Yale University

November 13, 1957 – Gordon Gould Coins the Term “LASER”

Gould’s notarized journal page for November 13, 1957

On November 13, 1957, physicist and boat-rocker Gordon Gould stared at a page of his lab notebook, had a  brain wave, and ran down to a local shop to find a notary.  At the head of this workday’s page he had written, “Some rough calculations on the feasibility of a LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”.  No one had ever used the term “LASER” before.  Gould wondered if he were to document his work carefully, whether he could patent his new, potentially revolutionary discovery.

An atheist born to Methodist parents, a graduate of Union College and Yale and Columbia Universities, a member of the Manhattan Project until he was expunged for his activities with the Communist Political Association, Gould was a brilliant scientist working in the fields of optical and microwave spectrometry.  He became an expert in the developing field of optical pumping and contacted the inventor of the “MASER” (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) to see if a synthesis of the technologies could produce an optical version of the focused-microwave-emitting device.

Gould’s journal entries on November 16th regarding analysis and suggested applications for the new optical maser constituted the first written prescription for making a viable laser.  He publicized his work initially in a conference presentation in 1959.  Gould’s efforts to join the private sector to construct a working model for the deemed classified invention were frustrated by his prior involvement in the Communist movement.  He fought protracted battles for patent rights to the laser against other researchers working in the field at roughly the same time, but was finally awarded several patents both in the United States and abroad.  His thirty-year patent war was one of the longest-fought efforts in history, and resulted in the registration in his name of 48 patents in the fields of optical pumping, collisional pumping, and their applications.

In 1973, Gould founded Optelecom, which became a successful fiberoptic communications manufacturer.  Ever the free spirit, he left the company in 1985 because it was “boring”.  He was elected to the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1991, and passed away in 2005 at the age of 75.

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Vintage 1957 – Discovery of the Mysterious Vinland Map

Vinland Map. Photo source: Yale University Press, Yale University.

Vinland Map. Photo source: Yale University Press, Yale University.

In the fall of 1957, rare manuscript dealer Laurence Claiborne Witten II, of New Haven, Connecticut, stumbled upon the cartographic find of the century. He was browsing in the antiquarian shop of Nicolas Rauch, a rarities dealer in Geneva, when he discovered two vellum documents bound together which appeared properly ancient and highly intriguing. One was a map and one was a text, both on old vellum, and both incorporating seemingly authentic pigments, watermarks, wormholes, and symbols. The bound volume seemed to date from 1430 to 1450. The map displayed the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. It also included Greenland and portions of the coastline of Canadian North America which were startlingly accurate for the time period. And beyond this – the map indicated that Vikings had in fact visited that Canadian coastline between 985 and 1001. If the map were authentic, it would topple Italian Christopher Columbus’ claim to fame as the discoverer of the new world.

That little word “if” developed into a decades-long quest, drawing in all manner of experts in the field of geography, cartography, and ancient documents. Big guns from Yale University and the British Museum and many other research facilities have weighed in over the years. The map came to be known as the Vinland Map, since the Vikings had coined that name for the farthest reaches of their explorations to North American shores.

Simon Garfield gives us a lively view into the discovery of and controversy surrounding the Vinland Map in his delicious collection of geographic tales, On the Map. He translates the highly technical and esoteric investigations of the map into an accessible whodunit, charting the course of ups and downs, excitement and disappointment, thrills and chills. Debate on the provenance and meaning of the map continues. The bottom line? it’s all in the ink, and the experts don’t agree.

Who discovered America First? Columbus? Leif/Erik/Ragnar? I know, I know – my hand’s in the air! It was the ancestors of the Inuits who crossed the (now-submerged) land bridge from Siberia millennia ago.

October 20, 1957 – NYC Mayor Robert Wagner’s Coney Island Campaign Stop

The Mayoral Debate: Catsup or Mustard? Photo: Eddie Hausner, The New York Times Photo Archives, available at the New York Times store

On October 20, 1957, incumbent New York City mayoral candidate Robert F. Wagner, Jr. stopped for a classic Coney Island treat – a All-American hot dog.  On his way to a second-term landslide victory, Democrat Wagner’s alignment with Carmine DeSapio’s Tammany Hall machine during his first election in 1953 instigated a intra-party feud between DeSapio and Presidential Widow Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband Franklin had previously stripped the long-standing political society from federal patronage.  Tammany Hall’s 140-year influence over the city had begun to wane in the 1930’s, with the election of Republican Mayor Fiorello La Guardia on a Fusion ticket.  The 1953 DeSapio-Wagner alliance resulted in a brief resurgence of machine politics in the 1950’s.

Mayor Wagner, a Yale graduate and Scroll and Key member, was born in Manhattan in 1910, the son of U. S. Senator Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Sr.  During his tenure in Gotham he was instrumental in building public housing and schools, creating the City University of New York system, establishing the right of collective bargaining for city employees, and barring housing discrimination based on race, creed or color.  He is said to be the first mayor to pro-actively hire a significant number of people of color into city government positions.  The city’s performing arts jewel, the Lincoln Center, was developed while Wagner was in office.  The Public Theater’s New York Shakespeare Festival (now known as Shakespeare in the Park) also took shape during his tenure.  His administration’s inaction led to the out-of-town migration of the Giants and Dodgers baseball teams, although a subsequent commission he formed led to the birth of the New York Mets.

Wagner broke with DeSapio and Tammany Hall during his third-term mayoral campaign in 1961.  His victory set a milestone in New York City, and local machine politics thereafter entered a decline.