This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

There Was Seaman Too


May 21, 1804: Lewis and Clark Expedition Begins

When President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to find a water route across North America and explore the uncharted lands of the American West, he thought they would encounter woolly mammoths, volcanoes about to erupt and a mountain of pure salt.

L&C Trail Map

L&C Trail Map

Up to that time explorers had only penetrated North America up to Fort Mandan near the middle of North Dakota and spotty points as far as where present day Portland, OR lies off the Columbia River.


Jefferson hoped that Lewis and Clark would find a water route linking the Columbia and Missouri rivers. Thinking they would discover a route from the Mississippi River system to the Columbia River, to the Pacific. Imagine, a water route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. With a connection to the Ohio River linking the Eastern cities.

President Jefferson chose Captain Meriwether Lewis as its leader mainly because he already had some knowledge of the west and was an experienced Army officer. Lewis decided he wanted a co-captain and selected another Army officer, William Clark.

Lewis & Clark depart from the Woods River

Lewis & Clark depart from the Woods River

Lewis and Clark’s expedition officially began on May 21, 1804 when they and the 33 other men making up the Corps of Discovery departed from their camp near St. Louis, Missouri. Lewis and Clark’s first report to President Jefferson chronicled 108 plant species and 68 mineral types.

Although they did not find a direct waterway from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, their expedition brought a wealth of knowledge about the newly purchased lands in the west. They were able to document over 100 animal species and over 170 plants, also recording information on the size, minerals and the geology of the area.

Compass from the Expedition

Compass from the Expedition

sacjournSacagawea has been discussed frequently in literature though much of the information about her has been exaggerated or fictionalized. She was an important member in the expedition, especially as interpreter and other ways. The sight of an indigenous woman and her infant were reassuring to the native peoples, talking to chiefs and easing tensions. But she was not the guide for the Expedition.

In his writings, Lewis presented a somewhat negative view of her, though Clark had a higher regard for her and provided some support for her children in subsequent years.

Then there was Seaman

20030713hoseaman_230Seaman: Discovery Dog of Lewis and Clark’s overland expedition. Seaman was a black “Newfoundland” dog that became famous for being a member of the Expedition. Captain Lewis purchased Seaman for $20.

Seaman experienced many hardships including a beaver bite, mosquito bites (which were so bad they 42232157_125358728240made Seaman howl from the pain) and was stolen by the Indians…Captain Lewis threatened the Indians by saying he would send three armed men to kill the Indian tribe. Seaman had a creek named after him in Montana named Seaman Creek. Today called Monture Creek. Seaman laid on the grave of Meriwether Lewis when he died and is believed to have died there from dehydration and malnutrition.

Monument to Lewis, Clark & Seaman

Monument to Lewis, Clark & Seaman

Long Haul The expedition traveled over 8000 total miles over a period of 2 years, 4 months and 10 days.

Good Guess When the expedition reached the Pacific, Clark estimates they have traveled 4,162 miles from the mouth of the Missouri to the Pacific. His guess was within 40 miles of the actual distance.

What a Deal Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory, 820,000 square miles, for $15 million. After interest the final total came to be $27,267,622. That still works out to be only about 3¢ an acre!

An Equal Opportunity Expedition When the expedition reached the Pacific the party voted on where to spend the winter.YORK York, Clark’s slave, is allowed to vote, nearly 60 years before slaves in the U.S. would be emancipated. Sacagawea is also allowed to vote, more than a century before either women or Native Americans are granted full rights of citizenship.

Oops While hunting in present day North Dakota, Lewis was accidentally shot (in the behind) by Pierre Cruzatte, a nearsighted member of the crew.

What’s for Dinner? When game was plentiful, each man ate about 9 pounds of meat per day.

The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition:

Lewis & Clark Rap – MC LaLa

Lewis & Clark depart from the Woods River

$46,000 Blue Jeans


May 20, 1873: Blue Jeans Patented

On this day in 1873, Levi Strauss and a Reno, Nevada tailor, Jacob Davis, are given a patent to create pants reinforced with metal rivets. This marks the birth of the world’s most famous garment: blue jeans.

Personalities OS 80Strauss (left) moved from NY to San Francisco in 1853 to seek fame and fortune. It was the heady days of the Gold Rush. Strauss created a successful dry goods business in San Francisco becoming a well-known business man as well as supporting the Jewish community there.davis

A tailor from Reno, Jacob Davis (right) contacted him with an idea to make pants stronger using rivets at the stress points of the jeans. Davis didn’t have the $68.00 to apply for a patent so Levi enthusiastically agreed to apply for both of them. On this day in 1873 a patent was granted to both men… and the rest is history.





