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Gordon R. Meyer
And in 1996, nothing happened
The Society for Technical Communication, a sometimes controversial industry association for technical writers, celebrates their 50th anniversary with a Timeline of Technical Communications. It's view of the first 30 years of the profession is interesting -- it identifies the first technical writer and manual (Joseph D. Chapline and the BINAC manual, 1949) and other fun tidbits.
Unfortunately, historical perspective hasn't yet established the appropriateness of listing the most significant event for technical communicators in 2001 as the appointment of a new editor for the STC's Tieline, which is apparently an STC publication of some sort. (Thanks, InfoDesign.)