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Refrigerator Cars, Prohibition, Bandaid Surgery and National Without a Scalpel Day

OK, work with me here.  There’s a lot to say about 16 January: Octavian became Caesar Augustus in 27 BCE, the Ostrogoths sacked Rome in 550, the battle of Cape St. Vincent (aka the Moonlight battle) was fought in 1780,  and Khrushchev claimed to have a 100 megaton thermonuclear weapon in 1963. But, today, we talk about saving lives.

The mechanical means of refrigeration that followed soon became not just practical for railroad cars, but for stand-alone refrigerators (as opposed to ice boxes) that began to appear in 1913.

On 16 January 1868, Detroit meat packer George H. Hammond inaugurated the use of ice-cooled boxcars–called reefers–to ship meat to New England.  While this early experiment was ultimately a failure (not because the idea didn’t work but because the cars were unbalanced and derailed several times), it did inspire other work in the area of whole-car refrigeration as opposed to insulated cars that had been in use since the 1840s. The mechanical means of refrigeration that followed soon became not just practical for railroad cars, but for stand-alone refrigerators (as opposed to ice boxes) that began to appear in 1913. While ice boxes lasted until the 1950s in the US and somewhat later in the developing world, the powered refrigerator led a revolution in food preservation that led, eventually to the invention of the supermarket and the TV dinner.

By WWI, the chorus of voices wanting to ban alcoholic beverages altogether was thunderous.

Since the beginning of colonization of North America by religious refugees, the issue of alcoholic beverages has been a contentious area of public debate. The main issues were, at first, sale of intoxicants to the Indians, then of public drunkenness.  The taxes on liquor that started to pay down the national debts after the Revolution were seen by social reformers as “sin taxes” that would discourage consumption, and temperance societies began to sprout. Thomas Jefferson killed the tax early in his presidency, but moral objections to alcohol consumption continued to grow. States like Maine banned the sale of liquor, only to be repealed itself in an election cycle. Federal alcohol taxes were re-imposed in 1864, and by 1898 it was at 1.1 cents per gallon of beverage. By WWI, the chorus of voices wanting to ban alcoholic beverages altogether was thunderous. Amendment XVIII to the Constitution passed in 1918 before Congress passed enabling legislation called the Volstead Act, which was signed into law on 16 January 1920, when Prohibition began.  Much to the chagrin of the social reformers it simply didn’t work, being by and large unenforceable because the consumption of alcohol was so widely popular. The Great Depression helped end the popularity of the law, since about 14% of pre-1920 Federal tax revenues were from alcohol taxes. Amendment XXI repealing Amendment XVIII went into effect on 5 December, 1933.

While most of us would say “um…yeah” to such things today, this was a breakthrough that prolonged the first patient’s life for two and a half years, and probably saves tens of thousands of lives every year.

Venturing into completely unfamiliar territory, on 16 January 1964, Charles Dotter threaded a stent into the leg of a patient using only x-rays for guidance, saving the limb.  While today this sort of thing is regarded as routine, at the time it was Nobel-Prize territory.  Dotter is now known as the “father of interventional radiology,” a sub-field of medicine that covers direct-viewing medical imagery to guide surgical procedures.  While most of us would say “um…yeah” to such things today, this was a breakthrough that prolonged the first patient’s life for two and a half years, and probably saves tens of thousands of lives every year.  Non-invasive surgery has since expanded, with revolutions in fiber optic imagery, x-ray and fluoroscopy, and even ultrasonic imaging that now enables surgeons to save tens of thousands of hours of recovery time, millions of dollars in medical expenses, and billions more in the reduction of hospital contagions.

Though I know less about medicine than I do a lot of other things, I and my family have reaped the benefits of minimally invasive techniques for several years.

Which brings us to National Without a Scalpel Day, marked every 16 January since 2016 by The Interventional Initiative to commemorate Dr. Dotter’s achievement, and to expand awareness of minimally invasive, image-guided procedures (MIIP) that are now a matter of routine in medicine.  Though I know less about medicine than I do a lot of other things, I and my family have reaped the benefits of minimally invasive techniques for several years.  My hat’s off to the late Dr. Dotter (who passed in 1985), and to all the pioneers in the fields of medicine, surgery and medical imagery that he inspired.

