A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
Ball bearings are exceptionally important and have a long history, I mean, long stretching back more than 2000 years (in its most primitive form), finding formative articulation in the Renaissance, and then their first patent in 1869. They are important parts in the history of technology, metaphorically similar to the elevator brake in the development of skyscrapers. And they can be lovely objects in addition to their fine engineering and application.
The Bearings Company of America (of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, established in 1897) published a fine catalog (in 1938) for their products, including a few pages of photos of their gorgeous goods. Sometimes photographs like these have as much artistic impact as the techno works of Paul Strand and Dorothea Lange--the images are just fine.
I’ve written earlier in this blog about the advent of robots and human machines, and I’d like to add these two images to that thread. Both are male, which is not horribly surprising since the earliest creation of a female robot belongs to the fertile Fritz Lang, who used his creation in his extraordinary movie Metropolis in 1927. (Male robot-like creations go back fairly deeply into the 19th century; so perhaps the creation of female robots was verbotten because of the possibilities for unacceptable sexual fantasies in the high- and post-Victorian world, struggling under the weight of many and multiply-applied public inhibitions. Perhaps it was because of the possibility of sexual relations with an inanimate object that was the cause for uni-gender robots, or perhaps it was a fear of a powerful, intelligent, unstoppable, superior creation that was also “womanly”. I don’t know.)
[And by the way "ca' canny"--which I've never bumped into before--is evidently a practice of deliberately slowing down work.]
The first is an image of the “human machine”, a cog-like adaptation of human workers in a Frederick Taylor-like Scientific Management study. Though many people had written and worked around Taylor’s 1911 semi-revolutionary book (and not necessarily a good revolution, but one nevertheless), I’m not certain that I’ve seen the worker trussed up so before this, encumbered by so many technical testing elements as to make him look like a cyborg (though that term would still be a while coming into the vocabulary.
This image is actually testing a person’s energy expenditure while pushing a wheelbarrow on an incline, and utilizes the newly-created equipment of the French physiologist Langlois, which in 1921 may well have measured for the first time the real-time changes in the rhythm of the heart and blood pressure, changes in body temperature and lung capacity of humans in an activity. I have no doubt that the results would have been very interesting to cardiologists, and probably didn’t mean a thing to industrialists like Henry Ford, who would’ve plowed ahead with their demands on their workers regardless of what tests said, schedules being schedules and all.
(I’m no tsure where this experiment fits in, historically speaking, even within the context of biological advances for that very year. Frederick Banting was able to do some pretty nasty stuff to dogs in a basement lab somewhere at the University of Toronto and come up with a successful treatment for diabetes mellitus–insulin, which would save the lives of millions and earn Banting a Nobel two years later. In the quasi/fake biological arenas came two biggish events: Jung’s creation of the concepts of introvert and extrovert, and Hermann Rorschach’s one-way conversational device for detecting psycho-pathological conditions (in people). I suspect that the Langlois data would fit in there somewhere along the rough edge of Jung and Rorschack, if only because the data was real.
The second image is in a way a reverse sequence of the preceding–an out-and-out robot that was being used to teach human physiology. In this case, the robot was a steam engine, constructed for the Schoolboys’ Exhibition at the New Horticultural Hall for 1928, perhaps under the influence of Karel Capek’s newly published drama R.U.R., which coined the term “robot”. The biological functions of humans were reinterpreted along a more user-friendly vocabulary of the steam engine, using pumps, boilers, hinges, belts, pulleys, filters, compressors and a furnace to explain the functions of respiration and circulation. It was an interesting approach to show these functions on their most basic level–and in less than 75 years, many of these mechanically represented organs were actually replaceable by real mechanical units performing the same task as the biological (as in the heart), while others could be replaced (via transplant).
A few days ago I was having a look at a Large & Impossible Tank, and today I came across this fabulous beauty from the Electrical Experimenter for February, 1915.
This 45' monster would be somehow powered by electricity though there is no discernible power source or power train, and it would be steered by a gyroscope. (The use of the gyroscope is interesting--the idea of it acting as a control mechanism had been successfully introduced in the Whitehead torpedo in 1905, and used as stabilizing agents in airplanes and ships by 1910, and found in the first gyroscopic repeater compass by 1911, so the magazine and writer pretty much had their finger on the national gyroscopic pulse of the time.) Being hit by defensive cannon fire was said to have been not too much of a problem because the shells would mostly pass through the lattice work of the structure. The armament in the suspended armored buckets would be "the same as British tanks"--the buckets also came equipped with a bomb chute (if you look closely you'll see one in action here, the destroyer dropping a bomb on itself) for, well, bombing.
