Tag Archives: World’s first

What does SOS stand for? When was the first SOS message relayed and by whom?

Sea voyages are pretty risky affairs. Before the late 19th century they were more so because the ships at sea were pretty much isolated since there was no means of communication with the land. It took some time to know if a ship had got into an accident or so.
With the invention of wireless telegraph, it became possible to establish a communication system between the ships and the land. The telegraph system uses Morse code for communication which is a way of representing letters using dots and dashes. There were developed some distress signals to inform if the ship was in any trouble and in need of assistance. The first use of telegraph for assistance was in 1899, when two ships collided with each other near the English coast. The SOS message is such a distress signal, developed in early years of 20th century.
The predecessor of SOS was CQD, introduced by Marcony Company. It was interpreted as short for ‘Come Quick Danger’ but was actually derived from the code for general calls in land wire, CQ. The D meant distress. The signal translated to ‘All stations, Distress’. CQD was favored by many even after the introduction of SOS, and it stayed for years until fading into history.
SOS is often interpreted by the public to mean phrases like ‘Save Our Ship’, ‘Save Our Souls’ and ‘Send Out Succor’, however it is not so. It has no specific meaning, as attested by the Marconi Yearbook of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony itself in 1918. The SOS was selected as the code simply for its easy representation. The signal is three dots, followed by three dashes and three dots again, without letter spacing. It is also the only Morse code signal with nine elements.
Even though it was popularized by Marconi Company, SOS was first introduced by Germany in 1905. It was adopted as the standard distress signal by the international maritime community at the second International Radiotelegraphic Convention in Berlin in 1906, effective from 1st July, 1908.
Another popular misconception among public is that Titanic was the first ship to send an SOS message. However, it is a myth since the first SOS transmission was on June 10, 1909, from RMS Slavonia. Titanic, upon its sinking in 1912, used both CQD and SOS signals intermixed. Later, with the progress of technology, new signals and better communication methods arrived. SOS continued to be a standard distress signal until its replacement in 1999 with the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.
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Who invented the original selfie stick? What is the story behind it?

It seems that you can’t walk a mile without seeing someone taking a ‘selfie’, nowadays. It has become as common as a nuisance, for many places and events even witnessed a ban. It didn’t take much time for the autograph to be replaced by selfies. Despite its narcissistic traits and self-absorbing implications, the selfies are quite popular in the modern world, especially among youngsters. With the rise in popularity of selfies, the demand for another contraption rose as well – the selfie stick. A selfie stick is a monopod on which a smartphone or camera can be positioned beyond the normal range of the arm. Usually made of metals, these long sticks would have a handle on one end and an adjustable clamp on the other end to hold the phone in place. The device has become as popular as the selfies themselves, and more of nuisance to some people. It has found itself banned in many events, even a conference of Apple.

Hiroshi Ueda with selfie stick
The selfie stick has an interesting history. It is not actually new as we think it to be. Like any other contraptions, this was also invented and re-invented by people from different places in different time periods. The selfie stick was there before the mobile phone gained popularity and even the word selfie was invented. The earliest known model of the selfie sticks owes its origin to a Japanese engineer named Hiroshi Ueda (photo above). He made the device in the 1980s, while he was working for the Minolta camera company. Ueda was a keen photographer and had a habit of taking numerous photos on tours. The idea got into his head when he wanted to take a photo of himself and his wife but couldn’t trust anyone else due to his bitter experiences with passers-by in past. He designed and extendable stick with a tripod screw to hold a small camera in place. He added a mirror to the front of the camera so that photographers could see themselves and make sure they were alright.
The product was introduced in market by the Minolta Company with the camera Minolta Disc-7. However, the device was not all that successful. It was listed in the 1995 book ‘101 Un-Useless Japanese Inventions: the Art of Chindogu’.
The patent of Ueda run out in 2003, and that was when the modern selfie stick was invented. Unaware of Ueda’s device, Canadian inventor Wayne Fromm patented his version of the selfie stick, named ‘Quik Pod’, in 2005. Both inventors see themselves as the real inventors of the device, as it continues to both attract and annoy the people.

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Who was the first person to circumnavigate the world? Was he alone?