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Eugene Ely, Coventry, Possum Hansell and the Consequences of Elections

Today, we celebrate, or at least acknowledge, obscurity, horror, firsts, and aviation…in our own way, of course.  As a natural consequence of today’s missive, your intrepid researcher/correspondent will endeavor as is his wont to bring you, his regular readers, entertainment, history, facts, (limited) opinions, and at least some sober analysis of events that took place on 14 November.  Among many other things, Robert Fulton was born on this day in 1765, James B. McPherson of Civil War fame was born in 1827, King Gillette patented his safety razor in 1904, and the Somme offensive ended in 1916.  But today, we talk about flying…and not.

Since Bishop Wright’s boys flew in the Kill Devil Hills in December 1903, the US Navy had been interested in aviation for scouting around the fleet.  

Aviation was an amateur endeavor in the heady days before WWI turned it into a deadly enterprise.  It was dangerous before airplanes started carrying weapons, but usually only to the intrepid adventurers flying the fragile kites.  Since Bishop Wright’s boys flew in the Kill Devil Hills in December 1903, the US Navy had been interested in aviation for scouting around the fleet.  Naval gunnery was not yet capable of firing over the horizon, but it wasn’t that far off. In 1910, Eugene Ely, a former auto salesman who taught himself to fly well enough to get a job with Glenn Curtis met Washington Chambers, who had been appointed by the US Navy to investigate the possibilities of heavier-than-air flying machines for scouting.  Since radios of the time weighted as much as the airplanes did, the machines would have to launch and land on or near a ship to have any use to battle fleets at sea. On 14 November, 1910, Ely took off from an 83-foot wooden platform built on the deck of light cruiser USS Birmingham anchored in Chesapeake Bay while in a Curtis pusher, the first time a heavier-than-air machine had launched (if barely) from a ship. Ely died in a crash less than a year later.

By the time the all clear sounded at 6:15 on 15 November, about 4,300 homes were destroyed, and two-thirds of the buildings in the city were damaged.

Early in WWII Hitler placed prohibitions on attacking populated areas.  Gradually those prohibitions fell away until they were a dim, if quaint, memory. In the industrialization of the West Midlands of Great Britain ancient cities like the ancient cathedral city of Coventry, with its dense population and proximity to coal, became prime targets for German bombers.  Along with the 14th century cathedral was the Coventry Ordnance Works which made gun mountings for the Royal Navy, and other plants that together supplied a quarter of the RAF’s aircraft. On the night of 14 November 1940, some five hundred German bombers from Luftflotte 3 and the pathfinders of  Kampfgruppe 100 bombed Coventry in an operation called Mondscheinsonate (Moonlight Sonata). By the time the all clear sounded at 6:15 on 15 November, about 4,300 homes were destroyed, and two-thirds of the buildings in the city were damaged. Over a thousand people were killed and injured during the attack, and only one German bomber was shot down. It was the first use of pathfinder aircraft equipped with beam-riding navigation equipment and bombing patterns intended to mark targets, and one of the first to use a mix of high explosive and incendiary bombs to intentionally start large fires.

Those first six months was crucial for the future of strategic bombing, and for the notions of an independent air force.

Studying Coventry and the other large air strikes in Europe and Asia before America’s entry in WWII was Heywood S. “Possum” Hansell, an American Army Air Corps officer, a man with a long pedigree of service. Hansell was a member of the “Bomber Mafia,” a small group of vocal advocates of daylight precision air bombardment that included Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, Ira Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle. Hansell was the chief of the Foreign Intelligence Section in the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps, and responsible for writing two papers known as AWP-1 and AWP-42, outlining the Army Air Force’s plans for strategic air warfare against both Germany and Japan. As a reward for his work, Hansell was given the command of the 1st Bomb Wing, the B-17 component of the Eighth Air Force in England. Those first six months was crucial for the future of strategic bombing, and for the notions of an independent air force.  Hansell was also the architect of the Combined Bomber Offensive with the RAF.  Soon, hansell found himself shifted out of Europe and the Flying Fortresses to Asia and the Superfortresses, the B-29s. But Possum was a better staff man than he was a commander, and the multitude of serious command-level problems on Saipan, with the B-29, and with the completely new command arrangements (Twentieth Air Force was commanded from Washington).  As a result, Hansell was replaced by fellow Mafia member Curtis LeMay.  After the war Hansell held a number of minor, if important posts in training and administration, retiring from the Air Force for the last time in 1955.  Possum Hansell, the architect of the bombing campaigns in Europe and Asia, died in Hilton Head, South Carolina on 14 November, 1988.

