morris published a series of five illustrated articles in The New York Times concerning the roles of his brother Noel and Tom Van Vleck in the invention of email. The first of these was entitled "Did My Brother Invent E-Mail with Tom Van Vleck? (Part One)". The articles, in an usual dialog form, captured some of the experience of programming time-sharing mainframes, and what it was like to send and receive emails at this early date.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The U.S. Postal Services Introduces OCR 1965

In 1965 the U. S. Postal Sevice introduced OCR software to sort mail.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

INTELSAT 1: The First Commercial Communications Satellite to be Placed in Geosynchronous Orbit April 6, 1965

On April 6, 1965, Intelsat I (nicknamed Early Bird), was placed in geosynchronous orbit above the Atlantic Ocean by a Thrust Augmented Delta D rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Built by the Space and Communications Group of Hughes Aircraft Company (later Hughes Space and Communications Company, and now Boeing Satellite Systems) for COMSAT, Intelsat I was the first commercial communications satellite to be placed in geosynchronous orbit, and the first satellite to provide direct and near instantaneous contact between Europe and North America. It handled television, telephone, and facsimile transmissions. It measured nearly 76 x 61 cm and weighed 34.5 kg.

"It [Intelsat I] helped provide the first live TV coverage of a spacecraft splashdown, that of Gemini 6 in December 1965. Originally slated to operate for 18 months, Early Bird was in active service for four years, being deactivated in January 1969, although it was briefly activated in June of that year to serve the Apollo 11 flight when the Atlantic Intelsat satellite failed. It was deactivated again in August 1969 and has been inactive since that time (except for a brief reactivation in 1990 to commemorate its 25th launch anniversary), although it remains in orbit. . . .Early Bird was one of the satellites used in the then record-breaking broadcast of Our World" (Wikipedia article on Intelsat I, accessed 03-23-2012).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Lawrence G. Roberts Does the First "Actual Network Experiment" October 1965

In October 1965 Lawrence G. Roberts did the first actual network experiment, tying MIT Lincoln LabsTX-2 in Lexington, Massachusetts to System Development Corporation's Q32 in Santa Monica, California.

This was the first time that two computers talked to each other, and the first time that packets were used to communicate between computers.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Charley Kline Sends the First Message Over the ARPANET October 29, 1969

The first message sent over the ARPANET was from Leonard Kleinrock’s UCLA computer by student programmer Charley Kline at 10:30 pm on October 29, 1969, to the second node at Stanford Research Institute’s computer in Menlo Park, California.

The message was simply “Lo" instead of the intended word,"login."

"The message text was the word login; the l and the o letters were transmitted, but the system then crashed. Hence, the literal first message over the ARPANET was lo. About an hour later, having recovered from the crash, the SDS Sigma 7 computer effected a full login" (Wikipedia article on Arpanet, accessed 12-26-2012).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1970 – 1980

Ray Tomlinson Selects the @ in Email March 1971

In March 1971 Ray Tomlinson at Bolt, Beranek and Newman developed email for ARPANET: SNDMSG and READMAIL, choosing the “@” sign as a key email address component.

According to an infographic on the history of email posted at http://8.mshcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/email.png in June 2011, Tomlinson no longer remembered the content of the original message.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Email Management Program July 1971

In July 1971 Lawrence G. Roberts of ARPA in Arlington, Virginia, wrote the first email management program, RD, to list incoming messages and support forwarding, filing, and responding to them.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Public Computerized Bulletin Board System 1973

In 1973 Efrem Lipkin, Mark Szpakowski, and Lee Felsenstein established the first public computerized bulletin board system (BBS) called Community Memory in Berkeley, California. Community Memory used hard-wired terminals in neighborhoods as distinct from the first public dial-up CBBS which was set up on February 16, 1978.

"Community Memory ran off an XDS-940 timesharing computer located in Resource One in San Francisco. The first terminal was an ASR-33 Teletype at the top of the stairs leading to Leopold's Records in Berkeley. You could leave messages and attach keywords to them. Other people could then find messages by those keywords.

"The line from San Francisco to Berkeley ran at 110 baud - 10 characters per second. The teletype was noisy, so it was encased in a cardboard box, with a transparent plastic top so you could see what was being printed out, and holes for your hands so you could type. It made for some magic moments with the Allman Brothers' "Blue Sky" playing in the record store. Musicians loved it - they ended up generating a monthly printout of fusion rock bassists seeking raga lead guitars. And out of it also emerged the first net personality - Benway, as he called himself."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Electronic Pagination System, Forerunner of Email and Instant Messaging 1973

Atex, founded in Massachusetts in 1973, worked with the Minneapolis Star newspaper to develop the first electronic pagination system that allowed the creation and output of full editorial pages, eliminating the need for manual paste-up of strips of film.

The Atex system featured "Atex Messaging" which is widely believed to be the forerunner of both email and instant messenger applications. Atex publishing systems were "based on highly modified Dec PDP-11 minicomputers, designed to produce news sections of newspapers. The systems included clustered CPUs, a distributed file system and dumb terminals that displayed memory-mapped video and featured keyboards with up to 140 keys: Distinctively, the cursor keys were on the left-hand side. A custom operating system tied everything together."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Coining of the Concept and Term "Datagram" November 1973

In November 1973 the first demonstration, using three hosts and one packet switch, occured on CYCLADES, a French packet switching network designed and directed by Louis Pouzin.  CYCLADES was developed to explore alternatives to the ARPANET design and to support network research generally. It was sponsored and coordinated by the French government, through the Institut de Recherche en lnformatique et en Automatique (IRIA), the national research laboratory for computer science in France (now known as INRIA). Several French computer manufacturers, research institutes and universities contributed to the effort. 

CYCLADES was the first network to make the hosts responsible for the reliable delivery of data, rather than the network itself, using unreliable datagrams and associated end-to-end protocol mechanisms. Within the CYCLADES project Pouzin coined the concept and term datagram, by combining the words data and telegram. 

In 1974 Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn adopted these concepts for the creation of TCP. They were later adopted for the creation of the Internet Protocol (IP).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

TCP: A Protocol for Packet Network Communication May 5, 1974

In May 1974 Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn published “A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication” in IEEE Transactions on Communications COM 22, no. 5, (5 May 1974) 637-648, in which they described the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).

In the early 1970s ARPANET and other data networks that were beginning to be constructed around the world each operated according to different hardware and software protocols, thus making it impossible for them to communicate with one another. ARPANET was using the Network Control Protocol or NCP. This problem was solved by Cerf and Kahn's invention of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP ) cross-network protocol that allowed the creation of an international network of computer networks; i.e., the Internet (a term Cerf and Kahn invented around 1973, as an abbrevation for "inter-networking of networks."  The authors laid out the architecture of such a network in their May 1974 paper:

"It describes gateways, which sit between networks to send and receive 'datagrams.' Datagrams, similar to envelopes, enclose messages and display destination addresses that are recognized by gateways. Datagrams can carry packets of various sizes. The messages within datagrams are called transmission control protocol (TCP) messages. TCP is the standard program, shared by each network, for loading and unloading datagrams; it is the only element of the international network that must be uniform among the small networks, and it is the crucial element that makes global networking possible" (Moschovitis, History of the Internet. A Chronology, 1843 to the Present [1999] 82.

In 1978 TCP was split into TCP and IP for Internet Protocol. In 1983 the Defense Communications Agency DCA and ARPA established the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), as the protocol suite, commonly known as TCP/IP for ARPANET. This led to one of the first definitions of an "internet" as a connected set of networks, specifically those using TCP/IP, and the "Internet" as connected TCP/IP internets. On January 1, 1983 ARPANET required that all connected machines use TCP/IP. On this date TCP/IP became the core Internet protocol and replaced NCP entirely.

Norman, From Gutenberg to the Internet (2005) reading 13.8, p. 871.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

TEX and Metafont 1977 – 1979

Between 1977 and 1979 computer scientist Donald E. Knuth of Stanford University created the TeX page-formatting language and the Metafont character shape specification language, originally as a way of improving the typography of his own publications. These he described in four publications in 1979:

1. "Mathematical Typography," Bulletin (New Series) of the American Mathematical Society, March 1979, Vol. 1, No. 2, 337-72. Josiah Willard Gibbs Lecture, January 4, 1978.

2. TEX, a system for technical text.  A manual published by the American Mathematical Society, June, 1979.

3. Metafont, a system for alphabet design, September, 1979.

4. In December 1979 Digital Press in Bedford, Massachusetts, a division of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), together with the American Mathematical Society issued these three documents in book form as TEX and Metafont. New Directions in Typesetting, with a Foreword by C. Gordon Bell, then Vice President of Engineering at DEC, and a Preface by Knuth.

