Achievements Of The 19th Century:
A Century Of Achievement
Light And Heat Including Photography
Mining And Metallurgy
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A Century Of Achievement
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In the one hundred years now drawing to a close the world has made a greater advance in science and the arts than in all the preceding ages. The human mind reels when it tries to grasp the stupendous achievements of the Nineteenth Century, in every branch of discovery and invention. Because of their love of pure knowledge, men of gigantic intellect have sought out the mighty secrets of the universe and have raised to the sky a temple to science on ground upon which stood, a century ago, only scattered and isolated stones. Close behind the worshipers of knowledge have followed the magicians of to-day; chemists, engineers and electricians. At their command the spirits of air, water, earth and fire have been made to do man's every bidding. They propel his steamships, railway cars and mighty engines; they make his garments; they build his houses ; they illuminate his cities ; they harvest his crops. For him they make ice in the tropics or grow oranges amid snow. For him they fan a heated atmosphere into cooling breezes or banish icy winds. They flash his news around the globe; they carry the sound of his voice for thousands of miles, or preserve it after he is dead. Verily the fairies and genii of old did not so much for Solomon in all his glory.
During the Nineteenth Century, man has made a messenger boy of the lightning, and harnessed vapor to his all this he regards as a matter of course. Men and women alive to-day can remember the introduction of the first steamboat and the first locomotive. They can recall their delight at the first daguerreotype. Yet their grandchildren from their cradles have been used to electric street cars, ocean greyhounds and kodaks.
We are benefited by thousands of practical applications of the discoveries of wise and patient men, but do not pause to consider the wonder of it all, and how new a power science is in the world.
It is well-nigh impossible to realize the state of science one hundred years ago. All was inchoate. Great truths, germs of much that has been developed since, had been discovered and were startling the world by their novelty and their simplicity. But they stood apart, nor did man dream of science as a single rounded and connected whole. When we regard the astonishing structure that has been built since then, the materials for which have been hewn in so many forests and quarried from so many mines, it seems incredible that a single century can have witnessed so many brilliant achievements.
Astronomy, a hundred years ago, stood foremost of the sciences, most ancient, as most advanced, of them all. Job mentions Orion and the Pleiades, and the Wise Men of the East were reading the heavens when the Star of Bethlehem blazed upon their sight. The Phoenicians steered their ships by the polestar, and followed the planets in their courses. Nevertheless, astrologers learned little that was new, as the centuries passed. Complex lenses were unknown, and with the exception of the planet Uranus, discovered by Herschel in 1781, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, no additions had been made to the solar system, since the days of the Chaldeans. As for other solar systems they were scarcely dreamed of. Aldebaran, "the fixed star, the star which changeth not;" Sirius, and the rest, were but lights in the sky which exercised a weird and mysterious influence over the destinies of men, and were studied by sages to that end. The beginning of the Nineteenth Century, 1810, saw the discovery of Ceres, the first of the asteroids; five more were found between that date and 1847, and since then more than four hundred minor planets, belonging to the same system, have been catalogued. The discovery of the planet Neptune, in 1846, was the result of a triumph of mathematical reasoning which confirmed the Newtonian theory. As recently as 1836, Auguste Comte had maintained that the measurement of the distances of the stars was an impossibility; the Newtonian theory incapable of proof; and that the chemical composition of the fixed stars must forever remain a secret to mankind. Three years after this dictum, Bessel had measured the distance of the star sixty-one Cygni, and Newton's theory had been abundantly proved. Now the invention of the spectroscope, combined with the discovery of spectrum analysis, enables us even to study stellar chemistry.
One hundred years ago we knew so little about the chemistry of our own world that oxygen was a brand new discovery. Since then, what vast advances have been made in chemistry alone ! Its range is almost boundless. Man has penetrated to the innermost secrets of matter, and has applied his knowledge in a thousand ways to the arts. It is not too much to expect that before long he will possess the secret sought by the philosophers of old and be able to transmute baser substances into gold.
Marvelous, indeed, is the progress which has been made in the physical sciences during the Nineteenth Century. Three achievements alone are sufficient to crown the age with glory. These are the doctrines of the molecular constitution of matter, the determination of the mechanical equivalent of heat, leading to the theory of the conservation of energy; and the doctrine of evolution, as divined by Darwin.
The principles of philosophy have been brought to bear on the complex phenomena of the atmosphere, and meteorology has grown to be more and more nearly an exact science. Not only are cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, hail-storms and blizzards foretold, but the weather bureaus predict the slightest shower or the lightest changes in temperature.
