This Month In Tech History: October – Review Geek

October Calendar 2021 on wooden table background.
October Calendar 2021 on wooden table background.

The history of technology in October sees the dawn of the age of the personal automobile, the unintended beginnings of video gaming, the release of the classic MP3 player that changed everything, and even the formal definition of the internet. Read on for all the details.

October 1, 1908: Ford Model T Goes On Sale

Model T Ford car on a rural road
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Today, it’s hard to imagine a world without personal vehicles. But, at the start of the 20th century, most people still got around by foot, horse, boat, buggy, or train. And even though manufacturers had been producing automobiles since the 1880s, and Ford itself had been making them since 1903, the Ford Model T was the first personal motorcar to be affordable to middle-class Americans.

The Model T was also the first car Ford mass-produced on a moving assembly line, an innovation unto itself. However, the company didn’t incorporate the production process until 1913. Once implemented, the assembly line reduced Model T manufacturing time from over 12 hours to just an hour and a half, with a Model T rolling off the line every three minutes. The moving assembly line manufacturing process became the standard for the vast majority of the automobile industry.

With over 15 million cars produced between 1908 and 1927, the Model T was an immense commercial success. It also normalized the concept of a personal-use vehicle for regular people. It was the most-sold car in history until 1972, when the German-made Volkswagen Beetle eclipsed it. In 1999 the Model T won the Car of the Century award by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation.

October 1, 1982: Sony Releases First CD Player

Optical media may seem like retro tech today, but in the early ’80s, it was cutting-edge stuff. When Sony released the first CD player, the Sony CDP-101, in 1982, no CDs existed to play on it. The same day, Billy Joel’s album 52nd Street was reissued on compact disc, making it the first commercially released music album in that format.

The launch of the CDP-101 was a Japan-only release because their Western business partner, Philips, couldn’t meet the deadline. The Dutch company launched the Philips CD-100 just a month later. But neither product would reach U.S. store shelves until early 1983. The devices sold at about $1,000, and at first, only about 20 albums were available to play on them.

Adoption of the new technology was slow at first. But by 1988, CDs were outselling vinyl records, and by 1991 had eclipsed cassette tape sales. The CD format would remain the top format for music consumption until 2005 when the iPod and the iTunes Music Store dethroned it.

October 8, 1992: Apple Settles Second Lawsuit with ‘The Beatles’

A close up of The Beatles 'White Album' on vinyl record.
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Throughout its history, Apple has been involved in many high-profile lawsuits. One of its long-standing legal adversaries was Apple Corps, the holding company formed by The Beatles. In 1978 Apple Corps filed suit against the computer company for trademark infringement. The companies settled out of court in 1981, with Apple Computer agreeing not to enter into the music business, and Apple Records (Apple Corps music division) would stay out of the computer market.

However, the truce didn’t last long. In 1986, Apple Computer built a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and audio-recording components into their Mac computer line. According to Apple Corps, this violated the 1981 agreement and sued Apple Computer again in 1989. The companies settled out of court again in October 1991, with Apple Computer paying Apple Corps 26.5 million dollars and promising never to sell or distribute physical musical media.

The 1991 agreement endured the rest of the 20th century. But, the launch of the iTunes Music Store changed everything in 2003. Apple Corps alleged that the computer company selling digital music was a breach of contract. This time the battle wouldn’t be settled outside the courtroom. After three years, an English judge ruled that Apple Computer did not violate the 1991 settlement.

It wouldn’t be until 2010 that Apple Corps would allow The Beatles‘ music library to be sold through the iTunes Music Store.

October 12, 1988: Steve Jobs Introduces NeXT Computer

NeXT Computer on display at the Apple museum in Prague.
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When Steve Jobs resigned from Apple in 1985, he didn’t waste any time before establishing a new computer company: NeXT. With funding from the future U.S. presidential candidate Ross Perot, Jobs led the development of the NeXT Computer, a high-end workstation aimed at the higher-education market.

In his typical fashion, Jobs made the launch of the NeXT Computer a multimedia event. However, the NeXT Introduction served not only as a launching pad for a new computer but also as a triumphal re-entry onto the public stage for Jobs. In his own words at the proto-Stevenote, “It’s great to be back.”

The NeXT Computer never achieved the enormous sales numbers as Job’s crowning achievement, the Macintosh. This is likely due to its astronomical price tag of $6,500–the equivalent of $14,000 in 2021. But it did serve several critical roles. Chief among them was the NeXT machine used as the world’s first web server at CERN.

Unfortunately, the NeXT Computer couldn’t keep Jobs’s new company in the hardware business. The firm shifted its focus to software in 1993 and developed the NeXT operating system for porting to third-party software. Apple acquired NeXT four years later, seeing Jobs return to the company he founded in 1976.

