Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

U-Boats Off Shore!

Franklin D. Roosevelt… assistant secretary of the navy?

Many people — or perhaps even most people — today don’t even remember what position FDR held right before his presidency: governor of New York. But virtually nobody remembers what position he held even before that: assistant secretary of the Navy.

FDR held the #2 spot in the Navy from 1913-19. He was appointed a year before World War I broke out in Europe and four years before America entered the conflict.

In this June 1918 article, FDR explains the reasoning behind Germany launched a U-boat attack on shipping right off the American Atlantic coast:

First, merely to carry out the known German system of terrorizing the enemy; second in this particular case, it may be the definite belief of the German Admiralty that this campaign will force the United States to withdraw destroyers and patrol vessels now in European waters in order to protect our own coasts. To do this would be playing directly into the hands of the German Admiralty, because… it pays them better to attack our ships on the other side and not here; if we withdraw destroyers and patrol boats from the other side it would make it that much easier for the Germans in their chosen field of operations.

We must realize, therefore, that while Germany may and probably will continue to send occasional submarines to our own coasts, and while these submarines may occasionally sink ships off our shores, we must regard their operations as secondary.

The secretary of the Navy — and FDR’s boss — was Josephus Daniels. FDR would repay Daniels as president by appointing him ambassador to Mexico.

U-Boats Off Shore!: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Discusses the Possibilities and Purposes of Germany’s Submarine Attack (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 9, 1918

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Written by Jesse

June 10th, 2018 at 12:34 pm

3,000 Planes a Month

America is the leader in aviation technology today, and has been for decades. But that was not the case in 1918, even though the Wright Brothers who hailed from Ohio had invented the airplane only a few years before.

As this May 1918 article explained, the U.S. had some major catching up to do upon entering WWI:

It must be remembered that all the warring nations had three years of advantage over the United States in bringing aircraft production to its highest efficiency, because they had been fighting three years when we began. Some of our aircraft producers had foreign contracts, but not many; and the aircraft industry in the United States, on that day in early April when we threw Uncle Sam’s hat into the ring and decided to make the world safe for democracy, was at a low ebb. Although two young Americans invented the aircraft, people of the United States, generally speaking, took no very intense interest in doing their traveling by air, and it was extremely difficult for aircraft manufacturers to keep going, even in a small way.

But with our entrance into the war, the whole situation changed. Aircraft companies sprang up like mushrooms.

As Dr. Bert Frandsen writes in his article The Birth of American Airpower in World War I in Air & Space Power Journal, the American military only had 26 qualified aviators at the start of the war, and “Aircraft production was so small that airplanes were made in shops instead of factories.” By the end of the war, we had created the Army Air Service (later largely turned into the Air Force in 1947), with 190,000 men and 11,000 aircraft.

 

3,000 Planes a Month: Careful Inquiry Shows Real Progress in American Output, Including One Machine Which Is Unburnable (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 26, 1918

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Written by Jesse

May 23rd, 2018 at 11:24 am

France’s Airman-Artist Tells How He Works

Henri Farré was the official painter of the French government during World War I, whose job was to paint battles as he observed them from airplanes.

While this may seem like a strange occupation to be funded at taxpayer expense after the invention of the photograph, WWI was also the first major military conflict to feature aviation. And we still have official portraits of major figures such as presidents commissioned even today, despite a camera in every person’s back pocket.

In the 1918 article, Farré explained his methods:

“How do I do my work?” he went on, in answer to a question. “I am, say, somewhere in the rear of the fighting. An attack is begun. I am notified. Up I go with one of our pilots. We approach the field of battle, strike into the mist of it, keeping straight over it. I take in every detail. I saturate my brain with the topography of the place. I transform my head into a camera. It took me six months to learn to do that, but now I find it easy. I concentrate. I fix my eyes on every feature of the landscape beneath me. My brain becomes a photographic plate.

“Sometimes we hover over the battle as long as half an hour. Shells burst around us. Other airmen plunge to the ground. But we escape. Then my pilots whirls around and we fly back to the rear. We land. I have no time to lose. I sit down immediately and sketch from memory the scene I have just witnessed. From what I remember and a system of jotting down numbers for colors while I am in the air, I make a rough sketch of the battle I have just witnessed.”

