Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The 1911 Way To Clean The Streets Of A Big Town

From February 12, 1911

THE 1911 WAY TO CLEAN THE STREETS OF A BIG TOWN

THE 1911 WAY TO CLEAN THE STREETS OF A BIG TOWN: Commissioner Edwards Tells How Modern Invention Is Pressed Into Service in This Important Branch of a City’s Affairs (PDF)

100 years ago, the streets of New York were swept manually by three thousand men known as the “White Wings” because of their all-white uniforms. (You can see them march in an unspecified parade in this 1903 footage on YouTube).

While these three thousand men are doing the work about as effectively as they possibly can, it has been found by actual test that after their work is finished there still remains a residue varying from a small amount on smooth pavements to about three times as much on a granite pavement. The removal of this residue is the part of the street cleaning work which is the most necessary to be performed, because the material is a fine powder, is largely composed of grit, and when stirred up and blown is a source of annoyance to pedestrians and also covers exposed food stuffs, and is very detrimental to textile fabrics.

The city experimented with a new method of cleaning: using water. They actually took bacteria samples and found that cleaning with water was better than merely sweeping. So the article describes plans to use high pressure flushing machines to clean the streets, and quotes favorable experiences from other cities which already use this method. They call the flushing process “better, quicker, and cheaper” than sweeping by hand.

It would still be a while still before the advent of alternate side parking.

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Written by David

February 9th, 2011 at 10:30 am

Walter Wellman On The Future Of Aerial Navigation

From February 5, 1911

WALTER WELLMAN ON THE FUTURE OF AERIAL NAVIGATION

WALTER WELLMAN ON THE FUTURE OF AERIAL NAVIGATION: From Facts Gained in His Own Experiences He Points Out What Is Needed to Conquer the Air. (PDF)

Walter Wellman was an explorer who made several unsuccessful attempts to reach the North Pole by airship (including an attempt covered here back in July). In this article, he considers the future of commercial air travel.

My faith is strong that having demonstrated the practicability of air travel man will go on till he has developed flight into a state of perfection and usefulness not even indicated by the apparatus of to-day.

Whether or not full commercial utilization of aerial navigation is coming, soon or late, is a question which no one can now adequately and confidently answer. It may come; it may not. My own impression, rather than conviction, is that in the next half century we shall have limited rather than universal commercial application of the art. But within those limitations will be found much that is highly beneficial to humanity…

Commercial aerial navigation, like any other navigation, means operation for a profit in competition with railways and steamships. involved in operation for a profit are certain requirements well understood, but which it will be well to state. First, there must be a high degree of safety of operation, and reduction to a small minimum of the risk of accident to the ship itself and its passengers and cargo. Without this high degree of safety ships and their cargoes cannot be insured at practicable premiums, owners cannot afford to carry their own insurance, (since the inevitable losses must be made up in some way,) passengers will not offer themselves for voyages, and goods will not be tendered for transportation without insurance.

Next, ships of an aerial transportation line, like steamships and railways trains, must be fairly sure of setting out on a given schedule, and of accomplishing the voyage in a reasonably close approximation to the time advertised beforehand. It is clear that great uncertainty of departure and of time of arrival would constitute a handicap against the enterprise in competition with more stable modes of transportation.

These objections, sure to hold in the long run, might not apply sharply to an aerial line as long as the novelty remained. For the unusual experience of a trip in the air passengers might offer themselves and be wiling to pay much higher rates of fare than they would have to pay upon competing lines.

Oddly, Wellman does not include thoughts of air travel by plane, even though that was clearly where the industry was heading. The first planes which carry passengers were already in development, but he focuses primarily on the problems of commercial balloon flight.

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Written by David

February 4th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Business,Technology

Where And How New York Keeps Its High Explosives

From February 5, 1911

WHERE AND HOW NEW YORK KEEPS ITS HIGH EXPLOSIVES

WHERE AND HOW NEW YORK KEEPS ITS HIGH EXPLOSIVES: Most of It Is Anchored Out in the Harbor and the Rest Is Housed in the City in Small Quarters. (PDF)

100 years ago this week, 25 tons of dynamite exploded in Communipaw, New Jersey, killing 24 people and injuring hundreds. The explosion was so big that buildings in Manhattan shook, and four windows blew out in the Statue of Liberty’s crown.

So people naturally wondered how New York’s dynamite is being stored. How much dynamite does the city have, anyway? How is it transported? What are the rules for handling it? This article answered those questions, and examines what happened in Communipaw.

