A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 4 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 4,200+ total posts
The original patent for this tube-and-rod design was made at the Danish Patent and Trademark Office in Copenhagen on 28 Jaunary 1958 at 1:58 p.m. The design could be for an associated cooling system for a steam turbine; or for a high-pressure/reactive clutch of passes and cylinders for a water turbine hydroelectric facility; or perhaps it was for a modern prison system utilizing water-filled bars for prison cells that could indicate a possible jail break if any leaking water was discovered, making tampering with the bars an impossibility.
I came upon this article in The Annals of Philosophy for April 1818, suggestively entitled and not-ignorable "A Plan for a Fire Ship", by Col. Mark Beaufoy. It turns out to be a simple plan with a not-so-simple way of guiding in a ship meant take fire/explode amidst an opposing fleet/flotilla. I am far from knowing anything about naval history, so all I am doing here is reporting on this interesting article, though I have no little doubt that there is a rich history of remotely-guided bomb ships in the history of naval warfare. (The idea sounds pretty expensive to me...)
"[Beaufoy, 1764-1827]...devoted much of his life to naval experiments at the Greenland Dock with James Scott and Captain John Luard of the "Society for the Improvement in Naval Architecture". He published the results of his work in one of the leading scientific journals of the day, The Annals of Philosophy. In 1815 he described a recording tide meter, and in the same article went on to describe the power of the wind on square sails and the resistance to motion both in air and water of different shapes."--Wikipedia (Beaufoy does mention the use of square sails in the article.)
Here's an idea that didn't go very far, brought to you by the Socialist Party, U.S.A. in 1934. Paul Porter's America for All took a little too much liberty with the existing sentiment that "America" should be owned by "all", and applying it very liberally (sorry) and literally:
This is one of the most important hole punchers in the history of holes, and also in the history of counting and figuring out what to do with counted things. Do you know who filed this drawing as part of their patent report, and what famous contribution this thing made?
I have perhaps four or five pamphlets on gas attacks presented int eh manner of the one I'm displaying today--someone, somewhere did a good and thorough job of cataloging these instructions for a general population on what to do in the event of a poison gas attack. There are also 50 or so items that had once been in the library of the OSS that are similar in presentation/preservation to the gas attack pamphlets, though those all have at least two indications (a stamp and hand written cataloging) stating their point of origin, and the one below does not. The pamphlet is stapled into a manila folder,and opposite it is a worksheet with cataloging details and a fairly extensive abstract of the pamphlet (by hand) in English. Very curious, and interesting.
The pamphlet: Notice sur les Mesures a Appliquee en cas de Surprise par les Gaz, printed in France in January 1939 by the Ministere de la Defense National. There is still eight more months of peace to be waged and lost, Hitler already on the move in Czechoslovakia and Austria, and of course Japan already fighting their all-out war in China already for seven years.
In a year when the political leader of the United States and his spokespeople have tried to make themselves responsible for defining language and veracity according to their own needs, the word "faked" jumped out to me from the cover of this pamphlet. This doesn't have anything to do with the allegations of "fake news" today, when the presidential press person defines "fake news" as new that does not agree with the vision of the White House and the president himself s impossibly scourges entities like the New York Times as dealing in "fake news", as this is of a particularly high height of an attack on reason and logic. This "fake" is far more localized, and accuses the CIO and John Lewis of sharp moves in extorting money from union members as well as trying to coerce the U.S. into becoming a Soviet America.
Most of the contents of this pamphlet is summed up nicely on its back wrapper in the advertisements for other pamphlets sold by the publisher, the Constitutional Educational League. "Join the CIO and Help Build a Soviet America", "Communism's Iron Grip on the CIO", "Vote for John L. Lewis and Communism", and "Battalions of Death" are all part and parcel of the Leagues ambitious attack on the CIO and unions. (Later, in 1949, the League would publish "Hitler was a Liberal" by Joseph Kamp--he was a very prolific guy, writing from an outpost in a watchtower on the very far right. "The Hell with G.I. Joe!", printed in 1944, is another one--there must be three dozen little pamphlets that he wrote and published, warning against infiltration from the left, and even in the early 1950's wondering about whether Dwight Eisenhower would succumb to Commie urges.)
The thing is, however, that in 1942, the Constitutional Educational League--in business at this point for about 20 years--was one of 28 organizations indicated as having conspired against the U.S. as an agent of the Axis Powers. So there's that.
I was certain at first glance that this little pamphlet was referring figuratively to the Germans in Romania as "germs". Romania was a neutral country for a good part of WWI though it is my impression that they never warmed to the idea of Germany as a friendly non-combatant, and so they would treat them as you would turn away from someone's coughing fit.
