Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Rich Men Who Have Organs Built In Their Homes

From September 17, 1911

RICH MEN WHO HAVE ORGANS BUILT IN THEIR HOMES

RICH MEN WHO HAVE ORGANS BUILT IN THEIR HOMES: And Who Employ Organists by the Year to Give Them Music at Their Own Firesides — More Than $50,000 Has Been Paid for Some of These Organs. (PDF)

As mentioned in the article, the “largest and costliest organ in the United States” belonged to Frederick G. Bourne’s and was installed in his Oakdale, Long Island home.

According to the Organ Historical Society’s Pipe Organ Database (who knew?) the residence became a military academy after Bourne died, and in 1948 the organ was sold. Part of it went to Detroit, and part went to San Diego.

Today, the largest organ in the United States may be (and I say “may” because I found conflicting details) the Wanamaker Organ currently displayed in a Macy’s Department store in Philadelphia.

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Written by David

September 16th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Baltimore Gets Flag That Inspired Key’s Great Song

From September 10, 1911

BALTIMORE GETS FLAG THAT INSPIRED KEY'S GREAT SONG

BALTIMORE GETS FLAG THAT INSPIRED KEY’S GREAT SONG: Fort McHenry’s Emblem That Prompted “The Star-Spangled Banner” to Be Presented by a Descendant of Major Armistead, Who Held the Fort Against England. (PDF)

In 1912, the flag was giften to the Smithsonian Institute. A lengthy conservation process was recently completed, and the flag is there on display today for all who want to see it. Admission is free.

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Written by David

September 9th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Art,Technology

The Auto-Hater Gives His Opinion — And Acts

From September 10, 1911

THE AUTO-HATER GIVES HIS OPINION -- AND ACTS

THE AUTO-HATER GIVES HIS OPINION — AND ACTS (PDF)

For maximum effect, imagine this in the voice of Andy Rooney.

“There goes another of the infernal things!” snarled the man waiting for a car as he stamped his heels against the curb.

“Notice that!” he growled, addressing nobody in particular. “See how those fenders are put on an automobile? They’re on an angle, so that all the mud they throw will just reach the sidewalk. Somebody’s figured it all out, so that a fender is on just the right angle to get as much mud as possible on a man’s trouser legs when he’s waiting on the curb for a car. When people used to drive buggies and carriages they didn’t have the fenders on at an angle. It wouldn’t have done much good anyhow, because people didn’t drive horses more than fifteen or twenty miles an hour through town, and the drivers couldn’t succeed in splashing much mud on people.

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Written by David

September 8th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Uncle Sam’s Patents Reach The Million Mark

From August 20, 1911

UNCLE SAM'S PATENTS REACH THE MILLION MARK

UNCLE SAM’S PATENTS REACH THE MILLION MARK: Francis H. Holton of Ohio Granted the Coveted Patent No. 1,000,000 for a Tack-Proof Pneumatic Automobile Tire — The First Patent Issued Was Also for an Improvement to the Wheel of a Moving Vehicle. (PDF)

The public radio program This American Life did a fantastic episode a few weeks ago about how the patent system is deeply flawed, at least where software patents are concerned. The episode aired almost exactly 100 years after the millionth patent was issued.

You can read Patent #1,000,000 here.

The first patent was issued in 1790. It took 121 years to get to patent number 1,000,000. It took just 24 more years to reach patent 2,000,000. And then 26 years to reach patent 3,000,000. Patent 4,000,000 was reached just 15 years later. And patents 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 took 15 years and then 8 years to reach. Patent 7,000,000 was reached 7 years later in 2006. We’re still waiting to reach patent 8,000,000. We just reached patent 8,000,000 three days ago, as noted in the comments by Raghav.

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Written by David

August 19th, 2011 at 10:00 am

How It Feels To Fly Graphically Told By An Aviator

From August 13, 1911

HOW IT FEELS TO FLY GRAPHICALLY TOLD BY AN AVIATOR

HOW IT FEELS TO FLY GRAPHICALLY TOLD BY AN AVIATOR (PDF)

Previously we’ve learned how to fly a plane in 1910. Now we learn what it feels like for the pilot.

“At last the pitiless hour has arrived. Everything is ready. It is time to start. Amid the deafening roar of the motor the aeroplane snatches itself out of the hands of the men holding it back and hurtles along the ground. Then it hops and suddenly rises with a slide into the air… The irregular jolting and shaking caused by the unevenness of the ground as the aeroplane dashes to its ascent from the earth are succeeded by a soft gliding sensation which defied definition; the anxiety and anguish of the start have vanished to make room for a feeling of repose, of absolute solitude. The man has disappeared: he is now a bird!

