The World’s First Webcam Was Invented to Watch a Coffee Pot
Coffee fuels our day, our creativity, our workouts, and apparently it's also the reason to why we can all work remotely these days.
Invented in 1991, at the University of Cambridge, the webcam wasn't created so we could all work remotely, but actually made to save the potentially disappointing trip to an empty coffee pot.
Academics and researchers at the University of Cambridge spent countless hours tirelessly working on new projects, ideas, and concepts. Their saving grace? A trusty cup (or two) of coffee.
According to Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser, “One of the things that's very, very important in computer science research is a regular and dependable flow of caffeine.” However, as with all good things, an obstacle usually stands in our way. And, with the case for the University of Cambridge researchers, that obstacle could be as much as 6 stories.
The building in which the researchers and academics worked featured only a single coffee machine in a 7-story building. With numerous departments, the 6-cup pot of coffee was rarely full for long. Now, just imagine experiencing your afternoon coffee crash, walking 5 or 6 stories greatly anticipating more fuel, and finding the coffee pot empty. Devastating, we know. That is exactly why, in 1991, Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser and Paul Jardetsky invented the world’s first webcam.
In order to achieve this, Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser and Paul Jardetsky set up a camera to take 129x129 sized pictures of the coffee pot three times a minute. Additionally, they also set up software that would allow researchers and students in the building to access the pictures from their internal network. And voila, this seemingly simple solution, at the time, saved countless researchers from a disappointing walk to an empty coffee pot.
While this simple invention may seem trivial compared to the webcam technology today, it was certainly mindboggling and groundbreaking during the early ’90s. This turned out to go, as we say in the 21st century, “viral.”
In 1993, when the internet started to become commonplace, the researchers uploaded this feed on to the worldwide web. Whatever the reason, be it a novelty, an interest in technology, or a shared love for coffee, millions of fans found their way on to the website. As Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser said, "It didn't vary very much. It was either an empty coffee pot, or a full one, or in more exciting moments, maybe a half-full coffee pot and then you'd have to try and guess if it was going up or down." This didn’t stop the inflow of widespread views, visits, and requests.
Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser would often get emails requesting a light be left overnight so viewers in different timezones could watch. The news of the world’s first webcam reached internationally as the invention was featured throughout news stations as far as Japan. The coffee pot was even featured on BBC multiple times, on the news in 1993 and on their most popular soap opera, the Archers. As the Dr. said, “I think we were all a little bewildered by it all to be honest. I sometimes think nothing else I'm ever involved in again in my life will get this much coverage and it was just one afternoon's crazy idea.”
Unfortunately, 10 years later, scientists and researchers found the project to be increasingly difficult to maintain. After all, the system was built with an old camera and an old extra computer. Despite the million cries of protests from fans, the scientists finally shut the coffee pot and the webcam down. The last image available was of someone clicking the “off button.”
Surprisingly, or maybe not so, the coffee pot was sold over the internet for $5,000 to the German Magazine, Der Spiegal, to be refurbished and renovated.
So, Since We’ve Been Talking About History, How About The History Of Coffee?
Perhaps throughout your entire life, coffee has had to have some sort of impact. Whether it was your parents, school teachers, or favorite television characters, coffee has definitely shown its beautiful energizing face in the form of a cup, thermos, or tumbler. This may get you wondering: how was coffee first discovered? Well, according to the National Coffee Association, legends entail a goat herder.
Being traced back to the Ethiopian plateau, the goat herder, Kaldi, saw that his goats became energized and refused to sleep after they ate a certain berry. Kaldi, curious about this strange berry, created a drink out of it. As expected, Kaldi found himself more alert and focused during evening prayer. He then reported his findings to the local monastery, where word of these energizing berries traveled across the world.
Eventually, word of these berries reached the Arabian Peninsula and, by the 15th century, coffee was being grown in Arabia. By the 16th century, word spread even further and coffee began to grow in Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Persia.
The First Coffee Houses
According to the National Coffee Association, when the coffee trade reached the Arabian Peninsula, it began to be enjoyed both in homes and in public coffee houses known as qahveh khaneh. Similar to coffee houses today, these coffee houses were a hub for social activity. Whether it be music, updating oneself on current events, or chess, coffee houses became so popular that they were dubbed “Schools of the Wise.”
The First Instant Coffee
While coffee became a popular widespread phenomenon, instant coffee didn’t become popular until much later. In fact, the actual origins of instant coffee are unclear. According to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, the first instant coffee was invented in England by John Dring in 1771. Although the invention was documented as “coffee compound,” it was unclear how effective the product was. Furthermore, it was also unclear on how it was made.