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Written by David

February 3rd, 2011 at 12:41 pm

New York Telephone Company Ad

From January 8, 1911

New York Telephone Company Ad

This ad appeared in the Sunday Times just a few weeks after the Magazine ran an article explaining how the telephone system works. That article, from December 4, quoted a recent telephone census that said New York had 310,000 phones. This ad shows that figure dates back to 1908.

The ad claims that the usefulness of your telephone service is measured by the number of people with whom it enables you to talk, and the class of people it reaches. What exactly were they trying to say? Was there a tiered phone service system in 1910, where lower class people had an inferior service that only allowed them to talk to each other?

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Written by David

January 7th, 2011 at 9:30 am

A Skyscraper Built By The Nickels Of Millions

From January 1, 1911

A SKYSCRAPER BUILT BY THE NICKELS OF MILLIONS

A SKYSCRAPER BUILT BY THE NICKELS OF MILLIONS: The Wooworth Building Tells the Romance of a Business — How a Farmer’s Boy Started a Little Five and Ten Cent Store and Now Has 286 Big Ones. (PDF)

The Woolworth Building is one of New York City’s oldest skyscrapers, and its gothic architecture suggests an older era, so it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t even around 100 years ago. In anticipation of its planned erection, the Times Magazine published this retrospective on Frank W. Woolworth, the man behind the Woolworth’s five and dime stores.

Readers of The Times have already learned about the skyscraper. It is to look like a vast tower in the Gothic style, extending 105 feet along Broadway and 197 feet on Park Place. With forty-five stories, it will rise into the air to a height of 625 feet, or thirteen feet higher than the Singer Building. The skyscraper will cost $5,000,000. It will bear the name of its projector — the Woolworth Building.

“Do you mean to say,” you ask, “that this is to be built by the 5 and 10 cent store man?”

It is the same man — Frank W. Woolworth.

The building eventually surpassed its originally planned height, and is now 792 feet tall. You can visit SkyscraperPage.com to see how the Woolworth Building compares to other notable structures of the past and today.

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Written by David

December 31st, 2010 at 9:30 am

Can Record The Beating Of Your Heart Miles Away

From January 1, 1911

CAN RECORD THE BEATING OF YOUR HEART MILES AWAY

CAN RECORD THE BEATING OF YOUR HEART MILES AWAY: Delicate New Instrument Brought to This Country Accurately Registers Every Cardiac Motion — Test by Human Ear Will Be Supplanted. (PDF)

Until the invention of the electrocardiograph, doctors had to use their ears to figure out what was happening with your heart. But the EKG (the initials stand for the German name, elektrokardiogramm) took out the guesswork by measuring the electric pulses in your heart.

The article imagines a future where everyone has a terminal in their workplace connected remotely to “heart stations” where the main EKG lives:

“Hello! Is this Heart Station No. 1,000?”

“Yes; who is this and what will you have?”

“This is John Smith. Just hitch me up to your apparatus, take an electro-cardiogram, diagnose my case, and send me a prescription. I really haven’t time to go around and see you. Thanks. Good-bye.”

The patient pauses in his business rush long enough to attach his right arm and left leg to the wonderful electric machine with which his office, like all other up-to-date establishments, is equipped. The operator at the Heart Station takes the photograph of his heart action in a jiffy, and Mr. Smith goes back to his work.

In a few hours, or as soon as the heart expert has had time to examine the cardiogram he has taken, Mr. Smith receives the scientist’s diagnosis and knows whether the symptoms he has been experiencing are merely the temporary effects of some undue excitement he has recently undergone or are the more serious manifestations of some dreaded heart affection that will end his days unless he mends his steps and places himself under the physician’s care.

I guess in theory this could happen today. But we’d all need to be trained to make sure we are using the device properly. And they would probably not be cheap. So we still go in to the doctor’s office for an EKG.

The inventor of the EKG, William Einthoven, won the 1924 Nobel Prize in medicine for his invention.