[…]

“Everything blends together and dwindles away. Houses look like dice thrown on a billiard table; the largest cities seem like Liliputian towns, the bas-relief melts away, roads, rivers and railways appear to wind their way in a child’s model landscape toy. Only the sea and lofty mountains are spared in this wholesale diminution, and they always impose on the airman respectful admiration mixed with a very lively sentiment of fear.”

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Written by David

August 12th, 2011 at 9:00 am

A Stove To Cool The House Instead Of Heating It

From July 30, 1911

A STOVE TO COOL THE HOUSE INSTEAD OF HEATING IT

A STOVE TO COOL THE HOUSE INSTEAD OF HEATING IT: Alexander Graham Bell Invents an “Ice Stove” Which Makes His Rooms Cold in Summer, Just as a Coal Stove Would Make Them Hot in Winter. (PDF)

Not content to just invent the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell went on to invent other useful things, like a primitive air conditioner that blows air over blocks of ice to cool down the room. “The invention is what, for want of a better name, has been termed an ‘ice stove.'”

That’s the gist of the article, which is a pretty good read.

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Written by David

July 26th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Going Down In A Tube To Hunt For Sunken Treasure

From July 16, 1911

GOING DOWN IN A TUBE TO HUNT FOR SUNKEN TREASURE

GOING DOWN IN A TUBE TO HUNT FOR SUNKEN TREASURE: How an Ingenious Scot Will Explore the Sea Bottom Off the Virginia Coast to Find $500,000 in Silver. (PDF)

This is one of those great articles where I do a little research and find out even more interesting stuff that happened next. The article is about Charles Williamson, who invented a tube he could use to go treasure hunting on the bottom of the sea.

What I learned is that Charles’ son John took this invention a step further. He realized that if you put a big window at the bottom of the tube, you could film underwater movies. He became a pioneer in undersea filmmaking, and in 1914 released an undersea film called Thirty Leagues Under the Sea. I can’t find a copy of it online. Let me know if you have better luck finding it than I did.

The American Museum of Natural History has an illustrated biography of John Williamson on their website.

A site called The Rebreather Site has more information, including photos taken from the tube like this one:

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Written by David

July 15th, 2011 at 10:00 am

How To Overcome Gravity By Hertzian Air Waves

From July 16, 1911

HOW TO OVERCOME GRAVITY BY HERTZIAN AIR WAVES

HOW TO OVERCOME GRAVITY BY HERTZIAN AIR WAVES: New York Engineer and Inventor Thinks He Has Discovered a Secret of Science on Which He Began Work at West Point Nearly 40 Years Ago. (PDF)

Levitation. It holds such promise. But this machine doesn’t make things levitate. It just makes them weigh less. The article describes some possible uses of such an anti-gravity machine:

If a 12-ton girder was to be raised to the top of a skyscraper with a derrick of 10 tons capacity, the mechanism would obliterate the two tons of weight.

The element of gravitation in any object being overcome to the extent of one-sixth or a greater degree, it would be possible to make the human body so “light” that it could be propelled with a very small fraction of present effort.

Steamships could ride more lightly on the sea in the same way. The speed of railroad trains could be increased by the contrivance reducing the friction of the wheels on the tracks.

An aeroplane caught high in air with a broken engine could be made to float there indefinitely by turning a button and starting the “concentrating dynamo.”

Farrow never filed a patent for his device, and no construction plans have been found. The book The Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers says:

Observers watched as the indicated weight of the book dropped by three ounces, or one-fifth. “This is revolutionary — even sensation,” marveled one of the editors invited to see the invention in action. It almost certainly wasn’t antigravity, though, not in the sense Farrow intended… Modern speculation has accepted that it was based around electromagnets.

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Written by David

July 11th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Science,Technology

The American Student Acquiring A Uniform Face

From July 9, 1911

THE AMERICAN STUDENT ACQUIRING A UNIFORM FACE

THE AMERICAN STUDENT ACQUIRING A UNIFORM FACE: Mayor Gaynor’s Statement to That Effect Starts a Discussion — A Distinct American College Type Being Developed, Unlike the European University Man (PDF)

The two faces in the middle of the page are composites of 25 boys and 25 girls, to create the “typical” student face. In modern times, this has been done digitally to interesting effects. I wonder if this is the earliest known example of such a composite.

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Written by David

July 7th, 2011 at 11:30 am

How Conversation Across A Continent Came About

From July 9, 1911

HOW CONVERSATION ACROSS A CONTINENT CAME ABOUT

HOW CONVERSATION ACROSS A CONTINENT CAME ABOUT: The Men Who Made It Possible for New York to Talk to Denver — Graham Bell Has Lived to See His Invention Grow Beyond All the Bounds Believed to be Set for It When He Made It. (PDF)

The development of the long distance telephone, which began thirty years ago, is due in a most striking way to a group of brilliant scientists and inventors, each of whom contributed one or more factors essential to the success of the whole. But for the discoveries and scientific devices of these men the original invention of Prof. Alexander Graham Bell would not be the wonderfully practical means of communication that it is, and talking over continental distances would be out of the question. With but a very few exceptions, these men, who by their improvements on the Bell instrument have made the long distance telephone a reality, are alive to-day and actively engaged either in the further development of the telephone or in other scientific pursuits.