Ferdinand Magellan
During the heyday of colonialism, the empires organized many expeditions, to find new markets for their products. The first circumnavigation of the globe was the result of one of those expeditions. Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan is considered to be the first person to have circumnavigates the Earth. However, he was not alone in the expedition nor he could finish the journey and make it home.
The actual goal of Magellan and his crew was to find a path to Spice Islands belonging to East Indies through the west side. The expedition was sponsored by the Spanish king Charles I. The East Indies had been under Spanish rule then.
Magellan and crew set out on the voyage on 20 September 1519. The ensemble consisted of five fleets with around 250 crew members. The flagship which Magellan captained was named Trinidad. They first traveled to South America through the Atlantic. Sailing along the eastern coast of the continent for some days, they passed a strait which is now known as Strait of Magellan, to enter the Pacific Ocean. The ocean was named so by Magellan himself. Surviving a troublesome period which could have seen the voyage stopped because of mutinies and climatic challenges, they reached Homonhon island of The Philippines. Some of the natives were receptive to the explorers but others were not. Magellan indulged in a battle with one of the ethnic groups there and was killed on 27 April 1521. After his death, the crew resumed the journey and reached the Spics Islands. After a brief stay and trade, they decided to split into two groups and continue the voyage. The first group was led by Juan Sebastian Elcano in the ship Victoria along the West route. The second ship Trinidad, after a repairing period, tried to sail along East but was captured by the Portuguese and destroyed in a storm.
On 6 September 1522, Elcano arrived in Spain with the remaining crew, which had reduced to a mere 17. They finished the first circumnavigation of the world, though it was unintentional. More than two hundred crewmen had lost their lives during the voyage that lasted almost three years.
It took another four centuries for one to achieve the feat alone. In 1898, an American named Joshua Slocum became the first person to circumnavigate the planet alone. His voyage was in a small ship named Spray. He earned the necessary money from speeches he rendered at various places during his journey.
The first circumnavigation by air was in 1933. American pilot Wiley Post was the person who accomplished the feat. Starting on July 15, he took 7 days, 18 hours and 49 minutes to finish the journey on his monoplane named Winnie Mae.

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Which literary work is considered to be the first novel in the world?

Genji Monogatari (cover)
Compared to the other forms of literature such as poetry, drama and story, novel is a modern genre, only digging roots in the 17th century. The history of novel begins in Japan a thousand years ago. The Japanese classic work Genji monogatari, or The Tale of Genji, is considered to be the first novel in the history of literature. And surprisingly, it was written by a woman, named Murasaki Shikibu.
Murasaki Shikibu was a noble woman who lived in 11th century. She was educated and member of the emperor’s court.
As its title indicates, the novel tells the story of a handsome and kindhearted warrior named Hikaru Genji, the son of an ancient Japanese Emperor Kiritsubo and one of his concubines. His romantic affairs with various women, including his stepmother, are the prime subject of the major part of the novel. One of the heroines of the novel is named Murasaki, modeled after the author herself.
Genji Monogatari is primarily divided into three parts with a total of 54 chapters. The first 44 chapters are those which describe the adventures of Genji. The last ten chapters, known as Uji Chapters, follow his two descendents, Kaoru and Niou. The novel spans over 4000 pages and presents around four hundred characters.
The novel was written in the peak of Heian period in Japan and in archaic Japanese. It is a portrait of the aristocratic society in the empire and is believed to have been written to entertain the members of the royal court. There could be seen a faint influence of Buddhism in the end parts of the novel. There are number of interesting features about the novel. Most of the characters in it are unnamed. The characters are often referred to using their ranks in the society, or the colours of their dress, in case of women. Another notable aspect of the novel is the usage of poetry in the conversations.
The first attempt of translating Genji Monogatari into English was by Suematsu Kenchō. His tarnslation, published in 1882, however was not complete. The first complete translation was done in 1976, by Edward Seidensticker. The novel has often troubled the translators due to its archaic language and the writing style which vastly differs from the modern Japanese.
Although the authorship of Tale of Genji is attributed to Murasaki Shikibu, there are debates over it as well. Some scholars think that only a major part of the novel was written by Murasaki. Her daughter Daini no Sanmi was the author of last few chapters, mainly the Ujji chapters, they believe. Nevertheless, The Tale of Genji, stands tall in the history of Japanese literature as an all-time classic. Also dubbed as the first psychological novel in the world, it is acquiring new fans worldwide.

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Who is known as the father of typewriter?