This drawing comes from the great engineering classic that presented the prototype jet engine for all that would follow it--J.G. Keenan's Elementary Theory of Gas Turbines and Jet Propulsion. It was published in the glorious Oxford blue cloth by the university and issued with the classically-design beige dust wrapper--it just has the feel of something solid and astute. Keenan's work is a classic--it is a general survey of developments in the jet propulsion field and was among the very first books published on the subject.
Keenan was not the first though to the jet engine party--Hans von Ohain and Sir Frank Whittle were. It was a classic idea-in-the-air example of two people working on a very similar idea at the same time without any knowledge of the other. von Ohain was the first to produce an operational jet engine (1939) while Whittle was the first to patent (while getting his engine to be operational in 1941). Jet engines have been around for a long time (Romans having legislation on the use of variable jet sprays in water distribution) in different forms--fountains, fire hoses, marine jet propulsion (reaching back to 1871), and so on. But John Gregory Keenan's book--that was a big and influential review, a major contribution to the field.
This item is offered for sale at our blog bookstore, in "recent additions".
Leonardo Torres y Quevedo1 (1852-1936) was a superior engineer, pioneer of remote control, a "prolific and successful inventor"2, and creator of the what is believed to be the first chess automaton3--in effect, the first human-machine game where the machine answered back. (There are earlier examples of chess machines, perhaps the most famous/infamous of which is the celebrated "Turk", a faux chess automaton created in the 1770's by Wolfgang von Kempelen, a supposedly mechanical device taking on all comers performing at a very high level, except that it was a fraud, a model of a machine with a human inside of it making the decisions, a sort of reverse robot.)
[Image of Torres' chess playing machine from Scientific American Supplement, November 6, 1915, pg 297 (bottom)]
Torres wrote very little, mainly because he didn't like to,4so mostly what is known of his work in print (outside of patent reports) is primarily a secondary source reporting on his efforts. There are three earlier appearances in print on the automaton--in Revista de la Real Academia de ciencias... de Madrid in 1913, La Nature5in 1914, and Asociación Española para el Progreso de las Ciencias, Congreso de Valladolid6, in 1915.
"In 1912 Torres built a robot capable of playing the chess endgame of king and rook against king and defeating a human adversary. This device, perfected in 1920, and the Telekino must be recognized as conceptually related to the calculating machine of Charles Babbage, as Torres Quevedo acknowledged in “Ensayos sobre automática. Su definición. Extensión teórica de sus definiciones” (Revista de la Real Academia de ciencias... de Madrid, 12 , 391–419). His work in this field culminated in an electromechanical calculating machine introduced 26 June 1920, the prototype of which demonstrated that calculations of any kind can be effected by purely mechanical processes. In 1913 Torres Quevedo had established that a machine could proceed by trial and error, in contrast with current belief–“at least when the rules that have to be followed in trial and error are precisely known...”--Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol 13, pp 431-2.
The first appearance of the chess playing machine to appear in English seems to have been in the Scientific American Supplement, November 6, 1915, pp 296-298 (appearing with seven photographs of inventions three of which are for the chess machine, and four schemtics all of which pertain to the chess machine): "Torres and His Remarkable Automatic Devices, He Would Substitute Machinery for the Human Mind".
His superb creation, which he called "El Ajedrecista"7 ("the Chess Player") was an electromechanical device which pitted an endgame between a King/King-rook, and was fully and completely hand's-free functional. A later version attempted an improvement on this magnificent machine using magnets.
The machine was exhibited and demonstrated in 1951 by Torres' son, Gonzala, showing how the machine worked to the inventor of cybnertics, the big-brained Norbert Wiener. A photograph of the meeting appears in the Eames' great book, The Computer Perspective, though I downloaded this image (below) from Cybnertic Zoo:
ALSO: this fantastic video from youtube of the machine at work:
1. Nice piece on Torres y Quevedo in Wikipedia, here. And another, "Cyber Heroes of the Past", http://wvegter.hivemind.net/abacus/CyberHeroes/Quevedo.htm
2. Brian Randell, Annals of the History of Computing, 4/4, October 1982, on the contributions of Ludgate, Torres, and Bush, with full text here: http://www.cs.ncl.ac.uk/publications/articles/papers/398.pdf
3. _____. "This chess automaton, believed to have been the world's first..." ibid.
