The first month of spring brings a handful of monumental firsts in the history of technology. Things we do daily, from making phone calls, surfing the internet, microblogging, and more, all trace back to their birthdays in March. Check out the details below.
Today, we take making phone calls for granted. But nearly 150 years ago, the technology was revolutionary, and few people grasped how it would change the world. Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson developed the technology for almost three years. The first words ever spoken on a telephone call were by Bell himself: Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.
The telephone made its public debut in Philadelphia at the Centennial International Exhibition in June 1876. Judges Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, and British scientist William Thomson took notice of the invention, and it went on the win the gold medal for electrical equipment. The award garnered Bell worldwide fame.
Bell parlayed his success at the exhibition into a business empire. In 1877, Bell and his father-in-law Gardiner Greene Hubbard founded the Bell Telephone Company, which we know today as AT&T.
But Bell still had world-changing technologies to invent. After the telephone, Bell created the photophone and the metal detector. The photophone served as the basis for what we now call fiber optics. The metal detector was an accidental invention born of his desperation to save the life of U.S. President James A. Garfield after doctors failed to locate an assassin’s bullet in the president’s body.
Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web as an information-sharing system for academia and scientific institutions at CERN in 1989. The idea was born out of his frustration with learning different data management programs for various organizations.
Realizing his ambition required pioneering technologies like HTML, HTTP, and URLs. These building blocks of the web allowed scientists and researchers to access data from any system. After more than two years of development, CERN launched the first website and released the first web browser, WorldWideWeb, to the general public on August 6, 1991.
The growth of the web was slow at first. By the end of 1992, the web had a mere ten sites. A year later, there were only 130. It wasn’t until 1993, when CERN released the World Wide Web software into the public domain, that interest in the technology took off. In 1994, the web exploded into more than 27,000 sites, and growth never stopped. Today, the world is closing in on two billion websites.
The day the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later DARPA) opened domains for registration in 1985, Symbolics Computer Corporation was the first out of the gate with Symbolics.com. The company used the website to sell specialized computers running the obscure programming language Lisp. Symbolics initially meant these machines to develop artificial intelligence but later adapted them for other uses.
Although Symbolics was the first company to register, they didn’t set a precedent for a mad rush on domains. By the end of 1986, only ten institutions registered domains. It wasn’t until well into the next decade, with the introduction of the World Wide Web, that the general public started to understand the power of the internet.
Unfortunately, the original Symbolics company went defunct in 1996. A new corporation, also called Symbolics, took its place. The new enterprise continued to sell the little-known Genera operating system developed by its predecessor. And in 2006, the company released the Lisp source code as free, open-source software.
In August 2009, investor and collector Aron Meystedt bought Symbolics.com. Today, he operates it as a personal promotion page and internet museum. However, you can check out an archived version of the original website.
Naturally, Silicon Valley legend and founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, made the world’s first tweet. The humble post read: “just setting up my twttr.” Developed by podcast company Odeo, the company used the Twitter prototype as an internal messaging service until its public release in July 2006.
Twitter’s growth was slow at first. But it gained momentum when South by Southwest featured it prominently in 2007. During the conference, the number of tweets per day tripled. Rapid growth ensued. By the end of 2008, users posted more than 100 million tweets each quarter. And by early 2010, more than 50 million tweets were being set out per day.
Since its launch, Twitter has grown to 330 million active monthly users and is the fourth most visited website worldwide. As well as the go-to service for corporations, celebrities, governments, and everyone else to communicate with the public, engage in political and cultural dialogue, and keep in touch with family and friends.
In 2021, Dorsey sold the historic tweet as a non-fungible token (NFT) to Malaysian businessman Sina Estavi for 2.9 million dollars. Dorsey donated the proceeds to charity.
1997 was a low point for Apple. After a series of mediocre product lines, dwindling market penetration, and a failure to develop a successor to its aging operating system, the company was nearing bankruptcy. To get a working next-generation OS, Apple acquired software company NeXT. The move both delivered an operating system, NeXTSTEP and brought Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, back to the company.
Job’s return and appointment to CEO was the first step to righting Apple’s course. As engineers redesigned NeXTSTEP into Mac OS X, Jobs stabilized the company’s finances, terminated failing projects, and launched new products that set the stage for a new era at Apple. When the company released Mac OS X in 2001, it had already introduced the iMac, Power Mac G4, and the iBook. All of which would run the new operating system starting in 2002.
Mac OS X breathed new life into the Macintosh computer line. The dying relic of the 1980s began to reclaim its prominence in the tech world. Today, with more than 100 million Macs in use, Mac OS X (rebranded macOS in 2016) is the second most-used desktop operating system in the world behind Windows.
Ward Cunningham launched the first user-editable website: WikiWikiWeb. He had been developing wiki software since 1994 as a way for the programmers at his company to share ideas. The idea of a crowd-sourced database open to the public transformed the internet. Not only did WikiWikiWeb experience exponential growth, but vast participation led to refinements and innovations that helped wikis take on the form we recognize today.
In the early years of the technology, Wikis remained the domain of computer programmers. That changed when Wikipedia found success among the general public in the early 2000s. And it is now the first place many people go to get information about any topic. Today, Wikipedia is the fifth top website in the world.
The proliferation of wiki sites that swept the internet ranged in topics from travel to how-to guides, books, dictionaries, games, fandoms, and much more. Many companies have internal wikis as a way for employees to find and share information quickly. And in a testament to the durability of Cunningham’s invention, the world’s original wiki is still up and running. However, he had to put it into read-only mode in 2014 after a wave of vandalism hit the site.