Today in TIME Tech History: TV Irks Bartenders, Breaking the Sound Barrier, Space Commuting and More

Let's hop in the TIME Wayback Machine to see which notable tech-related stories were published on December 15 between 1923 and today.

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Let’s hop in the TIME Wayback Machine to see which notable tech-related stories were published on December 15 between 1923 and today.

If you’re a TIME subscriber, you can click each headline to read the entire story.

Science: Relatives (Dec. 15, 1924):

Unlike so many letters written to the Times, Professor Turner’s letter was taken up by the press on both sides of the Atlantic, reprinted and headlined and garbled until a small but respectable portion of the earth’s inhabitants had been instructed that the Einstein theory had led scientists to believe that other suns than ours (i. e., some stars) had planetary systems of their own, which might well harbor life.

The point of what Dr. Jeans had to say and which Professor Turner ad- mired was this: that by virtue of the theory of relativity it was estimated that the sun and other stars were not millions of years old, but millions of millions of years.

Medicine: Voiceless Speech (Dec. 15, 1924):

Before a gathering of skeptics, members of the Baltimore Medical Society, stood three voiceless men. They had been brought there by Dr. J. E. Mackenty of the Manhattan Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital to demonstrate an invention of his whereby, he claims, the voiceless may speak. These voiceless ones had been operated on for cancer of the throat; their larynxes removed. They were unable to breathe through their noses. Instead, they obtained air through holes cut in their necks. Over these air-holes they wore pads invented by Dr. Mackenty, from which tubes went up to mechanisms made in the simulacrum of the human vocal cords. A stubby tube like a pipestem in the mouth of each mute man enabled him to modulate the curious articulations made possible by the apparatus. The mutes addressed the skeptical surgeons. Audibly, precisely, they droned commonplace words in unearthly monotones.

Conclave (Dec. 15, 1924):

Prof. Alexander Klemin, in charge of the School of Aeronautics of New York University, discussed the problems and development of the helicopter. Only a day or two before, Thomas A. Edison, in an interview in Collier’s Weekly, had declared that the next great invention would be a practical helicopter. Prof. Klemin explained the requirements of a successful helicopter and foresaw its future development, not as a rival to the airplane but as a supplement adapted to special purposes such as rising and descending vertically and hovering over one spot.

AERONAUTICS: Jersey Icarus (Dec. 15, 1930):

From hangar to hangar at Roosevelt Field, L. I. last week trudged Farmer Perry, a spare, spectacled figure in grey cap and overcoat, with a bulky bundle under his arm. He was looking for someone to try his latest invention—”a resistance eliminator, or anti-drag fan.” Inventor Perry showed it: a 12-in. steel disc equipped with four scoop-like blades to be affixed to the spinner (hub) of an airplane propeller. “It makes a partial vacuum in front of the propeller,” he explained. “It bores through the air. I got the idea five years ago from a posthole borer on my farm.” Most pilots snickered, but good-natured Pilot Frank Steinman attached the device to the prop of his OX-Waco and went aloft. Few minutes later he landed, told skeptics that his plane had flown 10 m.p.h. faster than normally; that his engine had to turn only 1,260 r.p.m. instead of 1,320 to maintain altitude.

AERONAUTICS: CO Meter (Dec. 15, 1930):

When his second son Harold was killed in an airplane crash two years ago, Inventor Miller Reese Hutchison (dictograph, klaxon horn, acousticon) resolved to make some contribution to safety and efficiency of aircraft. Last week Dr. Hutchison, onetime (1913-17) chief engineer and personal representative of Thomas Alva Edison, brought forth his offering: “Moto-Vita,” a device which measures the unburned gases in engine exhaust, enables a pilot to adjust his carburetor accurately in flight for complete combustion of fuel and, consequently, elimination of waste. Capt. Frank Monroe Hawks tried the Moto-Vita on a flight to Memphis, informally reported a fuel saving between 30% and 40%.

