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Edison’s Phonograph

More than any other fruit of Edison’s fertile brain, this one was not merely useful but magical

3 min read
Photo-illustration: Stuart Bradford
Photo-illustration: Stuart Bradford

When Thomas Edison died in 1931, at 84, he held nearly 1,100 patents in the United States and more than 2,300 patents worldwide. By far the most famous one was his patent for the lightbulb, but he came up neither with the idea of an evacuated glass container nor with the use of an incandescing filament. More fundamental was Edison’s conception, entirely de novo, of the complete system of electricity generation, transmission, and conversion, which he put into operation first in London and in lower Manhattan in 1882.

But for sheer originality bordering on the magical, nothing compares to Edison’s U.S. Patent No. 200,521, issued on 19 February 1878, for the first-ever way to hear recorded sound.

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How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
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Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum
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Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

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