History was going to be made either way, but the outcome was, it was thought, in the bag for one side.

And so.  As Barack Obama told the assembled Republicans on 10 October 2010, “elections have consequences.” Last week, your intrepid researcher briefly discussed the then-upcoming election, where the United States was choosing between the first woman presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, from a major party and the first non-politician, non-military candidate, Donald Trump, from another.  History was going to be made either way, but the outcome was, it was thought, in the bag for one side.  Except…it didn’t roll that way.  Much to nearly everyone’s surprise,  the political neophyte Donald Trump won the Electoral College, and rather resoundingly.  One of the (many) consequences of  this election is the almost-certain end of the Clinton family’s quarter-century of influence on national politics. Another will be that Trump, having very few political debt to pay, will be free to choose people who will do their jobs, not kowtow to others just to curry favor.  Once again, we shall see.

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Marie Curie, Lise Meitner, and Jeanette Rankin

In recognition of the hysterical—-um, historic–election in the US tomorrow, I thought I’d talk about a few ladies who made history with connections to 7 November: two were born and a third set a precedent in the US Congress.  Oh, sure, there was Tsingtao and Yarmouth in 1914, and there was Tippecanoe in 1811, and Belmont in 1861, but today is Ladies’ Day here.  For what it’s worth…

Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born in Warsaw in what was then the Kingdom of Poland, which was a part of Russia, on 7 November 1867.  She got some of her initial schooling at the clandestine Flying (or Floating) University in Warsaw before she moved to Paris in 1891 where she met and married Pierre Curie. Between teaching and writing the Curies put together enough of a living to scrape by until 1903, when the Curies and Henri Becquerel were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Marie Curie (as she was known in France) was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.  In 1906 Pierre was killed in a road accident, but in 1911 she was awarded a second Nobel Prize in Physics for her isolation of radium and polonium.  She was the first person to win two Nobels, and the only woman to win two.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Liese (originally Elise) Meitner was born in Vienna, in what was then Austria-Hungary, on 7 November 1878.  Unlike Marie Curie, Meitner was unable to obtain much of a formal early education, but instead got her early training externally, through tutors and testing…what today would be deemed “homeschooling.” She was the second woman to earn a PhD from the University of Vienna, gaining that distinction in 1905.  Listening to lectures by Max Planck at the Friedrichs-Wilhelms-Universitat in Berlin, she was drawn to the work of Otto Hahn as one of Planck’s assistants.  Together they discovered radioactive recoil, a key concept in nuclear fission. By 1938, Meitner had lost her position at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute because she was a Jew, and had fled to Sweden. She was there in 1939 when fission was announced by Hahn and Fritz Strassman: her considerable contribution to fission work before 1936 was not mentioned in Hahn’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944.  Subsequent historical research has concluded that Meitner was, indeed, wrongly deprived of the honor she was due.

By 1938, Meitner had lost her position at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute because she was a Jew, and had fled to Sweden.

With World War One raging in Europe, the American elections of 1916 were still fairly closely contested.  As Woodrow Wilson was reelected in part based on the slogan “he kept us out of the war,” the President-re-elect knew that it was only a matter of time before America would have to choose a side.  But on the same day, Jeannette Pickering Rankin, a suffragette/social worker and influential lecturer, was elected to represent Montana’s 1st Congressional district, the first woman to ever hold federal elective office in the United States.  Rankin took her seat on 4 March 1917.  The day before, the German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmerman acknowledged the authenticity of the telegram he sent to the Carranza government of Mexico that January, offering the return of Texas and Arizona if Mexico would go to war with the US.  The Zimmerman Telegram was a media sensation when it was released to the media on 18 February, 1917.  Combined with Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare on 1 February, Wilson believed he had no choice but to ask Congress for a declaration of war on 2 April. After intense debate, Rankin was one of fifty members of the House to vote “no” on 4 April.  She later stated: “I felt the first time the first woman had a chance to say no to war, she should say it.” After losing her bid for reelection in 1920, Rankin finally re-entered Congress in 1940, and in December 1941 cast the only dissenting vote after FDR’s request to declare war on Japan.  “As a woman I can’t go to war,” she said to her detractors, “and I refuse to send anyone else.” She didn’t run for reelection in 1942, and was a peace activist until her death in 1973.

