News and activities at Norma Marion Alloway Library, Trinity Western University
July 25, 2013
On this computer the first ever ebook was created
Xerox Sigma V – Michael Hart typed on it the text of the Declaration of Independence / photo via Edie Bresler
In 1971, Michael Stern Hart, passionate technologist and futurist, was given access to extensive computer time on the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the University of Illinois. He didn’t want to waste the time, and started to think of what to do with it. In an interview in 2002 he explained:
We were just coming up on the American Bicentennial and they put faux parchment historical documents in with the groceries. So, as I fumbled through my backpack for something to eat, I found the US Declaration of Independence and had a lightbulb moment.
This was it. Inspired by a free printed copy of the Declaration of Independence he decided to type the text into a computer. He did it on July 4, 1971. He made the file available to other users of the computer network, with an annotation that it was free to use and distribute.
It was the beginning of the legendary Project Gutenberg, the first project to make books freely available in digital format. Most of the books created in the first twenty years Michael Hart typed himself. By 1993 there were 100 books in the Project Gutenberg. Now the catalog offers 43,000 titles, all in the fashion started by Michael Hart – created voluntarily and free to use by every internet user.
I found the photo of Xerox Sigma V on Edie Bresler’s blog. The computer was produced by Scientific Data Systems (SDS) in 1967, costed $300,000 and initially had a memory size of 16K. You can see it in real at the Computer History Museum, where it was donated in 2002 by Carnegie Mellon University.
And if you ask what happened with the first ebook in the world – it’s there, Project Gutenberg’s ebook #1, available for download right now: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1.