David Shedden

David Shedden is a researcher and the library director at the Poynter Institute. Poynter Online daily feature: "Today in Media History"


Today in Media History: First successful PC goes on sale in ’74 and helps launch Microsoft

On December 19, 1974, the first successful personal computer went on sale. They called it the Altair 8800.

Popular Electronics magazine profiled the new PC in their January 1975 issue. Readers learned that for $395 you could order a kit to build the Altair yourself or buy it assembled for $495. The Altair 8800 came with 256 bytes of computer memory and Intel’s 8080 processor.

“For many years, we’ve been reading and hearing about how computers will one day be a household item. Therefore, we’re especially proud to present in this issue the first commercial type of minicomputer project ever published that’s priced within reach of many households — the Altair 8800….”

Ed Roberts, the creator of the Altair, worked with Bill Gates and Paul Allen to develop the PC’s first programming language.

The partnership between Gates and Allen marked the beginning of the Microsoft company, which officially started on April 4, 1975. Read more

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Today in Media History: President Eisenhower speaks from space

An Atlas rocket launched the first communications satellite on this date in 1958. A pre-recorded message from President Eisenhower was soon transmitted from space.

(This flight was one of the early projects for ARPA, the government agency that later helped create the Internet.)

Here is a Universal newsreel story about the mission:

Many people heard a replay of Eisenhower’s message on their local radio stations.

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

The following recording comes from radio station WBAI.

Eisenhower’s message from space made news again in 2013:

“The first audio message to be relayed from outer space will be preserved as part of the National Recording Registry alongside Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon,’ Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence,’ and Chubby Checker’s rendition of ‘The Twist,’ the Library of Congress announced Thursday.

Read more
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Today in Media History: Front-page news about the Wright brothers 1903 flight

On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made the first successful manned flight in a motorized airplane near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Virginian-Pilot published the news on its front page the next day.

“The problem of aerial navigation without the use of a balloon has been solved at last.

Over the sand hills of the North Carolina coast yesterday, near Kitty Hawk, two Ohio men proved that they could soar through the air in a flying machine of their own construction, with the power to steer and speed it at will….”

Virginian-Pilot, December 18, 1903

Virginian-Pilot, December 18, 1903

This video tells the story of the Wright brothers with archival film footage and old photos.

The writer of the 1903 Virginian-Pilot article was not at the historic flight.

However, he was able to piece together the information based on reports from others. (Some of the details he was given were incorrect.)

In an article called, “The Big Story,” Virginia Living magazine tells the story behind the story. Read more

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Today in Media History: 1947 scientific discovery leads to transistor radio news

How did most people hear radio news reports in the 1920s-1940s? Families sat in their living rooms and listened to very large receivers.

But on December 16, 1947, three scientists helped develop the transistor, and by 1954 small transistor radios were available for sale.

In the same way iPods brought us portable digital music in 2001, transistor radios allowed listeners to hear radio stations (and their news reports) wherever they went.

The first popular transistor radio, the 1954 Regency TR-1. Image from The PBS show, The “History Detectives.”

The first popular transistor radio, the 1954 Regency TR-1. Image from The PBS show, The “History Detectives.”

We can thank car transistor radios for drive-time news and NPR driveway moments. Take a look at this commercial from 1956:

The following excerpts from the television program, “Transistorized,” introduce us to the inventors of the transistor.

“Although many scientists contributed along the way, it was three men who really brought the transistor to life, and each played a different role: the thinker, the tinkerer, and the visionary.

Read more
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Today in Media History: The first Bill of Rights Day came just after Pearl Harbor attack

Bill of Rights Day was established on December 15, 1941 to mark the document‘s 150th anniversary.

A few weeks earlier the media probably assumed this would be a typical history/anniversary story, but everything changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Following is a look at the first Bill of Rights Day.

New York Sun Image, December 15, 1941, Columbia University Digital Collection

New York Sun Image, December 15, 1941, Columbia University Digital Collection

Here is a story excerpt from the New York Herald Tribune:

“The 150th anniversary of the adoption of the Bill of Rights, first ten amendments to the Constitution, was commemorated in New York yesterday at many celebrations at which speakers, including Mayor F. H. LaGuardia and Governor Herbert H. Lehman, proclaimed the principles embodied in the amendments to be the principles for which America is fighting today.

….President Roosevelt, in a message….said ‘no clearer and more eloquent statement of cause was ever written than is embodied in the American Bill of Rights.’”

