In the 1970s, the world made huge strides towards developing some of the most useful and impactful inventions of all time, ultimately setting the stage for some of the most advanced products today.
In 1971, IBM reshaped the way people thought about data storage when it released one of the earliest and most convenient mediums: the floppy disk. And if it weren’t for Motorola’s 1973 invention of the first mobile phone, you might not have that smartphone sitting in your hand right now. Or think about life without email. Without computer engineer Ray Tomlinson and then-14-year-old genius Shiva Ayyadurai, the world may be a different place — that is, a place without email.
From the first mobile phone to the Rubik’s Cube to barcodes, some of the world’s greatest inventions emerged during the ’70s. Check out these 10 things you probably didn’t realize were invented then.
There’s much controversy over who the founder of email is. In 1971, Ray Tomlinson, a computer programmer at research and design company Bolt Beranek and Newman (today BBN Technologies), created text-based messaging between company computers through the network ARPANET using the “@” symbol to route messages.
The other story belongs to V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai. In 1978, 14-year-old Ayyadurai built an electronic messaging platform that he based off the internal communication system at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, N.J., where he was a research fellow. In 1982, Ayyadurai was awarded the copyright for “EMAIL.”
Today, disputes remain over who the true father of email is.
In 1949, while sitting on a beach in Miami, a spurt of inspiration hit inventor Norman Joseph Woodland. He drew in the sand an outline of what would today become one of the most effective retail inventions of all time — the UPC, otherwise known as the barcode. Inspired by Morse Code, which he learned in the Boy Scouts, Woodland patented his idea in 1952.
After numerous designs, awareness of Woodland’s idea grew and eventually the retail and tech industries got involved in trying to create a successful UPC. Yet it wasn’t until decades later that Woodland’s idea finally came to fruition. On the night of June 25, 1974, a team from the National Cash Register installed new scanners and computers at the Marsh Supermarket in the small town of Troy, Ohio. Finally, at 8 a.m. on June 26, 1974, the first item with a UPC was scanned — a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum, which is now preserved at the Smithsonian Museum.
If you weren’t around before the 70s, then this issue probably never came to mind. From pollution to injuries, the pull-tab from aluminum beverage cans were hazardous, enough so that it caused much discussion in the science community, beverage industry and media. “Aluminum pull-tabs are now common elements of our environment and inevitable offenders as foreign bodies in the esophagus,” a 1970s article from the Journal of Pediatrics noted.
Luckily, an engineer for Reynolds Metals, Daniel F. Cudzik, came up with the “Sta-Tab” — which today are the push-through pop-tops we see on cans. Cudzik patented his idea in 1975 and by 1976, a majority of beverage companies adapted the new can design.
The first digital camera was created by Kodak engineer Steven Sasson in December 1975. Although it wasn’t the type of camera you’d take to document a family vacation — at eight pounds, the camera took 0.01 megapixel black and white photographs that were recorded onto a cassette tape. One image took nearly 23 seconds to take, and could only be seen when the camera was connected to a television set.