One discovery leads to another and science has been applied to a myriad of practical uses. One hundred years ago man possessed the germ of electricity which has developed so wondrously during the century. It was regarded as little more than a costly toy. Now we have the telegraph, the ocean cable, the electric railway, the telephone, the phonograph, the gramophone, the telautograph, the kinetoscope and the Roentgen rays. Only to mention these things is to use words never heard a hundred years ago, though so familiar now. To-day electricity rings bells, opens and locks doors, lights and heats dwellings, drives fans, works sewing machines, does cooking, moves elevators. It is even used to illuminate the fin de siecle Christmas tree.
Steam is another giant which was a puny infant in 1800. Robert Fulton, the first man to make a success of a steamboat, launched the Clermont on August 4, 1807. It took thirty-two hours to make the trip from New York to Albany. The magnificent ocean greyhound of to-day travels from New York to Liverpool in six days. Stephenson's first locomotive, built in 1814, traveled only six miles an hour. The first public steam railway was not operated until 1825. At that time there was not a mile of railroad in the whole United States. To-day there are 445,064 miles of railroad in the world, the mileage of the United States being nearly half that of the world.
The steam engine dates from the last century, but many and various have been the improvements of and developments from the older machines until, to-day, to take a single example from thousands, the modern printing press prints, pastes, folds and counts 90,000 four-page or 24,000 sixteen-page papers an hour. In the art of printing the typesetting machine is a marvel. By its use melted metal is run into type set up and ready for the column before leaving the machine.
The cotton and woolen industries have grown enormously during the Nineteenth Century, owing to the marvelous application of machinery and steam to all branches of the trades. The cotton gin and the spinning jenny were inventions of a previous age, but to our own time belong multitudinous developments of these humble beginnings as well as innumerable other aids to the spinners' and weavers' arts.
Ice-making and refrigerating methods and machinery and coal-handling devices are wonders of recent invention, as are numerous and infinitely varied methods of transportation. Not only have we the steamship and the railway but many kinds of electric cars, horseless carriages, electric and gasoline, besides the bicycle, whose use has become so general. The air is navigated by balloons and flying machines, which, though still somewhat imperfect, are wonders of inventive genius.
The first effective sewing machine was not made until 1845. Since then how rapidly have sewing machines been improved and adapted to every variety of work ! There are now special machines for making button-holes and sewing on buttons, for embroidery, for carpet sewing, for leather work and for making and repairing shoes. Another remarkable mechanical invention of the age is the typewriter. Many were the difficulties to be overcome in perfecting this complex machine, yet, so great are the resources and ingenuity of modern machinists that the problems have been solved in many different ways.
At the dawn of the century there was not only no electric light, but there were few lamps and little gas. As for matches, their place was filled by tinder, flint, and steel. It is well-nigh impossible to realize the darkness of the time. The methods of illumination at. the end of the Eighteenth Century were almost identical with those which had been used throughout the whole period of history. The usual lamp of one hundred years ago was constructed on the simple principle of those of ancient Greece and Rome, and consisted of a clay cup containing a little melted animal fat and a fibrous wick, but torches and tallow dips were the general mode of illumination even among the well-to-do. Argand burners were introduced at the very end of the Eighteenth Century, but they were not sufficiently improved or cheapened to come into use before 183o. Gas was first used for out-door illumination in 1813, when Westminster Bridge, London, was lighted by it. Since then, its use has spread all over the world. A great step in human progress was achieved when man, who for ages had revered or feared gas as a demon, made it his servant and tamed it to his uses. This great feat of illumination was not enough for this wonderful century, surpassing though it did the accumulated efforts of ages. Since Franklin caught the lightning with a kite and a key, electricity, the Nineteenth Century miracle, has rapidly superceded gas, making bright the darkness. Its searchlight penetrates the deepest caverns, rendering the miner's lantern a thing of the past; it explores the depths of the ocean, nay, more, science has taught it to serve the surgeon, for it illumines the opaque and exposes the interior mechanism of man without the aid of a knife.
How beneficent, generous, helpful is the science of to-day ! The practice of surgery and medicine have under-gone magical changes through her tuition. The combined uses of anaesthetics and antiseptics have almost revolutionized surgery, robbing the knife of its terrors and rendering possible a multitude of tedious and difficult life-saving operations. Yet not until 1847 did the era of anaesthetics begin, enabling the surgeon to eliminate the agony of his patient, and to perform his boldest feats with quiet confidence and leisure.