She later stated: “I felt the first time the first woman had a chance to say no to war, she should say it.”

As ironic as 7 November seems to be–two nuclear physicists born, one dyed-in-the-wool pacifist elected–as I write this the results of tomorrow’s election are unknown to me, but by the time you read this maybe we’ll know…or not, depending on how close it really is.  We shall see…

 

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Beer Floods and Cast Steel; Trans-Atlantic Radio and RCA

It happens sometimes that coincidental events, years apart, have a great effect on each other.  A flood of beer in London led to the invention of cast steel that was a boon to generations of beer workers who would supply the steel mill dives with brew: Trans-Atlantic radio service would increase the demand for radio receivers that would lead to the creation of the first global electronic firm.  And all on 17 October.  Oh sure, Ivan VI was crowned in 1740, and the Nine Regicides were executed in 1660 (hanged, beheaded, disemboweled, drawn and quartered and all that stuff), and the sieges at Saratoga ended in 1777, and the one at Yorktown ended in 1781, but we’re talking about important stuff here today: beer and steel and entertainment.

The facts of the case in London’s St Giles rookery seem to be simple.  On 17 October 1814, an iron band on a 135,000 Imperial gallon vat at a Meaux Company Brewery broke, which caused other vats to burst, which spilled about 4.14 million bottles of beer into the streets in a fifteen foot wave.  The tidal wave of suds destroyed a tavern and two houses, and flooded innumerable basements around Tottenham Court Road. At least eight people were either crushed by debris or drowned, including mourners at a wake for a two year old who died the day before. In the midst of this tragedy, “lucky” citizens who survived scooped up as much “free beer” as they could.

The tidal wave of suds destroyed a tavern and two houses, and flooded innumerable basements around Tottenham Court Road.

On a brighter note, the elusive process of casting steel from iron (steel is an alloy of elemental iron) took a great leap forward on 17 October 1855, when Henry Bessemer patented his refractory-lined iron converter.  The Bessemer converter was essentially a great, closed pot that allowed air to be blown through molten pig iron.  This removes impurities like silicon and manganese out and introduces carbon, strengthening the ionic bonds in the iron and forming the steel alloy. The ability to cast steel, as opposed to cruder processes of making blister steel by cementation or by pounding out impurities on a forge.  The ability to cast steel shapes like beams, rods, sheets, and blocks made large steel structures like bridges across the Mississippi and the Ganges possible, in addition to skyscrapers and Diesel engines and cooking pots and almost everything else that makes the technological conveniences of modern life possible.  Cast steel manufacturing was later improved by the open-hearth furnace.  And, yes, it did improve the manufacturing of beer because, after all, there’s nothing better than sucking down a cool one with the boys after a 14 hour shift at the mill in July that hasn’t flooded a few streets and basements.

The ability to cast steel shapes like beams, rods, sheets, and blocks made large steel structures like bridges across the Mississippi and the Ganges possible, in addition to skyscrapers and Diesel engines and cooking pots and almost everything else that makes the technological conveniences of modern life possible.

Just as important as steel (arguably) was when Marconi’s wireless telegraph began transAtlantic service between Glace Bay, Nova Scotia and Clifden, Ireland on 17 October, 1907.  Guglielmo Marconi was an inventive genius who was fascinated with wireless telegraphy, following the work of Heinrich Hertz on radio waves, (called Hertz waves at the time).  In the 1890s, when he was twenty, Marconi developed an entire panoply of devices that made a moveable transmitter and receiver work over a distance of two miles.  As power and range increased Marconi’s reputation rose, and eventually commercial interest developed in his inventions.  By the time Marconi’s stations started commercial  network began (with mostly personal messages at first, weather reports and warnings to and from mariners soon followed), transmissions across the Atlantic were still sporadic.  Nonetheless,  his first stations showed that it was not only possible, but at intervals practical. But there was still no real good reason to sit by the radio and suck beer on a Saturday night.