Christopher Latham Sholes
Typewriter was a revolutionary invention that changed the dynamics of the world of letters. We owe the invention of modern day typewriter to a multi-faceted genius named Christopher Latham Sholes. Born in 1819 in Milwaukee of USA, Sholes was a publisher, a politician and a philosopher. He is known as the ‘father of typewriter’. The earlier forms of typewriter had originated as early as 1714. It was invented by Henry Mill. But it was Sholes who made a practical one and commercialized the product.
Sholes had been working as an editor of a newspaper when he set out to make a new device that would automatically number the pages in the books. He was joined by a fellow publisher, Samuel W. Soule. They developed a numbering machine in 1866 and took patent for it. Later they were joined by Carlos Glidden, a lawyer interested in inventions. It was Glidden who suggested the idea of a machine that could print not just numbers but also letters. It was then they also came across an article published by the popular magazine Scientific American, about ‘Pterotype’, a prototype typewriter invented by John Pratt. Realizing they could improvise the Pterotype, they set out the experiments. The word typewriting was first used in that article as well.

John Pratt’s Pterotype
After many experiments, Sholes and his colleagues developed a simple device with a piece containing printer’s types mounted on a little rod, designed to strike upward onto a flat plate which would hold the carbon papers sandwiched between sheets of writing paper, to enable the printing of multiple copies. The strike on the types would produce the imprints. Pressing the keys would swing the type bar up to the cylindrical plate with a ribbon for inking.
Sholes typewriter, 1873

They got the patent for the device in 1868, and found an investor in a man named James Densmore. Despite the exit of his two colleagues from the business, Sholes continued to work on improvising his machine with Densmore. They consulted a stenographer named James O. Clephane who made many suggestions of improvement for the device. In 1873, they approached the industrial giant Remington Arms Company, makers of arms and farm tools, with their products. The New York based firm bought the patent and took up the manufacture of the typewriter. In a short period of time, they acquired a large market worldwide. The first Remington typewriters were manufactured in 1874. Later many versions and models got to market, and dominated it.

Even though, Sholes sold his patent, he continued experiments on typewriters and went on to develop the QWERTY keyboard, which is still in use day. The typewriters became a blessing for many authors and those who work in writing jobs. Mark Twain, the legendary writer who created the unforgettable characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, is credited as the first author to use a typewriter.

Additional reading:
Typewriter (Wikipedia)

Who was the inventor of fax machine? Who established the first commercial fax service?

It will be curious to know that many of the inventions and technologies which became common recently are actually older than we think; like the fax machine. A fax machine is a device used to transmit a printed material over a long distance. The full name of the device is the ‘Telefascimile’ machine. A fascimile is an ‘exact copy’. Despite the domination of internet-based technologies, the fax system is still popular in various parts of the world.
The transmission of images using the telephone lines only picked up steam in the 1980s, but the technology behind it dates back as far as to the first half of 18th century. The first model of fax machine took birth in 1843, as the result of experiments by Scottish mechanic Alexander Bain. The device consisted of two pens connected to two
pendulums. The pendulums were joined to a wire which could reproduce writing on an electrically conductive surface. Bain took a patent for his device in the name Electric Printing Telegraph.
The first successful fax message was sent almost two decades later. The man behind it was an Italian priest named Giovanni Caselli. Caselli was a man crazy about science and was in constant pursuit of science books and journals. He even converted his residence to a laboratory and bought all kind of scientific equipment, and people almost regarded him an eccentric. It was that time Samuel Morse’s Telegraph creating news. Caselli studied about the device and found many drawbacks for the device. Only messages could be sent through the telegraph and it was unable to transmit the documents in their original form. So he decided to build a device which could transmit documents in original form. He conducted experiments for a long time and it took seven years to fulfil his dream. He developed a device he named Pantelegraph. The word was a combination of Pantograph’ (a tool that copies drawing) and ‘telegraph’. His machine was based on Bain’s invention, and included an apparatus to help the two devices work
Caselli succeeded in sending a copy of a document or letter over long distances with his invention. The machine reproduced handwritten messages, documents and pictures. It could send many messages through one wire at a time while the telegraph was able to carry only a single message.
After a number of test transmissions, the French government decided to use the system in 1865 and they successfully sent messages from Paris to Lyon through a fax line. The machine transmitted 40 documents in an hour. It was the first commercial telefax service in history. Impressed with the success, the French government set up several fax lines in the country and later it went on to spread into all corners of the world.
The fax system saw several advancements in coming years. Elisha Grey’s Telautograph (1888), Ernest Hummel’s Telediagraph (1895), Arthur Korn’s Bildtelegraph (1900) and Rudolf Hel’s Hellschreiber (1929) are major landmarks in the history of Fax service. And it took a new leap in 1964, when Xerox Corporation introduced the first commercial model of the modern day fax machine, which was easier to handle.

Additional reading:
Fax (Wikipedia)

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What is the origin of the word ‘robot’? And what were the first robots?