4. Torres Quevedo disliked writing–“for me a form of martyrdom,” he called it–and thus his scientific contributions must be traced from the few reports he did write and, especially, from the patents he obtained and the machines he built." --Dictionary of Scientific Biography, volume 13, p 431.
5. Henri Vigneron "Les Automate" La Nature, 1914, found here: http://cyberneticzoo.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Automates-La-Nature-Torres-1914.pdf]
6. "El autómata ajedrecista", from Asociación Española para el Progreso de las Ciencias, Congreso de Valladolid, Vol. 2 (1915). 549-556pp. The scientific bookseller Jeremy Norman has a copy of this rare work offered at his bookshop, here.
7. "El Ajedrecista", here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Ajedrecista#cite_note-3
The history of RADAR (RAdio Deection And Ranging, and something I've always written in caps, for whatever that is worth) is absolutely not what I'm thinking about now--that is a long story with lots of twists and turns, complicated, complex--and it ranges depending upon location as for the most part RADAR (from the 1930's anyway) was developed in secret, kept as a military secret. And that's because it was a very important development, with the victor of the Battle of the Beams being the possible victor, period.
All I want to do presently is note the significance of this particular pamphlet in the history of RADAR. This work was printed by PHILCO Corporation, (and dated January 4, 1946), and has an inserted leaflet stating that this "makes public for the first time the salient facts about the Corporation's development and production of airborne radar equipment for the United States Army and Navy". PHILCO and other companies made significant contributions to the war capacity of the Allied forces, and--for this company in particular--much of that went unknown for quite some time afterwards, and of course there are some stories that just won't get told. But for PHILCO the story gets told here.
This is also a fabulous nighttime map of NYC--produced by RADAR.
[RADAR on Wings, Philco, 1946. 10x8", 30pp (unpaginated) with lots of photographs and an occasional schematic. Available from this blog's bookstore.]
I thought for a moment that the Oxford English Dictionary had been scooped in identifying the earliest usage of the term "super computer" when I saw this newspaper article in the wonderful book by Charles and Ray Eames called A Computer Perspective (Harvard University Press, 1973). The article refers to an unidentified machine at Columbia University in a March 1, 1920 article, which would beat the first use found by the OED in 1927 (see below) by seven years. So, I checked this out a little, and latched onto a reference to Dr. Ben D. Wood as the director of the Statistical Bureau at Columbia, and found that this event didn't happen until June 19291.
And so the Eameses got this one wrong, or the editor did, or the proof reader, or the typesetter. So instead of being 1920, this is at the very least second-half 1929, some two years or so past the first use identified by the OED. It is also possible that this might be 1931/2. Still, this was very early for using the term, and the article is interesting.
More can be found on the machine (which was probably the "Columbia Machine", which as also known as the "Statistical Calculator" and the "Difference Tabulator", and with some affection "the Packard". A very good appraisal of this machine can be found at the Columbia University site for computing history at Columbia, http://www.columbia.edu/cu/computinghistory/packard.html
The Columbia Statistical Bureau, 1932: Source: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/computinghistory/statbureau.jpg
OED: the earliest usages of "super computing":
1927 Army Ordnance Mar. 342/2 The central station instrument, which is a super-computing machine, solves the geometrical and ballistic problems.
1944 Pop. Sci. Monthly Oct. 88/2 Aiken will remain at Harvard after the war as director of a supercomputing laboratory.
OED: the earliest usages of "supercomputer":
1949 Acta Crystallogr.2 344/2 Modern super-computers will soon provide the ideal method, at least for the more complicated structures.
1968 N. Walford tr. O. Johannesson Great Computer iv. 108 Linking together about a hundred computers..and combining them..to form a unit known as the supercomputer.
OED: earliest usages of "computer" as a person:
1613 ‘R. B.’ Yong Mans Gleanings 1, I haue read the truest computer of Times, and the best Arithmetician that euer breathed, and he reduceth thy dayes into a short number.
1704 Swift Tale of Tub vii. 140 A very skillful Computer, who hath given a full Demonstration of it from Rules of Arithmetick.