The 1918 article does not do justice to Farré’s paintings, showcasing only two and in grainy black-and-white at that. Here is one in full-resolution color from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, to give a sense of the man’s talents:

France’s Airman-Artist Tells How He Works: Lieutenant Farre, Official Painter of War as Seen from the Air, Has Risked His Life Over Scores of Battles in Full Swing (PDF)

Published Sunday, March 3, 1918

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Written by Jesse

March 8th, 2018 at 8:01 am

Posted in Art,Transportation,War

Propaganda to German People by Balloon Routes

 

“Ironclad ignorance and skillfully applied misinformation are the two hypnotizing agents by which the military masters of Germany’s restless and suffering millions keep them loyal and obedient.” How to combat this?

Henry Louis Smith, President of Washington and Lee University, proposed an idea that could only be considered legitimate in the pre-internet age: send balloons with  messages containing Western ideas over France, Spain, and Italy, letting the eastern or northeastern winds transmit them into the German and Austrian Empires for their citizens to read.

“If the masses of the German people could read for themselves the messages of President Wilson and the other allied statesmen, could receive the argument and appeals of reformers in every land, could learn the facts concerning the war and the state of public opinion throughout the world, their blind loyalty, cemented by ignorance and falsehood, would be fatally and permanently disintegrated.”

“The following method would accomplish this result rapidly, inexpensively, and thoroughly in spite of frontier guards and police supervision, and also without violating morals or international law, imperiling its agents, or interfering with present military operations.”

I almost always try to avoid commenting on modern American politics or society in these posts, but the idea that the free flow of intellectual or progressive ideas would cause “ignorance and falsehood [to be] fatally and permanently disintegrated” certainly seems to have been disproven in the past few years.

As for Germany specifically, it’s hard to imagine this plan would have worked. Adolf Hitler was democratically elected in 1932 — it seems doubtful at best that this plan would have changed more than a few minds out of the many millions of Germans who would ultimately help elect Hitler.

Propaganda to German People by Balloon Routes: Scientist’s Novel Idea of Using Air Currents to Flood the Enemy’s Land with Educational Messages on Innumerable Small Carriers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 24, 1918

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Written by Jesse

February 24th, 2018 at 8:01 am

Speeding Up the Mails for American Soldiers

Before the age of email, instant messaging, texting, and even mass phone calls, communication from families to soldiers was much more difficult, as this 1917 article details:

“The time when the soldiers from the firing line did not get the home mail they were hoping for came at the end of one of the eighteen-day periods in which it was impossible to send any mail from America because there were no ships going over. There have been two such periods since our troops arrived in France.”

That was during World War I. My maternal grandfather delivered mail to the troops during the Korean War several decades later, and even then there were complications delivering the mail. Today, as you can imagine, the situation is significantly easier.

Interestingly, another excerpt from the article reveals the discrepancy between inbound and outbound letters: 450,000 letters per week to the troops, but only 376,000 letters per month from them — almost five times as many letters to the troops as from them.

Speeding Up the Mails for American Soldiers: Every Week 450,000 Letters Go to France, and Lack of Ships Has Complicated the Postal Problem — Cantonment Service Systematized (PDF)

From Sunday, November 18, 1917

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Written by Jesse

November 16th, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Transportation,War

Farmers Buy Forty Per Cent. of Motor Cars

The urban population has surged from 29.5 percent in 1880 to 46.3 percent in 1910. The Census Bureau estimates that cities contain 62.7 percent of the U.S. population today.

A major change in rural life came with the development and popularity of the car. In 1917, the top two states by number of cars per capita were Iowa and Nebraska, then as now major agricultural states. (Today those two states rank #5 and #10.) The top two today are Montana and Wyoming.

This article describes the transformative effect that the car had on rural life.

“There was the railroad. It was to intersect the country until no isolation would be left. Then came the telephone. It was to knit the countryside together by wire and long distance conversation and thus banish isolation. Next came rural mail delivery. It was to make the change by the delivery of daily papers at the farmer’s door, by establishing continuous touch with the city and the outside world.”

“No one hit upon the actual cause. The trouble with the farm was three miles an hour — three miles by horse and buggy or two by team and wagon. Even the best social ideas would not work at such a rate of moving about. The rate of three miles an hour limited the size of the community, set a bound on the number of people one would meet in the course of a lifetime. Twelve miles is a long drive by horse and buggy, and that was about the radius of the farm families’ social life; the actual neighborhood life was restricted to about four miles from home. Six miles was a good way to go to church; seven or eight miles would be attempted for a social party.”

