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Tue, 10/02/2012 - 09:14

On September 19,1985, the most disastrous earthquake in North American history struck Mexico City. More than twenty thousand people were killed after a layer of wet clay amplified a distant temblor and set downtown buildings rocking. Hundreds of the buildings collapsed, crushing or trapping their inhabitants. But it could have been far worse. Thousands more buildings stood, including the landmark Latinoamericana tower.

 

Tue, 10/02/2012 - 08:59
The first issue of this magazine was published just seventeen months ago, in April 1985. In a letter from the editors in that issue we wrote, “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.
Tue, 10/02/2012 - 08:49
When I went to college, my father gave me his slide rule—the one he had used in college. Marked on its leather case, which I had often envied as a child, were his name, the Greek letters of his fraternity, and the names of the schools he had attended. Knowing that countless problems had painstakingly been calculated through skillful manipulation of its slide gave the tool an aura not unlike that of the swords passed from generation to generation in medieval times.
Tue, 10/02/2012 - 08:44

In the spring of 1887, the emperor himself came out to the Steinfeld firing range a few kilometers from Vienna to watch the Austrian Army trials for rapid-firing weapons. Franz Joseph seemed particularly impressed by the performance of the Nordenfeldt model, a gleaming five-barreled rifle demonstrated by a team of two—one man feeding the cartridges, the second carefully cranking out 180 shots per minute. The day’s last entrant was a huge, bearded American—the inventor, salesman, and demonstrator of a small British firm’s only product: a squat, rather ugly gun.

Tue, 10/02/2012 - 06:04

At 5:04:40 on Saturday morning, May 26, 1934, the first diesel-powered, stainless-steel, streamlined train pulled out of Union Station, Denver, on a dawn-to-dusk race for Chicago. Called the Zephyr, it had been delivered to the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad in Philadelphia just six weeks earlier and had traveled west in a series of short trips. To reach Chicago before sunset, it had to cover 1,015 miles nonstop in less than fourteen hours.

Tue, 10/02/2012 - 05:53
Across the way from the portentous WPA Romanism of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., a cheerful stand of Federal buildings has managed to survive, and in one of them is a machine that changed the way the world looks.

Fate has put this mechanism in the hands of Fred Litwin, and it couldn’t have found a better curator.

Tue, 10/02/2012 - 05:50
POSTFIX



Model Year 1825

BY WILLIAM B. MEYER

Tue, 10/02/2012 - 05:40

On June 4, 1896, the editor of the Binghamton, New York, Republican offered what most of his readers must have regarded as a rather startling prediction. The airplane, he remarked, would likely be the work of bicycle makers.

Tue, 10/02/2012 - 05:40

We always used to ask, how could the foremost technological nation in the world not have an agency dealing with its technological past,” says Eric DeLony, principal architect for the Historic American Engineering Record, a federal project based in Washington, D.C. He began asking this question in the late 1960s, when, as a graduate student in architecture, he became involved with the Historic American Buildings Survey, the WPA-born archive of historic architecture.

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 18:01

LACKAWAXEN, PA.: The sight of a canalboat crossing a river was hardly remarkable in 1849 when, on April 26, a local crowd and engineers from all over the country gathered on the banks of the Delaware River in upper Pennsylvania. The boat in view was an ordinary barge. What was curious was how it got from shore to shore—floating inside a wooden flume suspended thirty feet above the water from two iron cables, which dipped across the river over stone piers.

 

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 17:54

 

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 17:51

As America entered the First World War, in 1917, an Armenian named Garabed Giragossian petitioned Congress to investigate his miraculous and eponymous Garabed, an invention that would provide unlimited energy, “a natural force that we can utilize and have energy as we like, without toil or expense.” First he secured the endorsements of the director of music in the Boston Public Schools, the president of the board of trustees of the Boston Public Library, and the president of a shipbuilding concern; when he began his lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill, reports about hi

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 17:08

Thomas Jefferson had a good eye for real estate on a grand scale. But when the notion of a canal linking the Great Lakes with the Hudson River near Albany, New York, was put before him in 1809 by two New York State legislators, he dismissed it out of hand. “Why, sir,” he said, ”… you talk of making a canal three hundred and fifty miles long through a wilderness! It is a little short of madness to think of it at this day!”

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 17:06

A small, hand-propelled German submarine, the Brandtaucher, sank in 1851 in sixty feet of water, with her captain, Wilhelm Bauer, and two crew-members aboard. Her hull immediately began to collapse under the pressure of the sea. Captain Bauer, who had built the tiny craft, knew that if he could keep his two companions from panicking while allowing the water to rise steadily inside her, the interior and exterior pressure would equalize and they would be able to open the hatch and get out. They did.

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 17:01

On the greeting-card racks this past Christmas could be seen a minor technological miracle—a Christmas card that upon opening showed a small yellow light that glowed while the card played a tinny but recognizable version of “Jingle Bells.” The yellow light was the latest addition to a novelty that made its first appearance a couple of years ago—the electronic greeting card.

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 16:45

Most great monuments of nineteenth-century American engineering, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, dominate the surrounding landscape. By contrast, the Hoosac Tunnel, dug through a mountain in western Massachusetts, is inconspicuous, as tunnels naturally are. Yet it stands in the front rank of the projects of its age by whatever standards of measurement one chooses. On the one hand, its construction, which began in 1851 and ended in 1875, took almost two hundred lives, damaged many reputations, and nearly claimed the solvency of the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 16:38

NEWARK, N.J.: Confronted with the dolorous industrial flatlands that stretch away to the south of Newark, New Jersey, most tourists would agree with the visitor who characterized the area as miles and miles of “robot vomit.” But it is a paradise to members of the Society for Industrial Archeology. This organization of historians, architects, engineers, and other enthusiasts recently took a one-day bus trip through industrial New Jersey to visit places that any other tour would want to avoid. I went along.

 

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 16:16

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 15:35

For 12 million years it trickled, meandered, and snaked, before bursting violently loose to slash to its final destination. Then, one winter day in 1935, this ancient, tempestuous journey abruptly ended in a remote canyon as the last of more than 5 million buckets of concrete was poured onto the crest of a 726-foot wall that blocked its path. Observers watched in awe as the nation’s wildest river puddled up behind the massive structure. Soon the benign-looking pond would reach back for 115 miles to a depth of 500 feet, the largest human-made lake in the world.

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 13:27

At about five o’clock one morning this past October, the retired physicist Willard S. Boyle received a scientist’s ultimate wake-up call. At first he couldn’t bestir himself—who could be calling at this ungodly hour?—but the phone was insistent, so his wife dragged herself out of bed.

A couple of minutes later, she was shaking him awake. “Stockholm is calling.”

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

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