In the 1890s, when he was twenty, Marconi developed an entire panoply of devices that made a moveable transmitter and receiver work over a distance of two miles.

But radio grew.  In 1912, the Marconi stations were instrumental in sending rescuers to the stricken Titanic, and during the 1914-1918 war it became a vital means of communications when the trans-Atlantic cables were cut.  In 1919, the US government, then controlling many of the American Marconi company’s patents, struck a deal with General Electric, which then formed the Radio Company of America on 17 October 1919. As it grew in wealth and influence, including patents on the superheterodyne receiver among thousands of others, RCA bought independent radio stations and formed them into the National Broadcast System (NBC)  Gradually, through the efforts of David Sarnoff among many others, RCA came to dominate everything on the airwaves, in phonographs, and in electrical and electronics technology.  By the time of its demise in 1986, RCA put its imprint on everything from pocket radios to satellites, from televisions to electron microscopes.  Probably even on some beer-making stuff, too.

Gradually, through the efforts of David Sarnoff among many others, RCA came to dominate everything on the airwaves, in phonographs, and in electrical and electronics technology.

Though this entry has a lot of blather about beer, the Great London Beer Flood was no laughing matter.  Industrial safety was becoming a serious problem at the industrialization of urban areas accelerated in the 19th century. There was a molasses flood in Boston in January 1919 that killed 21 people.  Other industrial spills and accidents, increasingly in the developing world, have killed thousands.

Note to my LinkedIn Readers (all five of you), sorry about last week, but something in WordPress (where this column is created) got discombobulated.  My apologies.

 

 

 

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Britain and the American Revolution

JDB Communications, LLC is pleased to announce the publication of another essay collection by John D. Beatty, Britain and the American Revolution on Amazon.

Most scholars—especially Americans—when writing about the American Revolution emphasize the Western Hemisphere when considering the effects.  However, in this scribe’s opinion this view is short-sighted.  Great Britain, after all, is still around, and its Empire indeed flourished a century after it lost its then-largest and most prosperous colonies.  The Empire may have steadily degraded after Victoria’s diamond jubilee gala in 1897, but by the much-ballyhooed “Brexit” from the European Community in 2016, Britain herself was still a force to be reckoned with.

Great Britain, after all, is still around, and its Empire indeed flourished a century after it lost its then-largest and most prosperous colonies.

Recent writers, especially Steven Sears in The British Empire, have suggested that the British Empire was really nothing more than a jobs program for the English middle and upper classes.  In some ways this is arguably true.  However trivial this may seem in the great scheme of things, Great Britain was the largest single influence on human civilization between the fall of Rome and the triumph of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1945.  As these essays argue, this influence was in part because of the sheer genius of hard-pressed Britons to survive on their harsh, rocky islands.

Great Britain was the largest single influence on human civilization between the fall of Rome and the triumph of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1945

“Changing the Great Game” is an exploration of how the concept of “rights” was grudgingly preserved by dynasty after dynasty ruling the British Isles.  Even if the Scots, Irish and other ethnic groups didn’t recognize it, the rights enjoyed by Englishmen that were unique to their legal system did rub off on them as well, if only in small doses from time to time.  The ancient legends of Arthur, Alfred and the rest of the traditional lawgivers may have been perfected in the 19th century, but their origins are clearly much older.  The legal tradition that no sovereign is above his own laws far predate the Normans.

The ancient legends of Arthur, Alfred and the rest of the traditional lawgivers may have been perfected in the 19th century, but their origins are clearly much older.

“Kings, Kin and Killers” is something of an experiment.  Steven Pincus in 1688: The First Modern Revolution talks extensively about the motives of the supporters of the Stuarts and those who … well, did not support the monarch.  They hadn’t yet expressed a desire to throw out the monarchy as they would later, but the non-supporters of the Stuart kings were far more interested in the power of capital than that of land.  Their arguments were eerily similar to those that would take place in America before the shooting started in 1861.  It is almost certain that many of the philosophical animosities in English society between country and town, between farm and workshop, were locked into American society after the Revolution, and hung on in animus for another two generations.

