A Fiber-Optic Chronology





By Jeff Hecht

Note: This chronology is adapted from the one that appears in my book City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics, published by Oxford University Press as part of the Sloan Technology Series.


Your questions and comments are welcome to [my first name][AT]jeffhecht.com. I have also posted a short narrative history

Circa 2500 B.C.: Earliest known glass

Roman Times: Glass is drawn into fibers

1713: Rene de Reaumur makes spun glass fibers

1790s: Claude Chappe invents 'optical telegraph' in France

1841: Daniel Colladon demonstrates light guiding in jet of water Geneva

1842: Jacques Babinet reports light guiding in water jets and bent glass rods Paris

1853: Paris Opera uses Colladon's water jet in the opera Faust

1854: John Tyndall demonstrates light guiding in water jets, duplicating but not acknowledging Colladon

1873: Jules de Brunfaut makes glass fibers that can be woven into cloth

1880: Alexander Graham Bell invents Photophone, Washington

1880: William Wheeler invents system of light pipes to illuminate homes from an electric arc lamp in basement, Concord, Mass.

1884: International Health Exhibition in South Kensington district of London has first fountains with illuminated water jets, designed by Sir Francis Bolton

1887: Charles Vernon Boys draws quartz fibers for mechanical measurements

1887: Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester has illuminated "Fairy Fountains" designed by W. and J. Galloway and Sons

1888: Illuminated fountains at Glasgow and Barcelona fairs

1888: Dr. Roth and Prof. Reuss of Vienna use bent glass rods to illuminate body cavities

1889: Universal Exhibition in Paris shows refined illuminated fountains designed by G. Bechmann

1892: Herman Hammesfahr shows glass dress at Chicago World's Fair

1895: Henry C. Saint-Rene designs a system of bent glass rods for guiding light in an early television scheme (Crezancy, France)

April 25, 1898: David D. Smith of Indianapolis applies for patent on bent glass rod as a surgical lamp

1920s: Bent glass rods used for microscope illumination

June 2, 1926: C. Francis Jenkins applies for U.S. patent on a mechanical television receiver in which light passes along quartz rods in a rotating drum to form an image.

Oct. 15, 1926: John Logie Baird applies for British patent on an array of parallel glass rods or hollow tubes to carry image in a mechanical television. He later built an array of hollow tubes.

December 30, 1926: Clarence W. Hansell outlines principles of the fiber-optic imaging bundle in his notebook at the RCA Rocky Point Laboratory on Long Island. RCA files for U.S. patent Aug. 13, 1927, and later files for British patent.

1930: Heinrich Lamm, a medical student, assembles first bundle of transparent fibers to carry an image (of an electric lamp filament) in Munich. His effort to file a patent is denied because of Hansell's British patent.

December 1931: Owens-Illinois devises method to mass-produce glass fibers for Fiberglas.

1937: Armand Lamesch of Germany applies for U.S. patent on two-layer glass fiber (non-optical)

1939: Curvlite Sales offers illuminated tongue depressor and dental illuminators made of Lucite, a transparent plastic invented by DuPont.

Circa 1949: Holger Moller Hansen in Denmark and Abraham C. S. Van Heel at the Technical University of Delft begin investigating image transmission through bundles of parallel glass fibers.

April 11, 1951: Holger Moller Hansen applies for a Danish patent on fiber-optic imaging in which he proposes cladding glass or plastic fibers with a transparent low-index material. Patent claim is denied because of Hansell patent.

October 1951: Brian O'Brien (University of Rochester) suggests to Abraham C. S. Van Heel (Technical University of Delft) that applying a transparent cladding would improve transmission of fibers in his imaging bundle.

July 1952: Harold Horace Hopkins applies for a grant from the Royal Society to develop bundles of glass fibers for use as an endoscope at Imperial College of Science and Technology. Hires Narinder S. Kapany as an assistant when he receives grant.

Spring 1953: Hopkins tell Fritz Zernicke his idea of fiber bundles; Zernicke tells van Heel, who decides to publish quickly

June 12, 1953: van Heel publishes first report of clad fiber in Dutch-language weekly De Ingeneur after submitting brief paper to Nature.

January 2, 1954: Hopkins and Kapany and van Heel publish separate papers in Nature. Hopkins and Kapany report imaging bundles of unclad fibers; van Heel reports simple bundles of clad fibers.

