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Smokeless Powder etc.

Summer 1995 | Volume 11 |  Issue 1

Smokeless Powder

As an admirer of the Springfield 1873 to 1892 trapdoor rifle, I must rush to its defense from the attack on it that accompanied the smokeless-powder piece (“The Tragedy of the Trapdoor Springfield,” by Roger Pinckney). Before its official adoption by the Army in 1873, this fine old rugged rifle was fieldtested and won out over all the leading firearms of the day. The military minds of the times were well aware of the repeating type of rifle and had several under test by the late 187Os but chose to stay with the single-shot type because it best suited the accepted military tactics then in use. However, it is certainly true that the manufacture and use of this arm as standard Army issue well after the introduction of the smokeless-powder high-power magazine rifle in 1886 was a serious error that could have had bad consequences if a major war had broken out.

F. Von Muller
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Smokeless Powder

Daniel Sweeney’s “When America Was Last in the Arms Race” (Spring 1995) is an admirable summary of a complex topic, but those aren’t Krags in the period illustration on page 26; they are generic under-lever single-shots from the imagination of the artist, quite unlike both the Krag and the trapdoor Springfield. Incidentally, although the actual Krag was a modern smokeless repeater, it proved inferior to the clip-loaded Mausers of the Spanish. In 1903 the United States adopted the “new Springfield”—so close a copy of the Mauser that it cost us more than a million dollars for patent infringement.

Russell Gilmore, Director
The Harbor Defense Museum
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Circular Reasoning

Frederic Schwarz’s “Notes From the Field” item on manhole covers (Spring 1995) didn’t address the question, Why are manhole covers circular? The answer, of course, is that they are circular so that they won’t fall through the hole, as any straight-sided cover could do.

A. J. da Silva
Clear Lake City, Tex.

The editors reply: According to Manhole Covers , the book the item was about, “Round covers are easier to machine accurately, one reason for the popularity of that shape. Round manhole covers are also preferred because they won’t fall into the manholes, and because, once removed, they can be rolled rather than lifted repeatedly.”

The Video Drama

In my view, Stewart Wolpin’s account of the genesis of videotape recording, “The Race to Video” (Fall 1994), is no less a dramatic cliffhanger than any drama since captured by that medium. It has most of the elements that Hollywood thrives on—even a desperate engineer’s footrace across a tarmac to stop a departing airplane so that precious tapes will be available for the final dramatic scene.

But quite apart from the excitement of the tale, I hope other readers shared my discovery of two important, though unexpected, messages in it. One was its demonstration of the timeless importance of vision and teamwork in accomplishing a mission. The powerful influence of these elements was evident time and again among the competitors involved in the rush to invent. We learned that video recording technology was virtually born from teamwork. And it would seem that all those who so passionately joined the competition were motivated by the single vision framed so well in General Sarnoff’s bold challenge. This case study in what might be called vision- led, self-empowered teamwork occurred nearly half a century before such management jargon became fashionable.

Another, and perhaps more important, message in the article is its illustration of the great inventive potential in America’s classrooms. One key player on the winning Ampex team, Ray Dolby, still had one foot planted firmly in the hallways of Redwood City’s Sequoia Union High School when he stepped into Alexander Poniatoff’s corporate world.

U.S. Patent Office records show that the discovery of budding talent in an obscure classroom, and that talent’s blossoming through encouragement and support, are not flukes. I have had the pleasure of talking about this with many members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, in Akron, Ohio. Each successful inventor has acknowledged that his or her inventive spirit was at some crucial point energized by a teacher, a faculty adviser, a parent or friend, or all of these.

At the Patent Office we have developed a program titled Project XL- A Quest for Excellence. This program supports efforts to teach problemsolving skills at all education levels and to involve volunteers in helping young people gain a better awareness of the powerful influence of new technology on the progress of society, the health and well-being of our citizens, and the strength of our economy.

We recognize that today in classrooms all across our great country those who would invent tomorrow—the Dolbys, the Sarnoffs, the Edisons, the Bells, the Teslas, and so on—are just waiting to be stimulated. Perhaps some of them will find inspiration in Mr. Wolpin’s excellent article.

Donald G. Kelly
Patent Examining Group Director
U.S. Patent Office
Washington, D. C.

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

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