The First Electronic Device, Ever?

On 13 December, in London, Christie’s will auction off some of Edison’s original lightbulbs—including one designed to direct the flow of current

3 min read

A set of lightbulbs belonging to Thomas Edison could fetch US $500 000 when it goes under the hammer in London next week. The set contains rare bulbs dating from the 1880s, including several made by Edison and his fierce competitor, Joseph Swan. But the star of the collection is one of Edison’s unappreciated inventions: a bulb that may well have been the world’s first vacuum tube.

The items were collected to serve as evidence in a trial in which Edison successfully sued the U.S. Electric Light Co. for violating a patent on the design of his lightbulb. Edison, who was famously litigious, collected examples of the designs used by leading lightbulb makers in an effort to show that U.S. Electric Light must have copied his version. At the trial, two of the bulbs were deliberately broken so that the court could study their construction.

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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
Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum

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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