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
An indulgence: I've posted a few things on this site of old and/or found tech that reminds me of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D). Here is one that popped up in the pages of Popular Mechanics for May 1932--an airship designed by Guido Tallei that was effectively a flying saucer, a dirigible-disk. There was another design from him from 1931 that was similar to this except that it looked a LOT like a sleek underwater-swimming penguin.
There's a certain attraction to relieving an aircraft of the weight and drag of landing gear--except for the actual "landing" part of the aircraft, which becomes more, well, difficult, without wheels. Except of course when you have an apparatus like that below, something to basically catch the aircraft. For the sake of fuel economy the idea of getting rid of wheels and other landing gear made the cover of this Popular Mechanics issue for March 1932. The apparatus was supposed to be able to (safely) stop an airplane in the space of 40', which no doubt would have interested the U.S. Navy if such a thing worked with damaging the airplane or the pilot. I really don't see how the thing could have possibly worked, even with the helpful image in the text of the thing being a "reverse catapult". Still, publishing such stuff may have given someone an idea for something else--some bit or insight in this apparatus may have come in handy for someone else working on something entirely different, as is sometimes the case with Outsider ideas.
Before the internet the idea to the idea of the internet existed to some extent in the head of a great unsung hero of the U.S. WWII figure, Vannevar Bush, a person who may well have invented the notion of hypertext. Vannevar (pronounced “van ee var”) was a flinty no-nonsense New Englander who was an organizational and mechanical genius who as a professor at MIT developed a remarkable analog computer that greatly advance computation capacities for solving differential equations. This was in the 1930’s, and even after creating an improved electromechanical version of the machine still chose the wrong way to go in the soon-to-materialize digital computer revolution. During WWII Bush was one of the most important Americans in the war effort, overseeing the entire scientific effort of the U.S.—an enormous effort dispatched beautifully (and successfully). His importance in this regard is difficult to overstate. He also published a short paper on the hypertext idea in an article in The Atlantic in 1945.
The article, “As We May Think”, outlined his idea for a device he called the MEMEX (“memory” and “index”), which compressed and organized all that its user could remember and whatever information would be obtained in the future via electromechanical apparatuses, and available with associative tracking between the microtext frames. So all manner of book and papers and reports and newspapers and images would be microphotographed and stored in a beautifully-indexed mechanical retrieval system where it would live with the information of others. There was also the possibility of real-time textual additions to whatever it was that was retrieved, the genetic precursor of hypertext. Bush’s thinking has been deeply recognized (and also by the creators of the internet) as the intellectual grandparent of the modern internet.
And so I had a mostly-comical response to the image that I found (left) in the pages of the March 1932 issue of Popular Mechanics--it was actually on the back of the page that I was looking for (on passenger rocket travel across the Atlantic). With Bush in mind, this image of a man reading a miniaturized book using the system of Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske (1854-1942), and the photo shows the reader with the equivalent of a 100,000-word novel. The article only mentions this one book, and doesn't venture out into imagining anyone carrying a library with them, nor does it mention searches of organizing systems, but it does bring to bear the possible power of having access to a vast amount of info held on a strip of paper about the size of a newspaper column. And for 1932, that was a strong idea.
This interesting schematic was drawn by one of my favorite technical artists, G.H. Davis, who generally worked for the Illustrated London News, though he appears in this article in the March 1932 issue of Popular Mechanics. Davis was exceptional and prolific and produced (I guess) hundreds of drawings like this one, below. "From Europe to New York by Rocket?" is mostly about delivering trans-Atlantic mail in twenty-five minutes rather than people, though that is mentioned somewhat, along with a scant reference to the possibility of interplanetary travel. Mostly the article is based on Davis' trip to the Raketen Flugplatz--the Rocket Airfield--a 300 acre former munitions/weapons site pockmarked with highly-useful bunkers in the Reinickendorf suburb in northeast Berlin, which is today very nearby the Berlin airport. This was the world's first such aerodrome, and it was staffed by the amateur rocket club of Germany which composed of such names as Nebel (who named the Raketen Flugplatz), Ritter, von Braun, Riedel, Heinish, and Oberth, among many others. The place was opened in 1931 and saw the development of the liquid fueled rocket in Germany. The place was short-lived though its influence was long-felt, the facility closed down over an unpaid water bill in 1933--it was at that time, anyway, where the Wehrmacht assumed control of rocket development in Germany and amateur exploits/testing was forbidden. Six years later the Nazis went to war, and shortly after that appeared the V-weapons that so terrorized Europe and Great Britain, killing tens of thousands and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, not to mention the thousands of slave workers who were killed in the process of production.