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Written by David

December 31st, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Science,Technology

Zero At The Equator Some Day, Says Dr. H. W. Wiley

From January 1, 1911

ZERO AT THE EQUATOR SOME DAY, SAYS DR. H. W. WILEY

ZERO AT THE EQUATOR SOME DAY, SAYS DR. H. W. WILEY: But the Winds Will Keep People Warm, Adds the Head Chemist of the Agricultural Department — Which Doesn’t Mean What It Seems To. (PDF)

H. W. Wiley of the US Agricultural Department is worried that the world is cooling. But he has a plan: windmills.

Dr. Wiley has been at work for a long time, perfecting and polishing the processes by which he will make electricity out of the wind, but he has not talked about it until very recently. Then, at Washington, he delivered a lecture upon whether the human race ultimately will starve or freeze. His reply was that the earth was cooling so unmistakably that freezing was to be our lot. Starvation could be indefinitely forefended by means of artificial and intelligent cultivation of soil, but what could warm us satisfactorily if Broadway became like unto the north pole, and the equator as bleak and rayless as the Alaskan wastes?

The answer, said Dr. Wiley, was warmth and work by electricity, and electricity to be had from the winds.

He goes on to lament that nobody can come up with a way to get the planet to stop cooling and start warming.

If in 100 years we have 800,000,000 persons on this earth to feed, we can do it with the utmost ease. Starvation, in short, is a dim and remote occasion. But not so with the cold. Up to the present we have found no generally accepted method of making the warmth of the earth reproduce itself. We cannot fertilize our generators of heat, with the heat we had yesterday and have used. We may make our earth arable by allowing its own vegetation to fall on it, and lie till it is assimilated. How are we to make our heat reproductive?

Things Dr. Wiley got wrong: The world population is about 8.6 times greater than his estimate. Starvation currently affects almost 16% of the population. That’s about a billion people. And of course, we stumbled upon a way to heat up our planet in ways he didn’t even consider.

But we do use windmills for electricity.

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Written by David

December 31st, 2010 at 9:00 am

A New Automobile And Aeroplane Disease

From December 18, 1910

A NEW AUTOMOBILE AND AEROPLANE DISEASE

A NEW AUTOMOBILE AND AEROPLANE DISEASE (PDF)

I guess new technologies have always brought scary articles about their dangers. Airplanes and cars were still pretty new, and this article explains that moving so quickly through the air can force so much carbon dioxide into your lungs that you’ll die.

The new disease is a poisoning of the system through the lungs. It is caused by repressed breathing while moving rapidly through the air. At first it seems to be a sort of smothering. But the disease is more than that.

Air once taken into the lungs practically becomes carbonic acid gas — a deadly poison. When expelled at once, of course, no damage is done. But when men pass rapidly through the air, the pressure on the face from the fast driving prevents the expulsion of the poisoned air from the lungs. The carbonic acid gas is forced back into the body. Only a little of it can get away, because of the air pressing on the face. The gas is rebreathed and poisons the system…

[Dr S. A. Knopf says the disease] had not been recognized yet by American physicians.

“To find out about such a disease,” he said, “it would be needful to have a chauffeur drive an automobile very swiftly with his face unprotected. To experiment on a man — no, that would be too dangerous. But we could find out if we strapped a monkey to an automobile and drove the machine at sixty, or, say, seventy miles an hour.”

But don’t worry. With outrageous theories come outrageous solutions:

The remedy for the new disease suggested in England, and a preventative of similar ills is a mouthpiece to be strapped to the face with tubes extending from it on either side to the back of the head in the shape of the letter U. With the ends behind the ears and pointing backward, the wind pressure on the breath would be relieved and the poisonous carbonic acid gas could escape to the rear.

Somehow, these automobile snorkels just never caught on.

But what about automobile fumes? Should people worry about those? The doctor says no. “There is no danger from the fumes of the gasoline. They are dissipated in the air.”

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Written by David

December 17th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Life,Technology

Santa Claus Up-to-Date

This wasn’t actually in the Magazine Section, but it was from the same issue and I found it amusing so I thought I’d share it anyway:

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Written by David

December 10th, 2010 at 10:15 am

Inventors Who Take No Profits From Their Work

From December 4, 1910

INVENTORS WHO TAKE NO PROFITS FROM THEIR WORK

INVENTORS WHO TAKE NO PROFITS FROM THEIR WORK: Give the Results of their Skill and Study Without Charge for the Good of Mankind, Declining Royalties. (PDF)

Fans and practitioners of open source intellectual property and creative commons licensing can look to these inventors as their predecessors in spirit. Each of them donated their inventions to the public. In fact, if you look at the patent for Logan Waller Page’s new form of concrete, discussed in this article, you will see that it boasts on the first page “DEDICATED TO THE PUBLIC.” In the text it elaborates:

…the invention herein described and claimed may be used by the Government of the United States or any of its officers or employees… or by any person in the United States, without the payment of any royalty thereon.

