A New Magazine
”If I have seen further,” wrote Sir Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke, “it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Today we all stand on the shoulders of giants who not only have extended our vision of the universe but also, by deftness of mind and technique, have actually invented the modern world.
For both good and bad, the modern is the technological in almost every arena of life. As invention supplants invention, as one change leads to a thousand more changes in an unceasing cycle, we struggle to keep up, to be aware of what’s happening. We are told that, at whatever cost, we must stay “at the cutting edge” of the latest technological devices and fashions.
By design, American Heritage of Invention & Technology will not compete with the many periodicals that bring us news of the cutting edge. On the contrary, we intend to look-behind the edge to the nature of the blade itself: its heft, strength, and resiliency—all those qualities that support the cutting edge and cannot be separated from it. Our province, in short, is the whole of the history of invention and technology and the people, machines, and ideas in our past that have brought us to our present degree of mastery.
Although interest in the history of technology has grown in the last few decades, the field itself is relatively new, and up to now there has been no general magazine of wide circulation reporting on it. A gap exists between the findings of the scholars and the educated public. Even inventors and engineers who are aware that their discipline did not begin the day before yesterday may be ignorant of the history of technical subjects not directly related to their own. This magazine has been created to help bridge that gap.
Despite our title, the editors are well aware that invention and technology transcend national boundaries, that the United States is heir to all the science of all the peoples of the world. But the subject is so vast that an emphasis on what happened on these shores is defensible. Rejecting any form of chauvinistic competition, we nevertheless can be proud of what our inventors and technologists have accomplished. In this spirit we will look at the building and constant rebuilding of America, from the first European settlers who brought with them the advanced technologies of their day through the myriad transformations that are occurring before our eyes. We will recount great feats of engineering: in this issue the building of the huge reflecting telescope at Mount Palomar (based on Newton’s principles, of course)—in future issues the laying of the Atlantic cable and the construction of Hoover Dam. We will recall near-mythological figures like McCormick, Edison, and Bell, as well as lesser-known inventors who also made a mark. We will tell the history of corporate research labs, of think-tanks, of great engineering schools, but will not forget the workbench of the Yankee tinkerer. We will observe the birth and growth of sophisticated means of manufacture and quality control, and of complex delivery networks—but will always find space for the stories of older technologies that still get things done. We will bring new insights to bear on Americans who had the right idea at the right time and knew how to carry it off, but will also tell of great failures, men whose ideas were wrong or ill-fated. Our most heartfelt wish is to show how technological history uncovers clues that may prepare us for the blind alleys and breakthroughs of the future (and so we arrive “at the cutting edge,” after all).
Finally, to accompany our words there will be many pictures. As the historian Brooke Hindle has demonstrated, for geniuses of invention, the ability to visualize seems inextricably linked to the power to conceptualize. So the pictures aren’t just for show; like everything in this magazine, they are meant to be both entertaining and enlightening.