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The Surprisingly Ancient History (When It Comes to Computers) of the Touchscreen

December 27, 2012

There’s a keystone in every great invention

Once upon a time, believe it or not, there was a land before Apple, Inc. and iPads, iPhones, Androids and Kindles. In that age, there was a man – a scientist – from Kentucky – named Dr. Samuel C. Hurst. While, teaching computer science at the University of Kentucky in 1971, Dr. Hurst found himself facing a difficult problem, he and his students had to sift through huge piles of data from manual charts. Man using iPhone and tabletRealizing that the pile of data that needed to be configured would require at least two months’ worth (a conservative estimate) of reading time, Dr. Hurst decided to be pro-active about it, inventing an “exit” where once there was only a dead-end. He invented what hundreds of millions of people around the world today are probably using this very moment: the touchscreen.

There’s a little-known story from Hurst’s childhood about his math teacher, Charlie Taylor, who saw Hurst’s brilliance, and strongly encouraged his pursuit of science. Hurst would spend evenings on the porch of Mr. Taylor’s home, discussing the finer points of star chemistry. Before Hurst could make it over to Taylor’s porch, an obstacle always presented itself: namely, the Cumberland River, which flowed between Hurst’s house on one bank and his teacher’s house. Rather than travel a mile on foot, cross over a footbridge, and then wheel back on the other side of the river, Hurst simply chose to wade across the Cumberland River, allowing him that much more time for scientific reflection with his teacher. His solution was to make it simple, even if it meant getting wet in the process. It seems far-fetched that two month’s worth of spreadsheet data could have kindled the very screens that make us all love the Kindle, the Blackberry, or the Android. And yet it did. Perhaps, if it weren’t for Hurst’s first step into that river as a child, we might not have touchscreen technology as we know it. Whether it was wading through the Cumberland River or finding a way to quickly wade through vast flows of computer data, iPhoneit’s those small things make the big things come to life.

As this holiday shopping season reaches its full swing, many will purchase one or more of these devices that have one of Dr. Hurst’s touchscreens embedded in it. At Keystone, we make a wide variety of the components that go into a touchscreen phone, computer, or tablet. To name just a few of these, we manufacture minute components like USB plugs and sockets, coin cell battery retainers and holders, surface mount test points. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.