So why get a patent at all? The article explains:

Patents for the public are becoming more numerous and important each year. It is only within the last few months that the Patent Office has established the official classification of “Dedicated to the Public” in its official gazette of patents, and has attempted to assemble the records of those discoveries and inventions that have been taken out for the benefit of the people of the United States.

These patents are secured to insure the free use of the patented object by the public. If such action were not taken the principle of the invention or discovery might at once be incorporated ins ome other invention and patented by another person, with the result that the benefits intended for the public would go to some private corporation.

*ahem* Speaking of open source inventions, allow me to tell you about one of my own: the Bulbdial Clock. It’s a new kind of clock original envisioned by me, developed by Evil Mad Science Labs, and now available as an open source hardware kit that makes an excellent gift for the holidays.

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Written by David

December 3rd, 2010 at 9:30 am

Watching The Pulse Of New York Tell Its Life Story

From December 4, 1910

WATCHING THE PULSE OF NEW YORK TELL ITS LIFE STORY

WATCHING THE PULSE OF NEW YORK TELL ITS LIFE STORY: Activity in Business and Social Life Shown in the Daily Charts of the Telephone Exchanges. (PDF)

If you’ve ever seen an old-timey movie, you’ve likely seen a sequence where someone picks up the phone and connects with a telephone operator who sits at a giant switchboard and manually connects the call. That’s what this article is about. It describes exactly what’s going on when a phone call is made:

When you take your telephone receiver off its hook, that tiny light already mentioned flashes in front of the girl whom you call “Central” — one of scores, sitting in a long line at the switchboard of your local exchange.

To her question, “Number, please?” you give her, say, a number in your district. She inserts a plug, representing your wire, into a small hole, which represents that of the subscriber whom you are calling, and rings the latter up. Every telephone number in that particular district terminates in a hole, or “jack,” in front of each operator at the exchange switchboard; in other words, the number is repeated at intervals of about six feet all along the switchboard.

If anther operator along the board has already connected the number which you want with some other, the girl who answered your call is warned by a buzz as soon as she inserts the plug in the jack on her board corresponding to the busy wire. Then it is that you hear the familiar phrase, “The line is busy.”

If the subscriber with whom you wish to speak is in another district of the city, the operator who answers your call connects herself, by means of a “trunk” line, with the exchange wanted. She then gives the number you want to an operator at that exchange, who in turn inserts the plug corresponding to the trunk line communicating with your exchange into the jack corresponding to the telephone of the subscriber with whom you wish to speak.

If you call a number on a suburban toll line, the operator answering your call connects herself with a special switchboard, where there is a so-called “recording operator.” After making out a slip for the call, the recording operator then gets the suburban exchange where the person you want is located, and from there the connection with his telephone is made.

If there is a delay you will possibly make disparaging remarks to the girl at your local exchange, who has been innocent of everything to do with the call from the moment when she made connection with the recording operator.

Imagine having to connect phone calls manually. As the article describes, it’s not that bad in the wee hours before dawn, but in moments when everyone needs to place a call at once, things get crazy for the operators. And those times may not be what you think. For example, since there was no other way to get news in real time, people had to make phone calls to find out simple things like the results of a sports game. So call volume increased as games neared their conclusion. Here are a few other times when the switchboards could get crazy:

Election days, although holidays, are among the busiest for the girls in the exchanges. The general interest as to the result causes a great deal of general telephoning. Then, when people desire to know the result of the voting the girls are worked for a while to the limit of their capabilities.

But by far the severest strain that can be put on telephone operators is that caused by excited happenings on the stock market. Every second counts then for those using telephones — subscribers, their nerves stretched to snapping point, are furiously impatient and exacting.

“I have known girls at the switchboards go into hysterics at such times,” declared one of the men in authority at the Cortlandt Exchange.

At the time of this article, New York had twice as many telephones as any other city in the world, at approximately 310,000. There were 12,000 telephone employees, and around 1,250,000 phone calls made per day.

Here are some more interesting stats from the article:

Average time required for an operator to receive a call and repeat it to the called subscriber, 13.5 seconds.

Average time required for the operator to connect with and start ringing the calling subscriber, 13.5 seconds.

Average time required for subscriber to answer the telephone, 10.5 seconds.

Average time required to disconnect the lines after the conversation is completed, 3.8 seconds.

