This chronology explores the origins and
evolution of the components that comprise modern-day multimedia.
Seemingly disparate breakthroughs often occurred within a period of
months; as you'll discover, it's all about convergence.
- c. 15,000–13,000 BC—Prehistoric
humans paint images on the walls of their caves (including a narrative
composition) in the Grotte de Lascaux, France.
- c. 3500 BC—The roots of Western music are developed in
Mesopotamia. Future artifacts will include an undecipherable song
carved in stone (800 BC).
- c. 3000 BC—Chinese entertainers use firelight to
project silhouettes of puppets onto a screen. Unfortunately for those
watching these “shadow plays,” popcorn is still confined to North
- c. 540 BC—Thespis of Attica introduces the actor (or
protagonist) to Greek drama, which until now had consisted of
recitations and dancing by a chorus. Further innovations are added by
Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.
- 65 BC—Roman poet Lucretius discovers the persistence
of vision. The phenomenon (proved 230 years later by the Egyptian
astronomer Ptolemy) allows the eye to see a series of rapid stills as
one moving image, the future basis of motion pictures.
- 1435—Leone Alberti writes Della Pictura, a
treatise on the laws of perspective. The book systematizes the rules
for drawing three-dimensional scenes on two-dimensional planes.
- c. 1450—Johann Gutenberg invents movable type,
allowing mass production of documents. The history of art, music, and
literature is too immense to cover in this chronology, but let's just
say we owe a lot to Marcel Duchamp, the Beatles, and Shakespeare.
- 1702—The first English daily newspaper, The Daily Courant, begins publication.
- 1771—England's Parliament formally concedes the right of journalists to cover its proceedings.
World Turn'd Upside Down.” The American Colonies declare their
independence from Great Britain. Mass production and distribution of
the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Paine's Common Sense
(both based on writings by European philosophers) help usher in a new
era of personal freedom, one that stresses public education and citizen
involvement. While the transformation (even in the United States) will
take many years to reach its full potential, an informational Rubicon
has been crossed.
- 1791—The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
- 1834—Charles Babbage conceives the first automatic digital computer, the Analytical Engine. A working model is not built until 1991.
- 1837—Samuel Morse debuts the telegraph. The invention revolutionizes the transmission of information.
- 1837—Louis Daguerre invents the daguerreotype, the first practical form of photographic reproduction.
- 1839—Magazines begin publishing woodcuts and lithographs produced from daguerreotypes.
- 1841—William Henry Fox Talbot patents the Calotype, a negative-positive photo process.
- 1843—Ada Byron, a mathematician and daughter of the
famed poet, translates an article on Babbage's Analytical Engine, and
at Babbage's request, adds her own extensive notes. She predicts that
such machines might someday be used to create graphics and compose
- 1848—Six U.S. newspapers pool their resources to
establish The Associated Press. The partnership is designed to help
defray the huge expense of sending news stories via telegraph.
- 1851—Sir David Brewster exhibits the Stereoscope at
the Crystal Palace in London. Queen Victoria is amused. Over the next
70 years, the three-dimensional picture viewer (think View-Master) will
become as ubiquitous in households as television is today.
Fenton photographs the Crimean War, but the pictures remain unseen by
the general public because newspapers cannot yet publish photos.
- 1858—Europe and North America are briefly linked by a
transatlantic telegraph cable; by 1866, the system is up to stay. News
that once took months to travel now takes seconds.
- 1875—The Associated Press leases its own telegraph
line (from New York to Washington, D.C.), over the objections of
Western Union. The link allows AP to move news more quickly and
- 1876—Alexander Graham Bell makes the first phone call. Pizza is still another 75 years away.
- 1877—Thomas Alva Edison invents the Phonograph. He also cuts the first recording, a soulful rendition of “Mary had a Little Lamb.”
- 1878—Inventors in the U.S. and Germany debut the dynamic microphone.