Preceding the development and wide-acceptance of PostScript (1984) and TrueType (1991), expectations for the impact of TeX and Metafont were appropriately great within the computer community. As a reflection of this, I quote Gordon Bell's 1979 introduction in full:

"Don Knuth's Tau Epison Chi (TeX) is potentially the most significant invention in typesetting in this century. It introduces a standard language for computer typography and in terms of importance could rank near the introduction of the Gutenberg press. The TeX system:

"•understands typography from individual charcters to page design;

"•permits any typewriter, word processing system, computer-based editor, or TeX system editor to be used as an input device with a standard language;

"•can typeset various formats and languages;

"•is structured to be user-extendable to virtually all applications.

"These improvements are benchmarks in typesetting and text creation. To date, computer-based typesetting systems have simply facilitated typesetting. Moreover, the proliferation of word processing systems makes possible the widespread direct transmission of text to typesetting without the intervening typesetting process—provided we use the standard language that TeX offers.

"A direct link between text input and typesetting will permit a drastic restructuring of the journal- and book-publishing industry, allowing it to be oriented substantially more toward the author. Unitl now, even authors with word processing equipment have been unable to participate in the representation of their message in print. Prior to Gutenberg's invention, manuscripts were conceived and designed simultaneously, and often the author's hand shaped the entire final product. The results were beautiful and varied, in contrast to the manufacture of most modern books, which vary only in cover design. With TeX, moreover not only can the author influence his own format and representation, but he also can produce more accurate material than can be rapidly mass-produced, shortening the time between idea and dissemination.

"TeX is significant as a standard language because of the way it understands typography using a framework of boxes and glue in a hierarchical fashion so that any font, page layout, or other typesetting parameter can be set. This is in striking contrast to most typesetting systems, which are built with no generality. Finally, the input form is user-defined by means of a macroprocessor so that virutally any text can be input and can control the typography part of the program. It is this generality and segmentation of function that makes TeX significant.

"This book is about much more than just the Tex system. The Gibbs Lecture presents the twin themes of how typography can help mathematics and how mathematics can help typography, and the material on METAFONT is intriguing and useful in its description of the use of mathematics in type design.

"While the emphasis of TeX is on mathematics, the system is equally applicable to and will no doubt be used in many other domains. Don Knuth, in fact, shows us precisely how the system can humanize basic communciations.

"At Digital, we hope to use TeX immediately, I urge others to adopt and use it so that the language standard can be established.

My copy of the first printing of TeX and Metafont was presented to the San Francisco book designer and book historian Adrian Wilson in February, 1980. Wilson worked in both letterpress and offset and designed many prize-winning books. On the first page of Bell's Foreword Wilson made pencil notes in the margin, taking issue with three points in the third paragraph. It is not clear that Wilson read past the Foreword; however, the points that Wilson made remain valid:

1. "Prior to Gutenberg's invention, manuscripts were conceived and designed simultaneously, and often the author's hand shaped the entire final product." Here Wilson commented, "Very rarely!"  I am unaware of any manuscripts prior to printing, except perhaps for author's manuscripts or the extremely few autograph manuscripts that survived, where it can be demonstrated that the author "shaped the final product" in the sense of its physical appearance on the page rather than in the textual sense. In addition, the process of manuscript copying by different scribes tended to make each manuscript copy different in subtle, or not so subtle ways, from each other.

2. "The results were beautiful and varied, in contrast to the manufacture of most modern books, which vary only in cover design." Here Wilson commented, "not so."  Bell's statement ignored, of course, the incredible diversity of all aspects of the design of "modern books" in addition to their covers.

3. "With TeX, moreover, not only can the author influence his own format and representation. . . ." Here Wilson commented, "author as designer! no." Before desktop publishing (1984-85) the ability of authors who were not programmers to design an acceptable looking book was, of course, highly limited. Even in 2012, when I wrote this database entry, few authors without expert knowledge of book design or graphic arts expertise could produce a genuinely attractively designed book.

Knuth continued his typographic work, issuing a second and larger volume entitled Digital Typography in 1999. This contains a remarkable collection of stories and technical papers concerning the continuation of his work in typography. In 2012 TeX and Metafont remained niche products for composing and scientific books and papers with the market dominated by PostScript and TrueType. As Richard Southall commented in Printer's type in the twentieth century. Manufacturing and design methods (2005) 224, footnote 6, "Donald Knuth's Metafont language, with its radically different approach to the specification of character image configurations, might have provided an alternative, and many ways a better, approach to typemaking if the interface it presented to designers had not been so forbidding."

On March 12, 2013 at a meeting of the Colophon Club in Berkeley, California I heard Knuth deliver a fascinating presentation on how and why he developed TeX and Metafont.  From this I gathered more general understanding of Knuth's system, which from the very beginning he placed in the public domain, and from which he never intended to profit. A more technical explanation of why TeX and Metafont remained niche products may be found in this posting from the Typophile.com website on December 15, 2004

"Metafont can only produce bitmap fonts which is a severe limitation. Nowadays, people usually create outline fonts since they are scalable and usable in different resolutions. There are tools that convert .mf to Type 1 or TrueType but this is done by autotracing which results in rather poor quality.

"There is a related product called Metapost, created by John Hobby, which allows parametric creation of PostScript graphics. This was later extended by Boguslaw Jackowski, Piotr Strzelczyk and Janusz Nowacki to MetaType1, an outline-based parametric font creation system. However, just like many other parametric font creation systems (e.g. Font Chameleon, Infinifont, LiveType), it never gained the necessary momentum. With no professional support and no solid user interface, the tools for creating these sorts of fonts were never able to reach a broad user base. Even Multiple Master fonts that had good user interface tools (Fontographer, FontLab) were dropped because handling them turned out to be too complicated and the revenues were too limited.

"Developing mature applications is a long and laborous effort. The commercial market is difficult, which is visible with the fact that numerous efforts such as Fontographer, FontStudio , TypeDesigner or RoboFog "died". The open source community is too weak to develop a good specialty tool of that sort (open source projects work well with mass products such as Mozilla or OpenOffice, with hundreds of engineers working in their spare time or on government/organizational funding).

"Today, with the exception of DTL FontMaster and FontForge (which is free), FontLab is the only font creation application that is actively being developed. First version of FontLab was created 12 years ago and in that process, we have learned that a good user interface is crucial to a success.

"Font creators are mostly designers, not engineers. They need visual tools. Also, type is often too subtle to rely on parametric creation. While it would be tempting to re-use the exactly same shape of a serif on n, m, i and l, often, subtle changes need to be made for best effect. The more subtle and refined the letterforms get, the less the parametric approach is useful. Donald Knuth's Computer Modern isn't a particularly well-designed typeface and frankly, I have never seen a good typeface made with Metafont.

"When people make a profession out of creating type, i.e. they make their living on type design, the issue of a tool being free becomes less relevant. Also, tools such as Metafont are only nominally free. There are no licensing costs but there are substantial costs of maintenance, support and learning. The learning curves are steep, the user communities are small and not integrated, there is no professional support. Therefore, if you work with tools such as Metafont, you're often left on your own. This is a fact often overlooked by those who advertise free or open source software.

"There is a good selection of links about parametric font creation at: http://www.myfonts.com/activity/parametric-fonts/" (accessed 03-13-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Launching "Messages in a Bottle" into the Cosmic Ocean August 20, 1977 – September 5,

The Voyager Golden Records were included on the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft launched in on September 5, 1977 and August 20, 1977 respectively as a kind of time capsule intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials. Each was a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk-shaped phonograph record containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. Sagan and associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Jimmy Carter and U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim.

Because it was believed that the Voyager spacecrafts would not encounter another solar system for 40,000 years, the production of these records seems to have involved a naive faith in the permanence of accessibility of analog data, and in the durability of such data to survive over extremely long periods of time. 

"Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the record is to be played. The 115 images are encoded in analog form. The remainder of the record is in audio, designed to be played at 16-2/3 revolutions per minute. It contains the spoken greetings, beginning with Akkadian, which was spoken in Sumer about six thousand years ago, and ending with Wu, a modern Chinese dialect. Following the section on the sounds of Earth, there is an eclectic 90-minute selection of music, including both Eastern and Western classics and a variety of ethnic music. Once the Voyager spacecraft leave the solar system (by 1990, both will be beyond the orbit of Pluto), they will find themselves in empty space. It will be forty thousand years before they make a close approach to any other planetary system. As Carl Sagan has noted, 'The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet' (http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/goldenrec.html, accessed 02-27-2011).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Network Nation 1978

In 1978 Starr Roxanne Hiltz, a sociologist at Upsala College, East Orange, New Jersey, and her husband, Murray Turoff, a professor of computer science, showed how "computer-mediated communication" could develop social networking in their book The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Minitel 1978 – June 30, 2012

Rolled out experimentally in 1978 in Brittany, and throughout France in 1982 by PTT (Poste, Téléphone et Télécommunications), the Minitel was a Videotex online service accessible through telephone lines.  In 1991 PTT was divided into France Télécom and La Poste, with the Minitel operated by France Télécom. Users of the Minitel could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, have a mail box, and chat in a way similar to the Internet.