Although automated switchboards have long since replaced manual switchboards, some large buildings such as offices and hotels continued to use manual switchboards well into the second half the of 20th Century.

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Written by David

December 3rd, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Life,Technology

1889: Introducing Voting Machines

Tomorrow is election day, and this year New York has done away with its old election machines in favor of paper ballots. The transition is causing a bit of confusion. For many old time New Yorkers, tomorrow will be the first time voting on paper, and not in a Myers Automatic Booth like the one introduced more than 120 years ago.

Way back on November 23, 1889, The New York Times ran an article titled “VOTING BY MACHINERY: An Ingenious Reform Device Invented By A Rochester Man” (PDF) which described something very similar to the now-familiar booth:

Once inside the door the voter would find before him a curious-looking wall, having the appearance of a telephone switchboard, but with knobs instead of drops.

Mr. Myers proposes to give each party a distinctive color, which it would be expected to retain during its party life. The Republican Party, for instance, might be designated by red, the Democratic by yellow, the Prohibitionist by blue, the Socialist by brown, and so on to the end fo the list. The man who could neither read nor write could then vote a straight party ticket without difficulty, provided he was not color blind. The voter would then find before him rows of tickets, each row proceeding down from a large piece of pasteboard of the same color as the tickets under it and bearing the name of the party…

If the voter is an old-fashioned Republican or Democrat who never splits his ticket, he selects the red or yellow, as the case may be, and presses all the knobs under that color. A knob once pressed inward cannot be drawn out again while the man is in the voting booth, and by an ingenious but simple contrivance Mr. Myers has made it impossible for two knobs for Governor or Congressman or any other office to be depressed at the same time.

Having pressed the knobs of all the candidates for whom he desires and is permitted to vote, the voter passes out at a second door and finds before him a third door, which he cannot open until he has closed the second. He then finds himself entirely cut off from the little compartment where the voting was done. The act of closing the second door raises a lever that in turn operates other levers, which release the depressed buttons or knobs that the voter has pressed.

Having grown up hearing the phrase “pull the lever for” as a synonym for “vote for,” I always wondered what that meant exactly. The first few elections I voted in used butterfly ballots, and I was disappointed that there was no lever. Once I moved to New York, though, I came to enjoy the clunky mechanical ka-chunk! of the big lever that registers your votes.

On November 6, 1901, the Times ran another article about voting machines after the first trial in an election. This time the headline read, “VOTING MACHINE WAS PRONOUNCED A SUCCESS; Told Result in a Brooklyn District Two Minutes After 5 o’clock.” (PDF)

The voting machine, which was used for the first time in Brooklyn, in the Eighteenth Election District of the First Assembly District yesterday, proved a pronounced success in one respect at least — in the promptness with which it made known the total vote cast in the district. The entire results of the voting was known two minutes after the polls closed at 5 o’clock…

“If New York City goes another year without placing voting machines in every election district,” said [Lieutenant Governor] Woodruff, “it will be a shame and an outrage on the people. I have just come from another election district, and when I left there the Inspectors hadn’t even gotten the ballots unfolded. Here the entire work of counting the vote is already completed.”

…The poll clerks figured out that the average time taken by each voter in voting with the machine was eighteen seconds. As a rule, those who voted split tickets occupied more time in the booth than the voters who voted the straight tickets. Each voter was allowed one minute’s time in the booth, whereas under the prevailing system of voting a voter is allowed to remain in the booth five minutes.

The test of the voting machine yesterday was made in the election district in which Elections Commissioner Michael J. Dady lives. He was the first man to vote, registering his choice of candidates in just three seconds.

By paper or by machine, don’t forget to vote tomorrow!

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Written by David

November 1st, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Politics,Technology

“Olympic,” World’s Biggest Ship, Huge Floating Hotel

From October 30, 1910

OLYMPIC, WORLDS BIGGEST SHIP, HUGE FLOATING HOTEL

“OLYMPIC,” WORLD’S BIGGEST SHIP, HUGE FLOATING HOTEL: Exceeds Next Largest Steamer by 13,000 Tons — If Two Ships of Her Size Were Placed Across the East River They Would Have 200 Feet of Hull on Land. (PDF)

The Olympic and her sister ship the Titanic were similar ocean liners for the White Star Line, starting construction just a few months apart. Of course, the Titanic met famously with disaster just about 18 months after this article was written, but the Olympic continued service until 1935 despite having her own mishaps.