In popular estimation, perhaps justly so, the establishment of the doctrine of evolution is considered the greatest scientific achievement of the Nineteenth Century. Through it the mental horizon has been immeasurably enlarged. Darwin's name is inseparably connected with evolution, but evolution is greater than Darwinism as the whole is always greater than a part. Under the laws of evolution have been brought the stellar universe and solar and planetary systems no less than the species of plant and animal creation. Astronomers, geologists, and biologists have constructed and established, bit by bit, a beautiful theory of the development of all things. Modern geology is almost entirely a growth of the Nineteenth Century while biology, a hundred years ago, was studied only under the misleading name of "natural history." When the century was young, there were educated men who gravely maintained that fossils were "sports of nature," created already dead and petrified. As late as 1857, Gosse, the English naturalist, held that all the evidences of convulsive changes and long epochs in strata, rocks, minerals and fossils were simply "appearances," all created at the same time. As advances were made in physics and chemistry, men began to comprehend the secrets of the formation of the earth. While astronomy steadily advanced toward the proof that the physical forces at work in the infinitude of space are the same as those at work on earth, geology, in carrying us back to immeasurably remote periods of time, taught that the same laws have been in operation from the beginning.
Many have been the practical applications of the century's discoveries in the field of biology and enormous their influence on the practice of medicine. The discoveries of the cell theory and the science of embryology, the germ theory of disease and the nature and function of the white blood corpuscles or leucocytes have all been turned to account. Men such as Pasteur and Koch have devised ways to render powerless the most dreaded zymotic diseases and put to flight the deadly bacilli.
At the dawn of the century psychology groped bewildered in the darkness of abstract metaphysics. The sciences of man, language, societies and of religion were unborn. Questions as to the antiquity of man had not arisen. The figures of speech of Moses were interpreted literally, and the universe was believed to have been created exactly as it is now, only six thousand years ago. Now we know that its origin goes back through aeons of time. Anthropology, philology, sociology and the science of religions, children of the Nineteenth Century though they be, have attained full stature during the one hundred years through the triumph of the comparative method of study. The history of the growth of articulate speech and of all language has been sought and found, as has the history of the development and growth of most of the customs and institutions of man. Not only have the stories of the ancient civilizations on the banks of the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Nile been traced out for us in bewildering detail, but we have been made conversant with the minutest particulars of the life of pre-historic man. With pick and spade the devotees of anthropology and archaeology have laid bare the secrets of old Mother Earth.
While one army of workers has been examining the history- of the past ages, others have been solving the problems of the present. A wonderful advance has been made in institutions of every kind during this most marvelous century. Slavery has been abolished among civilized nations and the slave traffic driven from the high seas; popular education is the rule in enlightened countries, so that every child is now taught to read, write and cipher; higher education for women is an established fact and free schools and colleges place thorough education within the reach of every young man and woman who is willing to take the trouble to obtain it. Reform has changed government prisons from dens of fever and corruption into sanitary places of restraint. Comfortable hospitals under the management of expert physicians and capable nurses open their doors to the sick. Insanity is dealt with as a disease, and not as a crime; the deaf hear; the dumb speak, and the blind are well-nigh as efficient as those who see. Free libraries in every town of any importance yield the treasures of the great minds of the ages to all. The price of books is so low that every working man may possess his own library; lithography and the engraver's art illustrate ten cent magazines with pictures which fifty years ago were beyond the reach of all save the rich; while he who wishes to present his likeness to a friend has the sun for a painter and is no longer obliged to pay hundreds of dollars for a portrait. The news of the world may be had for a penny within a few hours of its happening, and for a few cents private letters are carried by steam to the antipodes.
Not least among the achievements of the Nineteenth Century is what has been done for the farmer, and through him for the hungry world which he feeds. A hundred years ago wooden plows were in use not dissimilar from the one driven by Elisha of old. At that time there were no reaping machines. In the heat of midsummer, with-out protection from the broiling sun, the working men of the world gathered the harvest, sickles in hand, while the women crept after them and kneeling bound the sheaves. So trying was the work that double wages were paid for harvesting and farmers engaged their men months ahead of time. A little more than fifty years of American invention has changed all this. Seedtime and harvest are no longer dreaded, for wonderful machinery has come to man's aid. He does his plowing, riding comfortably over the fields, sometimes drawn by horses, sometimes propelled by steam ; and the plowing and harvesting of the great wheat fields of the West are less laborious than was the cultivation of a few acres in former times. Wheaten bread is no longer a luxury for the few, and the five-cent loaf, kneaded and baked by steam, is sufficient to breakfast a family. American farm machinery is used all over the world. To such an extent has the industry of producing it grown that 150,000 self-binding harvesters, each doing the work of twenty men, are made annually.