… arguments [in 17th century Britain] were eerily similar to those that would take place in America before the shooting started in 1861.

“The Limits of Empire” is explicitly that: an essay into the administrative and technical limitations of imperial administration in the late 18th century.  Law, trade, finance, and community administration all depended on communications, and there was simply no good or reliable way to improve trans-Atlantic communications in the 1770s such that the Revolution, or one like it, could be put down.  Even if India were to become the most prosperous of all of Britain’s imperial properties, it wasn’t yet.  If the Gandhi revolution had come two centuries earlier, by that remove it may have succeeded much faster.

“Copper Bottomed Wizardry” began as a challenge—a sort of a bet.  This writer was wagered that he could not find enough technological innovation between 1775 and 1805 to explain how Britain defeated France at Trafalgar.  Knowing that coppering became standard by 1783, the research started there and proceeded to produce this essay.  The carronade, the short-barreled “smasher” that was the terror of small-vessel warfare before the shell gun, was intentionally left out because of other innovations that made British ships not only reliable and easier to handle, but overall better vessels.  Any sailor can tell you that, pound for pound, any well-handled warship in peacetime is worth three that are better gunned.  In wartime, it’s how well the guns are laid and how long they can stay on station, not just how well they can blast a target.

This writer was wagered that he could not find enough technological innovation between 1775 and 1805 to explain how Britain defeated France at Trafalgar.

Four essays are hardly a working thesis, but they may point to one: Britain was strengthened by the conflict that resulted in the loss of her thirteen colonies that would eventually become the United States.  Both she and the United States, ultimately, resolved the last of a conflict in Anglo-Saxon society that had raged since the Tudors: Do governments have a right to rule, or a duty?  Is society the master of an economic structure, or a servant or product of it?

Let these essays inform the reader’s decision.

John D. Beatty is a writer and historian who has published ten books on military history.  Britain and the American Revolution on Amazon is available on Amazon Kindle.

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Bosworth Field, the Industrial Revolution, and the Irish Mess

The Crown of England, the Industrial Revolution, and the course of Irish politics all pivoted, more or less, on events taking place on 22 August, albeit centuries apart.

Revolutions and civil wars–distinguishable only by critics–often pivot on a single throw of the dice. By 1485 the York branch of the Plantagenet dynasty in England was headed by the ambitious Richard III, who had literally walked past five coffins to set the crown on his own head in a campaign dramatized and fictionalized in Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Richard had probably killed his nephews, who included Edward V, who was supposed to be protecting him, and likely had otherwise deposed all claimants ahead of him.  After Henry Tudor, the champion of the Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets, landed in Wales, Richard and his retainers met the challengers in modern Leicestershire.  After indecisively fighting for much of 22 August 1485, Richard ordered a cavalry charge to kill Tudor that failed, and Richard was killed instead.  The subsequent Tudor dynasty would last just over a century, but would be the most storied of England’s long history.

The Crown of England, the Industrial Revolution, and the course of Irish politics all pivoted, more or less, on events taking place on 22 August, albeit centuries apart.

A little less than three hundred years later, Henry Maudslay was born in Woolwich, England, on 22 August 1771.  While not as well remembered as an inventor as say Edison or Fulton, Ford or Bessemer, Maudslay’s innovations in the manufacture of screw threads made the Industrial Revolution and interchangeable manufacture possible. Until Maudslay built the first practical screw-cutting machines, what we now think of as common threads were anything but.  Individual craftsmen and shops cut their screws by hand, or with individually-made tooling.  Maudslay, still in his early twenties, made a lathe with a rigid tool post, replacing the hand-held tool that did not allow for much precision–defined in this case as repeatability.  WIth repeatability came standardization, and with standardization came interchangeability, and soon after, mass production.