1954: Basil Hirschowitz visits Hopkins and Kapany in London from the University of Michigan

September 1954: American Optical hires Will Hicks to implement develop fiber-optic image scramblers, an idea O'Brien proposed to the Central Intelligence Agency

Summer 1955: Kapany completes doctoral thesis on fiber optics under Hopkins, moves to University of Rochester.

Summer 1955: Hirschowitz and C. Wilbur Peters hire undergraduate student Larry Curtiss to work on their fiber-optic endoscope project.

Summer 1956: Curtiss suggests making glass clad fibers by melting a tube onto a rod of higher-index glass

December 8, 1956: Curtiss makes first glass-clad fibers by rod-in-tube method.

February 1957: Hirschowitz is first to test fiber-optic endoscope in a patient.

1957: Image scrambler project ends after Hicks tells CIA the code is easy to break.

1958: Hicks, Paul Kiritsy and Chet Thompson leave American Optical to form Mosaic Fabrications in Southbridge, Mass., the first fiber-optics company.

1958: Alec Reeves begins investigating optical communications at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories

1959: Working with Hicks, American Optical draws fibers so fine they transmit only a single mode of light. Elias Snitzer recognizes the fibers as single-mode waveguides.

May 16, 1960: Theodore Maiman demonstrates first laser at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu.

December 1960: Ali Javan makes first helium-neon laser at Bell Labs, the first laser to emit a steady beam.

Circa 1960: George Goubau at Army Electronics Command Laboratory, Bell Telephone Laboratories and Standard Telecommunication Laboratories begin investigating hollow optical waveguides with regularly spaced lenses

January 1961: Charles C. Eaglesfield proposes hollow optical pipeline made of reflective pipes

May 1961: Elias Snitzer of American Optical publishes theoretical description of single-mode fibers.

1962-63: Alec Reeves at Standard Telecommunications Laboratories in Harlow, UK, commissions a group to study optical waveguide communications under Antoni E. Karbowiak. One system they study is optical fiber.

Autumn 1962: Four groups nearly simultaneously make first semiconductor diode lasers, but they operate only pulsed at liquid-nitrogen temperature. Robert N. Hall's group at General Electric is first.

1963: Karbowiak proposes flexible thin-film waveguide.

December 1964: Charles K. Kao takes over STL optical communication program when Karbowiak leaves to become chair of electrical engineering at the University of New South Wales. Kao and George Hockham soon abandon Karbowiak's thin-film waveguide in favor of single-mode optical fiber.

January 1966: Kao tells Institution of Electrical Engineers in London that fiber loss could be reduced below 20 decibels per kilometer for inter-office communications.

Early 1966: F. F. Roberts starts fiber-optic communications research at British Post Office Research Laboratories

July 1966: Kao and Hockham publish paper outlining their proposal in the Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

July 1966: John Galt at Bell Labs asks Mort Panish and Izuo Hayashi to figure out why diode lasers have high thresholds at room temperature.

September 1966: Alain Werts, a young engineer at CSF in France, publishes proposal similar to Kao's in French-language journal L'Onde Electronique, but CSF does nothing further for lack of funding.

1966: Roberts tells William Shaver, a visitor from the Corning Glass Works, about interest in fiber communications. This leads Robert Maurer to start a small research project on fused-silica fibers.

1966: Kao travels to America early in year, but fails to interest Bell Labs. He later finds more interest in Japan.

Early 1967: British Post Office allocates an extra 12 million pounds to research; some goes to fiber optics.

Early 1967: Shojiro Kawakami of Tohoku University in Japan proposes graded-index optical fibers.

Summer 1967: Corning summer intern Cliff Fonstad makes fibers. Loss is high, but Maurer decides to continue the research using titania-doped cores and pure-silica cladding.

October 1967: Clarence Hansell dies at 68.

Late 1967: Maurer recruits Peter Schultz from Corning's glass chemistry department to help making pure glasses.

January 1968: Donald Keck starts work for Maurer as the first full-time fiber developer at Corning. The team also includes Frank Zimar, who draws fiber in a high-temperature furnace he built

1968: Kao and M. W. Jones measure intrinsic loss of bulk fused silica at 4 decibels per kilometer, the first evidence of ultratransparent glass, prompting Bell Labs to seriously consider fiber optics.

August 1968: Dick Dyott of British Post Office picks up suggestion for pulling clad optical fibers from molten glass in a double crucible.

1969: Martin Chown of STL demonstrates fiber-optic repeater at Physical Society exhibition.

April 1970: STL demonstrates fiber optic transmission at Physics Exhibition in London.

