Today in TIME Tech History: Steam vs. Electricity, Artificial Heart, How ‘Television’ Might Catch On and More

Let’s hop in the TIME Wayback Machine to see which notable tech-related stories were published on December 17 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 17 between 1923 and today.

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

Steam vs. Electricity (Dec. 17, 1923):

Which is faster—the steam or electric locomotive? On the face of the latest returns, the “juice” seems to have it. At Erie, Pa., last week a speed of 105 miles an hour was attained over a short test track by a locomotive built by the General Electric Co. and the American Locomotive Works for the Paris-Orleans Railroad, France. This is the greatest speed ever attained by an electric locomotive, and could just as well have been 125 miles an hour, said officials, if the track had been longer.

AERONAUTICS: Airgrams (Dec. 17, 1923):

As a result of lengthy investigations, engineers at the annual meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in Manhattan announced that it should be possible to carry a letter from Chicago to New York overnight by air at a cost of 24 cents. Even if the weight is limited to one ounce, this means thousands of words for less than half the price of a 50-word night letter by Western Union or Postal Telegraph.

Business & Finance: Light (Dec. 17, 1928):

Lawrence F. Jones, a radio dealer, decided that the Brooklyn Edison Co. had charged him too much for lighting his shop. Accordingly, he refused to pay their bill for $21.58.

With what fury the Brooklyn Edison Co. pursued Lawrence F. Jones! First they shut off his power, but his store remained well lighted. The Edison Co. appealed to the Department of Water, Gas and Electricity, supposing that Lawrence Jones was stealing current to illuminate his store. Though his store remained lighted, no one could tell where he got the current. At last, the Brooklyn Edison Co. had Lawrence Jones arrested. He proved himself innocent of theft and went his way.

Business & Finance: Televisionary Biddle (Dec. 17, 1928):

Television, so far, has been an amusement for amateur electricians and material for Sunday newspaper sections. That television might soon be something else was indicated last week by an advertisement which appeared upon financial pages…

The advertisement pointed out that the development of television so far has paralleled that of the early development of radio; and it indicated that Jenkins Television Corp. hoped to duplicate the grandeur of Radio Corp. of America.

Science: Brazil’s Aeronaut (Dec. 17, 1928):

Cheers turned to tears when Brazil’s Alberto Santos-Dumont debarked at Rio de Janeiro last week. All good Brazilians believe that he invented the airplane before the Wrights. And, because the U. S. this month is honoring the Wrights’ 25th anniversary of flight (to which Brazil is sending no official representative), those good Brazilians organized a celebration of their own. They insisted that Senhor Santos-Dumont quit his placid retirement in Paris for a gala demonstration in Rio.

Science: Atoms for Horsepower? (Dec. 17, 1945):

“How long will it take to develop an atomic power plant of 100,000-kilowatt capacity which could compete with coal selling at $15 a ton?”

The fascinating question was put last week to eight experts by Harvard’s President Scientist James B. Conant. The experts, gathered for an atomic-energy symposium at the National Association of Manufacturers Congress in Manhattan (see BUSINESS), had answers almost as varied as any eight men-in-the-street…

The experts were generally agreed 1) that atomic energy would be first used under special conditions rather than as a replacement for present electrical power plants, and 2) that the heavy metal protecting shields which must accompany atomic power rule out its early use in automobiles and airplanes. Large ships and possibly locomotives may be able to carry the load.

Science: Seisms & Sferics (Dec. 17, 1945):

The Navy’s new method of spotting hurricanes is to keep tabs on “microseisms,” the tiny vibrations which continually shake the earth even when the motion cannot be traced to an earthquake. Seismologists have suspected for years that microseisms might be started by vio lent storms, which generally reduce atmospheric pressure, and so take a load off the earth, which then expands slightly under the storm centers…

The Army used what it called “Sferic” — Static Direction Finder — a device developed in Florida and combat-tested in the storm-ridden Pacific theater. Sferic employs a radar-like directional antenna (two mutually perpendicular receiving loops) and cathode-ray tube. Certain types of storms are accompanied by severe electrical disturbances, familiar to every radio listener as the crashing static that accompanies a thunderstorm.