"Millions of terminals were lent for free to telephone subscribers, resulting in a high penetration rate among businesses and the public. In exchange for the terminal, the possessors of Minitel would not be given free 'white page' printed directories (alphabetical list of residents and firms), but only the yellow pages (classified commercial listings, with advertisements); the white pages were accessible for free on Minitel, and they could be searched by a reasonably intelligent search engine; much faster than flipping through a paper directory.

"France Télécom estimates that almost 9 million terminals—including web-enabled personal computers (Windows, Mac OS, and Linux)—had access to the network at the end of 1999, and that it was used by 25 million people (of a total population of 60 million). Developed by 10,000 companies, in 1996, almost 26,000 different services were available" (Wikipedia article in Minitel, accessed 07-11-2012).

Though usage was concentrated in France, the Minitel had a significant level of usage primarily in other European countries. The service was introduced in the United States very late, in 1993, by which time it faced serious competition from early Internet providers such as AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe.  The Minitel service was finally shut down by France Télécom on June 30, 2012.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Dial-UP CBBS February 16, 1978

On February 16, 1978 Ward Christensen founded the Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS), the first dial-up bulletin board system (BBS) ever brought online, as a program to allow Christensen and other hobbyists in Chicago to exchange information. This was distinct from Community Memory, a BBS established in Berkeley in 1973, that used hard-wired terminals placed around the town.

"In January 1978, Chicago was hit by the Great Blizzard of 1978, which dumped record amounts of snow throughout the midwest. Among those caught in it were Christensen and Randy Suess, who were members of CACHE, the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists' Exchange. They had met at that computer club in the mid 1970s and become friends.

"Christensen had created a file transfer protocol for sending binary computer files through modem connections, which was called, simply, MODEM. Later improvements to the program motivated a name change into the now familiar XMODEM. The success of this project encouraged further experiments. Christensen and Suess became enamored of the idea of creating a computerized answering machine and message center, which would allow members to call in with their then-new modems and leave announcements for upcoming meetings.

"However, they needed some quiet time to set aside for such a project, and the blizzard gave them that time. Christensen worked on the software and Suess cobbled together an S-100 computer to put the program on. They had a working version within two weeks, but claimed soon afterwards that it had taken four so that it wouldn't seem like a "rushed" project. Time and tradition have settled that date to be February 16, 1978.

"Because the Internet was still small and not available to most computer users, users had to dial CBBS directly using a modem. Also because the CBBS hardware and software supported only a single modem for most of its existence, users had to take turns accessing the system, each hanging up when done to let someone else have access. Despite these limitations, the system was seen as very useful, and ran for many years and inspired the creation of many other bulletin board systems.

"Ward & Randy would often watch the users while they were online and comment or go into chat if the subject warranted. Sometime online users wondered if Ward & Randy actually existed.

"The program had many forward thinking ideas, now accepted as canon in the creation of message bases or "forums" (Wikipedia article on CBBS, accessed 04-27-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1980 – 1990

Origins of the Smiley on the Internet September 19, 1982

On September 19, 1982 American computer scientist Scott E. Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, suggested on a bulletin board that the emoticons (emoticon)

:-) and :- (

be used to express emotion on the Internet. The text of his original proposal, posted to the Carnegie Mellon University computer science general board on 19 September 1982 (11:44), was thought to have been lost, but was recovered 20 years later by Jeff Baird from old backup tapes:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-) From: Scott E Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers: :-)

Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use

:-(

Other notable computer scientists who participated in this thread include David Touretzky, Guy Steele, and Jaime Carbonell. Within a few months, it had spread to the ARPANET and Usenet.

♦ You can view the original message and bulletin board thread at this link: http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~sef/Orig-Smiley.htm, accessed 08-18-2013.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Cellular Telephone Service in the United Sates December 16, 1982

On December 16, 1982 the Federal Communications Commission authorized American Telephone and Telegraph to build a commercial cellular telephone service in Chicago. This was the beginning of commercial cellular service in the United States.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Declining Role of Print in Total Information Flow 1983

In 1983 American political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool of MIT published "Tracking the Flow of Information," Science 221 (1983) 609-19. This study, which estimated the growth trends of the “amount of words” transmitted by 17 major communications media in the United States from 1960 to 1977, was the first to show empirically the declining volume of print media relative to electronic media in terms of information flow.

"By using words transmitted and words attended to as common denominators, novel indexes were constructed of growth trends in seventeen major communications media from 1960 to 1977. There have been extraordinary rates of growth in the transmission of electronic communications, but much lower rates of growth in the material that peole actually consume, representing the phenomenon often labeled information overload. Growth in print media has sharply decelerated, a a close relationship is found between the cheapness of a medium and its rate of growth."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Commercial Analog Cellular Telephone Service October 13, 1983 – 1984

In October 1983 the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x became the first mobile phone approved by the FCC in the United States. It was also the first portable cell phone small enough to be easily carried.

"The first model, the 8000x, received FCC certification in 1983, and became the first cell phone to be offered commercially when it went on sale on 6 March 1983. It offered 30 minutes of talk time and 8 hours of standby, and a LED display for dialling or recall of one of 30 phone numbers. It was priced at $3,995 in 1983. DynaTAC was an abbreviation of Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage."

"On October 13, 1983, David D Meilahn placed the first commercial wireless call on a DynaTAC from his 1983 Mercedes 380SL to Bob Barnett, former president of Ameritech Mobile Communications, who then placed a call on a DynaTAC from inside a Chrysler convertible to the grandson of Alexander Graham Bell who was in Germany for the event. The call, made at Soldier Field in Chicago, is considered by many as a major turning point in communications. Later Richard H. Frenkiel, the head of system development at Bell Laboratories, said about the DynaTAC: 'It was a real triumph; a great breakthrough' " (Wikipedia article on Motorola DynaTAC, accessed 03-16-2013).

"In 1984, Bell Labs developed modern commercial cellular technology (based, to a large extent, on the Gladden, Parelman Patent), which employed multiple, centrally controlled base stations (cell sites), each providing service to a small area (a cell). The cell sites would be set up such that cells partially overlapped. In a cellular system, a signal between a base station (cell site) and a terminal (phone) only need be strong enough to reach between the two, so the same channel can be used simultaneously for separate conversations in different cells" (Wikipedia article on Mobil phone, accessed 04-11-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Critique of Computational Linguistics 1987

In 1987 Integrational linguist Roy Harris published The Language Machine.

"This volume completes the trilogy which began with The Language-Makers (1980) and The Language Myth (1981). The Language Machine examines the impact of the electronic computer on modern conceptions of language and communication. When Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels the notion that a machine could handle language was an absurdity to be satirized. Descartes regarded it as foolish to suppose that a robot could ever be built that would answer questions. But today it is widely assumed that mechanical speech recognition and automatic translation will be commonplace in tomorrow’s technology. Underlying these assumptions is a subtle shift in popular and academic conceptions of what a language is. Understanding a sentence is treated as a computational process. This in turn contributes powerfully to accepting a mechanistic view of human intelligence, and to the insulation of language from moral values" (http://www.royharrisonline.com/linguistic_publications/The_Language-machine.html, accessed 07-23-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Gateways Between Private E-Mail Carriers and the Internet 1989

The first gateways between private e-mail carriers and the Internet were established in 1989. CompuServe was connected through Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, MCI in Auburn, Virginia, through the Corporation for National Research Initiatives.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1990 – 2000

TED: Technology, Entertainment and Design 1990

After a one-off event in 1984, annual TED conferences begain in 1990 in Monterey, California.  In 2012 the events were held in Long Beach and Palm Springs in the U.S. and in Europe and Asia, offering live streaming video of the talks on the Internet. The TED organization is based in New York City and Vancouver.

TED speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their material in the most exciting and engaging way that they can, often through storytelling.

"Since June 2006 the talks have been offered for free viewing online, under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons license, through TED.com. As of November 2011, over 1,050 talks are available free online. By January 2009 they had been viewed 50 million times. In June 2011, the viewing figure stood at more than 500 million, and on Tuesday November 13, 2012, TED Talks had been watched one billion times worldwide, reflecting a still growing global audience."