Strauss brought Davis to San Francisco to oversee the manufacturing of the “waist overalls” as they were called back then. The 501 brand jean, also known as the XX, was a best seller and of course continues to this day.


Oldest known pair of Levi’s sold for a record $46,532.00 on eBay, in May of 2001. They were bought by Levi Strauss & Co. and will be preserved in their archives, next to the $25,000 pair they previously bought.



Denim is a sturdy cotton twill textile in which the weft passes under two or more warp threads. This twill weaving produces the familiar diagonal ribbing of the denim that distinguishes it from cotton duck.

The word “denim” comes from the name of a fabric that was first made in the city of Nîmes, France, by the André family. It was originally called serge de Nîmes but the name was soon shortened to “denim.”


But Wait There’s More…

1893_Chicago_Exiibition_exhibit_diplomaMay 19, 1892: King Invents Pneumatic Hammer

On this day in 1892, Charles Brady King, an American engineer and entrepreneur, invents the pneumatic hammer.    [image above is the 1893 Chicago Exhibition exhibit diploma for King’s hammer invention]

Charles King

Charles King

Patent 513941, Pneumatic Hammer

Patent 513941, Pneumatic Hammer


But wait, there’s more…

King was the first to build and drive an automobile in Detroit.  Henry Ford was following that day, literally . . .  on his bicycle.

He was mentor to Henry Ford and Ransom Olds, and eventually started his own auto company, the King Motor Co, which was ultimately absorbed by Studebaker.

King on the right driving the streets of Detroit

King on the right driving the streets of Detroit

King's Car Restored

King’s Car Restored

In fact, at the New York Auto Show in 1912, the King automobile was the only one to feature left-hand steering, which soon became the industry standard. At that time, he already had more than 40 automotive patents to his credit.


King’s famous quote in the Detroit Journal, “I am convinced that in time, the horseless carriage will supersede the horse”, was poo pooed by that generation.

Below are a few of his 64 inventions that ultimately made him independently wealthy.



Car steering gear

Car steering gear

Lubricated pulley

Lubricated pulley

Steam shovel boom

Steam shovel boom

Railcar brake beam, 1894

Railcar brake beam, 1894

Reversible Steam Engine

Reversible Steam Engine

Spring Suspension

Spring Suspension

Sparking Mechanism

Sparking Mechanism

Steam shovel apparatus

Steam shovel apparatus

Steering Mechanism, 1906

Steering Mechanism, 1906

Steam shovel, 1905

Steam shovel, 1905

Transmission 1904

Transmission 1904

Transmission, 1907

Transmission, 1907

Transmission, 1908

Transmission, 1908

Valve-Gear, 1905

Valve-Gear, 1905

Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation


May 16, First Laser Created

On this day in 1960, Theodore H. Maiman operated the first functioning laser, at Hughes Research Laboratories, Malibu, California. Maiman was not the first to apply for patents but he was the first to create an operating laser device.

Maiman with his first laser light

Maiman with his first laser light

Maiman used a solid-state flash lamp-pumped synthetic ruby crystal to produce red laser light, at 694 nanometers wavelength. The light produced by this device was not a true beam as we think of most lasers today, but rather a pulse.


Maiman's disassembled laser

Maiman’s disassembled laser


A laser emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. The term “laser” originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers differ from other sources of light because they emit light coherently.


What does that mean? Well its spatial coherence simply means that a laser can be focused to a tight spot, and this enables applications like laser cutting and laser lithography. Its spatial coherence also keeps a laser beam collimated (to make parallel or bring into a line) over long distances, and this enables laser pointers to work. Lasers also have high temporal coherence which allows them to have a very narrow spectrum, i.e., they only emit a single color of light. Their temporal coherence also allows them to emit pulses of light that only last a femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second). That’s fast!!!


Lasers are used in many common consumer devices like DVD players, laser printers, and barcode scanners. They are used for laser surgery, various skin treatments, and in industry for cutting and welding materials. They are used in military and law enforcement devices for marking targets and measuring range and speed. You’ve seen lasers in lighting displays at entertainment venues. Lasers also have many important applications in scientific research.

Wonderful tribute from Ted’s wife Kathleen: How the First Laser was Made

Virus Generates Electricity


May 15, 2012: Virus That Generates Electricity

How about harvesting electrical energy from everyday things like… walking. Charge your phone as you walk. How else could we use the electricity?