Science: Noise v. Noise (Dec. 15, 1930):

If scientists’ ears were keen enough to distinguish the different sound-waves in the noise caused by a street car, they might be able to cause other sound-waves to neutralize the din. Last week Dr. J. P. Foltz, engineer, invited scientists to the Westinghouse Research Laboratories, East Pittsburgh, Pa. to show them a small contraption which could analyze the street car’s rattle-bang-clank-screech. The machine consists of a microphone, an amplifier, a filter circuit which allows only one wavelength at a time to pass to the meter for measuring. Since the machine weighs only 60 lb., is independent of outside current, it can easily be transported from one noisy place to another.

Science: New Tubes (Dec. 15, 1930):

A generation ago, the Test Tube was the symbol of Science. Present now is the era of the Vacuum Tube. While tubes with everything imaginable in them are still used in laboratory research, tubes with nothing in them are used in radio as amplifiers, in medicine as a source of X-rays, in the laboratory to photograph molecules, as guns to bombard and break down atoms.

National Defense: Ideal Tank? (Dec. 15, 1941):

In time for a new war, the best heavy tank in the world was unveiled at Eddystone, near Philadelphia, this week. A joint product of Baldwin Locomotive Works and U.S. Army Ordnance, it weighs 57 tons, is heavily armored with welded and cast plate. Its contours are rounded to deflect hits, and even its traction gear is protected by steel. Its turrets are power driven, its silhouette cut down. It totes a three-inch double-purpose anti-tank & aircraft gun, powerful enough to stop any tank in existence, is equipped with a secret device, which gives its gunners 500% more accuracy than can be had in any other tank today.

National Defense: Sky-Prodder (Dec. 15, 1941):

Dour, taciturn Brigadier General Gladeon M. Barnes, of the Army’s Ordnance Department, announced that a civilian plant was being tooled up for production of the new piece. The sky-prodder is a 4.7-in. caliber cannon that will hurl shells more than 40,000 feet up—more than seven and a half miles. The range is neither theoretical nor guesswork.

Science: Weld It! (Dec. 15, 1941):

Today the U.S. is building ships, soon at a rate of two or even three a day, with speed and economy that was inconceivable in World War I—and building them better. Today 1040’s tight machine-tool bottleneck is being broken. Tomorrow the U.S. may begin building steel airplanes as light as today’s welded aluminum planes. All these things have become possible because of steady but unadvertised advances in the science and art of welding.

Radio: The Television Set (Dec. 15, 1947):

From Kerrigan’s Kozy Korner to the Stork Club, barrooms have suffered from an influx of “kids and marginal drinkers,” which one Manhattan elbow-bender has scornfully dubbed “The Television Set.” Last week, during the Louis-Walcott fight, “The Set” was out in force.

“In watching the screen,” complained one bartender, “people forget what is the prime purpose of a bar, which is to drink.” He had three solutions for that: 1) “An extra employee to rove through the crowd and remind people that their drink is getting low”; 2) “Fill the first row with fast Scotch drinkers, and push them slow beers to the back. However, that is too ideal to be practical, because you would be offending a beer drinker who could easily develop into something better”; 3) “Raise prices during television hours; most places do.”

Science: Super-Smasher (Dec. 15, 1947):

The second biggest and (it is hoped) the most powerful cyclotron in the world was nearing completion last week. It was being built at Nevis, Columbia University’s atomic country estate near Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y. The 2,300-ton magnet (whose concentrated field will make electrified particles whirl in obedient circles) has been assembled out of 60-ton steel chunks.

Science: Fuel in Flight (Dec. 15, 1947):

Last week, Flight Refuelling Ltd., a British company, was about to test flying tankers on the air’s toughest main line: the stormy, midwinter North Atlantic. If the trials (scheduled for this month) are successful, refueling may eventually come into general use on long-distance airlines.

Flight Refuelling Ltd. has ten specially trained pilots, four Lancaster bombers converted into tankers, and a set of gadgets which Managing Director Sir Alan Cobham, 53, pioneer refueling fan, believes have eliminated the dangers and difficulties of refueling. Among the most important is a system of electronic beacons with which the planes can find one another, even in soupiest weather.