Karel Čapek
The word ‘robot’ was coined by the Czech Playwright, Karel Čapek (photo, left) in the play called RUR, which stood for Rossum’s Universal Robots. In the play, people have mechanical servants which look like people and do manual work for them. Capek called these machines robots from the Czech word robota, which means labor.
If we define a robot as a machine that works like a human being, then the first robots were Autometa: remarkable moving dolls that could copy human actions, sometimes with amazing facility, for example, one could write a whole sentence using a pen and ink.
Autometa were made in the 1700s,they worked by clockwork and contained very complex systems of gears. They were made purely to astound and entertain people and could not do physical tasks like modern robots. Those developed as machines became more and more automatic. However, only with the development of computers over the last 40 years or so have robots been able to perform complex tasks.

Additional reading:
Robot (Wikipedia)
Karel Čapek (Wikipedia)

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Who is the inventor of fountain pen? (Lewis Waterman)

Fountain pens ruled the world of writing for half a century or so, until the ball point pen was invented by László Bíró, a newspaper editor in Hungary.
The inventor of fountain pen is Lewis Waterman — an American insurance agent. As always, necessity led to the invention of the fountain pen and the necessity here was to prevent the insurance policy forms and the shirt pockets from being smudged due to leaky pens. Lewis Waterman (photo, above) found that the variations in the air pressure was the root cause of the problem. A higher pressure within the ink chamber of the pen would cause the ink to leak and lower air pressure would not enable the ink to flow smoothly. Keeping this scientific reason in mind, Waterman redesigned the nib of the pen with cuts (known as ink duct) to maintain air pressure. The world’s first leak-proof pen was presented by Lewis Waterman on February 12, 1884 after which the name Waterman became synonymous with fountain pens.

Additional reading:
Lewis Waterman (Wikipedia)
Fountain pen (Wikipedia)

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Who reported seeing UFO for the first time?

A lot has been said and written about UFOs, namely flying saucers. The idea just refuses to go away. Blame it on the American man named Kenneth Arnold who was flying his light aircraft over Washington State on the afternoon of June 24, 1947. (Photo, below.) He reported seeing nine ‘saucer-like things’ flying in formation at speeds he would later estimate at an astounding 1,900 kilometers per hour. His sensational report, never fully explained, gave birth to the term ‘flying saucer’, which was soon to becomes a staple diet of science fiction writers. Incidentally, the Arnold sighting gave birth to something else — the start of an intensive, top secret search by the United States government into the UFO/Unidentified Flying Object phenomenon. Even today, it remains an ongoing assignment, despite repeated official denials.

Kenneth Arnold

What Arnold saw was probably a flight of jet fighters reflecting the Sun’s rays in a way that made them appear as discs. However, since 1947 literally hundreds of thousands of people all over the world have reported the sighting of strange objects in the sky, coming in a bewildering range of shapes and sizes. They are spotted all the time, but most are something more sensible like an aeroplane, glider, helicopter, balloon or bird. In rest of the cases, there is probably misinterpretation of natural phenomena like sprites and ball lighting. Sprites form in the upper atmosphere. None of them lasts more than a second, but when lots of them appear and disappear in a row, they can look like a fast-moving object. Ball lighting can appear just above the ground, creating an eerie glowing ball. This can hover for a few seconds before discharging itself into a nearby object. A CIA report in 1997 confirmed that over half of all the UFOs sightings from the late 1950s to the 1960s were actually American spy planes like U-2 on secret missions or test flight. This admission, however, could not suppress the enthusiasm of science fiction writers and Hollywood film producers.

Additional reading:
Kenneth Arnold (Wikipedia)
Unidentified flying object (Wikipedia)

Which was the first country to introduce paper currency?

To obviate the need for transporting cartloads of heavy coins collected as revenue in far-flung part of the country, China resorted to paper currency in 11th century. It was the first country to do so. Currency notes were issued by an agency of the government of China’s Sung Dynasty in 1023 AD. These notes were made of specially manufactured paper to discourage forgery, and bore special numbers. In 1107, color printing was introduced to make the counterfeiters’ task harder. It is interesting to note that Europeans, after reading Macro Polo’s travelogue about China, could not understand how a piece of paper could be valuable, so they did not adopt paper money until 17th century.
A quantum change was seen in January 1988 when the Australian Reserve Bank of Canberra released the first batch of plastic notes (see, photo above), incorporating see-through section and holographic image on a metallic background. The intention was to make a more durable note than the common paper type and, with the holograph, to make counterfeiting difficult. Today, dozens of countries have their currency notes printed on plastic, incorporating many security features that make them forgery proof.

Additional reading:
Banknote (Wikipedia)
Currency (Wikipedia)

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