"TED was conceived by architect and graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman, who observed a convergence of the fields of technology, entertainment and design. The first conference, organized by Wurman and Harry Marks in 1984, featured demos of the Sony compact disc, and one of the first demonstrations of the Apple Macintosh computer. Presentations were given by famous mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot and influential members of the digerati community, like Nicholas Negroponte and Stewart Brand. The event was financially unsuccessful, however, and it took 6 years before the second conference was organized. From 1990 onward, a growing community of "TEDsters" has been gathering annually at the invitation-only event in Monterey, California, until 2009, when it was relocated to Long Beach, California due to a substantial increase of attendees" (Wikipedia article on Ted (conference), accessed 12-26-2012).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Neil Papworth Sends the First SMS Text Message December 3, 1992

On December 3, 1992, using a personal computer, Neil Papworth of Sema Group in Newbury, Berkshire, England sent the first commercial SMS  text message to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone who received it on his on his Orbitel 901 mobile phone. The text of the message was "Merry Christmas." Jarvis did not reply because there was no way to send a text from a phone at the time. That had to wait for Nokia's first mobile phone in 1993.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Web's First and Longest Continuously Running Blog 1993

"In 1993, Dr. Glen Barry invented blogging, defined as web based commentary, linking to other articles. The "Forest Protection Blog" (originally entitled "Gaia's Forest Conservation Archives") at http://forests.org/blog/ was also the first political blog, as Dr. Barry campaigned there for forest protection and documented these efforts as his Ph.D. project. The first blog initially used the gopher protocol, and has been on the web continuously since Jan. 1995, making it the web's first and longest continuously running blog. Prior to this, Dr. Barry provided forest conservation materials via email and bulletin board since 1989. The work has since evolved into the world's largest environmental portals at http://www.ecoearth.info/" (Wikipedia article on History of blogging timeline, accessed 04-21-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Tablet Computer with Wireless Connectivity April 1993 – July 1994

In April 1993 AT&T introduced the AT&T EO Personal Communicator, the first tablet computer with wireless connectivity via a cellular phone. The device, which provided wireless voice, email, and fax communications, was developed by GO/Eo, a subsidiary of GO Corporation, both of which were acquired by AT&T in 1993. As advanced as it was, the AT&T Personal Communicator was probably far ahead of the market. EO Inc., 52% owned by AT&T, failed to meet its revenue targets and shut down on July, 1994.

"Two models, the Communicator 440 and 880 were produced and measured about the size of a small clipboard. Both were powered by the AT&T Hobbit chip, created by AT&T specifically for running code from the C programming language. They also contained a host of I/O ports - modem, parallel, serial, VGA out and SCSI. The device came with a wireless cellular network modem, a built-in microphone with speaker and a free subscription to AT&T EasyLink Mail for both fax and e-mail messages.

"Perhaps the most interesting part was the operating system, PenPoint OS, created by GO Corporation. Widely praised for its simplicity and ease of use, the OS never gained widespread use. Also equally compelling was the tightly integrated applications suite, Perspective, licensed to EO by Pensoft" (Wikipedia article on EO Personal Communicator, accessed 02-03-2010).

Ken Maki, The AT&T EO Travel Guide. (1993).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The IBM Simon Personal Communicator: The First Smartphone August 16, 1994 – February 1995

Distributed in the United States only by BellSouth Cellular Corp between August 1994 and February 1995, the IBM Simon Personal Communicator, a handheld, touchscreen cellular phone and Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), was the first "smartphone," though the term was not coined until 1997. The phone operated within a 15 state network; about 50,000 Simons were sold.

"In addition to its ability to make and receive cellular phone calls, Simon was also able to send and receive faxese-mails and cellular pages. Simon featured many applications including an address book, calendar, appointment scheduler, calculator, world time clock, electronic note pad, handwritten annotations and standard and predictive stylus input screen keyboards" (Wikipedia article on IBM Simon, accessed 08-16-2014).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1996: The First Year in Which More Email is Sent than Paper Mail 1996

1996 was the first year in which more email was sent than paper mail in the United States.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Average Person Receives 733 Pieces of Paper Mail Each Year, Half of Which is Junk 1998

In 1998 the average person received 733 pieces of mail on paper per year, half of which was junk mail.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"You've Got Mail", a Movie about Love, Email, and the Book Trade 1998

You've Got Mail, an American romantic comedy film set in New York City starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, was released by Warner Brothers in 1998. The film dramatized a romantic relationship that develops over email, featuring AOL's "You've got mail" slogan in product placement. Paralleling this film about computers and society was the film's subplot of the forced closure of a small independent bookshop by competition from a big-box chain bookstore — thus You've Got Mail was not only a film about computers and romance, but also a commentary about the changing face of the book trade.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

President Clinton Sends the First Ever Presidential Email November 6, 1998

On November 6, 1998 President Bill Clinton sent the first ever presidential email to senator and astronaut John Glenn aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Clinton sent the email from the home of a friend in Arkansas using a Toshiba Satellite laptop computer that belonged to White House physician Robert Darling.

"Glenn, a US senator who in 1962 became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, was completing a nine-day mission on Discovery in November 1998 when he sent word that he wanted to email Clinton, who was at the time was visiting friends in his home state of Arkansas.

" 'This is certainly a first for me, writing to a president from space, and it may be a first for you in receiving an email direct from an orbiting spacecraft,' wrote Glenn, then 77.

"Clinton was keen to get the message, but when his staff couldn't readily find him a computer to do so, Darling stepped forward with his trusty Toshiba and his personal AOL email address.

" 'Hillary and I had a great time at the launch,' emailed Clinton, referring to Discovery's liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center a few days earlier.

" 'We are very proud of you and the entire crew, and a little jealous.'

"In an interview in 2000, Clinton said he never used email due to security concerns, but acknowledged emailing Glenn in space as well as some US marines and sailors at sea at Christmas.

"Prior to selling the laptop in 2000, Darling took care to keep the historic email exchange on its hard drive, and made a copy on its internal floppy drive, while deleting all other data. He also typed up a memo about the landmark email, saying Clinton 'seemed to really enjoy himself particularly when he pressed the 'send' key and realized that at that instant his message was traveling through cyberspace and into real space' " (http://artdaily.com/news/69523/Laptop-used-for-first-US-presidential-email-finds-a-buyer-#.U1KIW-ZdXSs, accessed 04-19-2014.) The article reproduced a photograph showing Clinton using the Toshiba Satellite laptop.

On April 17, 2014 the laptop that Clinton used to send the first presidential email sold for $60,667 at RR Auction in Boston.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Bluetooth is Announced 1999

The short range wireless networking standard, Bluetooth, was announced in 1999.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

2000 – 2005

Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) 2001 – June 7, 2013

Since 2001 U.S. Postal Service computers have been photographing the exterior of every piece of paper mail processed in the United States under the formerly secret mass surveillance program known as Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT). Created in the aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people, including two postal workers, MICT enables the Postal Service to track mail correspondence retroactively at the request of law enforcement, under the "Mail cover" program.

"The Federal Bureau of Investigations revealed MICT on June 7, 2013 when discussing the Bureau's investigation of ricin-laced letters sent to U.S. President Barack Obama and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The FBI stated in a criminal complaint that the program was used to narrow its investigation to Shannon Richardson.Computer security and information privacy expert Bruce Schneier compared MICT to National Security Agency programs leaked in June 2013 by Edward Snowden and said,

" 'Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents.'

"James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent, said of MICT, 'It’s a treasure trove of information. Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.' He also said the program 'can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.' (Wikipedia article on Mail isolation Control and Tracking, accessed 07-08-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"Origins of Cyberspace" 2002

Jeremy Norman

In 2002 Diana Hook and the author/editor of this database, Jeremy Norman, issued as a limited edition an annotated, descriptive bibliography entitled Origins of Cyberspace: A Library on the History of Computing, Networking, and Telecommunications. This was the first annotated descriptive bibliography on the history of these subjects. The brief timeline on the history of those subjects published in Origins of Cyberspace was the basis on which historyofinformation.com was later constructed. 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First U.S. Standards for Sending Commercial E-Mail December 16, 2003

President George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States

The Federal Trade Commission logo

On December 16, 2003 The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 was signed into law by President George W. Bush, establishing the United States' first national standards for the sending of commercial e-mail and requiring the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce its provisions.

"The acronym CAN-SPAM derives from the bill's full name: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003. This is also a play on the usual term for unsolicited email of this type, spam. The bill was sponsored in Congress by Senators Conrad Burns and Ron Wyden.

