John Deere and the Birth of Precision Agriculture

Farmers were on the fence about precision farming, until Deere engineers made it more accurate and economical

4 min read
Photo by Division of Work and Industry/NMAH/Smithsonian Institution
Photo: Division of Work and Industry/NMAH/Smithsonian Institution

In the early 19th century, a blacksmith named John Deere moved from Vermont to Illinois, where he noticed that the farmers were having trouble. The sticky prairie soil accumulated on their traditional iron plows, forcing them to stop frequently to clean the blades.

Deere had an idea, and in 1837 he introduced his “self-scouring” steel plow. The blade cut through the tough, root-filled earth, and its curved shape allowed the soil to turn over. Deere’s invention became known as “the plow that broke the plains” and helped transform the Midwest into fertile farmland. His eponymous company became the largest plow manufacturer in the world.

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Inventing the Atari 2600

The Atari Video Computer System gave game programmers room to be creative

18 min read
Brown and black gaming console with Atari logo labeled video computer system

The Atari Video Computer System (VCS), first released in 1977, was subsequently renamed the Atari 2600 and became the most popular home game machine of its era.

Evan Amos

In late 1975, sales of devices that made it possible for consumers to play Pong on home television sets were booming. At Atari Inc., which had first introduced Pong as an arcade game and had manufactured one of the most popular home versions of Pong, engineers began looking for the next arcade game to put in consumer hands, anticipating that people would grow tired of two paddles and a ball.

They saw Jet Fighter and Tank, but instead of designing a custom chip for each game, as was done for Pong, they planned a system that would play both games, four-player Pong if anyone was interested, and possibly a few other, as yet unknown games. The system was to be based on a microprocessor.

In a few months, Atari's designers in Grass Valley, Calif., had made a working prototype, and over the next year, designers from Grass Valley and from Sunnyvale, Calif., refined what was to be the Atari Video Computer System (VCS). It was released in 1977, and six years later ranks as one of the most successful microprocessor-based products ever built, with over 12 million sold at about $140 apiece.

Success did not come without problems. Production problems in the first two years caused Atari losses estimated near $25 million. But once these problems were solved and enough software was developed, the VCS took off.

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