Spring 1970: First continuous-wave room-temperature semiconductor lasers made in early May by Zhores Alferov's group at the Ioffe Physical Institute in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and on June 1 by Mort Panish and Izuo Hayashi at Bell Labs.

June 30, 1970: AT&T introduces Picturephone in Pittsburgh. The telephone monopoly plans to install millimeter waveguides to provide the needed extra capacity.

Summer 1970: Maurer, Donald Keck, Peter Schultz, and Frank Zimar at Corning develop a single-mode fiber with loss of 17 dB/km at 633 nanometers by doping titanium into fiber core.

September 30, 1970: Maurer announces results at London conference devoted mainly to progress in millimeter waveguides.

November 1970: Measurements at British Post Office and STL confirm Corning results.

Late Fall 1970: Charles Kao leaves STL to teach at Chinese University of Hong Kong; Murray Ramsay heads STL fiber group.

1970-1971: Dick Dyott at Post Office and Felix Kapron of Corning separately find pulse spreading is lowest at 1.2 to 1.3 micrometers.

May 1971: Murray Ramsay of Standard Telecommunication Labs demonstrates digital video over fiber to Queen Elizabeth at the Centenary of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

October 13, 1971: Alec Reeves dies in London.

1971-1972: Unable to duplicate Corning's low loss, Bell Labs, the University of Southampton, and CSIRO in Australia experiment with liquid-core fibers.

1971-1972: Focus shifts to graded-index fibers because single-mode offers few advantages and many problems at 850 nanometers.

June 1972: Maurer, Keck and Schultz make multimode germania-doped fiber with 4 decibel per kilometer loss and much greater strength than titania-doped fiber.

Late 1972: STL modulates diode laser at 1 Gbit/s; Bell Labs stops its last work on hollow light pipes.

December 1972: John Fulenwider proposes a fiber-optic communication network to carry video and other signals to homes at International Wire and Cable Symposium.

1973: John MacChesney develops modified chemical vapor deposition process for fiber manufacture at Bell Labs.

Mid-1973: Diode laser lifetime reaches 1000 hours at Bell Labs.

Spring 1974: Bell Labs settles on graded-index fibers with 50- to 100 micrometer cores.

December 7, 1974: Heinrich Lamm dies at 66

February 1975: Bell completes installation of 14 kilometers of millimeter waveguide in New Jersey. After tests, Bell declares victory and abandons the technology.

June 1975: First commercial continuous-wave semiconductor laser operating at room temperature offered by Laser Diode Labs.

September 1975: First non-experimental fiber-optic link installed by Dorset (UK) police after lightning knocks out their communication system

October 1975: British Post Office begins tests of millimeter waveguide; like Bell it declares the tests successful, but never installs any.

1975: Dave Payne and Alex Gambling at University of Southampton calculate pulse spreading should be zero at 1.27 micrometers.

January 13, 1976: Bell Labs starts tests of graded-index fiber-optic system transmitting 45 million bits per second at its Norcross, Georgia plant. Laser lifetime is main problem.

Early 1976: Valtec launches Communications Fiberoptics division.

Early 1976: Masaharu Horiguchi (NTT Ibaraki Lab) and Hiroshi Osanai (Fujikura Cable) make first fibers with low loss -- 0.47 decibel per kilometer -- at long wavelengths, 1.2 micrometers.

March 1976: Japan's Ministry for International Trade and Industry announces plans for Hi-OVIS fiber-optic "wired city" experiment involving 150 homes.

Spring 1976: Lifetime of best laboratory lasers at Bell Labs reaches 100,000 hours (10 years) at room temperature.

Summer 1976: Horiguchi and Osanai open third window at 1.55 micrometers.

July 1976: Corning sues ITT alleging infringement of American patents on communication fibers.

Late 1976: J. Jim Hsieh makes InGaAsP lasers emitting continuously at 1.25 micrometers.

Spring 1977: F. F. Roberts reaches mandatory retirement age of 60; John Midwinter becomes head of fiber-optic group at British Post Office.

April 1, 1977: AT&T sends first test signals through field test system in Chicago's Loop district.

April 22, 1977: General Telephone and Electronics sends first live telephone traffic through fiber optics, 6 Mbit/s, in Long Beach, California.

May 1977: Bell System starts sending live telephone traffic through fibers at 45 Mbit/s fiber link in downtown Chicago.

June 1977: British Post Office begins sending live telephone traffic through fibers in underground ducts near Martlesham Heath.