But for 1932, when this article appeared and when Davis happily toured this facility, liquid-fueled rockets (introduced by Robert Goddard in 1929) seemed to hold the key to the future of rocket/space travel.
Here's Davis' cutaway of a proposed rocket--it is not named nor is its purpose described, though it is not a rocket built for mail delivery, which was the discussion on this page of the article--this is clearly far too massive (seemingly 100+ feet tall) for that, and also has sleeping quarters for the (standing) crew in the nose.
There are a few photographs of the team at the team at the Raketen Flugplatz, though no one is actually named--there is this photo which I've seen before and recognize, and I'd like to point out that aside from depicting Kurt Heinish (1910-1991) and Klaus Riedel (1909-1944) it also shows Heinish handling what I think is liquid nitrogen with basically no protective gear at all, save for some gloves.
This lovely pamphlet has a design that seems to me deeper into the modern future than it was--it seems a product more of the 1930's and perhaps into the 1930's than the 1909 item that it is. The pamphlet was on a proposed gyro-monorail, a project funded by publisher August Sherl (1849-1921), who had the idea for constructing separate high speed (200 kph) rapid transit lines while maintaining existing rail for shipping. But as sleek and as stable as it may/might be, the gyro-monorail is one idea that never really got past prototypes and development, as was the case with Sherl's project, which did actually get to a full-size prototype which was demonstrated in Berlin, but the idea did not flourish, and the project was cancelled.
JF Ptak Science Books [Reposting Post 2601 with an update]
There appeared in the wonderful pages of Nature (for 24 January 1878) a short but interesting technical communication from the probably/improbably-named Wordsworth Donisthorpe (1847-1914) about an invention that is deeply related to the early stages of motion pictures--in fact it was the first paper that coupled sound with the moving image. It appears eleven years before the first successful demonstration of a motion picture in 1889.
(The article is immediately preceded by another on the change of habits in toads.)
What Mr. Donisthorpe is talking about in the pages of the Scientific American is really the back-door entry to an even bigger topic: the first announcement of Thomas Edison's phonograph as it appeared on the back of the first page in the last issue for the year, 29 December 1877. "A Wonderful Invention--Speech Capable of Indefinite Repetition from Automatic records" was the aarticle by Edward Johnson on the introduction of Thomas Edison's phonograph.It is one and a half columns long, but contains a very compact 1500 words.
Edison's name was not a popular item in the average American home before his invention of the phonograph. It was actually some months later, after the initial announcement in 1877, that Edison became justifiably famous. It is difficult today to place the amazement and astonishment that greeted the invention--there was nothing like it, before, ever--except for writing, of course, and then the recording telegraph. It was a sensational piece of power, being able to record and save sound--and then play it back again. It was the first time in human history that the auditory sense world could be audibly preserved.
The first announcement in Scientific American appeared slightly earlier still, in the November 17 issue for 1877.
This is a wood engraving of the impressions left on the recording cylinder--it must be the first image of a saved sound.
There is also a two-page report on Edison's visit to the offices of Nature and his very successful demonstration of his new phonograph machine (the patent for which is applied for December 27, 1877). The editors record their favorable impressions of the machine and describe it in some detail--there is even a small woodcut illustration of the device. In all the article occupies pages 190-191 of the weekly issue. (Edison, Thomas. "The Talking Phonograph", London: Nature, January 3, 1878.)
So it comes to pass that the idea of saving and manipulating sound and then applying that to moving images come to rest within a few dozen pages of one another in Nature--it must have been an exhilarating experience at the time.
A hat tip to Cadre History http://histv2.free.fr/cadrehistory.htm a site with a LOT of material of high interest (in general) and with good references (in particular).
