Dr T. Matthew Ciolek,
Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies,
Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia
Document created: 9 Jan 1999. Last updated: 10 Jun 2005
This document, intended as a reliable electronic reference tool,
provides a timeline for three types of developments and milestones:
(1) advances in long distance person-to-person communication;
(2) advances in storage, replication, cataloguing, finding, and retrieval of data;
(3) standardisation of concepts and tools for long distance interaction.
The advancements may have a:
T echnical (hardware),
C onceptual (software),
or an O rganisational aspect,
or represent an important M ilestone in the history of a given invention,
and are annotated as such in the timeline.
This document is only as good as the collated information itself. Please email any additional
data and corrections to email@example.com. Your
collaboration and input is warmly appreciated.
work in progress - tmc
- [M] A 142,000 km strong network of long-distance trade routes spans the seas (a total of 69,000 km) and lands (a total of 73,000 km) of Eurasia and Africa (reanalysis of Sherratt 2003 data in Ciolek, forthcoming).
- [T] Sometime between 1041 and 1048 Bi Sheng, an obscure commoner
in China, invents movable (made from fired clay) type (Han 1999, PWN 1965b:258).
- [T] Collection of Buddhist Scriptures, the Tripitaka, was printed in Korea using movable metal fonts (Knops 1998).
- [M] Genghis Khan devises a system of relay messengers, who
criscross his Mongol empire often covering as much as 160 km in a day.
Postal stations, sited some 40km apart, are established on all the major
roads. There the messengers, mounted on sturdy ponies, and with "bells
on their saddles announcing their arrival, could collect food and
change horses. [...] Genghis Khan's organization comprised more than
250,000 ponies and some 10,000 stations." [= the communication network
provided 25 ponies per relay station and covered some 400,000 kms of
roads - tmc] (Livesey 1987:34).
- [M] The Arab pigeon-post system is adopted by the Turks.
Sultan Baybars, ruler of Egypt and Syria
(AD 1266-1277), establishes a well-organized pigeon post throughout
his domains. Royal pigeons have a distinguishing mark, and only
the Sultan is allowed to touch them. Training pigeons for postal work
becames a lucrative industry, as a pair of well-trained birds can
bring up to a thousand gold pieces (James and Thorpe 1994:526,
cited in Sterling & Kadrey 1999, note 04.1).
- [C] Watermarking invented at one of the Fabriano papermills
in Tuscany, near Assisi, Italy (Knops 1998).
- [M] To facilitate communication across Lebanon, the Mameluks "used beacon fires, horses and carrier pigeons. Soldiers kept watch of the coast from towers called burj." (Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church, 1998)
- [M] Arabic numerals (Indian, gubari format) replace throughout Europe
cumbersome Roman numerals
1313 - [M] Wang Chen, in China, develops new printing techniques and has over
60,000 Chinese characters made from hardwood at his disposal;
using these, he prints his Treatise of agriculture (Han 1999).
- [T] The first public striking clock erected in Milan, Italy (Tarnas 1991:452).
- [M] Private postal service introduced by (by decree
of king Casimir The Great of Poland) between universities of Cracow, Padua,
Rome, Florence, Siena, Pisa and Paris (PWN 1966b:771).
- T Silverpoint reaches the height of its
popularity in Europe. A small, sharpened silver rod (acting like a
hard pencil) is used for drawing on paper coated with a chalky, pale
pigment. It produces a hard, clear, unerasable silver line.
The tool is favored by such artists as Albrecht Durer, Jan and
Hubert van Eyck, Hans Memling, and Leonardo da Vinci (Grolier 1993).
- [O] Timur (c.1336-1405) conquers Iraq. Mongols in order to control
the flow of political and military information, try to eradicate
the pigeon post along with the rest of the Islamic communications
(James and Thorpe 1994:526, cited in Sterling & Kadrey 1999, note
- [T] Oldest known European specimen of a woodcut (Knops 1998).
- [M] The first xylographic books, or block books produced in Germany and Holland (Knops 1998).
