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Ford Motor Company (F): The Real First Ford, the Actual First Hacker, and Other Little-Known Milestones

A century of teenage fashion
The first Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (NYSE:ANF) store opened under the name “Abercrombie Co.” on the Manhattan waterfront on June 4, 1892. The Abercrombie outlet originally catered to serious outdoorsmen, and it didn’t append the “Fitch” until founder David Abercrombie sold a major share of the company to lawyer Ezra Fitch in 1904. Mr. Abercrombie and Mr. Fitch held different ambitions for their brand, which led to Abercrombie’s departure in 1907, leaving Fitch in sole control of the company. Although it remained focused on sporting goods throughout the early 20th century, A&F grew as Fitch broadened its product range until its popularity necessitated a move to a massive 12-story building on Madison Avenue.

A&F remained focused on sportswear until it fell into bankruptcy in 1976. The brand was acquired by a rival sporting-goods retailer, which had difficulty turning A&F into a successful chain. It was not until Limited (now L Brands Inc (NYSE:LTD)) bought the company in 1988 that A&F began its transformation into the cool-kids fashion outlet that now occupies hundreds of malls. Limited built A&F into a chain of 100-plus stores a year before spinning it off as an independent company in 1996. Following the spinoff, A&F began to create its own brands, launching a preteen brand in 1997 and the high-school-focused Hollister in 2000. Today, A&F maintains more than 1,000 stores around the world and is one of the 10 largest apparel-retailers in the U.S.

Hack to the future
The world’s first hacker didn’t need a computer to hack into; all it took was a wireless telegraph. Guglielmo Marconi, the “father of radio,” was about to test a long-range “secure” wireless communications system on June 4, 1903, linked between his station on a cliff in Cornwall, England and a lecture hall in London’s Royal Institution, when something unexpected happened. The London device began tapping out a Morse code message in advance of Marconi’s scheduled transmission, repeating the word “Rats” over and over. Then, as recounted by Paul Marks in NewScientist, it broke into a rude limerick:

There was a young fellow of Italy,
Who diddled the public quite prettily…

The hacker continued to mock Marconi for some time, ceasing only moments before the demonstration was scheduled to begin. Marconi had not only been hacked; he’d been trolled. Four days later, a letter received by the London Times ran in the paper, revealing the hacker as magician and tinkerer Nevil Maskelyne, whose own wireless efforts had been stymied by Marconi’s patents. Maskelyne identified the wavelength of Marconi’s supposedly secure transmission system in advance of the test, thus disproving Marconi’s original thoughts on wireless security — but at the same time identifying the future potential for wireless transmissions in mass broadcasts.

The effects of hacking in today’s interconnected economy are many orders of magnitude more damaging than the slight bruise Maskelyne dealt Marconi’s ego in 1903. Antivirus software developer Norton, part of Symantec, estimated in 2011 that cybercrime (a definition including credit card fraud, phishing attacks, and malware, as well as hacking) costs the global economy more than $300 billion each year.

The article The Real First Ford, the Actual First Hacker, and Other Little-Known Milestones originally appeared on

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter @TMFBiggles for more insight into markets, history, and technology.The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola, Ford, and PepsiCo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and PepsiCo.

Copyright © 1995 – 2013 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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