"The CAN-SPAM Act is commonly referred to as the "You-Can-Spam" Act because the bill explicitly legalizes most e-mail spam. In particular, it does not require e-mailers to get permission before they send marketing messages. It also prevents states from enacting stronger anti-spam protections, and prohibits individuals who receive spam from suing spammers. The Act has been largely unenforced, despite a letter to the FTC from Senator Burns, who noted that "Enforcement is key regarding the CAN-SPAM legislation." In 2004 less than 1% of spam complied with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

"The law required the FTC to report back to Congress within 24 months of the effectiveness of the act.[4] No changes were recommended. It also requires the FTC to promulgate rules to shield consumers from unwanted mobile phone spam. On December 20, 2005 the FTC reported that the volume of spam has begun to level off, and due to enhanced anti-spam technologies, less was reaching consumer inboxes. A significant decrease in sexually-explicit e-mail was also reported.

"Later modifications changed the original CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 by (1) Adding a definition of the term "person"; (2) Modifying the term "sender"; (3) Clarifying that a sender may comply with the act by including a post office box or private mailbox and (4) Clarifying that to submit a valid opt-out request, a recipient cannot be required to pay a fee, provide information other than his or her email address and opt-out preferences, or take any other steps other than sending a reply email message or visiting a single page on an Internet website" (Wikipedia article on CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, accessed 01-19-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Institute for the Future of the Book 2004

Robert (Bob) Stein

The Criterion Collection logo

In 2004 Bob Stein, pioneering commercial multi-media publisher and co-founder of the Voyager Company and The Criterion Collection, co-founded The Institute for the Future of the Book, "a small think-and-do tank investigating the evolution of intellectual discourse as it shifts from printed pages to networked screens."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

2005 – 2010

The First Intelligible Word from an Extinct South American Civilization? August 12, 2005

Gary Urton with some khipu

Carrie Brezine studying khipu

An example of khipu

On August 12, 2005 anthropologists Gary Urton and Carrie Brezine published "Khipu Accounting in Ancient Peru," Science 309(2005)1065 - 1067.

"Khipu [quipu] are knotted-string devices that were used for bureaucratic recording and communication in the Inka [Inca] Empire. We recently undertook a computer analysis of 21 khipu from the Inka administrative center of Puruchuco, on the central coast of Peru. Results indicate that this khipu archive exemplifies the way in which census and tribute data were synthesized, manipulated, and transferred between different accounting levels in the Inka administrative system" (Science).

"Researchers in the US believe they have come closer to solving a centuries-old mystery - by deciphering knotted string used by the ancient Incas.

"Experts say one bunch of knots appears to identify a city, marking the first intelligible word from the extinct South American civilisation.

"The coloured, knotted pieces of string,known as khipu, are believed to have been used for accounting information.

"The researchers say the finding could unlock the meaning of other khipu.

"Harvard University researchers Gary Urton and Carrie Brezine used computers to analyse 21 khipu.

"They found a three-knot pattern in some of the strings which they believe identifies the bunch as coming from the city of Puruchuco, the site of an Inca palace.

" 'We hypothesize that the arrangement of three figure-eight knots at the start of these khipu represented the place identifier, or toponym, Puruchuco,' they wrote in their report, published in the journal Science.

" 'We suggest that any khipu moving within the state administrative system bearing an initial arrangement of three figure-eight knots would have been immediately recognisable to Inca administrators as an account pertaining to the palace of Puruchuco.' (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4143968.stm, accessed 04-28-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Western Union Discontinues Telegram Transmissions January 27, 2006

On January 27, 2006 Western Union, headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, which once had a virtual monopoly on telegraph transmission in the United States, discontinued Telegram and Commercial Messaging services, acknowledging that the service had been nearly entirely replaced by email.  

"This ended the era of telegrams which began in 1851 with the founding of the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, and which spanned 155 years of continuous service. Western Union reported that telegrams sent had fallen to a total of 20,000 a year, because of competition from other communication services such as email" (Wikipedia article on Western Union, accessed 08-25-2013). 

Nevertheless, a new company, iTelegram (International Telegram), continued telegram services in a limited manner.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Like Teleporting in Star Trek June 2006

John Chambers

A Telepresence session between residents in Ghana, Africa, and Newark, NJ

In June 2006 the Chairman of Cisco systems, John Chambers, compared telepresence to teleporting in Star Trek, and said it will be potentially a billion dollar market.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Google Apps are Introduced August 2006

The Google Apps logo, including a diagram of some of the applications offered

In August 2006 Google began introduction of web-based Google Apps productivity software.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Twitter: "What Are You Doing?" October 2006

The Twitter logo

An example of a "tweet"

In October 2006 the start-up company Obvious, in San Francisco, launched the social networking and micro-blogging service Twitter: What are you doing?. Twitter "allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length." This was under the 160 character limit of the SMS communication protocol for mobile phones.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Change.gov is Founded November 5, 2008

On November 5, 2008, the day after the presdidential election President-Elect Barack Obama launched the website, Change.gov to communicate details of the transition to the presidency.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Reported Case of ZZZ-Mailing December 15, 2008

"A WOMAN in a deep sleep sent emails to friends asking them over for wine and caviar in what doctors believe is the first reported case of 'zzz-mailing' - using the internet while asleep.

"The case of the 44-year-old woman is reported by researchers from the University of Toledo in the latest edition of the medical journal Sleep Medicine.

"They said the woman went to bed about 10pm but got up two hours later and walked to her computer in the next room, Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reports.

"She turned it on, connected to the internet, and logged on before composing and sending three emails.

"Each was in a random mix of upper and lower cases, not well formatted and written in strange language, the researchers said.

"One read: "Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4pm,. Bring wine and caviar only."

"Another said simply, "What the…".

"The new variation of sleepwalking has been described as "zzz-mailing".

"We believe writing an email after turning the computer on, connecting to the internet and remembering the password displayed by our patient is novel," the researchers said.

"To our knowledge this type of complex behaviour requiring co-ordinated movements has not been reported before in sleepwalking" (http://www.news.com.au/technology/story/0,28348,24802639-5014239,00.html, accessed 12-30-2008)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

U.S. Households Received and Sent 176 Billion Pieces of Physical Mail in 2009 2009

According to United States Postal Service’s Household Diary Study (HDS) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, U.S. households sent and received 176 billion pieces of physical mail in 2009, not including international mail:

"Table E.1: Mail Received and Sent by Households

"(Billions of Pieces) Mail

"Classification                 Received     Sent

"First-Class Mail                  53.1         18.3

"Standard Regular Mail        58.2            —

"Standard Nonprofit Mail      12.5           —

"Periodicals                          6.0           —

"Package & Shipping Services 1.8          0.5

      "Total                         131.6        18.8

"Household to Household             5.4

"Total Mail Received and

Sent by Households                    145.0

       "FY 2009 RPW Total*           176.3

"Non-household to

"Non-household Residual              31.3

"Unaddressed                                1.6 —

"Source: HDS Diary Sample, FY 2009. *Does not include     international mail."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"The Web Pries Lid off Iranian Censorship" June 23, 2009

"At one time, authoritarian regimes could draw a shroud around the events in their countries by simply snipping the long-distance phone lines and restricting a few foreigners. But this is the new arena of censorship in the 21st century, a world where cellphone cameras, Twitter accounts and all the trappings of the World Wide Web have changed the ancient calculus of how much power governments actually have to sequester their nations from the eyes of the world and make it difficult for their own people to gather, dissent and rebel.

"Iran’s sometimes faltering attempts to come to grips with this new reality are providing a laboratory for what can and cannot be done in this new media age — and providing lessons to other governments, watching with calculated interest from afar, about what they may be able to get away with should their own citizens take to the streets.

"One early lesson is that it is easier for Iranian authorities to limit images and information within their own country than it is to stop them from spreading rapidly to the outside world. While Iran has severely restricted Internet access, a loose worldwide network of sympathizers has risen up to help keep activists and spontaneous filmmakers connected.

"The pervasiveness of the Web makes censorship 'a much more complicated job,' said John Palfrey, a co-director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

"The Berkman Center estimates that about three dozen governments — as widely disparate as China, Cuba and Uzbekistan — extensively control their citizens’ access to the Internet. Of those, Iran is one of the most aggressive. Mr. Palfrey said the trend during this decade has been toward more, not less, censorship. 'It’s almost impossible for the censor to win in an Internet world, but they’re putting up a good fight,' he said.

"Since the advent of the digital age, governments and rebels have dueled over attempts to censor communications. Text messaging was used to rally supporters in a popular political uprising in Ukraine in 2004 and to threaten activists in Belarus in 2006. When Myanmar sought to silence demonstrators in 2007, it switched off the country’s Internet network for six weeks. Earlier this month, China blocked sites like YouTube to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

"In Iran, the censorship has been more sophisticated, amounting to an extraordinary cyberduel. It feels at times as if communications within the country are being strained through a sieve, as the government slows down Web access and uses the latest spying technology to pinpoint opponents. But at least in limited ways, users are still able to send Twitter messages, or tweets, and transmit video to one another and to a world of online spectators.