- 1879—How about a light? Edison invents the incandescent light bulb.
- 1880—While tabulating the 1880 U.S. census, statistician Herman Hollerith
invents an electromechanical machine that reads holes in perforated
cards. In 1896 he founds the Tabulating Machine Company, which later
becomes International Business Machines Corporation.
- 1881—Development of the halftone process makes it possible to reproduce photographs in books and newspapers.
- 1888—Now everyone gets the picture: George Eastman introduces the Kodak camera and roll film.
- 1888—Edison and William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson debut
the Kinetograph, the world's first motion picture camera. It will be
followed by the Kinetoscope (1889) and the Vitascope (1896).
- 1889—Dickson demonstrates the Kinetophonograph to
Edison. This device synchronizes sound from a phonograph to images from
a Kinetoscope. Never successfully developed, synchronized sound will
not make its debut for another 37 years.
- 1895—Louis and Auguste Lumiére make La Sortie des ouvriers de l'usine Lumiére à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumiére Factory in Lyon), considered the first motion picture. Also during this time, Georges Méliès invents stop motion animation.
- 1898—Edison photographer William Paley films the Spanish-American War in Cuba.
- 1900—Eastman introduces the Brownie, a one-dollar camera designed for children.
- 1901—Guglielmo Marconi perfects a wireless radio system that transmits Morse code over the Atlantic Ocean.
- 1902—Georges Méliès releases Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), his most famous film. Besides stop motion, he also pioneers the use of split screens (you can blame him for Woodstock) and the dissolve.
- 1903—Edwin Porter releases The Great Train Robbery, which will popularize the Nickelodeon.
- 1903—The fax machine is invented by German scientist Arthur Korn.
- 1906—Victor Talking Machine Company introduces the Victrola. RCA will buy the company (and its Little Nipper dog, too) in 1929.
- 1906—James Stuart Blackton introduces animation to film with his short Humorous Phases of Funny Faces.
- 1912—David Sarnoff, a Marconi wireless operator in New York, receives the SOS from the sinking Titanic.
He stays at his post for three days, receiving and passing on news of
the disaster. Promoted by the Marconi Company, Sarnoff will go on to
create RCA, and its spinoff, NBC.
- 1914—The teletype is introduced. Journalism is no longer predicated on the knowledge of Morse Code.
- 1914—Winsor McCay popularizes animation with his Gertie the Dinosaur
(consisting of 10,300 separate drawings). McKay would sometimes make
appearances during showings of the film and “interact” with his
- 1915—Transcontinental telephone service is established between New York and San Francisco.
- 1915—D.W. Griffith releases The Birth of a Nation, the first modern film. Moving camera shots and close-ups are just two of the film's many innovations.
- 1916—Griffith follows up with Intolerance.
The film eschews traditional linear narrative, instead intercutting
between four different storylines. This editing technique would have a
profound effect on subsequent filmmakers, particularly Sergei
- 1919—Robert Wiene releases The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The sets are designed by German Expressionist artists.
Pittsburgh signs on the air. Still running, it's the world's first
commercial radio station, and the first to present news, reporting
results of the 1920 Harding-Cox presidential race.
- 1920—“Whispering” by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra becomes the first record to sell one million copies.
is released. Director Sergei Eisenstein pioneers montage, an editing
technique that juxtaposes successive images to stir up an audience's
- 1926—J.L. Baird demonstrates the first practical
television system (based on a spinning mechanical disc created in 1884
by German scientist Paul Nipkow). Baird debuts the first color TV two
- 1926—American Telephone & Telegraph's Vitaphone system allows synchronization of sound and film. Warner Brothers releases Don Juan, the first full-length motion picture to incorporate recorded music and sound effects.
- 1927—“You ain't heard nothin' yet!” The Jazz Singer is the first film to feature spoken dialogue. (Clip courtesy of the Al Jolson Society.)
- 1927—Telephone service is established between London and New York.
