Now We Are Six
I am pleased to announce that beginning with this issue, American Heritage of Invention & Technology increases its frequency to four times a year. The next four issues will be Fall 1991 and Winter, Spring, and Summer 1992.
We’ve been publishing the magazine for six years now, supported by the continuing generous commitment of General Motors and the sustained interest of our readers. On every level it has been satisfying for us—and something of an adventure as well.
When we started, the idea of a magazine about the history of technology might have seemed an unlikely proposition, but we at American Heritage all felt that we were sitting on a gold mine. Indeed, we soon knew we were experiencing a journalist’s dream, discovering a big and crucial story waiting right before our eyes—the story of how the present was built.
My job as editor was made much easier by the help of a well-organized fraternity of experts in the field, the Society for the History of Technology. I didn’t expect these scholars to have much use for a popular magazine being started by outsiders, but in fact they were delighted by the chance to reach a wider public. They knew that the stories they had to tell were exciting and important for everyone, and they have been unstinting in the guidance they have given us as well as in their eagerness to contribute authoritative articles on their many subjects.
This is only the third editor’s letter I’ve written. The earliest, in the first issue, was a statement of purpose; I promised that our province would be all of “the people, machines, and ideas in our past that have brought us to our present degree of mastery.” A year and a half later I made a progress report, in which I noted that the magazine itself had been wonderfully received but that the times had not been so great for technology itself. The world had been shaken by the Challenger disaster, the meltdown of the reactor at Chernobyl, and the opening of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.
Well, technology still seems to some people the source of all joys and to others the source of all woes, especially now that our nation has been in a war in which advanced technology was the agent for both massive destruction and the saving of thousands of lives. What are we to make of the place where our technology has brought us?
I hope the stories of Invention & Technology have shown the way to the beginning of an answer to that question. They should have, for one message has asserted itself through all our tales of technological successes and failures. It is that technology is utterly human. Technology is but our own mortal effort to bend the world to our wishes, and any technological success is really just a human success; any technological failure is a human failure. Our machines are our mirror.
I’ve come to believe that to understand ourselves, we must understand our technology; conversely, to know our machines, we must know our hearts. My biggest hope for the magazine is that it can help illuminate that connection. Look, for instance, in this issue, at the story of Glenn Curtiss, how his sheer love of speed and tinkering took him from bicycles to motorcycles to airplanes and into immortality as an early pioneer of aviation- and into a tragic feud with the Wright brothers. Look at how an engineer with a vision realized that the town of Los Angeles would need a radically new source of water to grow into a great city—and how in the eyes of some he stole that water from its rightful owners. Look at how simply out of love the people of San Francisco have preserved for a century a transportation technology that was obsolete after a decade. And look at how an aging inventor devised a basic element of modern industry—the O-ring—without even understanding how it worked, and then plunged for the rest of his life into agonizing battles for financial recognition for his accomplishment.
The pleasure of passing along stories like those makes me, after six years, continue to feel lucky to be editing this magazine. And now we’ll get to do it not three but four times a year.