- [T] Johannes Gutenberg (1399-1468) publishes in Mainz,
Germany the Latin edition of The Bible, first book in Europe
published by the means of a movable metal font, oil-based ink,
rag-paper and press (Van Doren 1991:153-154). The press enables
production rate of some 250-300 sheets per day (Georges 1992:106).
 Each of the printed Bibles provided information which
previously required parchment from skins of over 200 sheep (Manguel
1996:135). The complete set of Gutenberg's initial printing code comprised almost 300 different
types, mainly to imitate handwriting (Apps 1995).
- [T] The first book, the Mainz Psalter, printed using coloured ink (Knops 1998).
- [C] The first colophon that was printed in moveable type appears. It mentions the book
title and the names of the printers (App 1995).
1461 - [T] The first book, Der Edelstein, printed with woodcut illustrations (Knops 1998).
1465 - [T] The first book printed with drypoint illustrations (Knops 1998).
- [O] Government postal service introduced in France by decree
of Louis XI (1423-1483) (PWN 1965b:647). The king also introduced postal service for private
letters (Thomas 1995:387).
1498 - [T] Movable type to represent music notes invented by Ottaviano Petrucci of Venice (Knops 1998).
- [M] A 172,000 km strong network of long-distance trade routes spans the seas (a total of 104,000 km) and lands (a total of 68,000 km) of Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas (reanalysis of Sherratt 2003 data in Ciolek, forthcoming). An almost-global system of sea and land trade routes linking economies from the Atlantic coast of the Americas, through Africa and Europe right to the Pacific coasts of Asia is established for the first time.
-  By year 1500 estimated 30,000 titles were printed (250-1000 copies each)
since Gutenberg's first printed book in 1455 (Manguel 1996:134).
[T] The first portable clock, produced by P. Heinlein. Other
sources suggest that it was achieved in 1518 by a Frenchman, Julien
Couldray (PWN 1969:685).
- [M] Public postal service introduced by Francesco Taxis (by decree
of the emperor Maximilian I) between Vienna and Brussels (PWN
- [C] Title pages (meta-data) are used in printed books (PWN 1965b:258).
- [C] Francois I decrees standard paper sizes for books in France. Anyone breaking this rule
is punished by prison (Manguel 1996:127).
- [M] The first printing press in the New World, Mexico City, Mexico. In 1638 the press
was established in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Manguel 1996:134).
- [M] Public postal service introduced by Prosper Prowan (by decree
of king Zygmunt August of Poland) between Cracow and Venice (PWN
- [T] Graphite sticks (from Borrowdale mine in Cumbria), held in wooden cases are used as pencils
(Sanford Berol nd.b).
- [C] Page numbers are provided for books, by Gerald Plunket (App 1995).
- [C] Abraham Ortel's first popular world atlas, Theatrum Orvis Terrarum
published in Antwerp
1582 Oct 15
- [C] Pope Gregory XIII implements the reform of Julian calendar. This reform was
foreshadowed 21 Mar 1582 by the papal bull (PWN 1965:377-379).
- [C] The first newspaper printed (App 1995).
ca. 1600s -
[T] The first clock showing minutes and seconds, built by Jost Bürgi (1552-1632), in Switzerland (PWN 1963:710).
- [T] Hans Lippershey in Holland combines two lenses into a telescope.
Towards the end of 1609 Galileo Galilei, in Padua, Italy refines the
Dutch invention and builds a 20-power telescope that enabled him to
see the lunar surface, the stars of the Milky Way, and
previously unnoted satellites revolving around Jupiter (Grolier 1993)
- [M] The first printing press of the Ottoman empire built in Lebanon. It operated in the Monastery of Qozhaya, in the Kadisha valley. It used "Syriac" characters, of the language close to Aramaic (Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church, 1998)
- [M] Parcel post in France (Thomas 1995:387).
- [C] Louis Moreriego publishes in France Grand dictionnaire historique,
first alphabetically ordered dictionary
- [C] The British Parliament enacts the Statute of Anne.
For the first time legal protection is given to consumers of
copyrighted works by limiting the rights granted to the
bookselllers to print, publish, and sell) so that they do not
control the use of the work. The statute also made provisions for
an author's copyright. Since 1710, the copyright laws have been
repeatedly modified to broaden their coverage, to redefine the
term of a copyright itself, and to account for the arrival of new
technologies (Brennan 1998).