"Because of the determination of those users, hundreds of amateur videos from Tehran and other cities have been uploaded to YouTube in recent days, providing television networks with hours of raw — but unverified — video from the protests. 

"The Internet has 'certainly broken 30 years of state control over what is seen and is unseen, what is visible versus invisible,'  said Navtej Dhillon, an analyst with the Brookings Institution" (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/world/middleeast/23censor.html?hp).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

2010 – 2011

After the Earthquake in Haiti, Donating by SMS Text January 13, 2010

After the disastrous earthquake in Haiti you could send aid money by text message on your cell phone, and $10 was put on your cell phone bill. In the case of the Red Cross you could "send a $10 Donation by Texting ‘Haiti’ to 90999", or you could donate by phone or by credit card on the Red Cross website, or through social networking sites.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

World Texting Competition is Won by Koreans January 14, 2010

The first LG Mobile Worldcup SMS texting championship took place in New York on January 14, 2010.

“ 'When others watch me texting, they think I’m not that fast and they can do better,' said Mr. Bae, 17, a high school dropout who dyes his hair a light chestnut color and is studying to be an opera singer.'So far, I’ve never lost a match.'

"In the New York competition he typed six characters a second. 'If I can think faster I can type faster,' he said.

"The inaugural Mobile World Cup, hosted by the South Korean cellphone maker LG Electronics, brought together two-person teams from 13 countries who had clinched their national titles by beating a total of six million contestants. Marching behind their national flags, they gathered in New York on Jan. 14 for what was billed as an international clash of dexterous digits" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/world/asia/28seoul.html, accessed 01-28-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Steve Jobs Introduces the iPad, the First Widely Sold Tablet Computer January 27, 2010

On January 27, 2010 Steve Jobs of Apple introduced the iPad, the first widely sold tablet computer. The first iPad was one-half inch thick, with a 9.7 inch, high resolution color touchscreen (multi-touch) diagonal display, powered by a 1-gigahertz Apple A4 chip and 16 to 64 gigabytes of flash storage, weighing 1.5 pounds and capable of running all iPhone applications, except presumably, the phone. The battery life was supposed to be 10 hours, and the device was supposed to hold a charge for 1 month in standby. The price started at $499.00.

"The new device will have to be far better than the laptop and smartphone at doing important things: browsing the Web, doing e-mail, enjoying and sharing photographs, watching videos, enjoying your music collection, playing games, reading e-books. Otherwise, 'it has no reason for being.'" (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/27/live-blogging-the-apple-product-announcement/?hp, accessed 01-27-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication. . . " February 2010

In February 2010 biosocial anthropologist Diane Harley, director of the Higher Education in the Digital Age (HEDA) project at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley, and colleagues, published Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines.

"Since 2005, the Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE)... has been conducting research to understand the needs and practices of faculty for in-progress scholarly communication (i.e., forms of communication employed as research is being executed) as well as archival publication. The complete results of our work can be found at the Future of Scholarly Communication’s project website. This report brings together the responses of 160 interviewees across 45, mostly elite, research institutions to closely examine scholarly needs and values in seven selected academic fields: archaeology, astrophysics, biology, economics, history, music, and political science.

"The report is divided into eight chapters and can be read in its entirety online (733 pages) or can be downloaded in a PDF file, as can any individual chapter" (http://escholarship.org/uc/cshe_fsc, accessed 02-12-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Cell Phones Are Now Used More for Data than Speech May 13, 2010

According to The New York Times, in May 2010 people were using their cell phones more for text messaging and data-processing than for speech. This should not come as a surprise to anyone with teen-age children.

". . . although almost 90 percent of households in the United States now have a cellphone, the growth in voice minutes used by consumers has stagnated, according to government and industry data.  

"This is true even though more households each year are disconnecting their landlines in favor of cellphones.  

"Instead of talking on their cellphones, people are making use of all the extras that iPhones, BlackBerrys and other smartphones were also designed to do — browse the Web, listen to music, watch television, play games and send e-mail and text messages.  

"The number of text messages sent per user increased by nearly 50 percent nationwide last year, according to the CTIA, the wireless industry association. And for the first time in the United States, the amount of data in text, e-mail messages, streaming video, music and other services on mobile devices in 2009 surpassed the amount of voice data in cellphone calls, industry executives and analysts say. 'Originally, talking was the only cellphone application,' said Dan Hesse, chief executive of Sprint Nextel. 'But now it’s less than half of the traffic on mobile networks.'  

"Of course, talking on the cellphone isn’t disappearing entirely. 'Anytime something is sensitive or is something I don’t want to be forwarded, I pick up the phone rather than put it into a tweet or a text,' said Kristen Kulinowski, a 41-year-old chemistry teacher in Houston. And calling is cheaper than ever because of fierce competition among rival wireless networks.  

"But figures from the CTIA show that over the last two years, the average number of voice minutes per user in the United States has fallen (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/14/technology/personaltech/14talk.html?hp, accessed 05-14-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Spam Declines from 90% of Email Traffic to Only 72.9% July 2010 – June 2011

"The high water mark for spam was reached in July 2010 when approximately 230 billion spam messages were in circulation each day, accounting for 90% of all email traffic. This has now declined to 39.2 billion messages per day, accounting for only 72.9% of all email. The question is why?

"There are many different factors that appear to be working together to make sending spam more difficult and less profitable for criminal gangs. In September 2010 the Spamit web site announced that it was ceasing operation due to “numerous negative events”. Spamit provided affiliate marketing services, allegedly helping to pay spammers for promoting many spam advertised web sites, notably the “Canadian Pharmacy” operation which was one of the most spam advertised brands.  

"The demise of Spamit corresponded with a large drop in spam volumes, from approximately 100 to 75 billion spam per day from the end of September to mid November 2010. It is not known exactly what the “negative events” are referred to by Spamit, but it is thought that these may be associated with increased attention by regulatory bodies and law enforcement in the activities of the group.  

"Nevertheless, spam had been dropping before this event. It may be that increased surveillance of spammers by authorities had pursuaded spammers to seek other economic activities legitimate or illicit. Or it may be that the peak of spamming in July 2010 was unsustainable for the spamming industry, there just weren't the number of customers to warrant such a high level of activity.

"A few months later, in December 2010, the largest botnet at the time, Rustock suddenly stopped sending spam. At the time, this single botnet was responsible for 47.5% of all spam, sending approximately 44.1 billion spams per day. The botnet soon resumed its activity in January in 2011, but in March it ceased operation entirely and was dismantled due to concerted action by a partnership of industry and law enforcement. Since then, the other botnets have not significantly increased their spamming activity to maintain the same total levels of spam. Indeed, one of the largest botnets, Bagle, has decreased the amount of spam that it sends from 8.31 billion spam per day in March 2011 to 1.60 billion spam per day in June 2011.

"This decrease in spamming activity may be evidence that increased investigation of the spam underworld has both disrupted the affiliate networks, such as Spamit, that pay for spam campaigns, and led to botnet controllers looking to keep their heads down to avoid the attention of the legal authorities. Interestingly, during the same period there has been a reported rise in distributed denial of service attacks, which can also be undertaken by botnets. It may be that the botnet owners are looking to other modes of operation to maintain their revenue, while moving away from the now less profitable and more risky business of spamming" (http://www.symantec.com/connect/blogs/why-my-email-went, accessed 07-04-2011).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Data on Mobile Networks is Doubling Each Year August 1, 2010

"The volume of data on the world’s mobile networks is doubling each year, according to Cisco Systems, the U.S. maker of routers and networking equipment. By 2014, it estimates, the monthly data flow will increase about sixteenfold, to 3.6 billion gigabytes from 220.1 million" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/technology/02iht-NETPIPE02.html?src=un&feedurl=http://json8.nytimes.com/pages/business/global/index.jsonp, accessed 08-01-2010)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

U.S. E-Book Sales are Predicted to Reach $1,000,000,000 in 2010 December 11, 2010

American e-book sales will reach almost $1 billion by the end of 2010, according to new research.

"A report published by technology and market research company Forrester presented a five year forecast for e-books in the US. The firm surveyed 4,000 people for the report and found 2010 will end with $966m worth of e-books sold to consumers. By 2015 the industry will have nearly tripled to almost 3bn, a point at which Forrester said the industry will be 'forever altered'.

The study has also found e-book buying falls very low on the list of how people acquire books, with just 7% of adults who read books and are active online reading e-books. However, Forrester said this 7% 'read the most books and spend the most money on books'.