This is not the case. They were talking about real microbes, and in particular, the bacterium Bacillus anthracis that some contingent of Germans was manufacturing in Bucharest, evidently with the intent to infect horses and mules that were on their way to the Russian front, a real nasty piece of business. Now the use of biological weapons had been around for perhaps thousands of years (in crude form), though in more recent times it wasn't much used at all, though there are notable exceptions (as with the Japanese against the Chinese during the Sino-Japanese war that was fought for seven years leading into WWII. The use of biological weapons had been outlawed at the Hague Conference, but that didn't necessarily stop everybody, as this pamphlet states. So the not-metaphorical microbes were not to be used, though poison gases of all sorts was an option.
Okay, so I've given it mostly away in the title--if not for that, this wouldn't be a very obvious contraption, would it?
There must have been a lot of people who had a problem with street cars in the 19th and early 20th centuries because in my meanderings through the Scientific American I have seen quite a few suggestions for dealing with the pedestrian vs the heavy moving metal problem. Many of them have to do with the humanified locomotive cow-catcher--that is an apparatus that would somewhat safely scoop up the unfortunate pedestrian before they became very fatally unfortunate. Here's just one example, found in the February 3, 1894 issue:
Neither the scoopee nor the scooper look pleased.
This problem is better illustrated by an early film of street traffic--it is amazing in a way that the orchestration of non-fatalities is so seemingly superb, the coercive element of the destruction of liminal space pretty well hidden in the seeming confusion.
[Via youtube, "From trolley, down Broadway and Union Square. Street scenes, stores, crowds, carriages.--Early 1900's"]
There are many posts on this site about looking at images straight-on, and on looking straight down from a height, and looking through the perspective of someone else's eyeballs to make it seem as though you were the machine gunner/engineer/pilot and so on. With this in mind I think that there is not one image among the (probably) 7500 antique images on this blog showing that shows people in the act of looking straight up...until today. And in comes via a fine example, a poster made to celebrate an aeroplane/air show at the Johannistal field in Berlin in 1912. It was the largest field in Berlin until the late 1920's, and it hosted many pioneer aviation efforts and events, and at this one in May there would be an appearance of a Wright flier.
It is just a very interesting graphic--more so given that at this point (and probably another decade or so to come) that if anyone heard an airplane flying overhead, it was still an event enough for just about everyone to look up.
[Image source: Exlibris Buchkunst und Angewandtegraphik, 22/1, 1912.]
This is a king-hell cover for Popular Mechanics, appearing in March, 1930, and I was about to say it reminded me of other rocket ship designs from that era except that this one is actually earlier than those I was thinking of, which were generally technical and tech-pop. When I read the article it turns out that this was a riff on the rocket that had just recently appeared in the Fritz Lang movie, Die Frau im Mond ("Woman in the Moon", October 15, 1929). The article was about the "realistic" nature of the film and the possibilities it displayed for actual space flight--as it turns out folks who know something about this genre contend that the Lang film may be the first serious sci-fi movie about sending people to the Moon.
This looks somewhat like the design of a ship on the front cover of Raketenflug, by Rudolf Nebel . (Nebel. 1894-1978, was a very early member of the Raketenflugplatz, assistant to Hermann Oberth and very nearly the first to successfully conduct an experiment with a liquid-fueled rocket, beaten to the finish line by a man whose work he was not familiar with, Robert Goddard. He defined right-wing in the Weimar era, and was part of a paramilitary organization called Stralheim; Wernher von Braun seems to have succeeded in the avenue that Nebel tried to travel along. Nebel published this work in 1932, a year before the Nazi party came into power, and before his crotchety problems with the SA began.
And also like Otto Gail's ship:
Gail (1896-1956) was more a science journalist, popularizer, science fiction and fantasy writer than anything else, though his descriptions of preparations for launching a spacecraft to the Moon as well as the experiences of the crew were fairly lifelike.
Here's another in this developing and fun series in the What-is-It? category. At first it reminded me of Renaissance woodcuts of various stages of creation anointed by a coy hand of the creator. This one though is late 19th century and has a definite highly au courant "Oriental" theme which so far as I can tell has nothing to do with the telling of the story of this object. It looks a little like a multi-horned phonograph (already in existence by about a decade at this point), and it also looks a little like a Chinese earthquake detector. It is surprising for what it actually represents, and it is a lot larger than you'd think, with the figure in the background definitely not to scale. Plus, it comes into the world a few years earlier than its gigantically famous counterpart, as though it had gone back in time...
Superman was (is?) as fast as .00005% of the speed of light, or thereabouts, if you gave him the benefit of the speeding bullet being a 50-cal round muzzle velocity. On the one hand, it is fast; on the other, well, not so.