Today, the trend might be going in reverse, as many Millennials are ditching cars altogether. Only about 60 percent of 18-year-olds have a driver’s license, down from 80 percent in the 1980s.

Farmers Buy Forty Per Cent. of Motor Cars: Country Existence Ameliorated by Speeding Up from Three to Twenty Miles an Hour — Tremendous Influence in Rural Social Life (PDF)

From Sunday, September 16, 1917

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Written by Jesse

September 14th, 2017 at 5:36 pm

Orville Wright Says 10,000 Airplanes Would End the War Within Ten Weeks

Less than 14 years after Orville Wright became the first human being to ever take flight in an airplane, he had lived to see his invention was being used in World War I, the first major war to utilize the technology en masse. (His brother and co-inventor Wilbur Wright had passed away in 1912.)

In this article, Wright predicted that “10,000 airplanes [used by the U.S.] would end the war within ten weeks.” Alas, that prediction proved overly optimistic. The war continued for several more years despite U.S. manufacturers producing 12,000 airplanes per year.

Orville Wright Says 10,000 Airplanes Would End the War Within Ten Weeks: Building a Vast Aerial Fleet Is “the One Thing That the United States Can Do and Do Quickly” – Our Plants Equal to the Task (PDF)

From Sunday, July 1, 1917

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Written by Jesse

July 2nd, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Hunters in Autos Exterminating Big Game

The relatively new invention of the automobile was producing unforeseen consequences for hunters. William T. Hornaday, director of the New York Zoological Park, thought that lawmakers should ban the practice:

“There is not the slightest doubt,” he said, “that if things are allowed to remain for the next three years as they have been during the last three, there will be no wild game left excepting wolves and coyotes, skunk, and weasels.” This deplorable state of things is due, according to Mr. Hornaday, to crude and ineffective game laws, which allow ridiculously liberal bag limits, open seasons which are nothing less than exterminatory, the use of automatic and pump guns, and worst of all, the automobile: swift, silent, and terrible in its efficacy as a destroying agent.

Today, New York state law says “It is illegal to take or hunt wildlife while in or on a motor vehicle,” according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. When exactly this law was passed, and whether or not it was passed shortly after this article, I couldn’t easily ascertain.

Hunters in Autos Exterminating Big Game: Unless Law Prevents Slaughter by “Sportsmen” in Motor Cars Our Wild Game Will Disappear, Says William T. Hornaday (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 1, 1917

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Written by Jesse

April 6th, 2017 at 2:54 pm

One-Man Submarine Invention of an American

 

Small submarines definitely still exist today, though to my knowledge the operator sits inside. I’m not aware of a current design which requires lying on one’s stomach and pedaling.

Although the pictured invention might look a bit silly to a modern day viewer, the idea behind the invention still has merit to it:

“The only way by which to make the action of the torpedo actually certain was to put an experienced operator inside it; for, while its automatic machinery operates with almost human intelligence, there is no certainty that it will on long ranges do exactly what is required of it.”

One-Man Submarine Invention of an American: Tiny Torpedo Boat, Said to be Used by German Raider, Was Anticipated by the Ingenious Craft of Thomas J. Moriarty (PDF)

From Sunday, January 28, 1917

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Written by Jesse

January 29th, 2017 at 2:41 pm

One Auto For Each 25 Americans by January 1

From August 6, 1916

One Auto For Each

One Auto For Each 25 Americans by January 1: Remarkable Increase in Number of Cars Owned in This Country Will Soon Bring Total to 3,946,664, Valued at $2,000,000,000 (PDF)

These numbers have certainly skyrocketed in the past year. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, as of 2014 there were 260.3 million total registered highway vehicles. For cars specifically, as of 2006 (the most recent year for which statistics were available) there were 135.3 million registered passenger cars. That’s approximately one auto for every 2.2 or 2.3 Americans, a far more even ratio than the one auto for every 25 Americans back in 1916. And those numbers are likely to level even further as last year was the best year for auto sales in American history with 17.5 million, due largely to an improving economy and low gasoline prices.

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Written by Jesse

August 3rd, 2016 at 5:49 pm