"A blog by Forrester researcher James McQuivey said: 'We have plenty of room to grow beyond the 7% that read e-books today and, once they get the hang of it, e-book readers quickly shift a majority of their book reading to a digital form. More e-book readers reading a greater percentage of their books in digital form means our nearly $3 billion figure in 2015 will be easy to hit, even if nothing else changes in the industry.'  

"McQuivey too urged publishers to take digital seriously in order to prepare for a day when 'physical book publishing is an adjunct activity that supports the digital publishing business' " (http://www.thebookseller.com/news/133944-us-e-book-sales-to-reach-1-billion.html, accessed 11-12-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

2011 – 2014

An App the Promotes the Value of Impermanence 2011 – 2013

Photos and messages sent through an app called Snapchat, developed in Venice Beach, California, vanish in seconds. In a world where users know that any image or message posted in social media, or sent through email, may be preserved forever, Snapchat's feature of automatically deleting information rather than preserving it found a growing niche. The feature was popular enough for Facebook to develop a competing ap called Facebook Poke.

"Although Snapchat says that it cannot see or store copies of content, the service still allows nimble-fingered users to capture screenshots of photos. Mr. Murphy calls that mechanism a 'feature, not a vulnerability' of the service. Each time a screenshot of a Snapchat is taken, the sender is alerted that the image has been captured. There have also been reports of loopholes and hacks that let people save videos and screenshots. 'Nothing ever goes away on the Internet,' Mr. Spiegel acknowledged.  

"Snapchat has its origins at Stanford, where Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Murphy first met as fraternity brothers. Mr. Spiegel presented a prototype of Snapchat in spring 2011 to one of his classes, but it was greeted as impractical and silly by his classmates.  

"Undeterred, Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Murphy shared an updated version for the iPhone with about 20 friends in September 2011. A few weeks in, they started seeing an influx of new users, paired with unusual spikes in activity, peaking between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.  

"It turned out the activity was centered around a high school in Orange County. Mr. Spiegel’s mother had told his cousin, who was a student at the school, about the app, which then spread throughout the school.

"Other high school students in Southern California picked it up, with the number of daily active users climbing from 3,000 to 30,000 in a month in early 2012. Mr. Spiegel took a leave from Stanford last June and Mr. Murphy quit his job and the pair raised a small round of financing and moved to Los Angeles to work on the application full time.  

"Since the overwhelming majority of Snapchat’s users are age 13 to 25, the application has provoked concerns from parents. The company acknowledges that the service can be misused, but does not dwell on it. 'We are not advertising ourselves as a secure platform,' Mr. Spiegel said. 'It’s a communication platform. It’s not our job to police the world or Snapchat of jerks' (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/09/technology/snapchat-a-growing-app-lets-you-see-it-then-you-dont.html, accessed 02-09-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Apple Color Emoji: The First Color Font Included in a Computer Operating System 2011

In 2011 Apple included the Apple Color Emoji in Mac OS X Lion. This was the first time a computer operating system included a color font.

"Of even more significance is the fact that the glyphs included in the font are Unicode encoded. In an effort initiated by Google and with significant help from Apple and Microsoft, 722 Emoji symbols were included in the recently published Unicode 6.0 standard, putting Emoji on par with the Latin alphabet and other writing systems encoded in Unicode. This means messages and documents containing Emoji are fully searchable and indexable, and Unicode Emoji fonts are included with Windows Phone 7.5 and the Windows 8 Developer Preview. The encoding effort was not without controversy, but effectively legitimizes nontraditional forms of written expression, and opens the door for the encoding of other symbols, including those found in popular symbol encoded fonts like Wingdings and Webdings" (http://typographica.org/typeface-reviews/apple-color-emoji, accessed 08-22-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Independently Published Magazine Exclusively for the iPad January 2011

London-based Remi Paringaux and his company, Meri Media, published the first issue of Post, the first independent magazine published exclusively for the iPad. It was offered for sale as an iPad app for $2.99.  

The New York Times characterized the publication as "A Magazine that Won't Smudge."

Postmatter.com described the project in this way:

"Post is a project born of love for magazines, and one dedicated to taking that love beyond paper and physical matter. A new frontier and paradigm in publishing, Post looks beyond the traditional rules of how and what magazines 'should be', in favour of speculating upon what magazines could be. It is about fashion, art, architecture, cinema, music, culture. It is about what's exciting now and tomorrow.

"Post is an only child, born of the iPad, with no printed sibling to imitate or be intimated by. Liberated from the imposing heritage of print culture, Post exists an entirely virtual realm, yet is intimately connected to material through the medium of touch. Inherently interactive Post presents a truly multimedia, mult-sensory journey from the first frame to the last, where the advertisements all built for Post by Post are immerse, tactile experiences.

"Post is not a thing. It is an idea. A non-surface whose pages dissolve and reform at your touch. It is material for the mind, the eyes, and sometimes the ears. An entire world existing only with a plane of smooth glass, tangibly alive, but cool to the touch. Let Post be your guide" (accessed 05-25-2011).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Voice-Activated Translation on Cell Phones January 12, 2011

Google introduced an improved Google Translate for Android Conversation Mode: 

"This is a new interface within Google Translate that’s optimized to allow you to communicate fluidly with a nearby person in another language. You may have seen an early demo a few months ago, and today you can try it yourself on your Android device.  

"Currently, you can only use Conversation Mode when translating between English and Spanish. In conversation mode, simply press the microphone for your language and start speaking. Google Translate will translate your speech and read the translation out loud. Your conversation partner can then respond in their language, and you’ll hear the translation spoken back to you. Because this technology is still in alpha, factors like regional accents, background noise or rapid speech may make it difficult to understand what you’re saying. Even with these caveats, we’re excited about the future promise of this technology to be able to help people connect across languages" (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/new-look-for-google-translate-for.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+blogspot/MKuf+(Official+Google+Blog), accessed 01-14-2011.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The U. S. National Broadband Map February 17, 2011

The National Broadband Map (NBM), a searchable and interactive website that allows users to view broadband availability across every neighborhood in the United States, was first published.

The NBM was created by the U. S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), in collaboration with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and in partnership with 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia. The NBM is a project of NTIA's State Broadband Initiative. The NBM will be updated approximately every six months. 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Snapchat: Communication and Automatic Destruction of Information September 2011

In September 2011 Stanford University students Evan Spiegel and Robert Murphy produced the initial release of the photo messaging application Snapchat, famously launching the program "from Spiegel's father's living room." Users of the app take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. Photographs and videos sent through the app are known as "Snaps". Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps, after which the photos or videos are hidden from the recipient's device and deleted from Snapchat's servers. In December 2013 the range was from 1 to 10 seconds. 

In November 2013 it was reported that Snapchat was sharing 400 million photos per day—more than Facebook.

"Founder Evan Spiegel explained that Snapchat is intended to counteract the trend of users being compelled to manage an idealized online identity of themselves, which he says has "taken all of the fun out of communicating". Snapchat can locate a user's friends through the user's smartphone contact list. Research conducted in the UK has shown that, as of June 2013, half of all 18 to 30-year-old respondents (47 percent) have received nude pictures, while 67 percent had received images of "inappropriate poses or gestures".

"Snapchat launched the "Snapchat Stories" feature in early October 2013 and released corresponding video advertisements with the tagline "It's about time." The feature allows users to create links of shared content that can be viewed an unlimited number of times over a 24-hour period. The "stories" are simultaneously shared with the user's friends and content remains for 24 hours before disappearing.

"Another controversy surrounding the rising popularity of Snapchat in the United States relates to a phenomenon known as sexting. This involves the sending and receiving of explicit images that often involve some degree of nudity. Because the application is commonly used by younger generations, often below the age of eighteen, the question has been raised whether or not certain users are technically distributing child pornography. For this reason, many adults disapprove of their children's use of the application. Snapchat's developers continue to insist that the application is not sexting-friendly and that they do not condone any kind of pornographic use.

"On November 14, 2013, police in LavalQuebec, Canada arrested 10 boys aged 13 to 15 on child pornography charges after the boys allegedly captured and shared explicit photos of teenage girls sent through Snapchat as screenshots.

"In February 2013, a study by market research firm Survata found that mobile phone users are more likely to "sext over SMS than over Snapchat" (Wikipedia article on Snapchat, accessed 12-12-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Nearly 50% of U.S. Mobile Subscribers Own Smartphones March 29, 2012

According to a Nielsen report accessed on March 29, 2012, 49.7 percent of mobile subscribers owned smartphones as of February, 2012, an increase from 36 percent a year ago. Two-thirds of those who got a new phone in the last three months chose a smartphone over a feature phone.  Android-based phones led the U.S. smartphone market with a 48 percent share,  Apple's iPhone had 32 percent, and BlackBerry had 11.6 percent.