That is what sort-of attracted me to this present pamphlet. I determined to simply scan the thing (James Jackson, Tableau de Diverses Vitesses exprimes en metres par seconde1, published in Paris in 1885) for a quick blog post "On How Fast Stuff Is and Isn't". The slowest on the list was the "Corissance du bambou"/the growth of bamboo, which is actually a quickly-growing thing but not so when in comparison to how many meters it grows per second. And that's what this is, a little 8-page pamphlet listing about 350 things and how fast they are, all calculated in meters/second. The selections are actually pretty interesting in and of themselves. So first to last, where I find several different calculations for the speed of light...and then something else, faster than the speed of light.
The last entry was this: "courant electrique provenant de la decharge d'une bouteille de Leyde dans un fil de cuivre de 0m,0017 de diametre" ("electric current from the discharge of a Leyden bottle into a copper wire of 1/16th of an inch"), with a velocity of 463,000,000 metres/second. No doubt Jackson is just talking about electron flow, which is about 1% of the velocity of the speed of light c along awire or so (and far less along the wires in your kitchen appliances) while the flow of electromagnetic energy in a vacuum is exactly c--and what he is writing about here is warp 1.2 or a 50% increase in the velocity of electricity over light, when electricity and light are basically the same thing. I just don't know what he is talking about.
The Scientific American Supplement posts a notice of this bit, quoting the American Machinist in its review of Jackson's work, and which also takes care to mention the faster-than-light speed as "the greatest rapidity so far measured":
"The American Machinist extracts from a contemporary a gamut of speeds per second beginning with that of the snail oil is half an inch and ending with the following Electric current on telegraph wires 7,000 miles induction current 11,040 miles electric current in copper wire armatures 21,000 miles light 180,000 miles discharge of a Leyden bottle through copper wire 1 16 inch in diameter 277,100 miles This last is the greatest rapidity so far measured. These figures might have more weight and more interest if the methods of calculating them or the authorities had also been given." Scientific American: Supplement, Volumes 43-44, July 31, 1897 p 17997.
Remember that we're dealing with c twenty years before Einstein's seminal year, when the fastest speed obtainable by anything was that of light and which was considered to be infinite since in space there would be nothing to get in its way, at least according to Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), who imagined that no matter where the originating point of the light source was it would be seen instantaneously from any other point, no matter the location so long as there were no obstacles. Estimates of light's finite speed were proposed by scientists who were born at about the time that Kepler died by Ole Roemer and the everything-man, Christiaan Huygens (who estimated the speed of light at very near the present determination, which was 220k km/s. None of these names appears on Jackson's list, though more recent additions like (Marie Alfred) Cornu (1878 using the not-named-here Fizeau instrument), (A.A.) Michelson (1879), Young, and Forbes (as in James Young and George Forbes in 1882) do.
Anyway the faster-than-light speed Jackson was referring to was for electricity, and no doubt came from the experiments in 1834 by Charles Wheatstone (thanks for the push, Dave Wenner!)
I should make a note within this note of the work of Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), a very provocative and imaginative writer, who produced a small novel called Lumen (1887) in which the main character/souls move through the universe at what must be speeds way beyond the speed of light. His work in general looks like a collection of sci-religio-fiction, with creative writing on time travel (or observation, or viewer, I'm not sure), teeming extra-terrestrial life, transmigration of souls, and so on, filling and flying through the vastness of time and space, and I think collapsing the idea of time itself. ("Lumen" is a recently-dead ET soul that dialogues with Questor, and they wind up moving through the universe at warp speed.) So, there's that.
Anyway this sort of post calls for a lot more reading, which I'm sorry to say I haven't done--I just don't know yet how fast the fastest things were believed to be through the history of science. At least this post gets the ball rolling, if only for me.
I found seven copies of this 1885 printing in WorldCat/OCLC, the holdings a stellar pedigree (LC, NYPL, Yale, Harvard, U Wisconsin/Madison, Oxford).
[I apologize for the fuzziness at the top of the image here but I couldn't get the volume of Nature flat enough on the scanner to avoid the degradation.]
In the wonderland world of early applications of electricity to anything comes this marvelous image of an electrical thermometer from Nature for March 17, 1881.The original image is only about 3" tall, and I could not resist reproducing it in what is almost a 3:1 ratio. As pretty as it was/is, the implementation was a bit of a picture of a soggy sandwich.
Evidently the platinum screws running up the side of the thermometer (at every 3 degrees, though it could be refined to <1-degree increments), were connected to an alerting operator like a bell or some such thing. That way, if something was being heated to a certain temperature and the temp changed, an alarm would sound, and the whole process could be viewed remotely. Why this would be necessary I am not so sure--even the author admitted that the whole thing would be very cumbersome with the large number of insulated wires being tracked into the observing station. In any event, the image is striking, if not the idea.