- 1927—Philo Farnsworth transmits the first electronic TV picture. Bell Telephone Laboratories tests wireless TV broadcasts.
- 1928—Walt Disney debuts Steamboat Willie,
the second short starring a mouse named Mickey, and the first cartoon
to use synchronized sound. Disney writes the soundtrack with future
Warner Brothers composer Carl Stalling.
- 1928—WGY in Schenectady, New York becomes the first experimental television station.
- 1935—The Associated Press introduces the Wirephoto,
allowing newspapers to receive photos almost as soon as they are
developed, instead of waiting for them to arrive in the mail.
- 1935—Germany begins airing regular public TV broadcasts.
- 1937–1942—John Atanasoff develops the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, or ABC, the first electronic digital computer.
- 1937—“Oh, the humanity!” As the German zeppelin Hindenburg
explodes above Lakehurst, New Jersey, Herbert Morrison delivers the
first-ever coast-to-coast broadcast on U.S. radio. Orson Welles takes
note; Led Zeppelin gets a cool album cover.
- 1938—Orson Welles scares the daylights out of America. His radio adaptation of H.G.
Wells' The War of the Worlds
realistically simulates news coverage of an invasion by hostile
Martians (simply looking for a little lebensraum). Thousands fall for
the hoax; panic ensues. The next day, Welles feigns surprise at the
of strange visitors from other planets, Superman makes his debut. The
Man of Steel (along with Batman and numerous other champions) will
first help popularize comic books, and then punch their way into the
cultural mainstream. Face it: most of us know more about Jor-El and
Lara than we do about George Washington's parents.
- 1939—“Who's on first?” Major league baseball debuts on
television, as the Brooklyn Dodgers take on the Cincinnati Reds at
Ebbets Field. However, the first televised baseball game is actually
broadcast several months earlier, as Princeton defeats Columbia. Due to
the use of a single stationary camera, viewers can only see the action
around home plate.
- 1940—Walt Disney releases Fantasia, often regarded as the high-water mark of animation.
- 1940—Dorothy Kunhardt's Pat the Bunny
is published. A simple book employing multimedia and interactivity, it
will teach millions of children to think outside of the box.
- 1941—Orson Welles releases Citizen Kane,
a skillful blending of varied media. Hollywood barely notices, but it
will eventually be deemed the greatest film of all time.
- 1941—Both NBC and CBS launch commercial television
stations in New York City; however, the effort will be largely put on
hold during World War Two.
- 1941–1945—U.S. involvement in World War Two. Great
leaps forward are made in communications and computer technologies.
Disney uses animation to illustrate complex subjects in technical
- 1945—In an article in The Atlantic Monthly, Vannevar Bush proposes “memex,” a proto-hypertext/encyclopedia system.
- 1947—Edwin Land debuts the Polaroid instant camera.
- 1948—The transistor is invented at Bell Telephone Laboratories.
- 1948—Columbia Records introduces the 33 1/3 RPM vinyl record (also known as the long-playing record, or LP).
- 1949—RCA counters with the 45 RPM record (also known as the single).
- Early 1950s—Computer technology is used in flight simulators; arguably the first application of computer interactivity.
- 1950—Ernie Kovacs
makes a quantum leap from radio to television. During the next 12
years, he will poke, prod and rewrite the rules, literally knocking on
America's TV screens.
- 1951—The first U.S. coast-to-coast television
broadcast takes place as President Harry S. Truman addresses the
opening of the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco.
- 1952—Bwana Devil, the first 3-D film using polarized lenses, is released.
- 1953—Ian Fleming introduces superspy James Bond in Casino Royale.
In 1962, 007 will make the transition from literature to the big
screen, becoming the most successful fictional character ever. For our
purposes, the Bond movies represent the establishment of film as a
mass-marketable commodity, launching everything from toys and cologne
to current-day product tie-ins such as Omega watches and BMW
- 1956—The Picturephone is first tested at Bell Telephone Laboratories.
