Tips & more

50 years of ebooks – an illustrated history

Let’s celebrate the 50th anniversary of ebooks. The world’s first ebook was created and shared by Michael S. Hart on July 4, 1971.

From the reader’s point of view, ebooks are as old as the first experience.

For me, they were born in 2009, when I bought my first iPhone and downloaded a Stanza book reading app. This single moment defined me. I skipped a job in advertising and devoted my time and energy to ebooks.

But ebooks are with us longer than for ten or fifty years. Concept reading machines were already invented in the first half of the 20th century.

Below, you will find an illustrated timeline with the most important and most interesting facts from the history of ebooks and e-readers. Feel free to share them with your friends and followers, if you wish to join me in celebrating the 50th anniversary of ebooks.

For more detailed information, plus facts and milestones from the history of audiobooks, make sure to visit the original list on Ebook Friendly.

50 years of ebooks – an illustrated timeline

1920s – Fiske’s reading machine is developed

Fiske reading machine 1920s - predecessors of e-readers - 50 years of ebooks

This portable reading device is invented and developed by Bradley Allen Fiske. It is designed to read printed texts miniaturized to fit 6×2 inch cards. Fiske manages to fit the first volume of Mark Twain’s Innocent Abroad on 13 cards. ⇢ More info.

1949 – Enciclopedia Mecánica is patented

Enciclopedia Mechanica 1949 predecessor of e-readers - 50 years of ebooks

Invented by a Spanish writer and teacher Ángela Ruiz Robles, this incredible device is operated through using pressurized air. The user could add different spools containing the preloaded content.  ⇢ More info.

1971 – the world’s first ebook is created

First ebook in the world 1971 - 50 years of ebooks

On July 4, 1971, Michael Stern Hart types the text of the Declaration of Independence on Xerox Sigma V computer at the University of Illinois and shares the file with other users of the computer network. ⇢ More info.

1986 – the first electronic spell checker is launched

Franklin Spelling Ace first electronic spell checker 1986 - 50 years of ebooks

Franklin Spelling Ace SA-88 sell at $89. The device could check 80,000 American English words provided by Merriam Webster; the algorithm considers both typographical and phonetic misspelling. The device is a huge commercial success. By the end of 1988, the company sells more than 1 million units. ⇢ More info.

1990 – the first commercially available ebook reader is launched

Sony Data Discman 1990 first ebook reader - 50 years of ebooks

Sony Data Discman is launched in Japan in July 1990. It comes with a 2.8-inch grayscale LCD screen mounted in the upper lid, and supports a special “Electronic Book” format. A year later, the device is launched in the US for $600, bundled with three electronic books, including Compton’s Concise Encyclopedia. ⇢ More info.

1992 – the first digital books available on floppy disks

First books on floppy disks 1992 Expanded Books Voyager - 50 years of ebooks

The ebooks are called “Expanded Books” and are sold by the Voyage Company. The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is among them. Expanded Books offer search, navigation, bookmarks (called “dog-ear”), annotations and copy features, as well as font styling. ⇢ More info.

1997 – the world’s first audiobook player is launched by Audible

First audiobook player 1997 Audible - 50 years of ebooks

Audible MobilePlayer costs $199 and can be only purchased online or over the phone. The device is capable of playing up to two hours of audio content, but users could refill longer books “at a touch of a button.” ⇢ More info.

2000 – the world’s first mass-market ebook is released

First mass-market ebook 2000 Stephen King - 50 years of ebooks

Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet novella is released in March 2000 by Simon & Schuster, and available for download in pdf format at $2.50. 400,000 copies are being downloaded in just 24 hours, causing servers to jam. ⇢ More info.

2004 – the first e-reader using E-Ink screen is launched

Sony Librie first e-reader with E-Ink screen 2004 - 50 years of ebooks

Sony LIBRIé is launched in April 2004 in Japan. It features a 6-inch display with 4 levels of gray (SVGA, 800×600 px, 170 ppi) and a physical keyboard with a row of function buttons. It’s powered by four AAA batteries, which are sufficient to read approximately forty 250-page books. ⇢ More info.

2007 – the first-generation Kindle is launched

1st-generation Kindle 2007 - 50 years of ebooks

The first-ever Kindle costs $399 and is equipped with the 6-inch grayscale E-Ink display and 250 MB of internal storage, which could hold approximately hold 200 non-illustrated ebooks. Due to the heavy customer demand, the Kindle is sold out within 5.5 hours of its release. ⇢ More info.

2008 – the world’s first digital bookmobile starts operating

Digital Bookmobile first mobile library for ebooks 2008 - 50 years of ebooks

Operated by OverDrive, the first all-ebook mobile library starts in New York’s Central Park in August 2008. In the first 10 years, it is visited by 225,000 readers of all ages, travels over 200,000 miles across North America, and co-organizes 900 events. ⇢ More info.

2008 – iPhone book app Stanza downloaded more than 2 million times

Stanza book app for iPhone 2008 - 50 years of ebooks

The same year Steve Jobs says that people don’t read anymore, Lexcycle’s Stanza book app for iPhone and iPod Touch becomes one of the most popular in the App Store. Within a year, it is being downloaded over 2 million times, and its users download more than 12 million ebooks. ⇢ More info.

2010 – the first author sells more one million ebooks

James Patterson first author one million ebooks 2010 - 50 years of ebooks

In July 2010, Hachette Book Group reveals that James Patterson, the author of the popular Alex Cross and Women’s Murder Club series, has sold 1,141,273 ebooks and becomes the first one to cross the one million mark. ⇢ More info.

2011 – Amanda Hocking self-publishing success story

Amanda Hocking earns 2 million dollars self-publishing 2011 - 50 years of ebooks

In April 2010, Amanda Hocking started publishing her novels in the Kindle Store. In less than a year she sells over 900 thousand copies of her nine novels, priced between $0.99 and $2.99. It’s estimated that she has earned more than $2 million by January 2011. ⇢ More info.

2013 – the first all-digital public library opens in Texas

BiblioTech first all-ebook public library 2013 - 50 years of ebooks

Located in Bexar County, BiblioTech library is designed to bridge literacy and technology gaps in the surrounding area. It is equipped with 45 iPads, 40 laptops, 48 desktop computers, and 800 e-readers. ⇢ More info.

Via Ebook Friendly.

• • •

We removed a comment system to increase your privacy and reduce distractions. If you’d like to discuss this article, we are waiting for you on Twitter and Facebook. For instant updates, make sure to add us to Google News or subscribe to RSS feed.

Keep exploring. Here are the latest posts:

Automatic Dark Mode doesn’t work on your Mac? Here is what to do
– October 18, 2021

Is a Faraday cage sleeve for MacBook worth it?
– October 18, 2021

The best Faraday bags for iPad and MacBook, available so far
– October 16, 2021

Kindle Paperwhite 6 – things I would love to see
– October 1, 2021

4 things Amazon didn’t tell about Kindle Paperwhite 2021
– September 30, 2021