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This Week in Geek History: NORAD Tracks Santa, First HTTP Test, Babbage’s Birthday

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History trivia shouldn’t be limited to just treaty dates and wars ending, we’re marking off major milestones in geek history—one week at at time. This week in history we’ve got Santa on the Cold War radar, baby HTTP going for a spin, and Babbage’s birth to help usher in the age of computers.

NORAD Tracks Santa for the First Time

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In 1955 a Sears store in Colorado Springs, CO placed an advertisement with a hotline phone number that purported to be a direct line to Santa’s workshop. A typo in the phone number actually directed all the curious children to Colorado Spring’s Continental Air Defense Command (the precursor to NORAD). When the line started ringing off the hook the officer on duty, Colonel Shoup, directed his men to give all the children a current location for Santa Claus—it’s heart warming to know that in the depths of the Cold War there was still time to humor some excited children on Christmas Eve. The tradition continues to this day with a volunteer staff manning phones banks, answering emails, and tending a web site devoted to tracking Santa.

The First Web Server Communicates Over the Greater Internet

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Although the first public web site wasn’t live until 1991, on December 25th, 1990 Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau tested HTTP over the internet. This marked the first time a web site had been accessed remotely outside of their lab and was the beginning of an information revolution the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the advent of the printing press. You can read more about the history of the Web here.

Charles Babbage Is Born

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Charles Baggage was an English philosopher, mathematician, inventor, and most notably, a visionary who created the idea of a programmable computer. He built numerous computation machines but his masterpiece wasn’t completed until 1991, long after his death—although, interestingly enough, when built to the specs and tolerances which would be feasible in the 19th century it worked flawlessly. His giant mechanical computation monstrosities might be two nearly two centuries removed from the tiny microprocessors we carry around in our pockets but they laid the groundwork for modern computing. Read more about his life here.


Have an interesting bit of geek history trivia to share? Shoot us an email at tips@howtogeek.com with “history” in the subject line and we’ll check your tip out and add it to our list of trivia.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/23/10

Comments (3)

  1. Thomas Skov

    No wonder the americans can’tfind Bin Laden…
    Everybody knows that Santa lives in Greenland!

    Merry Christmas :)

  2. rino

    Merry Christmas HTG!!!

  3. HCamper

    @Thomas Skov
    Aw come on every body knows
    there is no “sanity clause”
    quote stolen from the Marx Brothers
    Happry Holidays anyhow
    Martin :)
    Windows and Linux Can Work Together

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