1855 D. Brewster Mem. Life I. Newton (new ed.) II. xviii. 162 To pay the expenses of a computer for reducing his observations.
1893 Publ. Amer. Econ. Assoc.8 23 Some curious computer makes out the cost of electing a President for these United States to be four hundred millions of dollars.
OED: earliest usages of the "computer" as a device:
1869 ‘M. Harland’ Phemie's Temptation i. 12 [Phemie] plunged anew into the column of figures... Her pen was slowly traversing the length of the page, at an elevation of a quarter of an inch above the paper, her eyes following the course of the nib, as if it were the index of a patent computer.
1897 Engineering 22 Jan. 104/2 This was..a computer made by Mr. W. Cox. He described it as of the nature of a circular slide rule.
1915 Chambers's Jrnl. July 478/1 By means of this computer the task is performed mechanically and almost instantaneously.
1941 Nature 14 June 753/2 The telescope drive is of an elaborate nature; the effects of changing refraction, of differential flexure and of errors in the gears are automatically allowed for by a system of ‘computers’.
I found a news item in the April 6, 1929 issue of Nature that gives a real sense of the coming of the future, of the future-at-hand--and they seemed to have a sense of what was coming, though probably not as big as that future would be. In this case, it was the beginning of the passive visual assumption of the collective culture--the very quick and potentially immediate assimilation of pop culture, this by the invention of television and popular broadcasting.
The unidentified author was reporting on the recent activities of the Baird Television Development Company, which the author was interested in, and although it was "not presently practicable " it did "represent(s) a noteworthy scientific achievement", which I am sure was the writer's way of downplaying a very significant event.
The Bookman's Bus will definitely take you from point A to Point B, though it might not be a direct route, even when the direct route is the only route--there are stops to be made, turns to be taken, and of course turns to be built before they can be taken; eventually though you'll get to your destination, or not. And the destination can change, according to what is found along the way--it can get closer, or farther, as necessary. It is in the getting-there that some real stuff may happen.
I was looking for the Annalen der Physik publication by Gauss and Weber on the first use of an electromagentic telegraph, but I was looking in 1843 rather than 1833, which is a mistake I often make (which is weird because Morse's telegraph appears in 1837 and his code in 1843, so the date mix-up is a mystery. So with the retrieved volume 59 I realized that I was ten years off from where I wanted to be, but like any practicing reader I browsed--and my general book browsing practice is back-to-front, which is how I found a good article by Clapeyron, almost at the end of the book in the 8th section. I went a little further to see the neighbors for the Clapeyron in the 644-page book and the very paper preceding turned out to be a fairly significant paper in the history of physics and acoustics--Georg Simon Ohm's on what would be known as Ohm's Law of Acoustics. That would be the other Ohm's law. The big Ohm (published in his pamphlet Die Galvanische Kette in 1827) is one of the most powerful of the 19th century, and states "a relationship between the voltage across an electric circuit, the electrical resistance in the circuit, and the current in the circuit."(--Dictionary of Scientific Biography.)Ohm's law of acoustics doesn't take such a big bite out of the not-determined but is significant in the history of acoustics: "The proposition that the human auditory system responds to a complex sound by generating sensations of the separate components of the sound rather than a sensation of a single integrated sound; thus when we listen to an orchestra we hear the separate instruments although the ears receive only a single complex sound wave."(--Oxford Reference) And for the record the paper's title: "Ueber die Definition des Tones , nebst daran geknupster Theorie der Sirene und oehnlicher tonbildender Vorrichtungen", pp 513-565).
There were other interesting papers populating this volume, several of which had to do with early photography, including a work on using the Daguerreotype with the microscope, along with two papers by Moser (one of which was the first German translation of his work on "Invisible Light"), and another on shortening the time of exposures by the soon-to-be-very-famous H. Fizeau. Also there are two not-so famous papers by the famous Lenz (a two-parter, actually, on heat flow). There are others, not the least of which is a paper famous perhaps not for the complicated theory on the development of mountain ranges that was wrong, but for the data that was collected for the construction of the not very good theory--that was the work of Jean-Baptiste Elie de Beaumont, who had a long and distinguished career though not for his mountain theory.
So. There was a lot in this volume, and a lot of it turned out to be very interesting, in spite of teh fact that I had selected th ewrong volume to begin with.