- 1959—Debut of the integrated circuit.
- 1962—Telstar, the first communications satellite (based
on an idea by writer Arthur C. Clarke) is launched into orbit. The
first satellite telecast soon follows, including part of a baseball
game between the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies.
- 1962–1970—The Beatles revolutionize the way music is
recorded in the studio, using increasingly complex sound and tape
effects. The innovations are not only sonic: their many films and
promotional clips, especially Help! (directed by Richard Lester) and Magical Mystery Tour (directed by the band) virtually invent the modern music video.
- 1965—IBM introduces the word processor.
- 1966—Rock bands begin to add visual effects to their
performances, most notably the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead
in San Francisco, and the Pink Floyd in London.
- 1967—Pop music and pop art converge on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The concept album's packaging features a ground-breaking cover, lyrics
to the songs, a decorative inner sleeve (instead of one hawking other
releases), and a cut-out sheet that includes a groovy moustache.
- 1968—Stanley Kubrick releases 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Based on a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, the film was the first to
portray realistic space flight, and has much to say on the dehumanizing
influences of technology. Among 2001's more questionable predictions are a financially healthy Pan Am and Picturephones for all.
U.S. effort to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth
pays off handsomely. Technology spinoffs include laptop computers,
small solid-state lasers (which lead to Compact Discs), cordless power
tools, solar power cells, liquid crystals, and Tang.
- 1969—Yellow Submarine
is released, featuring the eponymous Tang-colored submersible. The
animated film blends a variety of artistic styles with the music of the
Beatles. The accompanying marketing blitz puts psychedelic art on main
- 1969—ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, is established by the U.S. Department of Defense.
- 1969—Nonlinearity meets the masses: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is published. In true multimedia fashion, the work will be presented as a film (1972) and a CD-ROM (1994).
- 1969—At a school demonstration, the author of this
chronology hears how the Picturephone will soon change his life. He's
- 1971—Computer engineer Ray Tomlinson sends the first
e-mail message: most likely, it “was QWERTYIOP or something similar.”
Tomlinson also designates @ as the locator symbol for electronic
- 1972—The Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game system, is released.
- 1972—Nolan Bushnell and Atari introduce Pong, the first coin-operated video game.
- 1974—MITS releases the first successful personal computer. The Altair is named for a planet from the Star Trek
television series (or is the planet later named for the computer?). It
uses Intel Corporation's 8080 microprocessor, also developed in 1974.
The PC will not really catch on until the advent of the Apple II.
- 1975—Bill Gates and Paul Allen
adapt BASIC to run on the Altair 8800, and sell the interpreter to
MITS. It's the first computer language program written for the PC. By
the end of November, the duo's new company has a name: Micro-soft.
- 1976—Personal computing's other two wunderkinder, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs form Apple (the name is licensed from the
- 1977—The Sex Pistols quickly deconstruct the bloated rock ethos of the ‘70s; then they deconstruct themselves.
- 1977—The Apple II changes everything. It's the first PC to use color graphics.
- 1977—Beatlemania opens on Broadway. This
multimedia show juxtaposes the music of the Beatles (played by four
impersonators) with film clips, photographs, and news headlines from
- 1979—The first commercial cellular phone system begins operation in Tokyo.
- 1980—Pink Floyd performs The Wall. The shows
(limited to only four cities) incorporate music, animations, giant
puppets, a 35-foot wall, and the obligatory inflatable pig. A film interpretation of the album follows in 1982.
- 1981—MTV debuts.
- 1981—IBM releases its first PC.
- 1982—Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan becomes the first film to utilize an all-digital computer graphic sequence (used to depict the “Genesis Effect”).
- 1982—Can you say cyberpunk? Ridley Scott releases Blade Runner.
- 1983—The Compact Disc is introduced.