October 18, 1958: World’s First Video Game

When William Higinbotham designed Tennis for Two, he didn’t know he was making the world’s first video game. Higinbotham intended to entertain the attendees of the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s annual public exhibition. Most exhibition items were for scientific instruments like a pulse height analyzer and electronic counters. Higinbotham later said he wanted to “liven up the place” with a game for people to play.

Higinbotham designed the game within just a few hours after learning that the laboratory’s Donner Model 30 analog computer could simulate an object’s trajectory along with wind resistance. He spent the next three weeks with technician Robert V. Dvorak building the game’s physical components, which consisted of an oscilloscope for the display and two aluminum controllers. The game consisted of a simple horizontal line representing the tennis court with a vertical line in the center for the net. The ball would be paddled back and forth between the players, using the controller’s knob to angle the shot and the button to hit the ball.

Tennis for Two was a smash hit at the exhibition, particularly on the day designated for high school students. The line to play the first video game reached into the hundreds. It was so popular that the laboratory upgraded Tennis for Two for the following year’s exhibition. The game received a larger screen, and simulations that incorporated the gravity of the Moon and Jupiter were added.

The game didn’t receive any accolades outside the exhibition at the time. It wasn’t until nearly 20 years later that lawyers discovered and used it as a defense in a video game patent lawsuit. The press surrounding the case led to its recognition as the first video game produced solely for entertainment purposes.

October 23, 2001: iPod Released

The original iPod on a table in front of successive iPod generations.
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Apple is rarely the first to market with new technology. What the company does well is to develop existing technology into a form that dominates the market. Such is the case with the iPod. MP3 players had been a common part of the digital landscape for years before Apple announced the iPod in 2001. But Steve Jobs found the existing technology lacking and ordered his engineering chief to hire Tony Fadell, who had been pitching an improved MP3 player to various technology companies such as Sony and Philips.

Working as an independent contractor, Fadell recruited former coworkers from his previous employers, General Magic and Philips, to help him build the iPod. Within eight months, Fadell and crew had a prototype to show Apple. The first iPod had 5GB of hard drive storage capacity, a monochrome LCD display, and its click wheel was raised with physical buttons. A far cry from where the iPod ended in 2022 as a smartphone-style device with up to 256GB of storage, a four-inch multi-touch display, and the ability to run apps just like the iPhone.

When Steve Jobs announced the iPod at a special Apple event in October 2001, it revolutionized how the world consumed music. The company sold 125,000 units of the MP3 player by the end of the year. It took two years for the company to ship a million iPods. But growth was exponential after that. By 2007 Apple sold more than 100 million iPods.

Of course, after the introduction of the iPhone, iPod sales began to dwindle because people didn’t need a separate MP3 player and a smartphone. Nevertheless, the line continued on as the iPod touch until 2022.

October 24, 1995: ‘Internet’ Defined

In the days of the early internet, the United States government had to cope with multiple world-changing technologies springing up at once. Several federal agencies, including Defense Department, Energy Department, National Science Foundation, and NASA, informally established the Federal Networking Council as a forum for network collaborations. And to help the agencies meet their research, education, and operational mission goals. As well as bridge the

The National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Computing, Information, and Communications (CCIC) formally chartered the group on September 20th, 1995. In one of their first acts as an official organization, the council unanimously passed a resolution defining the term “Internet” for federal agencies.

According to the resolution, “Internet” refers to the global information system that:

  • (i) is logically linked together by a globally unique address space based on the Internet Protocol (IP) or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons;
  • (ii) is able to support communications using the Transmission Control
    Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite or its subsequent
    extensions/follow-ons, and/or other IP-compatible protocols; and
  • (iii) provides, uses or makes accessible, either publicly or privately, high
    level services layered on the communications and related infrastructure
    described herein.”

The internet definition was the Federal Networking Council’s only claim to fame. When the organization’s charter came up for review in 1997, it was disbanded, and its duties were handed off to other government bureaucracies.

October 30th, 1938: Orson Wells Broadcasts The War of The Worlds

A flying saucer descending through a cloudy sky.
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Alien invasions have been a staple of science fiction for as long as the genre has existed. However, there weren’t as many sci-fi fans in the late 1930s as there are today. When Orson Wells broadcast his radio adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells novel, The War of the Worlds, the general public didn’t know it was all pretend.

When the legendary filmmaker announced at the top of the program that what was to come was just a radio drama, many listeners would miss it because they were tuned into The Mercury Theater on the Air on another network.

Wells formatted the radio adaptation of The War of the Words to sound as though it were an actual news broadcast, depicting a Martian invasion of the small town of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. There was mass panic when the public heard the reports of military engagements with giant Martian war machines. Historians dispute the extent of the panic. However, it was bad enough that CBS ordered the program interrupted to reassure the listeners that it was a fictional presentation.

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