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Facts

Railroad companies standardized time in 1883 and carved America into the four time zones still used to this day. Until then, local "sun" time had been used as people traveled from place to place, but the railroads needed a uniform clock to create consistent departure and arrival schedules. U.S. standard time immediately preceded the establishment of an international standard time agreement that took place the next year at the White House. There, in 1884, nineteen nations met and agreed to establish the prime meridian, or zero degree longitude by which all other longitudes are measured, at Greenwich, England.17

America's first telephone operators were boys and had a reputation for being rude, impatient, and profane—to each other and to customers. The young women who were brought in to replace them were not only more polite and less given to swearing, they were also supposedly faster. So began one of the first professions to bring women into the workplace in significant numbers.18

Later in the afternoon of the same day in February, 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell filed his U.S. patent for the telephone, another inventor, Elisha Gray, attempted to file a U.S. telephone patent. Gray was a few hours too late, but his attempt has been taken to mean that Bell was not alone in his research of the technology.19

George Eastman coined the word "Kodak" as a name for his inexpensive and easy to use roll camera. He believed that brand names should have no association or definition other than that of the product itself. Kodak, he thought, was easy to remember and hard to misspell.20

After Thomas Edison's first patented invention—an electric vote counting system he developed at age 21—failed to attract interest, he vowed never again to invent something without first finding a market for it.21

The first recording of the human voice was Thomas Edison reciting "Mary Had a Little Lamb."22

Thomas Edison's battle with Westinghouse to decide the supremacy of AC or DC current in the 1890s included some of the more bizarre episodes in the history of technology. Edison's company conducted a public campaign to play up the danger of AC electricity, which retained much greater power when transmitted over long distance at high voltage. The campaign culminated with Edison's staff arranging for the first execution by electric chair (of a convicted axe murderer at the prison in Auburn, New York in 1890) to use a Westinghouse AC generator.23

Weirder still, in January of 1903, Edison agreed to electrocute (with alternating current, of course) a six-ton Indian elephant named Topsy that had killed three trainers—the last of which was reportedly drunk and fed the animal a lit cigarette—in as many years. In what the New York Times dubbed a "rather inglorious affair," the animal was shocked to death at Coney Island, the famed New York amusement park, before a crowd of 1,500 onlookers.24

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