Here’s how the article describes some of the amenities and ocean liner “firsts” in these White Star Olympic-class ships:

It will not only have suites comprising a large number of rooms, but real bona fide apartments or flats, which will give passengers reserving them all the comfort and privacy of home while crossing the Atlantic. These sea-going flats will include bedrooms, sitting rooms or parlors, private baths, and even — if desired — a private library! The parlors in these apartments will be fitted with tables on which the most elaborate meals may be served, far from the madding crowd of the main dining rooms.

Moreover, the Olympic will be the first transatlantic liner to have passenger staterooms equipped with private shower baths. Moreover, there will be a great swimming pool, so deep that bathers may dive without fear of unpleasant consequences, thus being able to enjoy all the pleasures of sea bathing without jumping over the side of the ship. Moreover, (will wonders never cease) passengers will have the use of a will-equipped gymnasium, the largest and most complete ever installed on a ship.

But will it be safe? After describing the ship’s numerous safety systems the article concludes, “so complete will be the system of safeguarding devices on board this latest of ocean giants that, when she is finally ready for service, it is claimed that she will be practically unsinkable and absolutely unburnable.”

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Written by David

October 29th, 2010 at 9:15 am

“Crossing The Atlantic Feasible” Says Prof. Rotch Of Harvard

From October 23, 1910

CROSSING THE ATLANTIC FEASIBLE SAYS PROF. ROTCH OF HARVARD

“CROSSING THE ATLANTIC FEASIBLE” SAYS PROF. ROTCH OF HARVARD: He Has Charted the Air Lanes Above the Ocean and Future Balloon Voyagers Will Have Their Wind Currents Marked Out For Them. (PDF)

It seems that every week brings another story about air travel, and this one brings good news for those aeronauts planning to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airship: a Harvard Professor has just completed a study of wind currents that could dramatically cut your travel time.

“It is evident that the currents in the various levels of the atmosphere are of vastly more importance to the aeronaut than are the ocean currents or surface winds to the sailor, since the winds above the earth’s surface blow much faster tan the surface winds, and aerial machines are considerably more bulky than aquatic vehicles of the same carrying capacity.

“Moreover, a balloon or flying machine, wholly immersed in one medium, cannot tack, as a ship floating in the water can advance partly into the wind. Consequently a balloon without motive power can only drift with the current, and a dirigible balloon or flying machine must possess a proper speed superior to that of the current in which it floats in order to make headway against it. Hence the necessity in the case of the balloon without power, and the advisability of the airship or heavier-than-air machine to seek a favorable current in the aerial ocean.”

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:30 am

X Ray Moving Picture Machine Shows Brain At Work

From September 4, 1910

X-RAY MOVING PICTURE MACHINE SHOWS BRAIN AT WORK

X RAY MOVING PICTURE MACHINE SHOWS BRAIN AT WORK: Dr. Max Baff of Clark University Tells of the Remarkable Invention of a Scientist at Buenos Ayres Which May Pry Into the Soul’s Secrets. (PDF)

80 years before the invention of fMRI, which tracks blood flow in the brain to measure brain activity, this doctor describes a device for doing precisely that using x-rays. The headline suggests that it was already in use, but the article explains that it was still theoretical at the time.

He is now in correspondence with a scientist in Buenos Ayres who is constructing a device to be attached to the X ray apparatus by which the cells of the brain may be magnified at least 5,000 times. The new apparatus will consist of this magnifying instrument, of the Roentgen ray, more widely known as the X ray, and of the cinematograph. The X ray will disclose the action of the brain, the cinematograph will flash instantaneously each movement on a recording film, and the magnifying lens will give these such proportions as to make them visible to the naked eye…

“When you are thinking there is more blood in the cells of your brain than when your mind is inactive. All doctors know that the part of the body that is working is congested with blood.

“But not until the present has it been possible to study these cells at close range. Not till these new mechanical achievements has there been a way of determining what changes take place in the neurons.”

The doctor imagines that, once 500 or so test subjects have been properly studied, these tests could help determine whether or not a person is mentally fit or an imbecile. Perhaps science can even learn something about the soul. Okay, so maybe that use case is a little pseudoscience-y, but it’s still neat to see a germ of an idea that is actually used today.