It was a century and a half later Michael Collins,  a fiery and controversial figure in Irish and English politics leading up to the Irish Mess at the end of WWI (there’s no good way to refer to that time and place succinctly and accurately that satisfies all parties and partisans), was killed in an ambush in Cork.  At the time Collins was President of the Irish Provisional Government and representative for Cork and Armagh, among other constituencies. Collins favored the treaty with Great Britain that would both allow an independent Ireland and the separation of the six counties that make up Ulster in the northeast of the island.  He was killed on 22 August 1922 by members of an Anti-Treaty faction in Ireland who disagreed with him.  Because there are no independent witnesses, the ambush has been a matter of controversy ever since.

While Eli Whitney is credited with inventing interchangeable manufacture, Maudslay’s innovations made it possible.

Ultimately, the meaning of the terms “civil war” and “revolution” are solely a matter of taste.  While the War of the Roses that primarily ended at Bosworth has been called a civil war because of its internecine nature, the Irish Mess has been variously called a civil war and a revolution, and–to confuse things–a war for independence, for part of it, anyway.  While most revolutions and civil wars rely a great deal on chance, Henry Tudor was even further from being the “rightful” king of England than the man he replaced. Collins, one of a long line of Irish firebrands leading the fight against England, had no real claim on any office or honor other than what he fought for himself.  And chance, like the final Yorkist charge at Bosworth, played a prominent role in that long struggle.

While Maudslay only perfected what already existed (except he is credited with inventing the bench micrometer), his innovations accelerated the industrial “revolution” that was ongoing when he died in 1831.  While Eli Whitney is credited with inventing interchangeable manufacture, Maudslay’s innovations made it possible. But, unlike other “revolutions,” there was no chance involved.

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10 November: Three Beginnings and an Ending

As the shadows draw long and the days get cooler, we recall not the end of the waning fall but the beginnings of momentous things…and not so momentous.

First we must say “happy birthday” to our sister service, the United States Marine Corps, born on this day in 1775.  Two battalions were authorized but only one of what were called “Continental Marines” of about 500 was ever established.  The intent was that they be sent on an invasion of Halifax, the logistical base in Canada, but the British reinforced it before the enterprise could be undertaken.  They operated in a raiding capacity while establishing reputation for their global reach, attacking Nassau in 1776, joining the Continentals and militia at Princeton in 1777, then participating in the Penobscot expedition in 1779.  Smaller groups struck inland as far as the Mississippi and down to the Gulf of Mexico.  Though this force was disbanded in 1783, the Marines take this organization to be their origin, and their day to get noisily drunk as long as they aren’t otherwise engaged.

In 1864, this is the date William T Sherman’s memoirs uses for the beginning of his movement from Atlanta to Savanna: most sources start it on 14 November, but Atlanta was torched on 12 November, so Sherman’s date makes more sense.  Moving an army group of that size on a chevauchee (in this context, a strategic raid) of that scale would take a few days on the road network of the time.  Six weeks later the force would reach the Atlantic coast, none the worse for wear.

Exactly a year later, Henry Wirz, a one-armed, Swiss-born physician was hanged in Washington DC for the new offence of “war crimes.”  As commandant of a prison camp that the prisoners dubbed Andersonville (the proper name was Camp Sumner) for its entire 14 month existence, he was found guilty of criminally conspiring to kill the nearly 13,000 prisoners who died in the camp, in addition to eleven counts of murder that he almost certainly did commit.  Though he had tried to get more resources for his charges the murders were rather blatant and witnessed, so he was hanged at the Old Capitol Prison on 10 November 1865.  To this day the Wirz matter is controversial in some circles as it could be argued in the abstract that all war is a crime, and that as one of very few Confederates executed (and conveniently a non-American national) he was scapegoated as a cover for the deaths in Union camps.

A century later, on 10 November 1983, the general public got its first glimpse of a weird little program called “Windows 1.0” at an electronics trade show.  It was first pushed as a driver for OS/2 applications, and was not released to production for a little over two years.  But it was an easier interface for the operators of the fledgling PCs to use, even if it was once described as “pouring molasses in the Arctic.”  As older computer users recall, its first function was as a sales tool for mice.  Would that it were that simple now…

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6 November: Printing Takes Mass Media By Storm

On this day in 1771, 1935, and 1947 the world of mass communications changed, for better or for ill, and all because oil and water don’t play well together.