From left, Byung Yang Lee, Seung-Wuk Lee, and Ramamoorthy Ramesh developed the "viral-electric" generator. (Photos by Roy Kaltschmidt of Berkeley Lab)

From left, Byung Yang Lee, Seung-Wuk Lee, and Ramamoorthy Ramesh developed the “viral-electric” generator. (Photos by Roy Kaltschmidt of Berkeley Lab)

Scientist from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Lawence Berkley Nations Lab have developed a ways to generate power using a shoe genharmless virus. The virus can convert mechanical energy (like walking) into electricity.

Tap a finger on a postage-stamp sized electrode coated with the special viruses and the force of the tap is converted into an electric charge. A personal power generator.

The piezoelectric effect was discovered in the 1880’s. Found in crystals, ceramics, bone, proteins and DNA. But the materials used to make piezoelectric devises are toxic and very difficult to work with.

[Piezoelectricity /piˌeɪzoʊˌilɛkˈtrɪsɪti/ is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials (such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA and various proteins) in response to applied mechanical stress. The word piezoelectricity means electricity resulting from pressure. It is derived from the Greek piezo or piezein (πιέζειν), which means to squeeze or press, and electric or electron (ήλεκτρον), which stands for amber, an ancient source of electric charge. Piezoelectricity was discovered in 1880 by French physicists Jacques and Pierre Curie. From Wikipedia]

The M13 bacteriophage has a length of 880 nanometers and a diameter of 6.6 nanometers. It's coated with approximately 2700 charged proteins that enable scientists to use the virus as a piezoelectric nanofiber.

The M13 bacteriophage has a length of 880 nanometers and a diameter of 6.6 nanometers. It’s coated with approximately 2700 charged proteins that enable scientists to use the virus as a piezoelectric nanofiber.

What if we used viruses, Lee asked himself. The M13 virus is benign to humans, it replicates itself by the millions within hours, it’s easy to genetically engineer, and it’s rod shaped so they orients themselves into well-ordered films like chopsticks align themselves in a box.

When pressure is applied to the generator, it produces up to six nanoamperes of current and 400 millivolts of potential. That’s enough current to flash the number “1” on the display (top image), and about a quarter the voltage of a triple A battery.

The bottom 3-D atomic force microscopy image shows how the viruses align themselves side-by-side in a film. The top image maps the film's structure-dependent piezoelectric properties, with higher voltages a lighter color.

The bottom 3-D atomic force microscopy image shows how the viruses align themselves side-by-side in a film. The top image maps the film’s structure-dependent piezoelectric properties, with higher voltages a lighter color.

“We’re now working on ways to improve on this proof-of-principle demonstration,” says Lee. “Because the tools of biotechnology enable large-scale production of genetically modified viruses, piezoelectric materials based on viruses could offer a simple route to novel microelectronics in the future.”

piezodevice2_box03 piezo

I Am Your Father


May 14, 1944: Happy 70th George Lucas

George Lucas was born on this day in 1944. Born and raised in Modesto, CA, a rural city almost 100 miles east of San Francisco. Modesto is a farm community led by milk, almonds, chickens, corn silage and walnuts. It is also the inspiration for Lucas’ award winning film, American Graffiti.

Lucas_mit_Fiat Lucas_fiat-lg








Young George wanted to be a race car driver, but after a near fatal accident in his Fiat Bianchina, he changed his mind.


btsstarwarsr2prototype_bigThen there was Star Wars

After his success with American Graffiti – made for only $780,000, the film grossed $50 million in the box office – Lucas set out to make a Saturday morning serial, part fairy tale part Flash Gordon. A complete fantasy adventure set in the imagery of frontier outer space, the project eventually evolved into a full-length feature entitled, Star Wars.


Star Wars blew audiences away with its awe inspiring special effects, fantastic landscapes and captivating characters. Made for $11 million, the film grossed over $513 million during its original release.





