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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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The Lies that Powered the Invention of Pong

A fake contract masked a design exercise–and started an industry

4 min read
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Pong arcade game in yellow cabinet containing black and white TV display, two knobs are labeled Player 1 and Player 2, Atari logo visible.
Roger Garfield/Alamy

In 1971 video games were played in computer science laboratories when the professors were not looking—and in very few other places. In 1973 millions of people in the United States and millions of others around the world had seen at least one video game in action. That game was Pong.

Two electrical engineers were responsible for putting this game in the hands of the public—Nolan Bushnell and Allan Alcorn, both of whom, with Ted Dabney, started Atari Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. Mr. Bushnell told Mr. Alcorn that Atari had a contract from General Electric Co. to design a consumer product. Mr. Bushnell suggested a Ping-Pong game with a ball, two paddles, and a score, that could be played on a television.

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