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Bytes of History

A peek at special items that tell the story of technological innovations

 

By Kristen J. Nyitray, Contributing Editor

In this issue, “Rare Treasures” spotlights unique items from Special Collections that document technological innovations and advances over time. The library’s research collections include illustrations, manuscripts, technical drawings, schematics, and books on diverse technologies. These materials offer insights into the design, comprehension, and utilization of new tools and systems across different historical periods, and provide opportunities to study their societal and cultural impacts. For more information, visit the Special Collections website.  

New York World’s Fair, 1939-40

GUIDE BOOK

Frank Monaghan, Official Guide Book of the New York World’s Fair, 1939 (New York: Exposition Publications; 1939).

“The eyes of the Fair are on the future — not in the sense of peering into the unknown and predicting the shape of things a century hence — but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow.” This bold statement made in the “Official Guide Book of the New York World’s Fair, 1939” set the tone for the international exhibition held in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, New York City. The theme “The World of Tomorrow” centered ideas of modernity, progress, and innovation, reflecting the dynamism of the pre-World War II era, with an emphasis on futuristic innovations such as television, air conditioning, and early computing devices. It underscored the optimism surrounding technological progress and its potential to shape the future. Exhibits and demonstrations offered glimpses into the possibilities of automation, transportation, and communication, shaping public perceptions of technology’s role in society. 

The 1939-40 guidebook contains detailed information about the fair’s numerous pavilions and exhibits from various countries, states, corporations, and organizations. These pavilions showcased the latest technological innovations, cultural displays, and industrial achievements. Notable exhibits included General Motors’ “Futurama,” which presented a vision of future cities and transportation, and the Westinghouse Time Capsule, intended to preserve artifacts for future generations. 

 

Video and Computer Gaming

Usborne Guide to Computer and Video Games

Ian Graham, Usborne Guide to Computer and Video Games (Tulsa, Okla.: Hayes Books; 1982).

The history of video and computer games is a narrative with roots on 1950s Long Island and has become a multi-billion dollar industry today. Archives play a pivotal role in documenting this evolution, capturing the technological advancements, cultural shifts, and innovative designs that have shaped gaming over the decades. Early experiments in gaming emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, with projects like William Higinbotham’s showcasing the potential of electronic entertainment. 

After reading an instruction manual that accompanied a Systron-Donner analog computer, Higinbotham was inspired to design “Tennis for Two,” the first computer game to display motion and allow interactive control with handheld controllers. It was also the first game to be played by the general public—in this instance, attendees of a visitors’ day at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in 1958. While the game was not commercially released and remained a relatively obscure footnote in gaming history for many years, it is now recognized as a pioneering example of early game technology. It predates the more widely known “Pong” by nearly two decades and serves as a testament to the creative potential of scientists and engineers. Special Collections contributed to preserving the legacy of the game in the short documentary When Games Went Click.

The 1970s witnessed the rise of arcade gaming captivated audiences in arcades worldwide. The introduction of home consoles in the 1980s, such as the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), brought gaming into households on a massive scale. The personal computer emerged as a prominent gaming platform in the 1980s and 1990s. The transition to 3D graphics and CD-ROM technology in the 1990s enabled more immersive gaming experiences. 

The contemporary gaming scene is in a constant state of evolution, as breakthroughs in virtual reality, augmented reality, mobile gaming, and esports continually redefine the boundaries of the industry.

 

AIDC 100 Archive

Omni-Directional Scanner

LS9100 Omni-Directional Scanner, Symbol Technologies, 1994. From the Paul Bergė Collection.

Bar codes, smart cards, radio frequency identification (RFID), biometrics, and magnetic stripe are technologies that encompass the rapidly evolving science and industry of Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC). This field of high technology uses advances in scanning and computer processes to capture information quickly and accurately in an automated manner. AIDC technology is ubiquitous, from driver’s licenses to credit cards, and it revolutionized the way we live.

But who is recording the history and documenting the work of the scientists, businesses, and organizations that developed these technologies? That was the concern of George and Teddy Goldberg when they approached Stony Brook University in the late 1990s about establishing an archive on this theme. As pioneers in the field of AIDC and publishers of one of the industry’s first trade publications, the couple wanted to ensure that the history of AIDC would be documented and preserved.

Stony Brook University Libraries understood the need to collect, catalog, and make this unique history accessible. In 2000, it established an archive for AIDC and is one of only a few institutions in the United States that has acquired materials pertaining to this data capture technological field. The archive comprises personal papers of leaders in the industry, trade publications, journals, books, and artifacts. Among the formats represented in the archive are print, audio-visual, and hardware. Special Collections has digitized the original and international editions of SCAN Newsletter founded by George and Teddy Goldberg, and the issues are freely available online. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristen J. Nyitray is Associate Librarian, Director of Special Collections and University Archives, and University Archivist at Stony Brook University. A Certified Archivist (Academy of Certified Archivists), she is recipient of the Chancellor’s Award (SUNY) and the President’s Award (SBU) for Excellence in Librarianship. Her current scholarship focuses on Indigenous histories and representations in archival sources. Among her publications are the books Stony Brook: State University of New York and Long Island Beaches