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I imagine that tree wagons had been around for quite some time by the time this Daguerreotype was made ca. 1860--the very unusual aspect of this is that it must be a very very early photograph of the process. And, actually, it is probably rare among images in general to see the transportation of a mature tree--frankly I think it is a very mature tree in spite of its height (is this the slow-growing American Hemlock?), mainly because the trunk seems to be as thick as the observer at right. The tree and roots look to be suspended in a wooden container, and the wheels look thick and tall (at least 5' and probably more)--it no doubt was a very heavy load, and it would be interesting to know what was going to pull it along that open field.
Following up on a post from yesterday on a make-it-yourself baseball history calcul-computer is this glorious spinning arrow pocket game board from 1876. An enthusiast could easily cut and paste their way to their very own baseball game for lost moments on the train or in line at the Piggly Wiggly. Enjoy.
"The Electric Engineer", by Herbert C. Crocker, was an article in the December 1916 issue of Illustrated World, and featured this extraordinary idea:
"This mechanical marvel may furnish the warring armies of Europe with a new engine of destruction", page 504.
"King Grey", the creation of Vern Pieper of Alton, Illinois, turns out not to be an extraordinary giant as depicted in the cover art, but a giant on the humanish scale, topping out at nine feet tall and 750 pounds, "a marvel of steel plates, knuckles and cog wheels", that would have its own guns and haul a small armored cart. It looks quite a bit like a more-famous British steampunk version of this idea from mid-century.
I’m interested to know what anyone might know about the use of
metaphors relating large-scale societal techno advances and biological
functions? I have no doubt that they go back to modern-ancient times
(say to William Gilbert (1544-1603) and his vis electrica)—but I’m
stopped today by seeing this paper by J. Norman Lockyer called “Social
Electrical Nerves” (in two issues of Nature for 14 and 28 February
1878). In this paper the great astronomer looks at elements of the
“grid” as it was and seeing how the new networks of police and fire
communications via telegraph interacts with the existing electrical
systems. It seems to me an early use of nervous system/electrical
grid, in spite of the fact the first “electrical highways” (as Lockyer
puts it 120 years before our own “information superhighway”) appeared
in England 32 years earlier though apparently without these biological
[This article,which appeared in two parts, is available for purchase via our blog bookstore, here.]
The work pictured above is the electrically-draped world of the future,
at least according to the vision of the wonderful Albert Robida, who
was actually at work on these visions just at the time of the
publication of the Lockyear paper . (Robida produced at least a trio of
interesting and lovely and occasionally prescient works: Le Vingtième
Siècle (1883); La Guerre au vingtième siècle (1887); and Le Vingtième
siècle-- La vie électrique (1890)). Many of Robida’s visions of
electrical connectivity seem to me to move beyond the nervous system
metaphor and become a kind of societal “skin”—which is not terribly far
from the truth, especially when looking at images of congested
metropolitan centers ca. 1910, when utility poles fairly well sagged
under 20 (!) horizontal crossbars carrying a dozen lines apiece. At
the very least, you knew that something or other was happening (fast
forward to the massive ductworks of Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece,
And now that the wireless age is starting to get ridges in its
fingernails (the “wireless” age being at least 115 years old,
beautifully borne by Heinrich Hertz and Marconi), are our bio-electrical metaphors giving way?
I was working my way through an edition of Nature for 1884 (23 October, page 606) when I found a review of F.W. Cory's How to Foretell the Weather with the Pocket Spectroscope (1884). The title was enough, and the review even more so--I knew this was an obscure work, but not so much anymore, as the entire book is located online! Sometimes I get used to the sci-fi aspect of the intertubes, but when I make discoveries like this I am reminded all over again how magnificent all of this is.
[Source: University of California Libraries via Internet Archive, here.]
I'm fairly well certain that I have never seen an image of a camera obscura being used for military purposes--until today. I found "The Camera Obscura in Torpedo Work", in the great scientific journal Nature, for 26 February 1885, pp 389-340. Here's a detail:
the full article follows. It makes sense, kind of a cyber-tool, a steampunk hologram in a way. And there it is.
If you'd like to own the original article you may purchase it via our blog bookstore.
A: When it is a triangularly-based monochord called the "Trumpet of Marigni". It was designed 500 years ago to sound like a trumpet by virtue of the single string and the tremulations of the bridge. I'm not so sure what it sounds like (though it sounded like a trumpet) but it certainly is a beautiful thing seen in profile.
This appears in A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts, by the encyclopedic polymath, Thomas Young.
An 1845 version of the work and the engravings is available online--I'm using the engravings from the first edition that I have in hand, which are much cleaner than the later reprint. (I should say that the text is the same for the description of the illustrations so far as I can tell, though position and so on is different.)
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2090 (continuing an earlier post)
I found a report by John Prather in 1945 continues a sluggish history of underground high-speed travel. There's a scifi story by Jules Verne's son, Michael, Un Express de l'avenir (An Express of the Future), written in 1888, and a 1913 novel Der Tunnel by Bernhard Kellermann, and a very pretty example, a New York-Los Angeles bullet train as found in Modern Mechanix in 1948:
There's also a very fine effort described in the wonderful Improbable Research website, an 1825 effort, describing a 5-minute ride from London to Edinburgh.
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 (the original available on our blog bookstore) was exceptionally hearty. The idea is interesting in a removed, lets-not-do-it 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--I just don't know why it was necessary.
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 can understand his thinking, though, especially when you consider the impact of the year (1945) in which this paper was written. The U.S. was came away from WWII by far more strong than any country on Earth, with its GDP being about 50% of that of the entire world--on the other hand, the federal deficit was 125% of the GDP, so perhaps in addition to being in an extraordinary position, investment was also somewhat gunshy. And of course there's the problem of whether Prather's idea made any sense at all. But I can understand the high times during which his project was announced.