I uncovered a somewhat found-again-lost-again paper in the collection here, an unusual small-distribution version of a great paper in the history of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The work is by N.R. Schwartz and Charles Townes, "Interstellar and Interplanetary Communication by Optical Masers", which appeared in the journal Nature for April 15, 1961 (volume 190, pp 205-208), and I have seen it referenced here and there as a started-it-all sort of paper as the first applied and elaborated scientific effort "to communicate with other intelligent life [which] might exist on neighboring planetary systems". That is to say it is a more involved approach to detection than the two earlier and perhaps more-famous papers by G. Cocconi and P. Morrison, "Searching for interstellar communications" (a short paper published in Nature, volume 184, No. 4690, pp. 844-845, September 19,1959) and F. Drake's "How can we detect radio transmissions from distant planetary systems?", published in Sky and Telescope (volume 19, No. 3, pp. 140-143, January 1960).
The present copy is an offset, stapled affair sent to the editor of Physics Today; it has the annotation "Mr. Katcher" in a secretarial hand at top, that being David Katcher, the founding editor-in-chief. This is a pre-printed version, and is dated more than a month before the article's publication, and is dated February 27, 1961.
Both Schwartz and Townes were at the Institute for Defense Analysis in DC at the time of publication, Townes being the Director of Research; later in 1961 Townes would become Provost and professor of physics at MIT. In addition to the Nobel Prize in physics, Townes was awarded the Templeton Prize (in the understanding of religion and science).
The full text as it appears in six pages in Nature appears here at Coseti; it is obviously a different format from the 14-page variety that I have here, and has a few minor changes, though for all intents and purposes the text is the same.
The Cocconi/Morrison paper is located in full text here at Coseti.
Also just for the sake of it, the Drake equation (1961) for determining the number of extraterrestrial civilizations, here, again at Coseti.
The title of this post is a bit of a tweeker--the project is not to fill in the entire the North Sea, just the southern North Sea. This actually makes a pretty big difference bathymetrically, because the sea floor gets mighty deep up along the coast of Norway. Still, though, as impossibly ambitious projects go, this is still a massively unstable consideration, the entire North Sea or not.
[I owe the fun I had thinking about this project to two great sites: Modern Mechanix and Imaginary Cities--Modern Mechanix for posting it to begin with and Imaginary Cities for tweeting it. These are two great sites well worth subscribing to.]
A sort-of Atlantis was drowned some 8500 years ago, a large piece of land that connected what is today Great Britain and Europe. Rising water did away with this territory leaving behind the great island nation and much else. The plan referred to above in the title is the extraordinary thinking for "raising" that lost Atlantis-esque land, and was floated in the September 1930 of Modern Mechanics.
The author maintains some sort of possibility for recovering some 100,000 square miles of submerged land that would connect south-eastern England with France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark. It would be accomplished by erecting some 700+ miles of dykes and dams and then, somehow, emptying all of that surrounded and captured water into the sea that it once belonged to.
100,000 square surface miles is an area twice the size of England, three times the size of Lake Superior, nearly the size of the Caspian, and equal to the size of Colorado.
The English Channel and the straits of Dover would become a divided thoroughfare; the Thames would be part of a canal system that would extend along the old Norfolk coast to The Wash; a bay from the Straits would extend inland to Belgium, where it would be met by a canal system that would extend to the Baltic. All of this would be held in place by a 150-mile long dam of unusual shape. And just for good measure, bisecting these two would be a monster bridge from Dover to Calais.
This is of course extraordinary, but when we look north we see a breathtaking proposal for a 450-mile long, 90'-high dyke extending from the English coast to Denmark. The artwork claims that this is 90' above the water for the rest of the North Sea, which means that the structure would have to be at least 110'-150' high, plus the foundation. Luckily for the designer the southern North Sea is a relatively shallow water sea, 20-40' deep, though there is a stretch of 100' miles where the depth is considerably deeper. I haven't considered yet how wide this dyke would be, except that it would be, well, big.
There is also a drawing for a London-Berlin and points east train. The Elbe is dammed, and it looks as though the Netherlands is no longer the Lowlands, everything there being "filled in", with the sea being moved some 200 miles to the west.
This is just a short spec piece that appeared in a popular science magazine 84 years ago, but there is no mention of what these changes might mean to the currents of the south North Sea, or Jutland coastal waters, or the Continental Coastal waters; or the changes it might dictate to salinity, or nutrients to the rest of the North Sea, to say nothing of the sea floor inhabitants and fish, and so on. There would no doubt be some natural consequences to this (literal!) undertaking.
