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
[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]
It is not often one reads about creating an inland sea with trade routes between "Algeria and French West Africa", It is part of the creation of a vast Saharan sea, half of the size of the Mediterranean. I read about this version of the plan in an article by G.A. Thompson in an issue of the Scientific American for 19121, though as it turns out it was not the first time someone published on this fantastical idea. In this version, Prof. Etchegoven proposes a 50-mile long canal that would be built from the Mediterranean inland to a suitably low place and them well, the desert would get, well, filled up. The reasoning here was to make Africa accessible those with the money to take advantage of the situation, to establish trade routes, make Christianity more available to whomever it might confront, and also for "enhancing the value as a place for colonization by Europeans". In reviewing the proposal Mr. Thompson didn't see much danger or blowback or environmental issues--it was an outlook that was taken to task about a month later in a review in Nature2, which found his critique rather too-rosy.
In any event there have been plans like this reaching back at least into the late 19th century, a good example being The Flooding of the Sahara: An Account of the Proposed Plan for Opening ... written by Donald Mackenzie and published in 18773. Another significant proposal was made by Francoise Elie Roudaire (1836-1885) in his "An Inland Sea in Algiers", printed in 1874,m which was an idea he shared with Ferdinand de Lesseps. Actually it was the Roudaire work that seems to have been the basis for some of Jules Verne's last published work, L'Invasion de la Mer (1905) which took place in the 1930's and which made a very similar proposal for the Sahara--except in this version nature intervenes with an enormous earthquake, pretty much accomplishing immediately what it would have taken humans many decades to do. In any event, this is a good example of the Big Techno Think, though it wasn't necessarily a very good idea.
I didn't think that there would be many entries for a series on measuring things with ships--they do pop up here and there, as with this issue of the Scientific American for March 31, 1906. There's probably room for a History of Measuring Things By Uncommon Non-Standard Means series on this blog--after all, there are examples for ships as a measure, and there are other bits on this blog about measuring things in units of the Eiffel Tower, gargantuanly-oversized bread, enormous nails, collections of beef, Trinity Churches, miles of soldiers, and the like. Here are a few examples:
Measuring Things in Terms of Trinity Churches http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2013/12/jf-and-so.html
Ships in the Skyline http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2008/09/comparative-d-1.html
Ships on the Pyramid http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2008/09/jf-ptak-scien-3.html
These units of measurement do seem a little odd, but they really have a capacity to humanize inescapably difficult numbers by putting them in context with a known entity, like Trinity Church. In this new case of ship/measurement, the newest of the Cunard Line's transatlantic ocean liners (that would be named Lusitania and Mauritania) is presented here on the front page of the Scientific American pressed up against structures that are presumably well known amongst its readers.
While looking through a yearly volume of the Scientific American Architects and Builders Supplemental volume for April, 1887, I was very much impressed by the sheer size and heaviness and oddness of some of the good advertised in the back of this one issue. For example, here's the distant relation of a convenience that we all take for granted nowadays:
I wrote earlier in this blog about a wonderful stadium-seating vision of New York City (here http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2016/02/history-of-the-future-of-massiveness-stadium-seating-skyscrapers-nyc-1938.html) produced by Con Ed for the 1939 World's Fair. What I didn't realize was that this was a drawing of what was to be a 5,000 square foot model of the buildings of Manhattan, all made to fit on a single block. The breakthrough for me came in a browse of the September 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics, where I saw a short article with a photo of NYC building models that looked very much like the jam-packed visionary cityscape of ConEd:
Here's one of the images I posted earlier:
It turns out that the first images that I posted were drawings for the models that were part of the Consolidated Edison "City of Light" pavilion at the fair, and which constituted the world's largest diorama. Here's an interesting photo showing the scale of the project:
[Source for the image directly above from Architecturalogy which hosts a number of other interesting photos, here: http://architecturalogy.com/new-york-diorama-the-city-of-light/]
SO--this is either a very large tricycle with average-sized crew, or an average-sized trike operated by tiny people. Since it appeared in the November 11, 1896 issue of Scientific American--which had a very very slight leverage on humor--I report here that this was indeed a very large tricycle. As a matter of fact it required a crew of eight to operate, and weighed in at about 1500 pounds. It was actually constructed, as this crew peddled it around the Boston area for a 125-mile jaunt. Why this was done--other for the sake of doing it--I do not know. It seems someone just made a Big Thing, coming (as the short description in the issue says) "in this age of 'big things' ".
Today I joked with a neighbor that my car was so old that it has wooden seat belts. At least it has seat belts, no thanks to the early (pre-1989) efforts of people like Lee Ioccoca to prevent having them automatically installed, and unlike the Flintstones and Jimmy Rockford and others who had no seat belts at all--it is more like Granny's rope-belt in the Beverly Hillbillies. Be that as it may, this bicycle is a much better creation than my seat belts. The image appeared in the Scientific American for February 1, 1896, a half tongue-in-check proposal at a time of a great bicycle craze. Even though millions of bicycles were being made, a decent one could cost you $25, which would (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator) would be about $750-$1000 today--not nothing. So this Modest Proposal on making a bike from bits, found wood, and a quarter.
There are two interesting and remarkable techno-military suggests in this October, 1916 issue of Popular Mechanics. First is the cover story, a ("destroyer") aircraft bomber is to be launched from a "battleship" aircraft for a one-two punch of carpet and strategic bombing. The large "mother ship" was to have a 143' wingspan, making it a monster of a plane for the time. It would enough fuel and oil to keep it aloft for 48 hours, and also have a 1000-pound payload "of bombs", and a crew of five, two of whom would be wingwalkers firing machine guns. And another plane. The smaller aircraft was "equipped with bomb-dropping devices" and was to be launched for a special raid and/or to ward off enemy attack planes. But the fly in the ointment, says the article, was getting the smaller aircraft back to the larger one--launching was no problem; landing was. And I can see why.
The second article in the issue--the so-called underwater lighthouse (appearing under the far less amusing but much more informative title of "Mine Control Protects Neutral Shipping")--was a defensive and offensive buoy-structure that would provide a very claustrophobically-unwantable job for someone. The buoy was made to control an undisclosed-number field of mines in/near shipping lanes and differentiate friendly from unfriendly ships.
The buoy would have an observation area from which our unlucky guardian would scan the seas; once a ship was spotted, the buoy would submerge to periscope depth, and after some time the nationality of the ship would be identified; at that point if an enemy ship is recognized the operator could submerge the buoy further (being anchored to the sea floor) via a winch to 50 or 60 feet beneath the surface, and then when the mine made contact (proximity or otherwise?) the buoy operator could detonate the mine. It was thought in this way that you could mine an area of sea and not have to worry about ships being damaged by friendly fire. The whole thing seems highly problematic to me--not the least of which would probably be a very jostling ride to the buoy operator.
And so two adventures in speculative military technology in one single war-time issue of Popular Mechanics.
Olaus Henrici (1840-1918) constructed a beautiful and tidy analog computer to analyze musical sound, publishing his efforts in The Philosophical Magazine in 1894. It was a mechanical fourier analyzer, in the heritage of the harmonic analyzer/tide predicting computer of James Thomson and his brother Lord Kelvin, analyzing a traced sound waveform. It was built upon in turn by Dayton Miller and much expanded.
William Fickinger has this solid description in his book, [Dayton] Miller’s Waves: An Informal Scientific Biography, (2011) found on page 69:
A little more background on the harmonic analyzer and Henrici as follows:
Robert K. Otnes in The Oughtred Society, "Notes on Mechanical Fourier Analyzers" http://www.oughtred.org/jos/articles/V17.1_OtnesPaper.pdf
Full text of the Henrici paper from the Biodiversity Heritage Library http://biodiversitylibrary.org/item/122066#page/124/mode/1up
On Olaus Henrici https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olaus_Henrici
John B. Prather launched an idea in 1945 for building a high-speed pneumatic passenger/freight train connecting New York City to Philadelphia. His New York-Philadelphia Vacuum Tunnel, Preliminary Design Features and Economic Analysis was exceptionally hearty. The idea is interesting in a removed, lets-not-do-it-for real-way because, well, it just doesn't seem to make sense in the long run, at least beyond the building of the thing to show that it could be done. And I don't doubt that could be the case--and I just don't know why it was necessary.
[If you'd like to own the original report I'm offering for sale on my blog--there seems to be no others available, with no listings in WorldCat. If you're interested see the listing follow this link or go to the general catalog and look up [TRAINS] The Future of Sucking: Vacuum Express Train, NYC to Philly, 1945.]