Source:

http://www.technolog.msnbc.msn.com/technology/technolog/half-us-cellular-subscribers-own-smartphones-nielsen-586757, accessed 03-29-2012.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Teleportation from One Macroscopic Object to Another November 8, 2012

Xiao-Hui Bao and colleagues at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei teleported quantum information from one ensemble of atoms to another 150 meters away, a demonstration seen as a significant milestone towards quantum routers and a quantum Internet.

"Quantum teleportation and quantum memory are two crucial elements for large-scale quantum networks. With the help of prior distributed entanglement as a “quantum channel,” quantum teleportation provides an intriguing means to faithfully transfer quantum states among distant locations without actual transmission of the physical carriers [Bennett CH, et al. (1993) Phys Rev Lett 70(13):1895–1899]. Quantum memory enables controlled storage and retrieval of fast-flying photonic quantum bits with stationary matter systems, which is essential to achieve the scalability required for large-scale quantum networks. Combining these two capabilities, here we realize quantum teleportation between two remote atomic-ensemble quantum memory nodes, each composed of ∼108 rubidium atoms and connected by a 150-m optical fiber. The spin wave state of one atomic ensemble is mapped to a propagating photon and subjected to Bell state measurements with another single photon that is entangled with the spin wave state of the other ensemble. Two-photon detection events herald the success of teleportation with an average fidelity of 88(7)%. Besides its fundamental interest as a teleportation between two remote macroscopic objects, our technique may be useful for quantum information transfer between different nodes in quantum networks and distributed quantum computing" (Xiao-Hui Bao Xiao-Fan Xuc, Che-Ming Lic, Zhen-Sheng Yuana, Chao-Yang Lua, and Jian-Wei Pana, "Quantum teleportation between remote atomic-ensemble quantum memories," Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. America 10.1073/pnas.1207329109).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"Anonymous" Plans to Shut Down Syrian Government Websites in Response to Countrywide Internet Blackout November 29 – December 1, 2012

"(Reuters) - Global hacking network Anonymous said it will shut down Syrian government websites around the world in response to a countrywide Internet blackout believed to be aimed at silencing the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.  

"Syria was plunged into communication darkness on Thursday [November 29] when Internet connectivity stopped at midday. Land lines and mobile phones networks were also seriously disrupted.  

"The Syrian government said 'terrorists' had attacked Internet lines but the opposition and human rights groups suspect it to be the work of the authorities.  

"Opposition activists have used the Internet extensively to further their cause by publishing footage of aerial strikes and graphic images of civilian casualties. In the absence of a free press, they have used social media to disseminate information during the uprising and communicate with journalists abroad.  

"Anonymous, a loose affiliation of hacking groups that opposes Internet censorship, said it will remove from the Internet all web assets belonging to Assad's government that are outside Syria, starting with embassies.  

"By 1000 GMT on Friday, the website for Syria's embassy in Belgium was down but the embassy in China - which Anonymous said it would target first - was operating. Most government ministry websites were down although this could be due to the blackout.  

"Several networking experts said that it was highly unlikely that the lines had been sabotaged by anti-Assad forces.  

"CloudFlare, a firm that helps accelerate Internet traffic, said on its blog that saboteurs would have had to simultaneously sever three undersea cables into the port city of Tartous and also an overland cable through Turkey in order to cut off the entire country's Internet access.  

" 'That is unlikely to have happened,' CloudFlare said.  

" The government has been accused of cutting communications in previous assaults on rebel-held areas. Anonymous said Assad's government had physically 'pulled the plug out of the wall'.  

" 'As we discovered in Egypt, where the dictator (Hosni) Mubarak did something similar - this is not damage that can be easily or quickly repaired,'it added, referring to an Internet outage during the early days of the 2011 uprising in Egypt.  

" French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said the communications cut was of a matter of 'extreme concern'.  

" 'It is another demonstration of what the Damascus regime is doing to hold its people hostage. We call on the Damascus regime to reestablish communications without delay,' he said.  

"Rebels have seized a series of army bases across Syria this month, exposing Assad's loss of control in northern and eastern regions and on Thursday fighting on the outskirts of the capital blocked access to the international airport.  

"More than 40,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, according to opposition groups.  

Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, said the Internet cut could signal that Assad is seeking to hide the truth of what is happening in the country from the outside world.  

"Syrian authorities have severely restricted non-state media from working in the country.  

"The hacker collective has staged cyber attacks on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency. Earlier this month, The Israeli government said it logged more than 44 million hacking attempts in just a few days during its military assault on Gaza after Anonymous waged a similar campaign" (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/30/us-syria-crisis-internet-idUSBRE8AT0PN20121130, accessed 11-30-2012).

♦ After two days of complete Internet blackout in Syria Cloudflare reported in its blog that Internet service partially resumed in Syria on December 1. Whether the service resumption was in response to political pressure from abroad, or threats from Anonymous, or caused by some other factor or factors was unclear.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Library of Congress Has Archived 170 Billion Tweets January 4, 2013

On January 4, 2013 Gayle Osterberg, Director of Communications at the Library of Congress reported in the Library of Congress Blog

"An element of our mission at the Library of Congress is to collect the story of America and to acquire collections that will have research value. So when the Library had the opportunity to acquire an archive from the popular social media service Twitter, we decided this was a collection that should be here.  

"In April 2010, the Library and Twitter [based in San Francisco] signed an agreement providing the Library the public tweets from the company’s inception through the date of the agreement, an archive of tweets from 2006 through April 2010. Additionally, the Library and Twitter agreed that Twitter would provide all public tweets on an ongoing basis under the same terms.

"The Library’s first objectives were to acquire and preserve the 2006-10 archive; to establish a secure, sustainable process for receiving and preserving a daily, ongoing stream of tweets through the present day; and to create a structure for organizing the entire archive by date.

"This month, all those objectives will be completed. We now have an archive of approximately 170 billion tweets and growing. The volume of tweets the Library receives each day has grown from 140 million beginning in February 2011 to nearly half a billion tweets each day as of October 2012.  

"The Library’s focus now is on addressing the significant technology challenges to making the archive accessible to researchers in a comprehensive, useful way. These efforts are ongoing and a priority for the Library.  

"Twitter is a new kind of collection for the Library of Congress but an important one to its mission. As society turns to social media as a primary method of communication and creative expression, social media is supplementing, and in some cases supplanting, letters, journals, serial publications and other sources routinely collected by research libraries.  [Bold face is my addition, JN.]

"Although the Library has been building and stabilizing the archive and has not yet offered researchers access, we have nevertheless received approximately 400 inquiries from researchers all over the world. Some broad topics of interest expressed by researchers run from patterns in the rise of citizen journalism and elected officials’ communications to tracking vaccination rates and predicting stock market activity.

"Attached is a white paper [PDF] that summarizes the Library’s work to date and outlines present-day progress and challenges."

————

♦♦ To which James Gleick, author of The Information, responded in the New York Review of Books on January 16, 2013 in a blog entry titled Librarians of the Twitterverse, from which I quote this selection:

"For a brief time in the 1850s the telegraph companies of England and the United States thought that they could (and should) preserve every message that passed through their wires. Millions of telegrams—in fireproof safes. Imagine the possibilities for history!  

“ 'Fancy some future Macaulay rummaging among such a store, and painting therefrom the salient features of the social and commercial life of England in the nineteenth century,' wrote Andrew Wynter in 1854. (Wynter was what we would now call a popular-science writer; in his day job he practiced medicine, specializing in 'lunatics.') 'What might not be gathered some day in the twenty-first century from a record of the correspondence of an entire people?'

"Remind you of anything?  

"Here in the twenty-first century, the Library of Congress is now stockpiling the entire Twitterverse, or Tweetosphere, or whatever we’ll end up calling it—anyway, the corpus of all public tweets. There are a lot. The library embarked on this project in April 2010, when Jack Dorsey’s microblogging service was four years old, and four years of tweeting had produced 21 billion messages. Since then Twitter has grown, as these things do, and 21 billion tweets represents not much more than a month’s worth. As of December, the library had received 170 billion—each one a 140-character capsule garbed in metadata with the who-when-where. . . . "

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Size of the Digital Universe in 2013 and Prediction of its Growth Rate June 2013

"Because of smartphones, tablets, social media sites, e-mail and other forms of digital communications, the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data daily, according to I.B.M.

"The company estimates that 90 percent of the data that now exists in the world has been created in just the last two years. From now until 2020, the digital universe is expected to double every two years, according to a study by the International Data Corporation" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/us/revelations-give-look-at-spy-agencys-wider-reach.html?hpw, accessed 06-08-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry