This Day in History (25-Sep-1906) – The First Remote Control Is Demonstrated

Torres Quevedo became interested in science and technology from an early age.  In 1887 at the age of 35, he received his first patent—for a small funicular (transbordador). The most famous funiculars is the Whirlpool Aero Car over the Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada, installed in 1916 is still working at present without having any problem. Fascinated by aeronautics, he built an ultra light dirigible bolstered with a frame of flexible cables for rigidity. He needed a way to test his dirigibles without risking pilots’ lives. The solution turned out to be a radio controller. Lacking funds, Torres Quevedo first built a radio control for a tricycle. He created codes from the signals generated by a telegraph transmitter. He then built a receiver to read and respond to the signals, moving the tricycle forward or backward, or turning it. He called it the telekino. Telekino is the precursor to the modern-day TV clicker, key fob, and video game controller or the remote control.

Torres Quevedo presented the telekino at the Paris Academy of Science in 1903. He also applied for and obtained a patent in France, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States. On 25th September1906, in the presence of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and a crowd of awed spectators, Torres Quevedo successfully demonstrated the telekino in the port of Bilbao, where he controlled a vessel with eight people aboard, from a distance of two kilometres. Recognising the potential of his invention, Torres Quevedo then sought funds from the Spanish government to develop the device to control dirigibles as well as underwater torpedoes, both his inventions. He was denied the funds and ultimately abandoned his work on the telekino.

In 1911 Torres made and successfully demonstrated a chess-playing automaton for the end game of king and rook against king. This chess automaton was fully automatic, with electrical sensing of the pieces on the board and what was in effect a mechanical arm to move its own pieces. In 1916 King Alfonso XIII bestowed the Academy of Science’s Echegaray Medal upon him. In 1920 Torres demonstrated a second chess automaton, which used magnets underneath the board to move the pieces. A number of his other inventions, still exist and are still operational.



This Day in History (5-Sep-1945) – The Gouzenko Affair Ushers in the Cold War

Four months after the world had celebrated the Allied victory in Europe, a wire clerk Igor Gouzenko based at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, Canada decided he could not bear the thought of returning to his homeland.  Gouzenko made the drastic decision to claim asylum in Canada and inform the government about the scope of Soviet spying in North America. Leaving the embassy with several top-secret documents hidden under his coat, he headed to members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Incredulous, the Mounties dismissed the former Soviet code man, leaving him to turn first to the editor of the Ottawa Journal (who also found it too difficult too believe) and then the Department of Justice, only to find no one available to hear his story.

Terrified for what may happen to his family once his bosses found out, Gouzenko rushed home to shuttled his wife and children across the hall into the neighbor’s apartment. Late at night, Soviet agents kicked down the door of his home and began searching his belongings. Horrified, Gouzenko watched through the peephole as his former colleagues ransacked his home until Ottawa police arrived on the scene. The next morning, Gouzenko tried the Mounties again and met with success this time. Transported to a secret location outside the city, he sat with officials from MI5 representing British and Canadian interests, as well as officers from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. Since diplomatic relations between Canada and USSR were very good at the time, the operation was kept under secret. The Canadian prime minister, Mackenzie King, signed a top-secret Order-in-Council (PC6444) passed under the authority of the War Measures Act. The order directed Minister of Justice Louis St. Laurent (a future prime minister) to use whatever means were necessary to investigate Gouzenko’s claim. Under the War Measures Act, the minister of justice had unlimited powers over the “arrest, detention and deportation”.

Authorities in Canada were able to convict 18 of 39 suspected double agents of treason, including one Member of Parliament. Living under an assumed name for the rest of his life, Gouzenko had accelerated new age of suspicion and competition between the West and Soviet Union that would last for nearly five decades.