Consider the perfection that is a book. It is a product virtually unchanged for more than 600 years: completely random access and searchable; a universal and open format; not copy-protected; forward and backward compatible. It doesn’t have any special storage requirements. It can be bought, leased, or loaned in person or online. It never runs out of power.
No tale in all the chronicles of American invention would seem to be better known than the story of Thomas Edison’s incandescent electric light. The electric light, after all, quickly became the epitome of the bright idea, and its creator was for more than fifty years the living symbol of America’s inventive genius. But in truth it is only in recent years that we have begun to piece together the complete story of history’s most famous invention.
"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.
ON NOVEMBER 7,1940, LEONARD COATSWORTH, A REPORTER FOR the Tacoma News Tribune, earned a small place in history as one of the last people on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. In the four months since its opening, the bouncy bridge had become a bit of a tourist attraction. People came from miles around for the thrill of driving across the galloping span. But Coatsworth was no tourist, just a local toting a earful of beach gear and his daughter’s cocker spaniel. And that morning the bridge was no fun at all.
MOST PEOPLE IN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA—or eighteenth-century anywhere, for that matter—never saw pictures of themselves, not even once in their lives. Photography lay decades ahead, and only the wealthy could have their portraits painted. Even they usually had no more than one in a lifetime. So when a portrait was made, it was never a simple likeness but rather a lone chance to convey how you wanted to be seen and remembered, and your pose and attire and attitude and surroundings were all very carefully chosen. The idea was to show the best you could be.
The Soviet Moon Program
T. A. HEPPENHEIMER’S “How THE Soviets Didn’t Beat Us to the Moon” (Summer 1999) was most informative. You may be interested to know that a remnant of the Soviet Union’s N-1 rocket is still around, and there are plans to use its engines once again.
|Earhart at the controls of her Lockheed Electra in 1936, the year before she disappeared.|
|(George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers)|
We all love a mystery. unresolved historical puzzles intrigue us.
|Water from Lake Mead blasts out below the dam, 1998.|
|(Courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.)|
Hoover Dam straddles the Colorado river at the Nevada-Arizona border. Its sides grip the edges of Black Canyon; its back strains to contain the deep reservoir behind it.
Sometime in 1894, while his Great Lakes steamer W P. Thew lay tied to a wharf on the banks of the Cuyahoga River in northeast Ohio, Capt. Richard P. Thew whiled away many hours as men laboriously unloaded his iron ore cargo onto the wooden docks. While pacing the wheelhouse, he watched with curiosity and then puzzlement as a railroad steam shovel took one clumsy scoop of ore after another and dumped it into a hopper car sitting on nearby railroad tracks. During the shovel’s motion, the bucket’s teeth gouged the dock’s timbers and left much of the ore behind.
Suddenly, a four-inch-thick “flat-screen” LCD or plasma HDTV is considered fat. In the last year or so, nearly every HDTV manufacturer has introduced a “slim” model, usually around an inch and a half thick or thinner.
It seems downright absurd to describe a four-inch-thick TV as obese and déclassé. Less than a decade ago, the dominant big-screen TVs were refrigerator-sized 20-plus-inch-deep rear projection models.
Lawyer Leo Connors had always thought that his office on the 30th floor of Providence’s art deco Bank of America (“Superman”) Building was at the very top. So when he found an unmarked door opening on a narrow upward stairway, he naturally set out to explore. Passing through two more doors, he entered a dusty, unused rectangular room fitted out like a dirigible cabin, with wicker chairs, dark leather-lined walls, vintage light fixtures, fine brass fittings, and a liquor closet.
This issue you’ll notice that a new word appears on the cover: Innovation. Sitting around an editorial meeting recently, we decided to add the subtitle, “The Magazine of Innovation,” because that’s exactly what we’ve been giving you for the past 23 years—a broad range of fascinating stories ranging from long-ago Mayan astronomers to the two Bell Labs physicists who recently won the Nobel Prize for profoundly changing our lives with the invention of the CCD, or charge-coupled device (see “The Miracle of Digital Imaging.”)
In less than a decade, “iPod” has become nearly synonymous with the digital music player, an extraordinary accomplishment shared by only a handful of other consumer brands—such as Band-Aid, Kleenex, and Frigidaire—whose trademarked names have come to describe a generic product.
In the years following the Civil War, few towns across the United States matched Troy, New York, in prosperity, owing to the industry of its citizens and its access to great water highways.
After subduing Czechoslovakia and dividing Poland with the Soviet Union in 1940, Adolf Hitler began laying plans for conquering the rest of western Europe. He determined that the most effective route around the Maginot Line and into Holland, Belgium, and France would be to open a gap through the Belgian line of fortifications between Liege and Maastricht. Hitler ordered 11 of a 42-glider attack force to touch down on a half-mile-long stretch of grass near the edge of a limestone cliff overlooking the Albert Canal.
Director Stanley Kubrick couldn’t figure it out. In 1974 a company named the Cinema Products Corporation sent him a reel of film, all shots that seemed beyond the capacity of the day’s filmmaking equipment.
The camera moved fluidly after a man who was running around a golf course and followed a woman as she jogged up and down a wide stone stairway—without the bumping and jiggling characteristic of handheld footage. Kubrick also knew he wasn’t seeing a simple dolly shot, where the camera is attached to a wheeled platform and moves along a set of metal tracks.