Among the great engineering feats of the age are marvelous bridges built of iron and steel suspended or arched over chasms or waters long thought to be unspanable. Accounts of the mechanical skill of the Egyptians have come down to us through the ages. Vestiges of their engineering works have been found buried in the sands of centuries, proving that the mighty men of the Nile possessed secrets lost long ago and not re-discovered until the Nineteenth Century; but that which Pharaoh-Necho attempted and failed to do, long before the time of Christ, was accomplished when the Isthmus of Suez was cut through allowing ships to sail entirely around the continent of Africa. Innumerable other canals have been constructed by the ingenuity, skill and patience of the engineers of to-day, who have likewise built great tunnels, blasting their way through mountains, driving "shields" under rivers and forcing "needles" under city streets. The congested condition of the business districts of large cities has called forth a new style of architecture and lightly built edifices of steel, lift story after story sky-ward, rivaling the Tower of Babel. Many and various are the obstacles overcome in the erection of these big business buildings with cantilever and truss innovations, and a legion of necessary or ornamental appliances or appurtenances. Recently the growth of these office buildings has been checked by legislation in many cities, but sixteen or twenty story structures are by no means rare.
The engineer has brought his skill to bear on mining and mining machinery so that methods of drilling, boring, blasting, sinking shafts, exploring, excavating, and ore extracting have completely changed during the century. What used to be done by hand is now performed by the mighty giants, steam and electricity. Closely connected with the improvements in mining are the achievements of metallurgy, including the inventions of Bessemer and Siemens which have so vastly increased the possibility of the steel industry, not only cheapening steel, but conducing to many other wonderful results. Another achievement of the age is the invention, or discovery, of acetylene gas, which may do away with coal gas as an illuminant, and there are processes by which that most useful metal of the future, aluminum, is obtained and cheapened. During the century there have been marvelous innovations in water wheels, producing great force, and the mighty Niagara has been harnessed and utilized for power purposes. Air has been compressed and liquified and great are its possibilities.
Not only have the gold fields of the Klondike, Australia and South Africa been discovered in this century, but most of the inexhaustible mineral resources of the Western Hemisphere have been found and made known to the world since 1800. It is difficult to imagine how mankind got along without the silver of Nevada and Colorado, the gold of California, and the coals and petroleum of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York, to say nothing of the wealth hidden in the mountains of Central and South America.
The exploration and development of unknown parts of the globe during the century has been phenomenally rapid and extensive. A large part of the history of America and of Australia has been the history of courageous, persistent and successful exploration, "wherein the track of the explorer, serving instantly for the trail of the pioneer, has broadened into the wagon road of invading immigrants." Light has been thrown on darkest Africa, through the unwearying effort of men, such men as Livingston, Du Chaillu and Stanley; land has been discovered and explored in the Antarctic region of snow and ice, and intrepid men have conducted with extraordinary patience, fortitude, and enterprise, one expedition after another in search of the North Pole. All this discovery and opening up of new worlds has played a vast part in the progress of man in commerce, science and civilization, and is to be accounted one of the mightiest achievements of the century.
Not only in the arts of peace has man taken great for-ward strides. Methods of warfare have been completely revolutionized by recent improvements in armor and guns, by fearful projectiles, by sub-marine boats and their deadly explosives, and by smokeless powder. Arbitration frequently prevents war, thereby saving thousands of lives and prophesying a time when battles shall be no more. Human life is more highly valued now-a-days. Capital punishment in civilized countries is administered for only the gravest offenses. There have been wonderful improvements in lighthouses and life-saving ocean and sea devices, and the Red Cross physicians and nurses and the hospital tent or ship, follow army and navy.
Wonderful has been the part that the United States has taken in the multitude of astonishing achievements of the Nineteenth Century always abreast of the times, often leading. Yet in 1800 the Republic was less than twenty-five years old, so that her greatness and eminence of itself is a growth of the century. In 1806 a country with only 5,308,483 inhabitants, hugging the seacoast, the United States has grown to an immense area and to a population of nearly 75,000,000. Struggling during the period with grave domestic problems, many of them entirely new, learning, growing, building, organizing ; today the United States leads the world in wealth, mining, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, transportation, education and almost every field of endeavor. Her own development chiefly an achievement of the century, she has led in making the Nineteenth Century the age of greatest achievement.