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Written by David

September 3rd, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Science,Technology

Here At Last Is The Arctic Auto-Sleigh

From August 28, 1910

HERE AT LAST IS THE ARCTIC AUTO-SLEIGH

HERE AT LAST IS THE ARCTIC AUTO-SLEIGH: Alaskan Gold Hunter, After Nine Years’ Work, Invents a Machine for Speeding Over Snow-Clad Passes (PDF)

Inventor Charles E. S. Burch was one of the lucky few people who actually struck it rich in the northwestern Gold Rush of 1896. He spent nine years using his wealth to develop a vehicle to carry people across the snow, and finally came up with this design, using threaded wheels on the engine, and sled rails on the passenger car.

Here’s a video of an awesome Russian off-road and snow vehicle that uses a similar threaded propulsion system. Seriously, it’s awesome. Go watch it.

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Written by David

August 27th, 2010 at 10:00 am

How A Man With An Idea Made Millions In Twelve Years

From August 28, 1910

HOW A MAN WITH AN IDEA MADE MILLIONS IN TWELVE YEARS

HOW A MAN WITH AN IDEA MADE MILLIONS IN TWELVE YEARS: A Little One Room Shop Earning Ten Dollars a Week Becomes Fifteen Acres of Industry Earning $30,000,000 a Year. (PDF)

This is the story of Eldredge Reeves Johnson, the man who built the Victor Talking Machine Company, one of the most successful phonograph companies at the time. (The word “phonograph” there links to the wikipedia entry for “gramaphone record” for the young’uns.) The article tells not only the events of Johnson’s success story, but also explains how the phonograph records were made.

The Victor company is the largest buyer of shellac in the world — which is easily believed when one sees the yards and yards of doughy stuff being kneaded in the cauldrons. It is pliant and thick, and is passed over the rollers just exactly as if it were a particularly black sort of dough.

When it has been kneaded enough it is put through a machine which flattens it out and cuts it into squares just large enough to make a record disk. It lies, smoking and cooling, on a big rolling board for all the world like a singularly uninviting kind of cake. In a couple of minutes it has cooled enough to be touched and taken up to the room above.

There stand men before a heated copper table. The black cake is put on the table for a few seconds to get warm and pliant again, (it is as hard as a rock when cold); then it is folded into a mold and put in a hydraulic press, with a pressure of 3,000 pounds to the square inch. In half a minute it is taken out, all ready except for a little trimming of the edges.

We took the little square we had followed, slipped it into a talking machine, and the ugly black thing that five minutes before had been smoking in a cauldron had become “The Spring Song.” It takes about five minutes, not more, to work this modern miracle.

The article goes on to describe how these records are recorded to begin with, which is interesting to read.

Even if you never heard of Victor, you still might know the logo, which is based on a painting called His Master’s Voice. The Victor Talking Machine Company later became RCA Victor and then part of RCA Records, which now belongs to Sony Music Company.

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Written by David

August 27th, 2010 at 9:30 am

How Those Amusing Freak Moving Pictures Are Made

From August 21, 1910

HOW THOSE AMUSING FREAK MOVING PICTURES ARE MADE

HOW THOSE AMUSING FREAK MOVING PICTURES ARE MADE: Ingenious Devices Make It Easy for a Man Apparently to Walk on the Ceiling, Climb Up the Side of a House and Work Other Impossibilities. (PDF)

By 1910, jaded audiences were already tired of the primitive special effects in movies. They demanded more!

Tricks popular a few years ago are being abandoned. Sophisticated audiences demand that the ideas be worked out in a logical way. This forced the manufacturers to drop the obvious or merely ingenious… The result has been that the tricks of the moving picture man have progressed to a point of mechanical complexity that is amazing to the layman, and have developed ideas worthy of a skilled dramatist or novelist.

The article goes on to reveal several secrets of 1910 movie effects:

A French magician named Malies originated the so-called magical pictures, in which persons and objects appeared and disappeared in an instant. Of course, these were merely placed in or removed from the scene while the shutter of the camera was closed between the photographs.

Of course that refers to George Melies, whose “magical pictures” are worth looking up on YouTube. Here’s one example from 1898 showing how objects can appear and disappear as described above (for best effect, mute the music):

The article gives another example:

In the picture of the “Great Train Robbery,” for example, a dummy was substituted and thrown from a moving train in place of the living fireman who had been knocked on the head with a piece of coal.

I believe this must be the scene they refer to:

I can’t say I blame audiences for demanding more.

Amazingly, many of the tricks used back then are still used today. For example, the article describes a movie where a man crawls like a fly on the ceiling…

…head down, laughing and talking to an assistant who passes bits of paper to him from the floor beneath. On another picture a man, clinging to the ceiling as though glued there, goes through a series of antics and finally hangs suspended by his hands and his head.

