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This Week in Geek History: Gmail Goes Public, Deep Blue Wins at Chess, and the Birth of Thomas Edison

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Every week we bring you a snapshot of the week in Geek History. This week we’re taking a peek at the public release of Gmail, the first time a computer won against a chess champion, and the birth of prolific inventor Thomas Edison.

Gmail Goes Public

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It’s hard to believe that Gmail has only been around for seven years and that for the first three years of its life it was invite only. In 2007 Gmail dropped the invite only requirement (although they would hold onto the “beta” tag for another two years) and opened its doors for anyone to grab a username @gmail. For what seemed like an entire epoch in internet history Gmail had the slickest web-based email around with constant innovations and features rolling out from Gmail Labs. Only in the last year or so have major overhauls at competitors like Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail brought other services up to speed. Can’t stand reading a Week in Geek History entry without a random fact? Here you go: gmail.com was originally owned by the Garfield franchise and ran a service that delivered Garfield comics to your email inbox. No, we’re not kidding.

Deep Blue Proves Itself a Chess Master

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Deep Blue was a super computer constructed by IBM with the sole purpose of winning chess matches. In 2011 with the all seeing eye of Google and the amazing computational abilities of engines like Wolfram Alpha we simply take powerful computers immersed in our daily lives for granted. The 1996 match against reigning world chest champion Garry Kasparov where in Deep Blue held its own, but ultimately lost, in a  4-2 match shook a lot of people up. What did it mean if something that was considered such an elegant and quintessentially human endeavor such as chess was so easy for a machine? A series of upgrades helped Deep Blue outright win a match against Kasparov in 1997 (seen in the photo above). After the win Deep Blue was retired and disassembled. Parts of Deep Blue are housed in the National Museum of History and the Computer History Museum.

Birth of Thomas Edison

Thomas Alva Edison was one of the most prolific inventors in history and holds an astounding 1,093 US Patents. He is responsible for outright inventing or greatly refining major innovations in the history of world culture including the phonograph, the movie camera, the carbon microphone used in nearly every telephone well into the 1980s, batteries for electric cars (a notion we’d take over a century to take seriously), voting machines, and of course his enormous contribution to electric distribution systems. Despite the role of scientist and inventor being largely unglamorous, Thomas Edison and his tumultuous relationship with fellow inventor Nikola Tesla have been fodder for everything from books, to comics, to movies, and video games.

Other Notable Moments from This Week in Geek History

Although we only shine the spotlight on three interesting facts a week in our Geek History column, that doesn’t mean we don’t have space to highlight a few more in passing. This week in Geek History:


Have an interesting bit of geek trivia to share? Shoot us an email to tips@howtogeek.com with “history” in the subject line and we’ll be sure to 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 02/10/11

Comments (6)

  1. Hatryst

    1093 patents? We should call him Thomas Edison™ ;)

  2. funkybebel

    +1 Hatryst

  3. urafag

    hatryst ur a faggot

  4. I M Tim

    Hah…
    “reigning world chest champion Garry Kasparov”
    …never played CHEST.

  5. nonosh

    That Russian flag doesn’t belong on that table; there is nothing Russian about Kasparov, except for his language of choice.

  6. CoolHappyGuy

    The title should read “… Provest itself a Chess GRANDMASTER.” Chess had been playing at the master level several years prior to that!

    Reigning world chest champion?! Does he work at Hooters, now?

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