On 6 November 1771, Alois Senefelder was born in Prague, in what was the the Holy Roman Empire.  He was trained in law but moved to his father’s profession–the theater–to support his family.  Though initially successful he needed to find a cheap method of printing his plays, and hit on what we now call lithography “stone writing” in 1796.  The basic principle was simple enough: treat an engraved surface with water and roll oil-based ink onto it.  The water and oil separate, making it possible for a piece of paper to pick up enough ink to make an image.  While somewhat more sophisticated than that, the principle is the same.  The advantage to lithography is that it can also make a picture, as well as words.

This lithographic process was patented, and a book he wrote on the subject was in print as late as 1977.  Still in limited used today for small and shorter-run jobs in traditional settings (albeit using paper or metallic plates), the principles of lithography was an important element in the explosion of publishing and learning at the end of the “enlightenment” period (when scholars burned their witches only at night).

And where would the Monopoly game be without colored lithography?  On this day in 1935, Parker Brothers bought the main patents for its best-selling property trading and acquisition game, after having rejected it the year before.  What started out as a teaching tool in 1903 by the end of the century was one of the most successful family board games of all time, translated into over thirty languages and sold in more than a hundred countries.  Until the 1970s, every Monopoly version and printed game part was produced by a lithographic process.  Parker Brothers has printed more “dollars” than the US Treasury every year since 1960.

On 6 November 1947, the new medium of television was struggling to reach markets.  On that day, Meet The Press first aired, after having begun on radio in 1945.  The first guest, James Farley, was grilled for half an hour by Martha Rountree, the show’s creator.  Since ti became a weekly program in 1948, Meet The Press has produced over 17,000 programs and is the longest-running television program in history.  This news and current events program is still the only one of its kind that has interviewed a sitting president live; Gerald Ford in 1975.

OK, the last one was something of a stretch, but that’s show biz.

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Thinking About Stopping

It is understood that the very idea of air brakes may cause eyelids to droop, but on 5 March 1872, George Westinghouse was awarded a patent for his triple-valve air brake system for railroads, inspired in part by Elisha Otis’ elevator brake that dated from the 1850s, Dull as dust, right?  Well…

By the mid 19th century, railroads the world over were expanding exponentially, and so were accidents.  Most trains used either a mechanical linkage to operate any brakes they had, or used a brake car at the back of the train to slow the vehicle, adding to the reversal pressure of the locomotive and its own steam brakes.  But as the trains got longer it got harder to stop them.  On long trips through desolate areas, the brakeman fell asleep or the signal device failed.  Simply put, stopping the train depended on more human input than the engineer needing to stop.

Westinghouse’s brakes were unique not because they were air actuated, but because they were spring actuated; they were (and are still) air released.  Almost every air brake today in trains, trucks, cranes (yes, cranes), construction equipment, even elevators (using a hybrid system) operate on the theory that the stopping system has to be operating for the vehicle to move.  The air system has to be pressurized, and the controls and drive train available to operate the vehicle.  But with Westinghouse brakes all that ended.  The engineer hit the brakes, releasing the pressure on all the brakes in the train and they stopped the vehicle.  More important, the brakes activated when the system failed, increasing safety.

While it was the Americans that invented the air-release brake, it was Europe that first exploited it more completely.  Answering the need for an air supply, a diesel engine was mounted in a car immediately behind the locomotive tender to drive a compressor to pressurize the main air tank in Britain.  Diesels burned oil rather than coal, sparing the need to shuttle coal into a furnace to maintain the system.  As the technology improved, oil-burning locomotives were built with compressors, and finally the diesel-electric trains emerged after WWII with stand-alone compressors.  Today’s diesel-electric locomotives are rated by how much they can stop, not how much they can pull.

And as safety improved so did the size of the trains.  Similarly, so did construction equipment, especially with the emergence of Clessie Cummins after WWI.  Trucks and other heavy vehicles developed other braking systems, including the engine (reverse compression) brake.  But Westinghouse (and Otis, in a different way) started engineers thinking about the consequences of getting large machinery moving, and better how to stop them.

Modern large vehicles, from the mine pit to the rail head to the grocery store to the road construction project all use one version or another of the Westinghouse brake.  And that’s worth stopping and thinking about.