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Written by David

July 7th, 2011 at 10:03 am

The Psychology Of The Typewriter Error

From July 9, 1911

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE TYPEWRITER ERROR

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE TYPEWRITER ERROR (PDF)

An interesting look at typos from a time when typewriters were still relatively new.

The typist who composes as he operates has a threefold responsibility, for as the cells of ideation respond to the command of the will while thoughts are conceived, shaped, and transmitted, the fingers must be quick to transcribe and the vision sharp as well for punctuation and mechanical detail.

The three controls must be nicely balanced, for a laxness in muscle control results int he omission of letters, sometimes even of whole words, and spacing is obliterated, one word being run into another. A laxness of visual control results in a period being placed in the middle of a sentence in place of a comma or semicolon, or of the use of a small letter instead of a capital. The period being the emphatic stop is the one most often substituted for those of finer gradation.

I had three typos (that I noticed) when transcribing that excerpt. They were all letter transpositions.

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Written by David

July 5th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Life,Technology

Scientific Detective Would End Expert Testimony

From July 2, 1911

SCIENTIFIC DETECTIVE WOULD END EXPERT TESTIMONY

SCIENTIFIC DETECTIVE WOULD END EXPERT TESTIMONY: Head of Scotland Yard’s Bureau of Identification Urges Training of Sleuths — What Finger Print System and Blood Study Have Done. (PDF)

Fingerprints and blood are commonly gathered and tested in crime scenes today. But 100 years ago, this was new technology.

…if detectives were only trained scientifically, not merely in logic, so as to reconstruct a crime with proper attention paid to theory and fact, but also in chemistry, physics, and other sciences, there would be less need of expert testimony at criminal trials…

If the article interests you, definitely read Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist, about a New York City murder investigation around the turn of the last century.

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Written by David

June 28th, 2011 at 10:00 am

The Giant Olympic A Luxurious Floating Hotel

From June 25, 1911

THE GIANT OLYMPIC A LUXURIOUS FLOATING HOTEL

THE GIANT OLYMPIC A LUXURIOUS FLOATING HOTEL: Swimming Pool, Turkish Baths, and Tennis Courts Part of the Equipment of the Wolrd’s Largest Liner — Marking a New Epoch in Ocean Travel. (PDF)

Of course, the Olympic wouldn’t become nearly as well known as her twin sister Titanic. Wikipedia has great details about Olympic‘s fate. She lead an interesting life, survived a mutiny, served in WWI (repainted in dazzle camouflage , and eventually retired in 1934.

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Written by David

June 24th, 2011 at 10:30 am

Millionaire To Make His Home On A 95-Foot Yacht

From June 25, 1911

MILLIONAIRE TO MAKE HIS HOME ON A 95-FOOT YACHT

MILLIONAIRE TO MAKE HIS HOME ON A 95-FOOT YACHT: James B. Hammond Is Building the Lounger II., According to His Own Notions, with a Garage and an Aquarium Aboard and State-rooms Artificially Cooled. (PDF)

Forget about the yacht for a moment. James B. Hammond was a millionaire who made his fortune with his invention, a typewriter you can read about at the Virtual Typewriter Museum.

This article describes Hammond as an eccentric millionaire. The yacht is just a small part of this profile.

“They call me eccentric,” he said, in a tone of deep disgust for those who said this, “but I really do not see why a man is not privileged to live his own life in his own way.”

Seated in a high adjustable chair in a big room, chiefly conspicuous for its view of the Hudson, Mr. Hammond was found in amiable companionship with his dog and his canary…

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Written by David

June 21st, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Life,Technology

New Motorboat Beats World’s Record In Speed

From May 28, 1911

NEW MOTORBOAT BEATS WORLD'S RECORD IN SPEED

NEW MOTORBOAT BEATS WORLD’S RECORD IN SPEED: Alexandrian Inventor builds a Cup Challenger That in Trial Trips Is 7 Miles Faster than Dixie II’s Best Time (PDF)

I don’t have time to write more comments on this article because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 27th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Technology

Nation’s Rare Documents Unprotected Against Fire

From May 28, 1911

NATION'S RARE DOCUMENTS UNPROTECTED AGAINST FIRE

NATION’S RARE DOCUMENTS UNPROTECTED AGAINST FIRE: Even the Original Declaration of Independence and Constitution Are in Peril and Thousands of Invaluable Records Are Merely Filed Away in Wooden Wall Cases (PDF)