The secret of these illusions is as simple as that of a conundrum — when you know it. The men walking head downward on the ceiling are actually performing on a floor. The walls and furniture in the room are suspended upside down, after being fastened to a framework of wooden strips.

A more sophisticated version of this same technique was used in this summer’s Inception. In a scene where two characters appear to be fighting on the walls and ceiling of a hotel hallway, the effect is in fact achieved by rotating the set along with the camera so that they end up fighting on an upside down set. You can read more about Inception‘s rotating set in this article at mtv.com.

While not mentioned in the article, I also recommend you watch Melies’ 1902 film A Trip To The Moon (Le voyage dans la lune), which is often considered the first sci-fi film.

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Written by David

August 20th, 2010 at 10:15 am

The New Wright Five-Passenger Biplane For Cross-Country Flights

From August 21, 1910

THE NEW WRIGHT FIVE-PASSENGER BIPLANE FOR CROSS-COUNTRY FLIGHTS

THE NEW WRIGHT FIVE-PASSENGER BIPLANE FOR CROSS-COUNTRY FLIGHTS (PDF)

The fact that a five-passenger flight will shortly become an accomplished fact has interested the aviation world. In the new craft there is nothing in front of the driver’s seat. The front elevating planes are gone, and the two main planes catch the air in initial contact, so far as the aeroplane is concerned. The elevating plane — there is only one — is behind the rear rudder, and thus one of the earliest features of the aeroplane passes out of existence in this new type.

Another first for the Wright Brothers!

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Written by David

August 20th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Unusual Snapshots Taken At Thrilling Moments

From August 14, 1910

UNUSUAL SNAPSHOTS TAKEN AT THRILLING MOMENTS

UNUSUAL SNAPSHOTS TAKEN AT THRILLING MOMENTS: Work of Camera Men with Presence of Mind to Press the Button at Critical Times (PDF)

This week in 1910, New York City mayor William Jay Gaynor was shot in a failed assassination attempt. Photographer William Warnecke was there to take the photo that captured the event.

So the New York Times Sunday Magazine decided to take a look at other photographers who managed to be in the right place at the right time with their cameras.

Such photographs were found in much greater variety than had been expected. The subjects were drawn from all parts of the world. Bombs were shown exploding in war, and a volcano at the moment of eruption. A big Japanese shell was divulged soaring in the air, plain in the picture, though invisible to those behind the gun that fired it. A steamship was caught at the moment it was submerged. A queen’s horses, which had plunged from the low parapet of a bridge, struggled wildly to keep afloat in a French lake. In many instances the photographs were taken as part of thrilling experience…

Those who have passed through such periods of excitement say that a man is likely to do one of three things. He will stand facing the danger, inert and with paralyzed faculties; he will lose his grip on his mind until a great fear seizes him which, in a crowd, means panic, or else he will face the crisis with faculties excited to abnormal acuteness.

The photographers who took the pictures mentioned belonged, almost without exception, to the last-named class. Accident may play a small part, but not a great one. The force of habit has a larger share in it. As an old fireman once described his dangerous duties, they “came naturally, because he had always done it.” In this spirit the photographer is impelled to press the lever of his camera. It requires much less force to do so than to fire an automatic revolver.

What follows then are stories behind those photos. The photographers in the article include Enrique Muller, Herbert Ponting, James Ricalton, Underwood & Underwood, and an anonymous passenger of a steamship who captured a photo of another steamship sinking (seen above). It reminds me of the Staten Island Ferry passenger who took the iconic photo of US Airways Flight 1549 after it landed in the Hudson River.

It’s worth pointing out an interesting paragraph towards the end of the article that describe the beginning of the stock footage industry, where outtakes from journalistic shoots were later used in fictional narrative works:

“Accidental” moving pictures are now usually held in reserve until a story is invented to fit them. Then they become a realistic scene in a series. A moving picture man, for instance, happened to be on the spot when a ship was wrecked off the coast of Florida recently. He obtained a film of the stormy sea, the wreck, Atlantic City. A fire horse collided with and the crew being rescued with a breeches buoy. A story of a castaway was built around it. Those who saw the film marveled at the realistic “faking” of the wreck. One New York manufacturer has a moving picture of a railroad crash on an up-State railroad in a snow storm last Winter. Obtained by accident, he is holding it until a story can be invented for it.”

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Written by David

August 13th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Art,Technology