Source: IEEE Milestones ProgramSource: IEEE Milestones ProgramOne of Benjamin Franklin's greatest accomplishments was advancing the world's knowledge of electricity. In 1751, the year before he conducted his famous kite experiment to prove that lightning is electrical, the Royal Society published his book, “Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America.” The book summarized experiments that confirmed the existence of positive and negative charges and the difference between insulators and conductors. Notably, the work outlined in the book led to Franklin's invention of the lightning rod, the first practical engineering application of electricity.

While publication of this book was not the first achievement to be honored by the IEEE Milestones program, it is the earliest. All the other milestones, including many that have yet to be recognized and even those still to come, stem from or were made possible by the earliest understanding and harnessing of electricity.

In honor of IEEE Day, here are some other IEEE Milestones highlights that paved the way for much of what we enjoy, and possibly take for granted, today.

Electric Fire Alarm System, 1852

The first municipal electric fire alarm system, invented by William Channing and Moses Farmer, used call boxes with automatic signaling to identify the location of a fire. The telegraph system began operation in Boston on April 28, 1852, and the first alarm was received the next day at 8:25 p.m. The system significantly reduced property loss and the number of deaths due to fire and was adopted across the U.S. and Canada. Today the Boston Fire Department has approximately 2,500 fire alarm boxes in use throughout the city.

Development of Electronic Television, 1924-1941

Professor Kenjiro Takayanagi started his research program of electronic television in 1924 at Hamamatsu Technical College (now Shizuoka University). On Dec. 25, 1926, Takayanagi transmitted an image of the Japanese character イ(i) using a cathode ray tube. In 1935, he broadcast video over an electronic television system. In 1939 his group, NHK, established Japan's first television station and began broadcasting. His work, done independently of the U.S. and Europe, as well as his patents, articles and teaching, helped lay the foundation for the rise of Japanese television and related industries to global leadership.

Raman Effect, 1928 Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman Source: IEEE Milestones ProgramSir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman Source: IEEE Milestones Program

The Raman effect, named for Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, is the radiation effect of the molecular scattering of light. Raman, working along with assistant K. S. Krishnan at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) in Calcutta, discovered that when a beam of colored light entered a liquid, a fraction of the scattered light was a different color depending on the material property. The scattered light provided insight into the structure of the scattering substance. Raman received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930 for this work, which has been the basis of many applications in photonic communications and spectroscopy and is a major piece of evidence for quantum theory.

Westinghouse Atom Smasher. Source: IEEE Milestones ProgramWestinghouse Atom Smasher. Source: IEEE Milestones Program

Westinghouse Atom Smasher, 1937

Remarkably, the Westinghouse Electric Corporation approved construction of the five million volt Van de Graaff generator, known as the Atom Smasher, in 1936 - three years before the discovery of nuclear fission. At the time, it was the largest of its type in the world and the centerpiece of the first large-scale program in nuclear physics. The Atom Smasher created nuclear reactions by bombarding target atoms with a beam of high-energy particles and made the precise measurements of nuclear reactions possible. Research with the Atom Smasher in 1940 led to the discovery of the photo-fission of uranium, part of the process involved in the generation of nuclear power.

Birthplace of the Barcode, 1948

Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland developed a solution for automating the process of reading product information at a local grocery store. Their work at the Drexel Institute of Technology culminated in the Barcode Identification System, patented in 1952 and now used throughout industry for product identification and inventory control. Numerous technologies and disciplines in electrical and computer engineering emerged from the development of the barcode, including optical readers, machine vision, signal processing, data representation, coding, error correction, data storage, data security and database design and management, as well as the infrastructure to support data storage and processing requirements for mass scale inventory tracking and control.

First Atomic Clock, 1948

The first atomic clock, developed by Harold Lyons at the National Bureau of Standards, revolutionized timekeeping. Future atomic clocks fundamentally changed how time is measured and kept. Lyons achieved greater accuracy by using transitions of the ammonia molecule as the source of frequency. The atomic clock quickly replaced the Earth’s rotational rate as the reference for world time. The accuracy of the atomic clock made many new technologies, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), mobile phones and the electric grid, possible.

Shakey: The World's First Mobile Intelligent Robot, 1972Shakey in 1972, with its primary components labeled. It used an antenna as its radio link to a DEC PDP-10 mainframe computer. Photo by SRI International.Shakey in 1972, with its primary components labeled. It used an antenna as its radio link to a DEC PDP-10 mainframe computer. Photo by SRI International.

Shakey, developed at the Stanford Research Institute's Artifical Intelligence Center, could perceive its surroundings, infer implicit facts from explicit ones, create plans, recover from errors in plan execution and communicate in English. Robotics, web servers, automobiles, factories, video games and even the Mars rovers have all benefitted from the software architecture, computer vision and methods for navigation and planning used in this first mobile intelligent robot.

Lempel-Ziv Data Compression Algorithm, 1977

Professors Abraham Lempel and Jacob Ziv at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, developed the algorithm that enables the slow compression of data. The Lempel-Ziv algorithm replaces strings of characters with single codes, called “tokens,” effectively compressing or shortening the code. The algorithm enabled efficient data transmission via the internet, contributing significantly to the internet's role as a global communications medium.

Trans-Atlantic Telephone Fiber-optic Submarine Cable (TAT-8), 1987

AT&T, British Telecom and France Telecom led the consortium that built TAT-8, the first fiber-optic cable to cross an ocean. TAT-8 spanned a seabed distance of 5,846 km between North America and Europe. It had a capacity equivalent to 40,000 telephone circuits, a ten-fold increase over the capacity of the last copper cable. The cable first entered service on Dec. 14, 1988. TAT-8 necessitated the development of a number of foundational technologies, including 1.3 micron-wavelength single-mode fiber and matching lasers and detector technology; splicing strong enough to withstand being in the ocean; the laying, pull up and repair of the cable; and silicon for repeaters running at 280 Mbps and with very low failure rates. The terabit fiber-optic submarine systems that make today's internet possible build on this foundation.

Benjamin Franklin said, "As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously." In that spirit, explore the complete list of milestones honored by IEEE or learn how to submit a milestone for recognition at Milestone Guidelines.