The rest of this post is unwritten because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 24th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Politics,Technology

New Public Library’s Novel Mechanical Devices

From May 21, 1911

NEW PUBLIC LIBRARY'S NOVEL MECHANICAL DEVICES

NEW PUBLIC LIBRARY’S NOVEL MECHANICAL DEVICES: Electrical Plant There Is as Large as That Used to Light the City of Stockholm — Special Appliances in Every Department of the Building. (PDF)

The rest of this post is unwritten because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 20th, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Technology

A Spell To Exorcise The Demon Of Seasickness

From May 7, 1911

A SPELL TO EXORCISE THE DEMON OF SEASICKNESS

A SPELL TO EXORCISE THE DEMON OF SEASICKNESS: Scourge of Travel Doomed If This Invention, Which the Hamburg-American Is to Install on Its New Liner Europa, Does All That Is Claimed for It. (PDF)

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Written by David

May 6th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Technology

Centenary Of Maker Of First Portrait Photograph

From April 30, 1911

CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH

CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH: New York University Will Honor the Memory of Prof John William Draper, Who Took the First Human Likeness When Daguerre Failed to Do It. (PDF)

I’m a photographer professionally, so articles like this are especially interesting to me. This one celebrates the 100th birthday of John William Draper, credited with taking the first portrait photo, an image of his sister Dorothy.

Back then, photos required long exposures, so the subjects needed to sit extremely still. Draper experimented with putting white powder on people’s faces to lighten them up a bit for the picture. And he also realized that if a person sits still for a 30 second exposure, they can feel free to blink during that time without worrying about ruining the image. But any other movement must be considered and eliminated:

“The hands should never rest upon the chest, for the motion of respiration disturbs them so much as to make them have a thick, clumsy appearance, destroying also the representation of the veins on the back, which, if they are held motionless, are copied with surprising beauty.”

Here’s some more of Draper’s advice for a portrait sitting:

“It has already been stated that pictorial advantages attend an arrangement in which the light is thrown upon the face at a small angle. This also allows us to get rid entirely of the shadow on the background or to compose it more gracefully in the picture. For this it is well that the chair should be brought forward from the background from three to six feet.

“Those who undertake daguerreotype portraiture will, of course, arrange the background of their pictures according to their own tastes. When one that is quite uniform is desired, a blanket or a cloth of drab color, properly suspended, will be found to answer very well.”

While Draper took the first formal portrait, Louis Daguerre actually took the first photo of a person. He captured a photo looking out over a street in Paris. It was a long exposure, so people moving through the frame were not captured. But one person stood still long enough to register in the image while he was getting his shoe shined. But the figure is tiny and silhouetted, so it could hardly be called a portrait.

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Written by David

April 29th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Seeking An Invention To Prevent Railroad Collisions

From April 23, 1911

SEEKING AN INVENTION TO PREVENT RAILROAD COLLISIONS

SEEKING AN INVENTION TO PREVENT RAILROAD COLLISIONS: Inter-State Commerce Commission Makes Tests on Staten Island of Young Texan’s Device, One of Twenty Selected for Official Investigation. (PDF)

In a sort of precursor to the X Prize, Congress set aside $50,000 and invited inventors to submit their inventions which would prevent railroad collisions.

Of course there was an avalanche — a grand rush of eager young geniuses to the spot. They submitted plans of every description, ranging from those that seemed to possess real merit to the wildest and most impossible dreams that ever rioted through a human brain.

The total number of inventions submitted was 185. Every one of them, no matter how extravagant, was looked into my the commission’s experts. Flaws were picked out which made device after device impracticable — one by one the fruits of hours and days and years of sleepless toll were discarded. At last barely twenty survived.

These were put aside for further consideration and further weeding out. Then exhaustive practical tests of the few survivors were instituted by the commission’s examiners.

I’m unclear if the winning inventor gets the $50,000, or if that money was used to test the inventions. But either way, one invention stood out as having promise, devised by a twenty-six year old named Frederick Lacroix.

No sooner had his idea firmly established itself in his inventive brain than he set to work making experiments, adopting and rejecting various schemes, until at last he hit on exactly what he was after. Then he had a model made for him, and with it made numberless further experiments to see whether his invention fully realized his dreams.

It did.

His solution involved adding a third rail to carry electricity, which forms a circuit with some equipment in the train. Another train on the same section of track would interrupt the circuit, triggering a device that automatically applies the brakes and whistle. As an added benefit, the third rail would also provide a telephone line so the trains can talk to each other.

In repeated tests, Lacroix’s solution worked. But I am unable to find any evidence that it was actually adopted as a safety device. Does anybody know?

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Written by David

April 22nd, 2011 at 9:00 am