This was about as high as one could be in a ground-based structure in Manhattan--at the top of one of the granite towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, 277' (plus whatever wooden structure has been built on the top of the bridge, plus the height of a person). The image is found in Scientific American for August 16, 1877, and shows a bit of the bridge which was still six years away from completion, with workers looking out and down at the rest of the city. It is an unusual perspective, looking south, and seemingly far higher than what must be Trinity Church (the present version completed in 1846)--Trinity's sp[ire was actually seven feet taller than the finished bridge (at 284'), though from this angle it is dwarfed by the new structure. There wouldn't be a building higher than 400' until the very early 20th century. In any event, I thought to share this view for its unexpected nature.
I've seen a number of novel life boat/vehicles in my travels through patent office records but never really made note of them, which is too bad. They can be pretty interesting in an oddly shared way with 19th century coffin designs and other mortuary patents--specifically the ones having to do with the dead should they find themselves fortunately/unfortunately resuscitated in their sleeping chamber underground. As a matter of fact some of the coffins were equipped with a small belled spire with a wire that went down into the coffin and wrapped around the hands of the dearly departed. So, in the event of premature burial, the undead dead would simply need to move their hands and sound a bell or raise a flag. In any event, that is what came to mind when I saw this image in the Scientific American for August, 1877:
This floating sphere was ballasted so that it would remain upright even in a heavy sea, and looks as though it could carry 10 or 15 people. It came complete with mast and flag, and a wrap-around walkway, and as you can see it is being used in the image by a man having a smoke.
This mammoth German aircraft appeared in the pages of the Illustrated London News on 31 March 1928,a sneak-peak into the future. It may have been a shock to British aviation sensibilities--it was supposed to dwarf the largest such plane that the Brits had (the Calcutta) : 158' to 93' wingspan; 44 tons to 9 fully loaded wright; engine power, 6000hp to 1500hp, with twelve very impressive 500 hp fore-and-aft engines.
The plane made an appearance in real-life in the air in July 1929 as the Dornier Do X, the largest and heaviest flying boat in history, with pretty much the stats that appeared on it a year earlier. (Stuff happens) and the Dornier is broken up for scrap by 1937.
Specs (via Wiki): "Crew, 10-14; capacity, 66-100 passengers; length, 40 m (131 ft 4 in); wingspan, 48 m (157 ft 5 in); height, 10.25 m (33 ft 7 in); wing area, 450 m2 (4,844 ft2); empty weight, 28,250 kg (62,280 lb); max takeoff weight, 56,000 kg (123,460 lb); powerplant, 12 × Curtiss Conqueror water-cooled V12, 455 kW (610 hp) each; maximum speed, 211 km/h (131 mph; cruise speed, 175 km/h (109 mph); range, 1,700 km (1,056 mi); service ceiling, 3200 m (10498 ft); wing loading, 94 kg/m2 (19.3 lb/sq ft) (at 46 tons weight)."
The hope for technological advancement to hasten the end of the war were much discussed during WWI--the dreams and aspirations sometimes winding up in a serialized fashion in magazines such as l'Heure, seen below. The promise of the magazine "The Hour" was to reveal the nature of a machine discovered that would bring an end to the war. It was highly fanciful, this machine, and highly effective, as we can see by the large field littered with German soldiers, done in by a death ray/spray of some sort. The whole of it looks more like a Wells' Martian creation than anything else.
[Image source: Imperial War Museum, http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/19414]
And long as I am here and the reference is at hand, I would like to point out this terrific link to the very interesting La Guerre Infernale by Pierre Giffard, and with illustrations by the iconic A. Robida:
[Source, with a set of all of the illustrations is found here: http://www.merveilleuxscientifique.fr/auteurs/robida-alfred-la-guerre-infernale/]
But what I really wanted to talk about was on the much smaller and real level, particularly this exploration of battlefield lighting, found in the August 1916 issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine. It was one of the technological advances in this war that brought something that worked better and much more simple than that displayed in the magazine--the "simple" flare gun, also known in England as the Very pistol. It was new to war (along with such things as the tank, military applications of barbed wire, depth charges, flamethrowers, and such) and it was of course very effective. And deadly. And protective. It illuminated a field of battle, particularly Dead Man's Land, that stretch of land between the two offensive lines that was a meeting place of death, cluttered with bodies, spoiled earth, water-filled craters, barbed wire, waste, and so on--and it was sometimes into this sort of field that an attack would be made under cover of darkness, and it was the Very pistol that would be fired to illuminate the attackers, who would suffer greatly from it. In any event, it was a far better response to a need than the aerial torpedo torch.
