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Winter 1999 | Volume 14 |  Issue 3

The Erector Makes The Man

HENRY PETROSKI’S “THE TOYS THAT Built America” (Spring 1998), struck a deep chord. I enclose a photo of myself taken at Christmas 1931. Note the Erector set to my right, my chief present that year. It was a favorite for many years, and although I did not become an engineer, I think it may well have been influential in my lasting interest in the sciences.


Allen G. Debus
Morris Fishbein
Professor Emeritus
of the History of
Science and Medicine
University of Chicago
Chicago, III.

Did Julia Hall Invent?

MY GREAT-GRAND -mother Emily Brooks Hall was a sister of both Charles Martin Hall and Julia Brainerd Hall (“Notes From the Field,” Summer 1998), and I have taken great interest in the story of the invention of the Hall-Héroult process of manufacturing aluminum and related family history. It is my belief that Martha Moore Trescott’s theory of Julia Hall as “co-inventor” has no basis in fact. There are no family documents, stories, or lore to support the assumptions she makes. Although Uncle Charles died in 1914 and Aunt Julia in 1926,1 have made specific inquiries to senior members of the family who had contact with Julia’s sister Louie and can find no confirmation of such a theory. Julia resided for many years with Louie, and it was Louie who originally presented to Alcoa the letters of Charles to Julia and others.

My grandmother Yeoli Stimson Acton was a caretaker and hostess for her uncle Charles in the years before his death. She shared the family history with me in the 1960s, and she and her husband were sources of material for Junius Edwards’s 1955 book The Immortal Woodshed . My grandfather Edward Acton was superintendent of the Shawinigan Falls, Quebec, aluminum works from 1914 to 1938. Although my grandparents were private, modest persons and would draw no attention to themselves and their relationship to Mr. Hall, I believe that they also would not have wanted his accomplishments, or the efforts of his sister Julia to provide encouragement and family support, to be misinterpreted. Furthermore, it is my belief that Julia herself would be extremely distressed by this attempt to revise history.

Emily Acton Phillips
Dallas, Tex.

A P-38 Is Not a Jet

THE LARGE-TYPE EXTRACT ON PAGE 18 of “The Earl of Detroit,” by Michael Lamm, in the Fall 1998 issue, refers erroneously to the P-38 fighter plane of World War II as a “jet plane.” The plane was powered by two reciprocating piston engines, which rotated in opposite directions to neutralize the effects of engine torque. The Lockheed P-38’s twin-boom tail configuration was what inspired Harley Larl’s vehicular tail fins of the 1950s.

Peter Kushkowski
Haddam, Conn.

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