I suppose someone at some point would have to think about how all that new land would be divided, but I guess that would all take care of itself.
Another related article from Modern Mechanix posting a Modern Mechanics May 1931 addresses the issue of water removal albeit at as much lesser scale, here.
Here's an interesting and lovely little classic: A. Ritter v. Miller-Hauenfels Der mühelose Segelflug der Vögel und die segelnde Luftschiffahrt als Endziel hundertjährigen Strebens. (Roughly “The effortless gliding of birds and the sailing airships as the ultimate goal for the end of the century”).The matieral was delivered (January 18th) 1890 at the Polytechnischen Club in Graz and publisahed later that yer in Vienna by Spielhagen & Schurich. My copy of this work also happens to have been in the collection of Vicktor Silberer, 1846-1924, a pioneer aviator from Vienna and a prolific author, jorunalist, and politician.
In his lectures at Graz Miller-Hauenfels looks at the possibility of human (non-powered, gliding) flight via forward-progression bird flight, basing his work on that of Marey, Lilienthal and Parseval.
The UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) was the first commercially-available electronic computer, and the first computer to handle both numeric and alphabetic information, produced by Remington Rand, and came into working service at the Bureau of the Census in 1951. It was designed by John Mauchly and Pres Eckert Jr, who also worked together in the design and construction of the first digital computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (the famous ENIAC). The UNIVAC was a Big Boy: 25x50', with 5,600 tubes, and 18,000 crystal diodes--given its workhorse nature and general success, by 1957 there were 46 UNIVACs in operation.
The following are working block diagrams of sections of the UNIVAC, produced by some sort of early offset process in 1950, slightly before the computer came to its working life. I have a number of sections of the computer represented in this way, but not the entire machine--but what is here may be of interest to historians of computer science.
[Supervisory Contro Panel]
Present in the collection:
1. The Supervisory Control Panel (2 sheets of 3, including center and left third, both undated but assumed to be 1950 like all of the others. [Shown above]
2. Input-Output controls. 3 sheets of 3. (left, middle and right thirds), dated 8/10/50 and 8/7/50.
"Only within very recent years has the paramount influence of roads upon the nation's life been adequately realized", so starts this article in the Scientific American for January 5, 1918. No doubt--between 1914 and 1918, the motor vehicle registration doubled and then nearly doubled again (1.7 million to 6.1 million over five years). And since it is far more relatively easy to make cars than the roads they drove on, it is safe to assume that with this enormous increase in road traffic that it made planners and engineers of various shapes and sizes really think about the issue of roads in the future, as they could well see that car production was exploding and that car prices were making the auto affordable to just about everyone.
These artistic displays of quantitative data really do convey a message to a general audience--that aside from the engineering that went into them. It is also useful to the historian or reader in history, or anyone interested in how people got from one place to another 100 years ago, and on what sort of surface they were making their way on...and what the surface of that road meant to the traveler. I do not recall Mr. Holmes making any statements regarding travel time and the conditions of the roads on which the travel was made, but I have no doubt that he would have considered them using data much like this.
The story of the (very) long-range bombardment of Paris from points unknown is filled with questions in this article that appeared in the Scientific American on April 6, 1918. The writer hadn't an idea of the type of gun being used, the weight of the shell (yet), and just about all other details. The author did wonder about the reasons for such a gun--that the idea of a long-range indescrimient bombing from a great distance just seemed to be beyond the wanting capacity of the countries fighting Germany.
The big gun was The Big Gun, later identified as the Paris Gun--a mysterious entity during the war, and after the war as well. It turns out that when the Germany army retreated beginning in August that they also destroyed the weapon and just about anything connected to it.
The gun was extremely powerful. At 256 tons it launched a 236-pound shell to a height never before achieved by humans launching/propelling stuff into the air--it left the barrel of the gun at about 1 mile/second, traveled 75 overland miles, reached a height of 26 miles...and then came down, exploding, killing.
One very effective way of explaining the incredible height that the shell reached was measuring the zenith of its trajectory in terms of mountains:
Which is a detail from:
And to give a more local understanding of the range of the gun:
No doubt this map gave a true flavor and sense of dread to American readers on exactly what it meant to have to deal with a cannon whose reach was 75+ miles.