- 1983—The Internet as we know it is created on January
1st when a standard networking protocol (TCP/IP) is adopted by all
- 1984—“They'll never let me forget it.” William Gibson coins the term “cyberspace” in his novel Neuromancer.
unveils the Macintosh during Superbowl XVIII. The now-classic
commercial (directed by an Orwell-inspired Ridley Scott) is a
thinly-veiled broadside at IBM. The Mac also introduces the general
public to the mouse.
- 1985—Microsoft Windows version 1.0 hits the streets.
- 1985—The Commodore Amiga combines advanced graphics, sound and video capabilities to create the first true multimedia computer.
- 1986—The Academic American Encyclopedia becomes the first CD-ROM encyclopedia.
- 1988—Macromind (now Macromedia) releases Director, a multimedia authoring tool.
- 1989—British physicist Tim Berners-Lee
proposes a global hypertext system, the World Wide Web. During the next
few years, he will develop the standards for URL, HTML, and HTTP.
- 1991—ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US. Zero Wing,
an obscure 1989 Japanese video game, is released for the Sega Genesis
game system. Its badly mistranslated introduction will one day rule the
world. For great justice.
- 1991—The World Wide Web makes its debut on the Internet.
- 1991—James Cameron releases Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The film sets a new standard for the use of computer-generated special effects.
- 1991—The MP3 digital audio compression format is invented at the Fraunhofer Institute, a German research lab.
- 1992—MS Windows version 3.1 is released.
- 1992—Hypertext markup language (HTML), debuts, giving anyone with an interest the tools to build their own Web page.
- 1993—Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser, is released.
- 1993—The Internet's first radio station (imaginatively
named Internet Talk Radio) begins broadcasting. It uses Mbone (IP
Multicast Backbone) technology.
- 1993—Wired debuts. The magazine, which chronicles the growing cyberculture, bends many traditional graphic design rules.
- 1994—Broderbund releases Myst, the first successful interactive 3-D computer game. To date, it has sold more than seven million copies.
- 1994—The Rolling Stones become the first major band to
broadcast a live performance over the Internet, using Mbone to transmit
25 minutes from a concert in Dallas, Texas.
- 1994—WXYC-FM in Chapel Hill, North Carolina becomes the first radio station to simulcast its signal over the Internet.
- 1995—Windows 95 creates a public hysteria unseen since Orson Welles' 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast.
- 1995—Xing Technologies releases StreamWorks, the first
24-hour live streaming audio and video broadcast system for the
Internet. Xing is bought by RealNetworks in 1999.
- 1995—Disney releases Toy Story,
the first feature-length movie totally comprised by computer graphics.
The 77-minute film takes four years to make, and 800,000 machine hours
- 1996—Affordable digital cameras (another spin-off from the U.S. space program) become widely available.
- 1996—Fifty million channels and nothin' on. JenniCAM
debuts. She and thousands of successors redefine the way people look at
the Web...and each other.
- 1996—WRAL-HD in Raleigh, North Carolina becomes the first commercial high-definition TV station in the U.S.
- 1996—DVD video is introduced; full-length movies are
now distributed on a single CD. The DVD format also promises to
transform the music, gaming and computer industries.
- 1998—Saehan-Eiger Labs releases the MPMan F10/F20, the first portable MP3 player.
becomes the poster child for distributed Internet computing. Set up by
the University of California at Berkeley to search for signs of
extraterrestrial communication, the project uses millions of volunteer
computers to create a low-cost supercomputer.
debuts, allowing users to download (and share) their favorite MP3s. The
service puts peer-to-peer computing on the map, enabling individual
computers to interact with each other, instead of downloading from a
centralized server. Napster also becomes the focal point in a battle
royal over copyright and intellectual property in the wired age.
humans project images on the walls of their pyramids. For one magical
night, we all party like it's 1999, and the world really does seem like
a smaller place. Unless you went to bed early.
- 2001—The revolution will be downloaded: Apple introduces iTunes (January) and the iPod (October).