New York World-Telegram, December 15, 1941, Columbia University Digital Collection

New York World-Telegram, December 15, 1941, Columbia University Digital Collection

In 2010 NPR produced a story about Norman Corwin. Read more

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Today in Media History: In the late 1890s Marconi helped invent wireless news

Although inventor Guglielmo Marconi created short-distance wireless telegraph years earlier, on December 12, 1901 his team sent and received the first long-distance transatlantic radio/telegraph message.

He proved that wireless messages (and eventually news) could be sent across the Atlantic.

Marconi received the first transatlantic message on Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland. That day may have looked something like this:

He first saw the potential of wireless telegraph news in the late 1890s. Here is an example from the Marconi Collection and “Marconi’s life“:

“On the way home to England in November 1899, on board the SS St Paul, he arranged for news of the Boer War to be transmitted to the ship from his station on the Isle of Wight. This news was then printed on board the vessel in the first ever ship’s newspaper produced as a result of a shore-to-ship wireless transmission.”

Walter Cronkite reminded us that Marconi’s technology played a part in the biggest news story of 1912. Read more

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Today in Media History: Radio stations broadcast the 1936 abdication speech of King Edward VIII

On this date in 1936, Edward VIII, King of Great Britain, abdicated his throne. Radio stations around the world broadcast his farewell speech.

He began with these words:

“At long last I am able to say a few words of my own. I have never wanted to withhold anything, but until now it has not been constitutionally possible for me to speak.

A few hours ago I discharged my last duty as King and Emperor, and now that I have been succeeded by my brother, The Duke of York, my first words must be to declare my allegiance to him. This I do with all my heart.

You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the Throne. But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the Empire which as Prince of Wales, and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve.

Read more

Today in Media History: In 1901 newspapers reported on the first Nobel Prizes

The first ceremony to award the Nobel Prizes took place on December 10, 1901, the fifth anniversary of Alfred Nobel‘s death. News articles noted that awards were given in the areas of peace, literature, chemistry, physics and medicine.

Here is a New York Tribune story about the 1901 ceremony:

NY Trib 1901 Nobel 1

New York Tribune Image, December 11, 1901

New York Tribune Image, December 11, 1901

Although it is not clear how important this was to him, a 1888 newspaper obituary error may have helped lead to Nobel’s idea to create the prizes.

According a Forbes.com contributor:

“In 1888, Alfred’s brother Ludvig died while visiting France, and a French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary. The paper reported, ‘Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.’ It condemned him for his invention of dynamite, saying, ‘Le marchand de la mort est mort.’ (‘The merchant of death is dead.’)

Alfred was concerned about how he’d be remembered and deeply disappointed with what he read.

Read more
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Today in Media History: In 1968, the computer mouse was introduced at the ‘mother of all demos’

Are you using a computer mouse right now?

Douglas Engelbart introduced it to the world (not that the world knew what to do with it) at the “mother of all demos” on December 9, 1968.

His presentation is primarily remembered for the mouse, but Engelbart and his team also demonstrated early hypertext, word processing, and other technological tools we take for granted today.

Here is some background about Engelbart and the demo:

“From the halls of a university research lab to the desks of hundreds of millions of computer users, the computer mouse has come a long way. Douglas Engelbart created the first prototypes of the now-familiar device in 1963 at Stanford Research Institute, but he first displayed his creation to the public in 1968 forty years ago Tuesday. During that unveiling, Engelbart presented what some have called ‘the mother of all demos,’ outlining concepts that would presage the next 40 years of computing, including the use of a three-button palm-sized contraption called a ‘mouse.’

Since then, a handful of companies (namely Xerox, Apple, Microsoft, and Logitech) have poured millions into refining the form and function of the mouse: they’ve changed its number of buttons, changed the interfaces by which mice connect to computers, and tinkered with new methods of tracking movement.

Read more
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Today in Media History: FDR delivers his World War II ‘Infamy’ speech

President Franklin Roosevelt began writing his December 8th “Infamy” speech on December 7th, 1941.

Millions of people first heard the news about Pearl Harbor on the radio:

In his speech, FDR asked Congress for a declaration of war.

He began with the words: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

(Here is a link to a full audio copy of the speech.)

“WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 (AP) — Congress declared war against Japan today….The Senate and House had assembled together to hear President Roosevelt ask the declaration. They cheered him enthusiastically and then pushed the resolution through with not a moment’s waste of time….Roosevelt’s words to the joint session, second in a generation to hear a President ask for a declaration of war, were solemn but brief.”

— Associated Press, December 8, 1941

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