Charles Babbage and the Difference Engine

Many machinists even created their own variations of the difference engine after Babbage’s death. Introduction The 2008 film Babbage features a dinner-party between many of the important figures in the life of the inventor Charles Babbage: his collaborator Ada Lovelace, his father Benjamin, his mother Betsy, his friend John Herschel, and his wife Georgiana. Babbage’s designs for[…]

Disaster Ahead: How Danube Floods Created Telegraph Networks

Telecommunication would prove to be a powerful agent of change. Rivers flood, some more regularly than others. The more infrastructure humans construct in floodplains, the more vulnerable to extreme hydrological events they become. Thus, when Danube floods hit Vienna, a Habsburg residence and the most important city of the monarchy, its waters regularly swept over[…]

Five Moon-Landing Innovations That Changed Life on Earth

The technologies behind weather forecasting, GPS and even smartphones can trace their origins to the race to the Moon. Much of the technology common in daily life today originates from the drive to put a human being on the Moon. This effort reached its pinnacle when Neil Armstrong stepped off the Eagle landing module onto[…]

“Nancy Grows Up,” the Media Age, and the Historian’s Craft

If, as historians, we took such a turn, we could open up new horizons for historical scholarship. The Challenge of “Nancy Grows Up” It begins with anxious crying. The plaintive sound only lasts a few moments before the screams drop into a slightly lower register and transform into a calm murmur. The sound repeats, then[…]

Fighting talk: First World War Telecommunications

As a result of the need to exchange information faster and more efficiently, telecommunications advanced rapidly. As the First World War raged, governments harnessed modern technologies to give them an advantage in conflict. New inventions – from tanks to Zeppelins – appeared on the battlefield, while existing technologies were adapted to fit the needs of the British[…]

Morse Code Marks 175 Years and Counting

Morse code works whether flashing a spotlight or blinking your eyes – or even tapping on a smartphone touchscreen. The first message sent by Morse code’s dots and dashes across a long distance traveled from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore on Friday, May 24, 1844 – 175 years ago. It signaled the first time in human[…]

A Pressing Matter: Ancient Roman Food Technology

Researchers show that an Ancient Roman text has long been misinterpreted, shedding new light on how innovation in olive oil and wine presses developed. Introduction No self-respecting Melbourne hipster café would be caught dead without its Gaggia coffee machine and drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar. These quintessentially Mediterranean food habits have crossed the seas[…]

The Invention of Wireless Cryptography

In 1915, a congressional bill was introduced to ban all civilian wireless activities from the airwaves. Static was always a problem as the summer heat rolled in. Situated on a hundred-acre plot along the Long Island coastline and “dropped in a mosquito-infested field,” the Sayville wireless plant began experiencing the seasonal interference that comes with[…]

Pioneers of U.S. Military Cryptology: Colonel Parker Hitt and Genevieve Young Hitt

Genevieve Hitt, likely the first woman to serve the U.S. government as a cryptologist, broke ground in her own way, paving the way for future generations of females in the profession. Introduction “The father of modern American military cryptology, whose Manual for the Solution of Military Ciphers guided our early, halting footsteps in the science[…]

When Television Was a Medical Device

Retracing the history of media technologies in the practice of medicine. Reba Benschoter readied herself to speak before the crowd of luminaries from industry, academia, and government who had gathered to talk about the transformative potential of new media in medicine. Among those assembled at the New York Academy of Sciences that day in 1966[…]

The ‘Arithmetica’ of Diophantus: Cracking Open Centuries-Old Mathematical Puzzles

Mathematicians have known how to solve something called an S-unit equation for several years. However, the process is so convoluted that few can actually use it to tackle their problems. In mathematics, no researcher works in true isolation. Even those who work alone use the theorems and methods of their colleagues and predecessors to develop[…]

The Timeline of Renaissance Inventions – c.1300-1600 CE

The Renaissance period (c. 1300-1600 CE) in European countries is renowned for path-breaking and rapid developments and inventions. The Renaissance period (c. 1300-1600 CE) in European countries is renowned for path-breaking and rapid developments and inventions that took place in fields like arts, philosophy, and science. It’s deemed that Florencia, Italy, was its epicenter. A[…]

Rise and Fall of the Landline: 143 Years of Telephones Becoming More Accessible – and Smart

A century ago, a three-minute call from New York City to San Francisco on a landline cost $500. Today, you can make the same call on a cellphone for a few cents (or free). The global economy has changed dramatically over the past century and a half. When I lecture my Boston University business students on this topic, I[…]

A Stuttered Hello to ARPANET: How the Internet Was Born

On October 29, 1969, an experiment at UCLA sparked a communication revolution, the implications of which are still unfolding nearly five decades later. The Spark Introduction In the late hours of October 29, 1969, an apparently insignificant experiment carried out in a lab in the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) would spark a[…]

Flesh Made Wood: The Invention of Artificial Refrigeration

Preserving foodstuffs by mechanical refrigeration became an industrial possibility only in the 1870s and 1880s. The refrigerator is among the most familiar of household appliances. It may also be a distinctively American machine: it has long figured in the domestic sphere as a symbol of prosperity. More recently, it has become a source of ecological[…]

The History of the Niagara Telecolorimeter

The joint U.S.-Canada project turned the iconic waterfall into infrastructure designed to create both power and beauty. It is no secret that Niagara Falls has a long history as a major site of hydroelectric production and related industrial developments. What is perhaps less well known is that the famous cataract has been engineered to that[…]

How Ancient and Medieval Science Fiction Imagined the Mobility Revolution

At first glance, a category like ancient science fiction might seem paradoxical. By Mike Bezemek / 08.30.2017 At first glance, a category like ancient science fiction might seem paradoxical. Most contemporary discussions of science fiction tend towards movies, TV shows, and fictional stories from the past 50 to 100 years—with the early part of that period being called the[…]