The World’s First Webcam

May 2, 2024

What the Webcam Became

In 1991, the world’s first webcam was introduced at the University of Cambridge in England. The gray-scale Philips camera displayed a rather mundane item — a coffee pot. The pot was located in the main computer laboratory of the Computer Science department, which was known as the Trojan room. While it appeared to be a boring item for a camera to be looking at, the coffee pot was an important part of the staff’s everyday life.

The Coffee Pot Webcam Quentin Stafford-Fraser/Wikimedia

The idea came about because researchers, who were often working on a different part of the floor or another floor altogether, would arrive in the Trojan room only to find that the coffee pot was empty. Dr. Quentin Stafford-Frasier and Dr. Paul Jardetzky installed a camera to solve the problem of knowing if the coffee pot was full or empty. The camera grabbed an image three times every minute, and the two researchers wrote software so the images could be displayed on the internal computer network.

webcam off
Switching off the server Daniel Gordon/Wikimedia

It wasn’t until November 22, 1993, when the coffee pot made its appearance on the world wide web and became a global hit. The camera ran for ten years until it was finally turned off in 2001, and the last image was the hand of a scientist switching off the aging server. The last coffee pot used on the webcam was auctioned off for £3,350 to the German news website Spiegel Online. They showed the coffee pot again in their editorial office. Since 2016, the coffee pot has been on permanent loan to the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum, a computer museum in Paderborn, Germany.

Sources: BBC, Wikipedia

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites. I hope you learn many new things here that add to your knowledge.

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