Science: The Shake (Dec. 17, 1951):

In the process of building such intricate gadgets as radar, sonar and the proximity fuse, electronics engineers learned to measure time down to fractions as small as one millionth of a second. Last week at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s nuclear science symposium, scientists agreed that one millionth is still too thick a slice of time for modern work: measurements for atomic experiments must be made a great deal faster than that.

Science: Flying Tubes (Dec. 17, 1951):

Last week, at Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Airport, greying Willard Custer was busy proving that his weird contraption can develop tremendous lift. Even when tied to a pole to prevent forward motion, its engines putting out only 800 lbs. of thrust, the 1,100-lb. plane rose slowly off the ground and hovered in perfect balance. And Custer is satisfied that the first brief flights made with his channel wing mark a milestone in aviation. More advanced models, he said, will take off almost vertically, fly faster than a conventional plane using the same power, land like a helicopter and carry enormous payloads over great distances. Powered by jet engines, his wing, says Custer, will revolutionize the aircraft industry.

Like many an inventor, Custer is quick to brush off all future problems as mere “engineering details.”

Science: Man’s Milieu (Dec. 17, 1956):

From the missile-testing station at Cape Canaveral, Fla.. a modified Viking rocket soared up 125 miles one night last week, its bright exhaust glowing briefly like a wrong-way shooting star. Its flight was a partial test of the “vehicle” that will lift the U.S. artificial satellite in 1958, and the instruments that will steer it, into its orbit around the earth. When the satellite is established there, one of its most important jobs will be to keep track of the global movements of the white clouds far below. It will then be busy at the homely old task of forecasting the weather, doing in essence what a farmer does when he looks up at the sky and holds a wetted finger to the wind.

Space: Gemini’s Week (Dec. 17, 1965):

“What a helluva bore,” yawned a controller at Houston’s Manned Spacecraft Center as Astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell monotonously orbited the earth last week. By week’s end, as Gemini 7 completed its seventh uneventful day in space, the flight had indeed escaped the spine-tingling crises that enlivened—and plagued—earlier shots. But the ennui in Houston and elsewhere in the U.S. was a high accolade. It demonstrated that flawless performance has become commonplace, that near-perfect timing, preparation and execution of Gemini flights have become routine.

Medicine: Just Tick, Tick, Ticking Along (Dec. 17, 1984):

As a federal inspector, William Schroeder evaluated the quality of Army munitions. He passed judgment on another potent but more personal invention last week: the artificial heart that doctors implanted in his chest on Nov. 25. “My heart is just tick, tick, ticking now,” he told his surgeon, William DeVries, a week after the operation at Louisville’s Humana Hospital Audubon. The plastic-and-metal device felt “like an oldtime threshing machine, just pumping like everything.”

Technology: Exploring The Ocean’s Frontiers (Dec. 17, 1990):

The dark and forbidding depths of the Gulf of Mexico, once frequented by only the hardiest of sea creatures, are now alive with human activity. Miniature submarines and robot-like vehicles prowl the ocean bottom while divers wend their way around incredible underwater structures — taller than Manhattan skyscrapers but almost totally beneath the surface of the waves. This is the new geological frontier, and a daring breed of modern-day explorers is using technology worthy of Jules Verne and Jacques Cousteau to find fresh supplies of oil and natural gas.

All I Want For Christmas… (Dec. 17, 2001):

This year, online retailers are making a special effort to help the gift impaired by encouraging people to create wish lists they can e-mail to friends and relatives, much like the Christmas lists we made when we were little. (Kids can e-mail Santa directly from the claus.com site.) I admit that the wish-list idea struck me at first as horribly tacky. What self-respecting adult would send a list of gift demands? But after trying the online registries and gauging the reactions of the people I sent lists to, I’m a believer.

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