AVIATION: Through the Sonic Barrier (Dec. 15, 1952):

On the flat land of Edwards Air Force Base in California, a cluster of scientists and Air Force brass watched a silvery, swept-wing jet fighter roar down the runway and into the air for a test flight. It climbed high in the air, then leveled off and shot across the air base with a roar like a thunderclap. This week Long Island’s Republic Aviation Corp. proudly announced the results of the flight: its XF-91, powered by a General Electric J47 turbojet and a Reaction Motors rocket engine, had become the first U.S. combat plane to fly through the sound barrier in level flight.

Science: First Decade (Dec. 15, 1952):

In a squash court below the west stands of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, 42 scientists stared intently at a strange pile of graphite bricks. The time was 9:45 on a morning just ten years ago. Italian-born Nobel Laureate Enrico Fermi gave the signal for the experiment to begin. A cadmium control rod was slowly drawn from position. Geiger counters clicked. Control lights flashed. The pen in an automatic recording device moved over graph paper in a rising curve. At 3:45 Dr. Fermi calmly announced: “The reaction is self-sustaining; the curve is exponential.” A chain reaction had been achieved and the first decade of atomic energy had begun.

Science: Juno’s Gold Cone (Dec. 15, 1958):

It was a clear, calm night at Cape Canaveral. The Army, making its first attempt to shoot the moon, had spent weeks fussing over the Juno II, a 60-ton Jupiter IRBM with a spike of high-speed rockets mounted on its nose. At twelve seconds after 12:45 a.m., almost exactly on schedule, Juno II took off.

Science: Polar Sky Spies (Dec. 15, 1958):

The last Explorer has fallen silent, and the current series of U.S.-made satellites is spinning to its end. Last week Roy W. Johnson, director of the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), announced plans for the U.S.’s next series. The new “Discoverer” series will include Sputnik-sized reconnaissance satellites revolving in north-south orbits that cross both poles.

AUTOMATION: National Cashes In (Dec. 15, 1958):

When it comes to automation, U.S. department stores still slosh around in the Ice Age. This week the biggest of them all, Manhattan’s Macy’s, announced a deal with National Cash Register Co. for the first major automated system. Due to start whirring in 1961, the $1,000,000 system will speed Macy’s customer-account billing 25-fold. By punching a few buttons on a keyboard, operators can register each of Macy’s 40,000 daily charge sales on tape, which is later fed to a computer.

The Atom: The Grimmest Meeting (Dec. 15, 1961):

This was perhaps the grimmest meeting over which John Kennedy had presided as President of the U.S. Around him sat the members of the National Security Council, along with other diplomatic and military leaders and an assortment of top scientists. On the coffin-shaped Cabinet table rested a thin book, bound in blue paper and red-stamped TOP SECRET. It was an intelligence estimate of the results of the more than 50 recent Russian atomic tests.

Science: Eager Spaceport (Dec. 15, 1961):

The men who man the Army and Air Force bases of New Mexico believe that the Tularosa Basin is ideal for a major spaceport. In its northern sector is a vast, bare alkali flat with 100 sq. mi. of almost perfectly level surface, made chiefly of gypsum (natural plaster of Paris), which is firm enough to support the world’s heaviest aircraft.

Science: End to Explosion? (Dec. 15, 1961):

Though many a cosmologist was bothered by the bizarre idea of a swiftly expanding universe, no one yet has been able to prove it wrong. But last week in the British journal Nature, Physicist Alastair Ward of Glasgow’s Royal College of Science and Technology suggested a possible way to squelch the big explosion and bring the universe back into a steady state of vast but stable dimensions.

Aviation: Showing Off the Concorde (Dec. 15, 1967):

Myriad technicalities still face the Concorde—and eventually the SST—before it can go into commercial competition. One big potential stumbling block is the fact that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration must pass on the plane—and should it find the Concorde not air worthy, the French would surely complain that the FAA was dragging its feet to let the Boeing model catch up. The FAA is particularly wary of the fuel and noise problems. Four powerful Olympus engines consume great quantities of jet fuel, requiring reserves that will add weight and cut down on income. Just how much fuel will be needed—and can be carried—remains the question.

