As we head into the new year and out of what has been dubbed by the media to be the “holiday season,” I can’t help but think about all the great accomplishments we’ve made that don’t receive any official recognition on your typical calendar. I’m not talking about the anniversary of a national movement or religious event, but of a technological achievement so profound that it influences our lives every day.
We go out of our way to celebrate the birthdays of our country’s leaders, important civil rights figures, and our fallen soldiers. While these dates all deserve a special place in our hearts as national holidays, I think that the achievements marked in the following list deserve as much praise and remembrance as anything else.
Here are five days in geek history that should be holidays.
January 7, 1943 — Nikola Tesla Day
Thomas Edison isn’t the only scientist of the era with a patent on incandescent light. On February 6, 1894, Nikola Tesla submitted his own design for an improved incandescent light to the Patent Office. In fact, Nikola Tesla is responsible for several improvements on Thomas Edison’s original designs. While he worked for Edison Machine Works, he was tasked with improving the design of the direct current generators in order to improve both reliability and efficiency. Unfortunately, a promise that was reportedly made to Tesla of over $55,000 was not kept, resulting in his resignation from the company.
Perhaps Nikola Tesla’s greatest contribution to science was his research and work in alternating current. Thanks to some contributions from one of Edison’s rivals, George Westinghouse, Tesla was able to develop his ideas and ultimately power the Chicago World’s Fair.
Over the years, Tesla’s experiments contributed much to the world including his work with the Tesla Coil, which eventually led to the invention of what we know today as wireless radio. Tesla also did extensive research in the realm of harnessing and transmitting energy. He believed that he could transmit power across the globe with the right funding and equipment. Unfortunately for Nikola Tesla, that funding never came.
Tesla is one of the unsung heroes of our modern age. Today, virtually every home is powered with alternating current (AC). While Thomas Edison may receive more of the praise, Nikola Tesla may well deserve every bit as much for his tireless efforts to improve the way we live and experience electricity.
January 17, 1706 — Benjamin Franklin Day
This one is already a holiday, though not an official one here in the US. Benjamin Franklin was a businessman, author, politician, inventor, postmaster, and a musician. In fact, just about any occupation or field of expertise you could imagine someone having at that time can probably by applied to Benjamin Franklin. Arguably one of the smartest humans to ever walk the Earth, Benjamin Franklin contributed a great deal to many scientific theories and discoveries of his time.
Benjamin Franklin’s greatest scientific accomplishments can be found in the realm of electricity. Not only did he make that historic kite flight, but he was also the first to label positive and negative energy. He was also the first person to uncover the principle of conservation of charge, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.
His inventions include the lightning rod, which protects man-made structures from lightning. Before the lightning rod, house fires were extremely common during lightning storms, often resulting in death and/or massive property loss.
In addition to his inventions, Benjamin Franklin also played an important role in the world of meteorology. He wrote extensively about his discoveries and made important observations, noting, for instance, that storms do not always travel in the same direction as prevailing winds. His Farmer’s Almanac (still being written and published today) predicted with surprising accuracy weather patterns for the next year. His work on oceanic currents was also critical in cutting large amount of time off long voyages.
Today, Benjamin Franklin Day is celebrated on a very small scale by some schools. As a life-long promoter of thrift stores and other secondhand goods exchanges, some opt to take the day as an opportunity to donate to thrift stores such as Goodwill.
January 27, 1880 — Thomas Edison Day
Few inventors have left as significant a mark on the modern world as Thomas Edison. His work includes the phonograph, motion picture camera, and the first practical light bulb. He is also responsible for the invention of the carbon microphone, a popular audio component used in early telephones and by radio broadcasters through the 1920s. He’s also the father of the modern power plant, having opened arguably the first mass power plant in Manhattan in 1882, which powered 59 homes.
Perhaps the most recognizable fruits of his labor is the light bulb. Thomas Edison did not invent the electric light, but he was the first to patent a method of building it so that it would last a longer period of time and serve a practical application in the home. In a sense, the incandescent bulbs made even today are pretty much the same as the one he conceived in 1879.
On January 27, 1880, Thomas Edison was granted a patent for his light bulb design using a carbon filament to extend the life and reliability of the device. Several months later, Edison improved on the design using a carbonized bamboo filament, which burned for significantly longer than any other material he tested.
March 10, 1876 — Alexander Graham Bell Day
Alexander Graham Bell is known throughout the world as the man who invented the telephone. Born in 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Bell was the son and husband of deaf women. Both his mother, Eliza Grace Symonds Bell, and his wife, Mabel Hubbard, were plagued with deafness. This led Bell to devote much of his life and time to researching hearing and speech. His father, grandfather, and brother were also noted to have worked in the field.
It was this research that led him to a series of discoveries that would benefit people from virtually all walks of life. His harmonic telegraph, contributions to aeronautics, dedication to teaching the deaf, and other experiments only attribute to the legacy of someone responsible for changing the way we communicate today.
On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made what is believed to be the first telephone call in history. On that day, Bell called Thomas A. Watson, his assistant, and said, “Mr Watson — Come here — I want to see you.”
Interestingly enough, it was three days prior to this historic phone call that Bell was granted a patent on the invention. There is some debate as to whether or not Alexander Graham Bell or Elisha Gray, another inventor of the time, filed the patent first as they were both filed on the same day. Elisha Gray’s work focused on water transmission technology, which turned out to be the key to the success of Bell’s design. Still, Bell won the suits and became the man marked down in history as the inventor of the telephone.
July 20, 1969 — Space Exploration Day
Seen by over a billion people around the world, few events have captured the imagination of future inventors, visionaries, and scientists more than the first Apollo Moon landing. It was less than a decade earlier that President John F. Kennedy declared that human exploration on the Moon was a goal we intended to reach. The US reached that goal less than 10 years later, well ahead of schedule.
The space race was one of the most significant international endeavors of modern history. It was, simply put, a race between America and the Soviet Union. In a sense, this competition solidified America as a global leader in industry and science. By landing on the Moon first, America was able to promote peace through exploration in a time riddled with hostilities with Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin, Jr. were heroes. Not only were they the first to make the trip to the lunar surface, but the mission itself came with a high probability that none of them would make it back. Several previous unmanned missions to the Moon resulted in crashes and tragedy. In what was believed by many to be a statistical one-way trip, these three men managed to return home safe and sound.
What important dates in geek history do you believe should be made into national holidays?