June 29, 1977: Bell Labs announces one-million hours (100-year) extrapolated lifetime for diode lasers.

Summer 1977: F. F. Roberts dies of heart attack.

October 1977: Valtec "acquires" Comm/Scope, but Comm/Scope owners soon gain control of Valtec.

Late 1977: AT&T and other telephone companies settle on 850 nanometer gallium arsenide light sources and graded-index fibers for commercial systems operating at 45 million bits per second.

1977-1978: Low loss at long wavelengths renews research interest in single-mode fiber.

May 22-23, 1978: Fiber Optic Con, first fiber-optic trade show, held in Boston. (This document copyright Jeff Hecht, jeff@jeffhecht.com)

July 1978: Optical fibers begin carrying signals to homes in Japan's Hi OVIS project.

August 1978: NTT transmits 32 million bits per second through a record 53 kilometers of graded-index fiber at 1.3 micrometers.

September 1978: Richard Epworth reports modal noise problems in graded-index fibers.

September 1978: France Telecom announces plans for fiber to the home demonstration in Biarritz, connecting 1500 homes in early 1983.

1978: AT&T, British Post Office and STL commit to developing a single mode transatlantic fiber cable, using the new 1.3-micrometer window, to be operational by 1988. By the end of the year, Bell Labs abandons development of new coaxial cables for submarine systems.

Late 1978: NTT Ibaraki lab makes single-mode fiber with record 0.2 decibel per kilometer loss at 1.55 micrometers.

January 1980: AT&T asks Federal Communications Commission to approve Northeast Corridor system from Boston to Washington, designed to carry three different wavelengths through graded-index fiber at 45 Mbit/s.

Winter 1980: Graded-index fiber system carries video signals for 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, at 850 nanometers.

February 1980: STL and British Post Office lay 9.5 km submarine cable in Loch Fyne, Scotland, including single-mode and graded-idex fibers

1980: Bell Labs publicly commits to single-mode 1.3-micrometer technology for the first transatlantic fiber-optic cable, TAT-8.

September 1980: With fiber optics hot on the stock market, M/A Com buys Valtec for $224 million in stock.

July 27, 1981: ITT signs consent agreement to pay Corning and license Corning communication fiber patents.

1981: Commercial second-generation systems emerge, operating at 1.3 micrometers through graded-index fibers.

1981: British Telecom transmits 140 million bits per second through 49 kilometers of single-mode fiber at 1.3 micrometers, starts shifting to single-mode.

Late 1981: Canada begins trial of fiber optics to homes in Elie, Manitoba.

1982: British Telecom performs field trial of single-mode fiber, changes plans abandoning graded-index in favor of single-mode.

December 1982: MCI leases right of way to install single-mode fiber from New York to Washington. The system will operate at 400 million bits per second at 1.3 micrometers. This starts the shift to single-mode fiber in America.

Late 1983: Stew Miller retires as head of Bell Labs fiber development group.

January 1, 1984: AT&T undergoes first divestiture, splitting off its seven regional operating companies, but keeping long-distance transmission and equipment manufacture.

1984: British Telecom lays first submarine fiber to carry regular traffic, to the Isle of Wight.

1985: Single-mode fiber spreads across America to carry long-distance telephone signals at 400 million bits per second and up.

Summer 1986: All 1500 homes connected to Biarritz fiber to the home system.

October 30, 1986: First fiber-optic cable across the English Channel begins service.

1986: AT&T sends 1.7 billion bits per second through single-mode fibers originally installed to carry 400 million bits per second.

1987: Dave Payne at University of Southampton develops erbium-doped fiber amplifier operating at 1.55 micrometers.

1988: Linn Mollenauer of Bell Labs demonstrates soliton transmission through 4000 kilometers of single-mode fiber.

December 1988: TAT-8 begins service, first transatlantic fiber-optic cable, using 1.3-micrometer lasers and single-mode fiber.

February 1991: Masataka Nakazawa of NTT reports sending soliton signals through a million kilometers of fiber.

February 1993: Nakazawa sends soliton signals 180 million kilometers, claiming "soliton transmission over unlimited distances."

February 1993: Linn Mollenauer of Bell Labs sends 10 billion bits through 20,000 kilometers of fibers using a simpler soliton system.

February 1996: Fujitsu, NTT Labs, and Bell Labs all report sending one trillion bits per second through single optical fibers in separate experiments using different techniques.

Copyright: Jeff Hecht, jeff@jeffhecht.com

Acknowledgments Thanks to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for research support.

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