Sunday, February 17, 2008

An Exhibition at the National Museum of American History

These photographs are from the exhibition, Information Age: People, Information & Technology in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The exhibition displays visually and interactively how electrical information technology has changed our society over the last 150 years.
Smithsonian Photographs by:
Alfred Harrell, Laurie Minor-Penland, Eric Long, Jeff Tinsley and Dane A. Penland

Samuel Morse's original telegraph transmitter and receiver, 1837. Today's information age began with the telegraph. It was the first instrument to transform information into electrical form and transmit it reliably over long distances. The original Morse telegraph did not use a key and sounder. Instead it was a device designed to print patterns at a distance. The transmitter, in front, had code slugs shaped in hills and valleys. These represented the more familiar dots and dashes of Morse code. These patterns were printed at a distance by the receiver (shown in the rear). It recreated the hills and valleys as the arm was pulled back and forth by an electro-magnet, which was responding to the signals sent by the transmitter. Morse developed a key and sounder for his first commercial telegraph in 1844. ==Smithsonian Photo #89-22161 by Laurie Minor-Penland.

Morse/Vail telegraph key, 1844. This register was used to send the message "What Hath God Wrought" on the experimental line between Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland. ==Smithsonian Photo by Alfred Harrell.

Morse/Vail telegraph register, 1844. This register was used to receive the message "What Hath God Wrought" on the experimental line between Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland. ==Smithsonian Photo by Alfred Harrell.

An Edison Stock Printer. Labeled, "Gold & Stock Telegraph Co. Edison's Patent No. 215". As the electric telegraph sped information across the country, bankers and businessmen realized that they could profit from immediate knowledge of stock prices and other crucial data. The new technology shortened the time for decision-making and increased the pace and stress of the business day. But early telegraph service was expensive. Outside the business community, use of the telegraph spread slowly. ==Smithsonian Photo by Alfred Harre

The Atlantic cable of 1858 was established to carry instantaneous communications across the ocean for the first time. Although the laying of this first cable was seen as a landmark event in society, it was a technical failure. It only remained in service a few days. Subsequent cables laid in 1866 were completely successful and compare to events like the moon landing of a century later. Here, the cable on the left is representative of a style that remained in use for almost 100 years. The cable on the right, a coaxial cable, was part of the first transatlantic telephone cable laid in 1956. ==Smithsonian Photo by Alfred Harrell.

Alexander Graham Bell's early telephone equipment. To the right in this photograph are several of Bell's early experimental telephones. They depended on creating variable electrical patterns in wires as a needle moved up and down in a liquid. This approach led to problems with static. Later models, the telephones to the left, relied on the principles of magnetic induction. ==Smithsonian Photo #89-21085 by Laurie Minor-Penland.

A Bell commercial magneto-telephone from 1877. This was one of the first telephones on which both transmission and reception were done with the same instrument. ==Smithsonian Photo #74-2496 by Alfred Harrell.

Late 19th and early 20th-century telephones , including the tombstone (rear left), battery box wall model (rear center), and Strowger dial phone (right front). This group of telephones shows the changing design of instruments from the late 19th through the early 20th century. Note that the earlier telephones have no dials. Dialing a number only became possible after automated equipment was developed to make connections originally handled by human operators. ==Smithsonian Photo #89-22162 by Laurie Minor-Penland.

Information Processing devices. A doctor's stethoscope; a Hollerith Tabulating Machine, sorter, and pantograph punch; and (upper right) an Arithmeter, a type of cylindrical slide rule used by the insurance industry to compute average life expectancies. Industrialization in the 19th century made life faster and more complex. To cope with these demands, new means of calculating, sorting and processing information were invented. ==Smithsonian Photo by Laurie Minor-Penland.

Progress in Communications . An NBC microphone, Magnavox loudspeaker, Echophone "Cathedral" radio (1934), Western Electric Scissor phone and Edison stock exchange ticker. The advent of the telegraph led to a flood of inventions for communicating information in electrical form. ==Smithsonian Photo by Laurie Minor-Penland.

The ENIGMA Machine and Bombe. Armed forces have always been dependent on communications. During World War II, the German Army and Navy tried to keep their communications secret by using encryption devices called Enigma machines. These sophisticated coding devices could generate over 1 trillion different coding patterns. The Germans believed they were too sophisticated for Allied forces to break them. But in one of the best-kept secrets of the war, first the Poles, and later the British and Americans succeeded in deciphering messages. The wooden device in the foreground is a 4 rotor German Enigma machine, used for encoding. The large machine in the background is a "Bombe," used for breaking the code. Working out the details of codebreaking machines was one of the developments that fostered electronic computers. ==Smithsonian Photo by Laurie Minor-Penland.

The ENIAC, or the Electrical Numerical Integrator and Computer, was a large digital electronic computer developed by the US. Army and University of Pennsylvania late in World War II. This photograph shows only a small section of a machine that stretched around the walls of a room 30' by 50.' ENIAC was designed to compute ballistics tables, a task that required many tedious electronic calculations. But the designers made it programmable, so that it could also be set to perform many other calculation tasks. Because of its speed and flexibility, ENIAC set the stage for the emergence of the post-war computer industry. ==Smithsonian Photo #90-7164B by Laurie Minor-Penland.

This is the first model of the 45 rpm record player manufactured by RCA in the 1950's. The 45 rpm record was first introduced in 1949 by RCA. It quickly became popular among young people as a medium for popular songs. Rock and Roll music and the "45" grew up together. ==Smithsonian Photo by Eric Long

Homebrew Computer Club. Many of pioneer developers of personal computers prided themselves on being members of the "counter culture." They met at places like the "homebrew computer club" in Silicon Valley, California, and dreamed of giving computer power to individuals. The interest of such hobbyists helped create a viable market for personal computers, even before their capabilities were far too limited for office use. ==Smithsonian Photo #90-15065 by Jeff Tinsley.

An Apple I Computer. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the most famous members of the Homebrew Computer Club, designed the Apple I in 1976. It was a kit computer. Users bought the workings and built their own case. Many leaders in mainline computer companies like IBM and Digitial did not believe that personal comptuers were powerful enough to have a market. Sales of the Apple I and other PC's that followed proved them wrong. ==Smithsonian Photo #92-13442 by Eric Long.

Robot Auto Factory. This exhibit scene shows a welding robot in context, doing spot welding on an auto body. Most industrial robots used in the United States today do jobs that are monotonous, repetitive or dangerous to humans. Even so, they are replacing many jobs previously held by people. Robots in American car plants are often part of an elaborate computer network that controls all parts of the production process, from ordering parts to painting. The two computer screens in the lower right hand corner of the scene are terminals on this network. ==Smithsonian Photo #90-15048 by Jeff Tinsley.

Original here

An analog video disc and a digital CD-Rom disc, shot to show the rainbow-like reflections coming from their surfaces. New techniques of encoding and distributing digital information are pacing the spread of the information age throughout society. ==Smithsonian Photo #90-6894 by Dane A. Penland.

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