The Etch A Sketch Draws Immediate Attention

Technology That Shapes Our Lives

July 12, 1960

The Etch a Sketch goes on sale in plenty of time for the holiday rush.


The Etch A Sketch toy was invented in André Cassagnes’ basement in the late 1950s.  He called it “L’Ecran Magique“, the magic screen. In 1959, he took his drawing toy to the International Toy Fair in Nuremburg, Germany. The Ohio Art Company saw it but had no interest in the toy. When Ohio Art saw the toy a second time, they decided to take a chance on the product. The L’Ecran Magique was soon renamed the Etch A Sketch and became the most popular drawing toy in the business.

The Technology Behind the Toy

The toy can be considered a simplified version of a plotter. The inside surface of the glass screen is coated with aluminium powder which is then scraped off by a movable stylus, leaving a dark line on the light gray screen. The stylus is controlled by the two large knobs, one of which moves it vertically and the other horizontally. To erase the picture, the artist turns the toy upside down and shakes it. Doing this causes polystyrene beads to smooth out and re-coat the inside surface of the screen with aluminium powder. The “black” line merely exposes the darkness inside the toy. Filling in large “black” areas will allow enough light through to expose parts of the interior.

The Etch A Sketch Today

Today one can draw on color, digital and on-line versions of the Etch a Sketch toys.

The Precursor to the PDA is Born

Technology that Shapes Our Lives

July 11, 1990

On July 11, 1990, Bill Atkinson, the inventor of the HyperCard software, and Andy Hertzfeld, co-inventor of Apple Macintosh, left Apple Computers and, together with Marc Porat, started a new company called General Magic. General Magic’s main objective was to develop a new kind of handheld communications device they called a “personal intelligent communicator”, which was a PDA precursor that stressed communications.

The original project started in 1990 within Apple Computer, when Porat convinced Apple’s CEO, John Sculley, that the next generation of computing would require a partnership of computer, communications and consumer electronics companies to cooperate. Known as the Paradigm Project, the project ran for some time within Apple, but management remained generally uninterested and the team struggled for resources. Eventually they approached Sculley with the idea of spinning off the group as a separate company.

By 1992 some of the world’s largest electronics corporations, including Sony, Motorola, Matsushita, Philips and AT&T were partners and investors in General Magic. Apple also decided to re-enter the market with a project that eventually developed into the Apple Newton, and they decided to sue General Magic. The lawsuit did not produce a definitive outcome, however, there remained long running tensions betweens the two companies.

Image is of one of the original personal intelligent communicators.

Customer Information Control System, CICS, Available for Mainframe

Technology that Shapes Our Lives

July 8, 1969

IBM CICS Performance Monitor for z/OS, V1.2 Architecture

If you have ever used an ATM machine, engaged in on-line banking, or filed your taxes on-line, you have IBM and its Customer Information Control System, or CICS, to thank.

On July 8, 1969, IBM made CICS generally available for the 360 mainframe computer.  CICS is a transaction manager designed for rapid, high-volume, online processing. This processing is mostly interactive (screen-oriented), but background transactions are possible. Applications are written in a variety of languages and use CICS-supplied language extensions to interact with CICS resources such as files, database connections or to invoke functions such as web-related services.  CICS manages the entire transaction such that if for any reason a part of the transaction fails, all recoverable changes are saved.

While CICS has its highest profile among financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies, over 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies are reported to rely on CICS for their core business functions, along with many government entities. CICS is used in bank-teller applications, ATM systems, industrial production control systems, insurance applications, and many other types of interactive applications.

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The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Technology That Shapes Our Lives

July 7, 1928

On  July 7, 1928, the expression, ‘the best thing since sliced bread’, became a reality when the first loaf of sliced bread was sold by the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri.  Their product, “Kleen Maid Sliced Bread”, proved a success.

St. Louis baker, Gustav Papendick, set out to improve the original bread slicer by devising a way to keep the slices together long enough to allow the loaves to be wrapped. Following many failures, including the use of rubber bands and metal pins, Papendick settled on placing the slices into a cardboard tray. The tray aligned the slices, allowing mechanized wrapping machines to function.

In 1930 Wonder Bread, first sold in 1925, started marketing sliced bread nationwide.

World Wide Effects

While the commercially sliced bread used uniform and somewhat thinner slices, because of the ease of eating another piece, people ate more slices of bread at a time and ate bread more frequently.  This increased consumption of bread and, in turn, increased consumption of spreads to put on the bread.  

First Patent for X-Ray Tube

Technology That Shapes Our Lives

July 1933

William Coolidge obtained a patent for the X-Ray tube, more popularly called the Coolidge Tube.  This invention revolutionized the generation of X-rays and is the model upon which all X-ray tubes for medical applications are based.

Soft Medical X-Ray Image

Medical X-rays

X-rays are capable of penetrating some thickness of matter. Medical x-rays are produced by letting a stream of fast electrons come to a sudden stop at a metal plate; it is believed that X-rays emitted by the Sun or stars also come from fast electrons. The images produced by X-rays are due to the different absorption rates of different tissues. Calcium in bones absorbs X-rays the most, so bones look white on a film recording of the X-ray image , called a radiograph.

Soft medical X-rays are used to photograph bones and internal organs. They operate at a relatively low frequency and, unless they are repeated too often, cause little damage to tissues.

Hard X-rays are very high frequency rays. They are designed to destroy the molecules within specific cells, thus destroying tissue. Hard X-rays are used in radiotherapy, a treatment for cancer.

Declaration of Independence: Forward Thinking

Technology that Shapes Our Lives

July 4, 1776

The Dunlap broadside was the first published version of the Declaration of Independence

The United States Declaration of Independence is a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, were now independent states, and thus no longer a part of the British Empire.

Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration is a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The birthday of the United States of America—Independence Day—is celebrated on July 4, the day the wording of the Declaration was approved by Congress.

Having served its original purpose in announcing independence, the text of the Declaration was initially ignored after the American Revolution. Its stature grew over the years, particularly the second sentence, a sweeping statement of human rights:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’

This sentence has been called  “the most potent and consequential words in American history”. The passage has often been used to promote the rights of marginalized groups, and came to represent for many people a moral standard for which the United States should strive.  Without such standards and forward thinking about one’s unalienable rights as humans, so many of the technological advancements from which we benefit and enjoy today, would not have been possible.

May you, your friends and loved ones enjoy a safe and enjoyable 4th of July!

First Legal Television Commercial

Technology that Shapes Our Lives

July 1, 1941

GE Octagon Television Set - An early mechanical TV

Blame/thank the Government. On July 1, 1941, the first legal commercial ran on television with the permission of the FCC.  Although commercials ran previously since 1928, that was all considered experimental television.  Earlier in May 1941 the FCC granted 10 commercial broadcast licenses and ended the experimental television age.  With legal commercials television was now able to distribute free content to viewers and fund their operations with paid commercials.

NBC’s New York City station, WNBT-TV (now WNBC-TV), had one of the first licenses, and it ran a commercial for Bulova on its first day of commercial operation, July 1, 1941.

At the start of a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies, an image of a Bulova clock appeared with a map of the United States. The announcer said “America runs on Bulova time.  The ad lasted 10 seconds, and Bulova paid $9 (about what a banner ad costs per 1000 views on the web today). The estimated audience for that ad was 4000.

The image to the right is a GE Octagon TV set.  It was a mechanical television with a 3 inch, or so, diagonal screen, about the same size as a smartphone.

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