Lucas Films

Title Released Role(s)
THX 1138 1971 director, story, co-writer
American Graffiti 1973 director, story, co-writer
Star Wars 1977 director, story, writer, exec. producer
More American Graffiti 1979 exec. producer
Kagemusha 1980 exec. producer
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back 1980 story, uncredited co-writer, exec. producer, uncredited co-director
Body Heat 1981 uncredited exec. producer
Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981 story, exec. producer, uncredited second unit director
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi 1983 exec. producer, story, co-writer, uncredited co-director
Twice Upon a Time 1983 exec. producer
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 1984 story, exec. producer, cameo as “Tourist boarding plane”
Latino 1985 uncredited co-producer and co-editor
Mishima 1985 exec. producer
Howard the Duck 1986 exec. producer
Labyrinth 1986 exec. producer
Powaqqatsi 1988 exec. producer
Willow 1988 story, exec. producer
Tucker: The Man and His Dream 1988 exec. producer
The Land Before Time 1988 exec. producer
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 1989 story, exec. producer
Hook 1991 cameo as “Man kissing on bridge”
Beverly Hills Cop III 1994 cameo as “Disappointed Man”
Radioland Murders 1994 story, exec. producer
Men in Black 1997 uncredited cameo as himself
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 1999 director, story, writer, exec. producer
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones 2002 director, story, co-writer, exec. producer
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith 2005 director, story, writer, exec. producer, cameo as “Baron Papanoida”
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 2008 story, exec. producer
Star Wars: The Clone Wars 2008 story, exec. producer
Red Tails 2012 exec. producer
Star Wars Episode VII 2015 story treatment
Star Wars Episode VIII   story treatment
Star Wars Episode IX   story treatment

Inspired By Mom (Nature)


May 13, 1958: Velcro Trademark Registered

Invented in 1948 by Swiss engineer George de Mastral (below) and later patented by him in 1955, the trademark name is not registered until this day in 1958. The word Velcro is a combination of the two French words velours (velvet) and crochet (hook).


Inspiration From Nature



The idea came to Mestral one day after returning from a hunting trip with his dog. They were both covered with burrs ~ seed of the burdock ~ that were sticking to him and his dog. Being a curious fellow he examined them under a microscope and noted their hundreds of hooks (below) that caught on anything with a loop, like clothing, hair or fur.

Burdock Burr 3velcro

Inspiration is one thing but practical application is another. It took him ten years to create a mechanism that actually worked and was granted a patent in 1955. Velcro got its first break when the astronauts used it on their space suits. As Velcro became more widely used, NASA was incorrectly credited with its invention.


In 1978 de Mastral’s patent expired prompting a flood of low cost imitations onto the market. Today, the trademark is the subject of more than 300 trademark registrations in over 159 countries. George de Mestral was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his invention.

Letterman 1984 ~ Velcro Man


cockleburrs_velcro_seeds_500245 1367290426









43064915 Burdock Burr 2 burdockseed

Father of B.S.


May 12, 1803: Justus Liebig Born

Justus Freiherr von Liebig was born today in 1803. Known as the Father of Fertilizer for his discovery of nitrogen as an essential plant nutrient.

433px-Justus_Freiherr_von_LiebigLiebig was a German chemist who made contributions to agricultural and biological chemistry also organizing organic chemistry. He is regarded as one of the greatest chemistry teachers of all time particularly for devising modern laboratory oriented teaching methods.

His formation of the Law of Minimum stated that plant growth is controlled not by the total amount of resources available but by the scarcest resource available.

Liebig’s barrel explains the Law of Minimum

Liebig’s barrel explains the Law of Minimum

Applied to crop growth it was found that increasing the amount of plentiful nutrients did not increase plant growth. Only by increasing the amount of the limited nutrient was the plant growth improved. Sounds like common sense now but at the time, the early 1800’s, humanity was just discovering these concepts.


This principle can be summed up in the aphorism, “The availability of the most abundant nutrient in the soil is only as good as the availability of the least abundant nutrient in the soil.”


Liebig also developed bouillon cubes, organic chemistry, investigated spontaneous human combustion and invented a silvering process that greatly improved mirrors.

Happy Birthday to the Father of Fertilizer.




Pascal’s Principle and Beer


May 9, 1785: Bramah Patents Beer Pump

Joseph Bramah- portrait in oilsOn this day in 1795 Joseph Bramah, a prolific British inventor, patients the beer-pump. Also known as the beer engine, he used the new science of hydraulics to dispense beer by simply pumping the handle which was connected via flexible hose to the keg. Previously the kegs had to be nearby, like in a hot sweaty tavern.380a_1 But with the invention of the beer pump, kegs could be stored beneath the bar in cool earthen basements. Ahh, cool beer! These pumps soon became the most common way of serving beer.

The beer pump was derived from Bramah’s most important invention, the hydraulic press. Bramah together with William George Armstrong were considered pioneers in the field of hydraulic engineering. The hydraulic press depends on Pascal’s Principle; that pressure throughout a closed system is constant. Bramah was granted a patent for his hydraulic press in 1795.

