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This Week in Tech History: Birth of Netflix

Telephone operators become more “polite”, The US-Russian Hotline goes into operation, and a company is formed that not only changes the movie watching habits of millions, but disrupts an entire industry… It all happened This Week in Tech History.



This week in 1878 – Emma Nutt became the world’s first female telephone operator when she is recruited by Alexander Graham Bell to the Boston Telephone Dispatch Company. Before her, telephone operators were typically teenage boys. Many of them were seen as “rude” by phone customers, so women were chosen for their more refined demeanor.


1963 – The hotline communications link between Washington and Moscow went into operation. The purpose of the link-up was to prevent the risk of accidental nuclear war. The U.S. end of the hotline was installed in the Pentagon; the Soviet end was in the Kremlin. Contrary to popular belief, these were not red phones. Teletype machines were used at each end of the 10,000 mile circuit. A tape encryption system was used to keep the messages secure and the hotline was active 24 hours a day.

1976 – The unmanned U.S. spacecraft Viking 2 landed on Mars to take the first close-up, color photographs of the planet’s surface. Viking 2 landed not too long after its predecessor, Viking 1. Both were part of NASA’s mission to search for life on the red planet. While neither spacecraft found traces of life, they did find all the elements essential to life on Earth: carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen and phosphorus.

And this week in 1997 – Netflix was founded as the world’s first online DVD-rental store, with only 30 employees and 925 titles available—almost the entire catalogue of DVDs at the time. They initially used the pay-per-rent model, with rates and due dates similar to those of its brick-and-mortar competitor, Blockbuster. And speaking of Blockbuster, in 2000, Netflix offered to sell themselves to Blockbuster for $50 Million. The proposal called for Netflix to be renamed to Blockbuster.com and handle the online business and Blockbuster would take care of the DVDs. Blockbuster basically laughed them out of the conference room.

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Written by Chris Graveline

Chris has covered consumer technology for over 20 years. He is the host of This Week in Tech History as well as a regular co-host on "Into Tomorrow with Dave Graveline" and our Technical Director.

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