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 image appears in his "The Sun Motor", in Nature for August 1888.]
A while ago I thought about an alphabet of variegated -punkisms since SteamPunk didn't seem quite enough for things punky. (That post, Beginning an Alphabet of Science Fiction -punkism is here, though it didn't get much leg.) In addition to that alphabet there's also FuturePunk, ElectroPunk, and AirPunk, among others--but tonight I'd like to introduce SunPunk to this mix. There's a possibility for a lot of indirect steam from SunPunk, and in this instance there is a lot of metal. the other thing, however, is that it was real.
The work (above) is that of the very versatile John Ericsson (1803-1889), who among other things perfected the modern screw propeller and designed the USS Monitor (and who also has one of those Mystery Monuments in D.C.). Ericsson was fascinated by the possibilities of solar power, and worked
on the problem for 25 years, right up until his death. The metallic bed
of his creation would hold 100 sqft of mirrors "presented at right
angles to the sun, at noon, int he latitude of New York, during summer,
develops a mechanical energy reaching 1,850,000 footpounds per square
hour", which was enough to run a good engine.
Now the idea for using the Sun as a machine is ancient, with references and details appearing in the works of Euclid, and Archimedes, and Hero of Alexandria, though the first practical construction of one (outside of a solar oven and such) is relatively recent, by Augustin Mouchot in 1860. Actually, Mouchot exhibited an incredible sun machine (his Sun Conentrator) in 1869:
My eyes didn't quite focus on this cover when I first saw it--I was in the process of reviewing several hundred pamphlets, and for some reason I saw mostly color and not so much form. When I focused, I hoped that it would be exactly what it was--a do-it-yourself (mostly) catalog of designs for wheeled recreational toys for kids. Sportub, le Jeu Reel, was composed by William Derlaz and printed in 1937 in Geneva, and held the key to the design for a host of soap-box-derby things many of which were assured to cause minor fun injury. It is complicated and simple at the same time, with enough information to shopw you how to build these things, with everything on one small page.
In its way this little pamphlet with its two dozen designs is nothing short of a little bit of sublime.
(As it turns out, this pamphlet is pretty rare--no copies show up in the massive WorldCat/First Search cataloging tool; and there are also no hits in Google. If you wanted this, you may certainly have it, findable for sale in our bookstore section.)
That is the non-question1 that can be easily answered by anyone in the U.K.(and Belgium, and France, and the Netherlands) from 1940-1945. That question was asked by Wernher von Braun of himself, semi-third person, wondering aloud to his interviewer about what he saw was the unintentional use of his A-4 rocket--renamed the V-2, or Vergeltungswaffe 2, Retaliation weapon 2, or Vengeance Weapon 2--in the rocket attack upon Britain (and to a lesser extent Belgium and then to a lesser extent as well on France and the Netherlands). He writes that the A-4 was intended for interplanetary flight--and at some distant point that was true, but not so much in the early 1940's, when the intention regarding the use of the rocket mattered most. Perhaps von Braun was hanging on to a distant memory, back to the early days when he dreamed along with Hermann Oberth and others about leaving the Earth.
"The A-4's subsequent career is no mystery" says von Braun, without irony and in high reportage.
Indeed not. The V-2 was huge compared to its older and slower brother, the V-1--it was 45' tall and weighed 28,000 pounds, delivering a 2,000lb Amatol warhead. The odiously-sound-of-death V-1 came in slowly, slow enough to be outrun by a Spitfire--the V-2 came in with a different awful sound, the crack and boom of the sound barrier as it braced for a Mach 2+ impact (which would cause the detonation of the weapon). 6,000 of these weapons were made (beginning in September 1943) and more than 5,000 were launched.
These weapons killed some 9,000 Earthlings, so the weapons didn't really get very close to another planet. Nor, really, was it ever intended to during the war. Von Braun et al used it very effectively as a bargaining too with Hitler to gain more money for the program--not for interplanetary exploration, but to kill as many people as possible. I don't know what von Braun was complaining about here in this brief semi-memoir about his A-4 becoming the V-2--it certainly could have come as a surprise.
And that 9,000 killed figure is misleading--it is actually more like 21,000. That figure would include the 12,000 human slaves from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp who were killed or worked to death while building the rockets. So in a weird and horrible twist of sick ironies, the weapon actually consumed more lives than it caused in its use for death. How von Braun didn't know about the thousands of slave laborers at work on his non-Moon rocket is simply impossible to comprehend.
Von Braun was single-minded and determined--lives consumed and lost, plus an enormous amount of money (his project costing more than the Manhattan Project) and energy. The return on this particular investment was exceptionally poor in the long run--close to the point of the whole affair being created by the Allies to crush the Nazi economy.
1. The question is part of a sub-head in the von Braun interview that appeared in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, volume 15, no. 3, May-June 1956, pp 125-145, "Reminiscences of German Rocketry".
The original is available for sale via our blog bookstore, here.
This is just so splendid, I had to stop and admire it, publicly. The design of the front page of Nature is a lovely thing in itself, and the placement, and spacing, it all works so well together. But the big treat of course is the "Browning New Miniature Microscope", which we are told is in 1:1 scale. It "may also be carried in the waistcoat pocket" if only I could remember where my waistcoat was. The instrument was good for 15x and 35x, and came prepared with tiny foreceps to hold natural objects, but it was also of course built to accept miniature slides. Just for the record, 19th century microscope slides are generally things of high beauty--miniature microscope slides from that time are quite simply the bee's knees.
The Browning scope came complete, with fitted case, for three pounds. Nowadays the same instrument in lovely condition might bring $3000--and worth it.