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July 13 : On this day

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1781 : Compound Steam Engine Patent

Jonathan Carter Hornblower received a British patent(No. 1298) for the first compound steam engine. His invention utilised two cylinder of unequal sizes attached to the same beam. Steam acts first in a small high-pressure cylinder, leaving at a lower pressure but still sufficient to expand further in a larger cylinder. Although he claimed greater efficiency, it could not be realised at the low steam pressures of the day. Boulton and Watt claimed infringement on their earlier patent since this engine still used a separate condenser, so Hornblower had to abandon that design at the time. His compound steam engine principle was later revived in 1804 by Arthur Woolf using high steam pressure with better results.

woolf compound beam engine
Woolf compound beam engine of 1858 (By böhringer friedrich – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5)

1836 : U.S. Patent No. 1 was Issued

Under the introduction of a new system of patents John Ruggles of Thomaston, Maine received patent Number 1 from the U.S. patent office. Ruggles had received his patent for a traction wheel used in locomotive steam engines. Before Ruggles, there had been 9,957 non-numbered patents issued.

Ruggles was the chairman of the Committee on Patents of the U.S.Senate, and was instrumental in patent law reform. However, in 1838, a Senate select committee investigated corruption charges against Senator Ruggles relating to a patent application.

1875 : First Cash Carrier System was Patented

cash carrier system
Cash carrier system illustration

David Brown of Lebanon, NJ patented (No. 165, 473) the first cash carrier system. He called it “an apparatus for transmission of goods, packages, etc.” The first installation of a cash carrier was at the ladies’ furnishing store of William S. Lamson in Lowell, Mass, in February 1879. Using two overhead wires with endless rope pulleys, a small basket travelled between sales clerk and the cashier. Lamson began manufacturing these in 1881, and in January 1882 incorporated the Lamson Cash Railway Company.

1880 : Patent for Electric Street Car was Issued

In 1880, Stephen D. Field of New York City was issued a U.S. patent (No. 229,991) for “propelling railway cars by electromagnetism“. Field had first used earlier in 1874 in an electric street car intending to run it successfully with current generated by a stationary dynamo. The current was conveyed by one of the rails, via a metal wheel to the onboard motor, and returned through a second metal wheel to the other rail. Field first filed for a caveat on May 21, 1879, and when issued, the patent protected his claim for this system of supplying electric power through the rails and to the motor.

1887 : New Tay Bridge was Opened

tay rail bridge
Tay rail bridge

In 1887, the second Tay Rail Bridge was opened in Scotland, and remains in use today. Building was started in 1881 to replace the original single-track railway which had collapsed in a disaster on 28 Dec 1879 due to poor design and construction. The new bridge was designed for a double-track railway by William Henry Barlow and William Arrol on new, stronger piers within 60-ft (18-m) of the first. The stumps of the old piers remain as a breakwater. Many of the undamaged original girders together with new steelwork were incorporated into the new structure with a greater width to improve its lateral stability. On 18 Aug 1966, the Tay Road Bridge was opened by the Queen Mother to finally replace the ferry crossing of the Firth of Tay.

1891 : The Name “Neuron” was Coined

Illustration of a neuron. Credit: David Baillot/ UC San Diego

In 1891, the name neuron, with the meaning “nerve cell“, was coined for the first time in print, by W. Waldeyer in his paper published in this day’s issue of the German journal, Berliner Klin. Wochenschr. The word ‘neuron’ had been introduced earlier in scientific papers, but used in difference senses, now obsolete, by B.T. Lowne (1883) for the neural part of the compound eye of arthropods, and by B.G. Wilder (1884) for the neuraxis.

1897 : U.S. Patent for Wireless Telegraph

Guglielmo Marconi c.1902 (Image source : Science Museum Group Collection)

In 1897, Guglielmo Marconi received a U.S. patent for a wireless telegraph (No. 586,193).

1919 : Trans-Atlantic Balloon Flight

In 1919, the first lighter-than-air transatlantic flight was completed.

1937 : Water Softener Patent was Issued

A patent (No. 2,087,157) for the Servisoft water softener was issued to Leroy C. Lind. The invention used a regeneratable granulated mineral such as zeolite, which was already in use by domestic water softening systems using a permanent bed of the material. Lind devised a method that would be easier and faster to maintain. It was less costly, and enabled the spent mineral to be regenerated collectively from a number of installations at a central location.

The softener was packaged in water previous, flexible walled cartridges or sacks sized to stack several vertically within a tall cylindrical tank connected to the water supply line. The contents of the sacks would settle to seal against the interior surface of the tank. The tank had a removable top to facilitate switching with renewed sacks.

1945 : First Atomic Bomb

In 1945, the first atomic bomb arrived partly assembled at its test site in the New Mexico desert, on this Friday the 13th. By Sunday, it was completed and set at the top of a tower waiting for the first atomic bomb test the next day. On Monday July 16, 1945, it was successfully exploded marking the dawn of the nuclear era.


A mere 21 days later, the world’s first deployed atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

1977 : New York Black Out

On this day starting at about 9 pm, four lightning strikes on high-voltage transmission lines within the course of about half-an-hour knocked out electricity and plunged millions of residents of New York city into darkness. Unlike the calm during a similar blackout in 1965, the 1977 blackout erupted in chaos.

The city was already in the midst of a financial crisis and high unemployment. Responding to the tension of the times, mobs set fires, smashed windows and hauled away food, clothing and appliances. Power could be restored to the entire city only after 25 hours.


About 4500 people were arrested during the riots, which resulted in damages estimated at $61 million.

1995 : Spacecraft Galileo Releases Probe to Jupiter

galileo spacecraft
An artist’s impression of the Galileo Spacecraft

The spacecraft Galileo became the first Earth emissary ever to penetrate the atmosphere of any of the gas giants when it released a probe towards Jupiter in 1995. The missions scientific objectives included measurement of temperature and pressure structure of Jupiter’s atmosphere and the chemical composition of Jupiter. Also, it studied the cloud layers and cloud particle size density. Measurements were made of the amount of helium relative to hydrogen on Jupiter, winds in the atmosphere, how sunlight energy coming from the deep interior are distributed in Jupiter’s atmosphere. The probe could also detect lightning and energetic protons and electrons trapped in Jupiter’s magnetic field.


2018 : TPOXX Smallpox Drug Approved for Use

In 2018, the first drug to treat smallpox, TPOXX (tecovirimat), made by SIGA Technologies, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The fatal disease has been systematically eliminated from the world. The last recorded smallpox death was in 1978. However one laboratory in America, and another in Russia, store samples of the Variola virus under high security, in case the disease might somehow re-emerge. In 2014, several vials of variola were discovered in a storeroom in a government lab in Maryland. It might also be engineered for bio-terrorism by modern gene-editing techniques. The U.S. government stockpiled two million treatments – just in case.


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