Hydraulic Press

Hydraulic Press

Bramah was a prolific inventor, and obtained 18 patents for his designs between 1778 and 1812. Some of his inventions include:

  • 1778 – Flushing toilet (Pat. No. 1177)


  • 1785 – Beer pump – Beer engines and brewing (Pat. No. 2196)
  • 1785 – Hydrostatical machine and boiler, propelling vessels, carriages, etc. (Pat. No. 1478)
  • 1787 – Bramah Lock (Pat. No. 1478)Patent number wrong? Same as above.


  • 1790 – Rotary engines (with Thomas Dickinson) (Pat. No. 1720)
  • 1793 – Fire engines (Pat. No. 1948)
  • 1796 – First Pumper Fire Truck


  • 1795 – Hydraulic press (Pat. No. 2045)
  • 1798 – Locks (Pat. No. 2232)
  • 1802 – A planing machine for making gun stocks (Pat. No. 2652)
  • 1805 – Improvements to paper manufacture and printing (Pat. No. 2840)
  • 1806 – Printing and numbering of banknotes (Pat. No. 2957)
  •          Improvements to paper manufacture and printing (Pat. No. 2977)
  • 1809 – Pens (Pat. No. 3260) – Carriages (Pat. No. 3270) – Carriages (Pat. No. 3616)


  • 1812 – Public water mains and high-pressure hydraulic mains (Pat. No. 3611)

In 2006 a pub in Barnsley town center was opened named the Joseph Bramah in his memory.

48e13af8ff4d970607d1c34570027d18 10916351






Things Go Better With . . .


May 8, 1886: First Coke Sold

Coke was originally intended as a patent medicine when it was invented in the late 19th century by Pharmacist John Pemberton. On this day in 1886 he sells his carbonated beverage named “Coca-Cola” for the first time. [image above: Pemberton’s first ad for Coca-Cola that ran in the May 29th, 1886 issue of Atlanta Journal]

John Pemberton

John Pemberton

Pemberton was wounded in the Civil War and became addicted to morphine. Being a pharmacist he began looking for a substitute. His first sales were at Jacobs Pharmacy in Atlanta, GA on May 8, 1886. It was sold as a patent medicine for five cents a glass at the soda fountains which were very popular in the US at the time. Pemberton claimed Coca-Cola cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence.

Coca-Cola’s two key ingredients were cocaine and caffeine. Cocaine from the coca leaf and caffeine from kola nut leading to the name Coca-Cola (the “K” in kola replaced with a “C”). Pemberton called for 5 ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup. Hmmm… wonder if this had anything to do with Coke’s success? It was almost 20 years later, in 1903, when the cocaine was removed.


Believed to be the first coupon ever, this ticket for a free glass of Coca-Cola was first distributed in 1888 to help promote the drink. By 1913, the company had redeemed 8.5 million tickets.


The Coca-Cola logo was created by John Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Mason Robinson (left), in 1885. Robinson came up with the Frank Mason Robinsonname and chose the logo’s distinctive cursive script. The typeface used, known as Spencerian script, was developed in the mid-19th century and was the dominant form of formal handwriting in the United States during that period.

Secret recipe

After Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in 1886, the formula was kept a close secret. The recipe eventually found its way to a vault at the SunTrust Bank in Atlanta, GA until 2011 when Coke moved it to a vault in an exhibit at the World of Coke museum in Atlanta.

Here is Pemberton’s recipe, this recipe is attributed to a diary owned by Pemberton, just before his death in 1888. Shhhh… don’t tell anyone.


  • 1 oz (28 g) caffeine citrate
  • 3 oz (85 g) citric acid
  • 1 US fl oz (30 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 US qt (946 ml) lime juice
  • 2.5 oz (71 g) “flavoring,” i.e., “Merchandise 7X”
  • 30 lb (14 kg) sugar
  • 4 US fl oz (118.3 ml) fluid extract of coca leaves (flavor essence of the coca leaf).
  • 2.5 US gal (9.5 l; 2.1 imp gal) water
  • caramel sufficient to give color
  • “Mix caffeine acid and lime juice in 1 quart boiling water add vanilla and flavoring when cool.”
  • Flavoring (Merchandise 7X): 1 qrt alcohol
  • 80 oil orange
  • 40 oil cinnamon
  • 120 oil lemon
  • 20 oil coriander
  • 40 oil nutmeg
  • 40 oil neroli
  • “Let stand 24 hours.”


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