[My apologies for the formatting issues on this--Typepad wouldn't allow me to get rid of the italics and bold]
This short shelf-lived idea was that of Edward R. Armstrong (1880-1955), who in 1927 first published his plan for a series of ocean-moored 1200’x200’ floating platforms standing 100' above the waves for refueling and whatnot for transcontinental flights. These five-acre stations—named the “Langley” in honor of Samuel Pierpont Langley1-- would be placed every 375 miles across the ocean. Or perhaps there would be just five of these floating emplacements--the data changes. It doesn’t look like a very practical (or good) idea, but Armstrong received a $750,000 piece of development change from du Pont and GM, which was major dollars in 1929.
Capt. Paul-Nicholas Lucas-Girardville of the Military Aviation Park, Vincennes, an interesting inventor and early aviator (and author of aÉtude sur la navigation aérienne in 1899) came up with this idea for a "gyroscopic" aeroplane, or flying machine. Initially I thought that there was no gyroscopic action and that the idea was being used for static stability, as a different body for the aircraft. But as it turns out there was some sort of gyroscope being employed here, though I do not understand how it functioned--I have to say though that it seems like an interesting experiment, especially given how early this came in the history of airplanes. In any event, I bumped into this evocative photo in the pages of the June 22, 1911 issue of Scientific American Supplement and thought to share them.
[Source for the two images, above and below: Scientific American Supplement, July 22, 1911 For the full text of the article in a raw-ish OCR format, see: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abstracts-from-current-periodicals-1911-07-22/]
Henry Wenstanley was an artisan and an engineer with a long interest in architecture who rose to sufficiently high rank to be considered and selected to build a lighthouse at Eddystone (14 miles from Plymouth, built on the Eddystone reef, south of Rame Head). He started in 1696 and was done by 1698, and had successfully constructed the world's greatest lighthouse. He modified and reinforced it substantially in the next few years, winding up with a stout-looking if cabinet-of-curiosity appearance.
[Image source: Derek Birdsall, Carlo Cipolla, The Technologies of Man, Pinehurst Press (UK), 1979, page 150.]
The lighthouse was extraordinary, though it did not last for long, and neither did Wenstanley.
In November 1703 Wenstanley was in the structure when it suffered a complete loss in a storm, the building swept away, along with everyone in it.
A depiction of the impossible wave--an image no doubt that launched a thousand nightmares--fighting the lighthouse is seen here:
[Source: Dark Roasted Blend blog; original source unknown http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2006/10/amazing-lighthouse-of-henry-winstanley.html]
It is another instance of an inventor/engineer being killed by his/her creation--there's probably an easy effort to be made in constructing an alphabet of this unfortunate and unhappy crew. This was the first of five Eddystone lighthouses, all difficult building sbuilt ina very difficult location. The first two were built by Winstanley--the first he built in 1696 was damaged so substantially in a winter storm that it was rebuilt almost entirely, bringing to us the second lighthouse in 1698. As we have seen, that one last until the unfortunate 1703 storm, and was replaced by the third lighthouse built by John Rudyerd, constructed from 1708-9 and opened in that second year. The third lighthouse was constructed by John Smeaton from 1756-9 and lasted for 127 years until it was replaced by James Douglass' structure in 1882. Actually, the Smeaton structure (pictured below) was dismantled and rebuilt further inland on the Plymouth Hoe, where it can be found today.
[Image source: Geological Society (UK) via https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/GeositesEddystone]
The following cross section seems to be the third of the lighthouses:
[Source: Abraham Rees Encyclopedia, printed in London in 1819]
Here's a charming re-enactment of the failure of the structure by the Parish of Littlebury Millennium Society/History (Junior) Group: http://www.recordinguttlesfordhistory.org.uk/littlebury/eddystone.html
People no doubt remember Raul Revere (1735-1818) as a patriot, silversmith, and illustrator of the iconic image of the Boston Massacre. Lesser known is his work in book, pamphlet, and magazine illustration--and what I am concerned with presently are a few of his gloriously-country-sympatico technical works. A fine example is this woodcut from the cover of Samuel Stearns' The North-American Almanac for 1772--a very strong mariner's compass:
[Image source: the American Antiquarian Society, here: http://www.americanantiquarian.org/Inventories/Revere/illustrations.htm]