- [M] The Spectator in London is selling 2,000 copies a day (Thomas 1995:396).
- [M] Paper production in England totals 2.5 mln tons
- [T] John Harrison of London, England, builds the first accurate
sea-clock, the H-1. The timepiece, which enables precise and fast determination of
the longitude, weighs 75 pounds and is housed in a glazed cabinet 4
feet in every dimension. The clock undergoes succesful sea-trials in May and June 1736 (Sobel 1996:78-81).
- [M] The Gentleman's Magazine in London is selling 10,000 copies a day (Thomas 1995:396)
- [C] Mathematical symbols used in Leonhard Euler's (1707-1783) textbook
Introductio in analysis infinitorum provide the basis for standard mathematical notation
- [T] Metal-nibbed pen invented. The invention is attributed variously to Johan Jantssen of Aachen, Germany;
to Peregrine Williamson of Boston, Nth. America; and to anonymous schoolmaster near Koenigsberg, E. Prussia (Georges 1992:115).
Standards of penmanship are apparently lowered.
1753 Feb 17
- [C] Charles Morrison, a surgeon of Greenstok, UK, in a letter to Scot's Magazine
proposes the use of an electric telegraph (Thomas 1995:389, Standage 1998:19).
1753 - [M] In England 7,000,000 newspapers are sold every
year, 20,000 copies a day (Thomas 1995:396)
- [T] John and William Harrison of London, England, build the
first portable chronometer, the H-4. The watch can tell the longitude
within 10 miles. The clock is succesfully tried during a sea voyages between November 1761
and January 1762 (Sobel 1996:117-125).
1770 Apr 15
- [T] Joseph Priestley, an English chemist, discovers that
India gum could be used to rub out lead pencil marks. The use of rubber (gum)
replaces bread as a common eraser (Silverman nd.).
- [M] King's portait engraved on paper money enables citizens
of Varennes to recognise and halt the fleeing monarch, King Louis XVI
- [O] Government fixed-route courier service (via a relay but
also using individual riders) for priority mail is created. Mail between
Paris and Berlin travels in 6 days or less (Elting 1997:107).
1793 Jul 12
- [T] Claude Chappe (?-23 Jan 1805) runs successful large scale experiment with a
fixed optical (3 towers with semaphores) telegraph on a 20 miles stretch
between Belleville, Ecouen, and Sant-Martin-du-Terte (Standage 1998:13).
- [T] Claude Chappe builds between Paris and Lille
(240 kms) fixed optical (15 towers with semaphores) network. The telegraph
in combination could generate 94 signal and 4 control codes.
Using a codebook and double-code transmission the system could dispatch
8,836 words and phrases (94x94).
system is put to practical military use on 15 August 1794, to report
the recapture of Lille from Austrians and Prussians within an hour of
the battle's end (Standage 1998:11-14). In favourable weather one sign
could be sent across that distance in 5 minutes, or at a speed of 2880
kms/hr (Elting 1997:104).
- [M] British optical telegraph, designed by George Murray, a clergyman and
amateur scientist, is built for the Admiralty. The system uses 6 wooden shutters which
generated the initial set of 64 signal and control codes. The line connects
London with ports of the south coast (Standage 1998:15).
- [T] Powder graphite mixed with clay and fired in a kiln
is used by Nicholas Jacques Conte, a French chemist and an officer in
Napoleon's army, to produce the modern pencil (Sanford Berol nd.b).
- [T] Francisco Salva connects with an experimental electric telegraph
royal palaces in Madrid and Aranjuez (ca. 40 kms) (Thomas 1995:389).
- [M] A second optical telegraph line is built in France. The line connects
Paris and Strasbourg. The Lille line is extended to Dunkirk (Standage 1998:14).
- [T] Lithography invented by Senefelder (Knops 1998).
1799 - [C] Meter, becomes a standard unit of measurement in France (PWN 1966:235-236), and subsequently
in other European countries conquered or dominated by Napoleon.
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