Mr. Prather's approach seems to be the work of an engineer, or at least he had some help. I doubt though that he had any help from a structural engineer or site geologist--his proposal was to build this tunnel 100' down through bedrock when it could be found, a level hundred-feet below the surface, from NYC to Philadelphia. The tube would accommodate an aluminum-shelled 400'-long train that would be hauling 350 people and 175 tons of freight at speeds of 400-600+ mph, making the run between the two cities in about 20 minutes. Not bad. He figures too that all of the freight could be offloaded in 7.5 minutes. This would make for a very busy train, though Prather doesn't tell us how many runs a day it would be making. This was all preliminary.
The 16.2'-wide tunnel would be 456,720 feet long, and would cost $173 million to excavate and $41 million to line with cement--according to the author. The total cost for the ordeal would be about $334 million and would take 6 years, start to finish--that includes all of the tunneling, which would swallow/excavate/face 300' per day.
I don't see, really, how this could be so narrow a tunnel--I'm not an engineer but it would seem that wear, heat and the abuse and so on that a massive and dense 400'-long missile going 400+mph would require something that was more than 125% of the width of its trains.
There is however precedence for a massive tunnel of something like this size being built in something like this time--the Delaware Aqueduct is 82 miles long and 13 feet wide, and was built during the Second World War (1939-1945) , so, perhaps if enough people and money were thrown at a project like the vacuum tunnel could actually be built (barring geological problems).
But it would all be worth it: Prather suggests that the overall revenue from the operation of the train to be $196 million/year with $32 million in yearly operating expenses. Which means that the whole thing could be paid for in three years or thereabouts. So if the things was started in 1946, it would all be finished and paid for by 1956.
I've looked at a number of proposals like this over the course of this blog--like almost filling up the Narrows between Staten Island and Manhattan with an airport and seaport, and making a series of transoceanic airports for flights between the continents, and dropping a gigantic shell filled with people from the top/interior of the Eiffel into a narrow hole filled with water, and covering Midtown Manhattan with a rooftop airport, and covering Midtown Manhattan with a glass-ish dome, and so on--and I know that it is good for at least one thing: superb classroom discussion fodder of why something like this does or doesn't make good physical/economic etc. sense.
This is the delightful ABC of Television, published in 1937 by the sci-fi and early modern tech guru and visioneer Hugo Gernsback's Short Wave & Television magazine--it is a separate publication in it own printed wrappers. The pamphlet includes technical basics ("fundamentals of scanning", "mechanical systems", "Cathode ray emission", transmitter operation") as well as some popular and necessary information, like "when will we have television" and a list of television stations. (Just for the record, this publication lists 25 active stations, including low wattage stations like W2XAX, the Atlantic Broadcasting Company, in NYC at 50 Watts--there were 9 broadcasters with 150 Watts or less of the 25 listed. There's also a list of nine other "discontinued" television stations ("experimental visual licenses and permits discontinued or expired"). The "Experimental Visual License: is a very nice turn-of-phrase.)
[If you'd like to own the original, see our books for sale section, here: http://longstreet.typepad.com/books/]
The beautiful aircraft was being built primarily on high hopes and a sleepless night, but that's okay. This was a vision for a transatlantic aircraft, and appeared int he September 1927 issue of Popular Mechanics, and was an interesting and in some ways remarkable insight to the coming prospects of long-distance passenger flight. The Wright flight was only 24 years before this, and the Lindbergh solo crossing of the Atlantic occurred just a few months prior to this publication, an event which no doubt added fire to the speculation of future transatlantic flights. The artist imagines a massive aircraft with a 400' wingspan, the wings offering room enough for sleeping quarters for the passengers. The Transatlatic flight was technically difficult, and outside of crossings by the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg in the late 1920's, passenger service really wasn't instituted on any large scale until after WWII. There were crossings by aircraft in the early 1930's, but there (as with the famous flight by Dornier in the DO-X seaplane in 1931) the majority of those flights were over the ocean to South America, and then continued to North America. A notable exception is the Yankee Clipper. which was a luxury flight (carrying 74 and sleeping 36) and which was a massive aircraft, though the real plane's wingspan was less than half (at 150') of the visioneered aircraft below. In any event, recognition is in order to the designer who thought about flight in this manner just 10 weeks1 after Charles Lindbergh made his NYC-Paris flight.
A newsreel of the parade held in Lindbergh's honor in NYC on June 13, 1927 showing the enormous reception of the new world-wide hero:
1. The September issue of Popular Mechanics would have been issued in early August (as we can see in the stamp on the cover, this issue being received by the Brooklyn Public Library August 8.