Science: Commuting in Space (Dec. 15, 1975):

U.S. airlines may never offer trips into space, but NASA is well on the way toward achieving regular space flight, pointing toward the day when craft will shuttle men and materials between earth and orbiting space stations. The agency is assembling the first reusable spaceship, and has begun to train astronauts to fly the new space shuttle, which will be ready to go into orbit in 1979.

Science: Sunny Outlook for Sunsats (Dec. 15, 1980):

It is the year 2005. At the White House an agitated aide rushes into the Oval Office with grim news. “Mr. President,” he announces, “OPEC has just raised its prices by another 10%, and oil will be going up to $450 a barrel by next January.” To the assistant’s surprise, though, the Chief Executive seems unconcerned. “Don’t worry,” says the President. “This time it isn’t going to matter. We will have another three solar satellites on line by early next year, so we can tell those cartel characters to take their oil and [expletives deleted].”

Any scenario calling for complete U.S. freedom from foreign oil supplies is probably a petro-pipedream. But the notion of using solar satellites to capture vast amounts of energy may not be very farfetched at all.

Science: Parting Shot (Dec. 15, 1980):

Four days and 3.3 million miles after its closest encounter with Saturn last month, the Voyager 1 spacecraft cast a last backward glance and transmitted this stunning portrait of the ringed giant. The photograph shows a crescent Saturn casting a shadow on its own rings, from the perspective a traveler might get by approaching from the stars, rather than from the interior reaches of the solar system.


Today, thanks to the Internet, youngsters with computers are but the proverbial two clicks away from pictures of bare-naked ladies–and worse. This has, not surprisingly, become a matter of national concern, one that Congress tried to deal with by passing the ham-handed Communications Decency Act in 1996. But last June the Supreme Court ruled that the CDA violated adults’ First Amendment rights, leaving the whole issue of children and the Internet in something of a legal vacuum.


If you logged on to America Online last week, you may well have found E-mail waiting from someone you never heard of imploring you to JOIN US AT PINK PUSSY CLUB THE HOTTEST SITE FOR XXX LIVE GIRL SEX SHOWS!! or proclaiming OVER 1,000 EROTIC AND EXOTIC SHOWS!!!!!! CLICK HERE TO ENTER or any of hundreds of similar electronic come-ons.

Spam–unsolicited junk E-mail–is perhaps the most irritating feature of online life.

Identification: Digital, P.I. (Dec. 15, 2003):

Collectively they could be called the digital detectives: firms that are developing technologies that can monitor everything from TV dinners to terrorists by analyzing digital signals and data about them.

The applications for these sleuthing technologies range from deciphering buying trends in retail outlets to identifying dangerous chemicals. Want to know how many razor blades are selling in Prague or Pittsburgh? Slap a radio tag–a computer chip that allows a product to be tracked on its journey from manufacturer to consumer–on every pack of Gillette blades, and you will get your answer in a hurry.

Tech: Putting Zoom Into Your Life (Dec. 15, 2003):

Panasonic has introduced the Lumix DMC-FZ10 4-megapixel camera ($600), a super-zoom still camera that mimics camcorders in its ability to close in on shots. Its 12x-optical-zoom Leica lens lets you clearly capture the writing on the spine of a paperback 30 ft. away.

Tech: How Pushy Are You? (Dec. 15, 2003):

If you or someone you love carries a Nextel mobile phone, you know the chirp. For years Nextel has been the only national carrier with “push to talk” service. Rather than place calls and having to dial all those numbers, users can chat with each other walkie-talkie style, coast to coast. To initiate a conversation, you press a button on the side of your phone, which sends an attention-getting chirp to your buddy’s phone. In recent weeks, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless have introduced their own push-to-talk phones.