History of Technology

(a log of thoughts, links, oddments, intended to keep some order in my processes of discovery and make it possible to reconstruct what happened when)

1 April 1998
An exchange of e-mail with John Blackburn (consequent upon his pointer to the transcript of remarks by Leo Marx) propels me into making a container for stuff having to do with History of Technology

8 April
I stopped by John Lambeth's office to ask the idle question of how one would go about proposing a University Scholars course for Winter 1999. A course outline is the first step, and it appears that there are no other University Scholars offerings for Winter term.

9 April
A link to the second draft of a course proposal.

10 April
American Folk ("People, folklore, and popular culture")

I chanced upon an essay by Kenneth Boulding in The Southern Mystique (T14.5 .S65): "The puzzle of the North-South differential", which would serve as a nice reading on 'region' and 'pattern'. He starts out commenting upon "occasionally strong empirical regularities, for which there seems to be no very good reason..."

In the same volume is an essay by Melvin Kranzberg: "From carpetbag to carpet mill: technology in the New South", which describes an historical succession of "New Souths".

History of technology is, par excellence, a succession of stories: events with upshots, processes, webs of implication, heroes and villains (and, often enough, masters and villeins).

From Pursell 1995, writing of 17th century agricultural technology:
As far as is known, there were no immediate additions to the traditional [European] tools of farming: the hoes, spades, scythes, reaping hooks, shovels, carts, harrows, and plows. Faced with the curse of too much rather than too little timber, however, the old-style axe was radically improved. One observer in the early 19th century described the American axe, as it came to be called, as the instrument, along with steam and corn, that conquered the New World. It was distinctly American, a fact recognized with pride by them and admiration by visitors.

Althrough details varied from country to country and purpose to purpose, by and large the axe first brought over from Europe had a fairly short handle, a thick wedge, and a narrow bite, and the handle was set well back from the cutting edge. Slowly, and by whose agency no one knows, this axe developed into a new type: one with a long, curved, and springy handle set nearer to the center of the head, which was broader at the edge than the center and much narrower throughout. Much attention was lavished on the handle, which was often custom-made to fit the size and style of the owner. Technique was also important in the use of the axe.

Testifying before a special committee of Parliament in 1841, an English manufacturer stated that the American axe was, "for a plain article, the most mechanically and the best-constructed little instrument I know; the art being, that a man can fell three trees to one, compared with those that are ordinarily made in England." The great timbered expanse of America put a premium on cutting down forests as quickly as possible..." (pp 14-15)

To continue the story, this led me to HOLLIS to search LCSH 'Axe' and find a pointer to

 AUTHOR       Hoke, Donald.
 TITLE        Ingenious Yankees : the rise of the American system of
                manufactures in the private sector / Donald R. Hoke.
 PUBLISHER    New York : Columbia University Press, 1989.
 SUBJECT      United States -- Manufactures -- History -- Case studies.
              Clocks and watches -- United States -- History.
              Axe industry -- United States -- History.
 1 > Leyburn Library        HD9725 .H65 1989
which describes a decade in the evolution of the Collins Axe Company and the ministrations of one Elisha K. Root --and pointers to articles in SciAm 1859. Altogether a lovely example... stories within stories.

16 April
I checked Poole's Index to Periodical Literature (the 19th century index) and found that Journal of the Franklin Society is indexed therein.
NB that the Journal listed patents and in the early years included commentary on their worthiness

I did a search for T and then limited it to those published before 1900: of 8184 total, about 500 were published before 1900. A selection of about 50 of them is here.

Thinking back, I realize that 50 Years of Popular Mechanics 1902-1952 (T1 .P7715) was one of the most influential books of my youth. Published in 1952 (and given for Christmas to both my father and oldest brother), when I was 9, it provided hundreds of hours of fascination for me, and rediscovering it in the W&L library a few years ago was a revelation: I remembered every single page, every illustration line for line and dot for dot, and most of the words. A lot of it was hey-wow stuff, short on technical details, but replete with news of new technological whizz-bang. A glance at Scientific American in the first third or so of this century shows much the same sort of thing: popularizations, most more technological than scientific, and a means by which ordinary people could grasp the frontiers of development.

17 April
So let's try to lay out the extant resources for various eras, along with some of the questions they generate:

A flurry of e-mail between John and myself produced a scheme for bibliographic presentation.

And I have some materials on railroads.

A link to a UC Berkeley course (taught by Howard Besser) on Impact of New Technologies, with a lot of interesting links. Also an introductory page with links to other iterations of the course.

A list of books on inventions

How's this for a working definition?: "...the tools, skills and knowledge needed to make and do things." (McGaw 1994:6 --specifically early American technology)

Perry Miller:

Tocqueville, supposing the basic problem to be a conceptual one, simply could not comprehend the passion with which (Americans) flung themselves into the technological torrent, how they shouted with glee in the midst of the cataract, and cried to each other as they went headlong down the chute that was their destiny. (p 55)
(American Scholar 31:51-69 is the article: "The Responsibility of Mind in a Civilization of Machines")

A structure for subject-based technology bibliography (developed from the Hindle model by Nina Lerman, in McGaw 1994:358ff.)

And a digression on the Blanchard lathe.

One not to lose track of: Planning the software industrial revolution (Brad Cox 1990)

18 April
A 'media rant' by Jon Katz on The Unabomber's Legacy (Part 1)

Review of Tracy Kidder's 1981 Pulitzer prize winner The Soul of a New Machine (characterized somewhere as 'an ethnography of an R&D group')

19 April
On reading Morison's "Gunfire at sea", these items to look at later: Rosenkopf, Tushman and Anderson

20 April
So here are some items for the bibliography:

Morison, Elting E.
	1950  Gunfire at sea. in Men, machines, and modern times (Cambridge:
	      MIT Press 1966) pp 17-44

	1963  Men and machinery. in Men, machines, and modern times
	      (Cambridge:MIT Press 1966) pp 98-122
(and see Mahan's Forebears. It took me about 10 minutes on LL2 to find a picture of the Wampanoag [VA55 .L68 1992 v1, pg 332; cf. VA55 .C28 v1])
Pirsig, Robert M.
	1974, 1984  Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance: an inquiry
		    into values.   New York:Bantam (passim)

Franklin, Benjamin
	1744  An account of the new invented Pennsylvanian fire-places.
	      in Papers of Benjamin Franklin vol 2 pp 419-446 (1959)

Miller, Perry
	1962  The responsibility of mind in a civilization of machines. 
              American Scholar 31:51-69

Industrial Archaeology at Michigan Technological University

21 April
Continued reading of Hawke suggests 3 interesting projects:

22 April
From Cronon Changes in the land: Indians, colonists, and the ecology of New England: pp 91-107 on trade goods and their ecological and social consequences; pp 116-126 on deforestation. Both excellent broad-spectrum descriptions, for which technologies are at the heart.

23 April
Reading Brooke Hindle this morning (on Fitch and the first steamboat) I ran across a reference to Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, which repose in the Science Library:

TITLE        Transactions of the American Philosophical Society ..
 LIB. HAS     W&L 1-6;1-12,36,38,40-43,45-50,52,55-58,61,64-65,67,73 1786-
                1977,1983 Volumes for 1946-1977 shelved as Folio.
 PUBLISHER    Philadelphia : The Society.
 DESCRIPT     v. : ill. ; 25-30 cm.
 FREQUENCY    Irregular.
 PUB DATE     Began in 1771.
 Science Library        Q11 .P6
and a quick riffle through a volume turns up a paper by Benjamin Franklin from 1786: "Description of a new STOVE for burning of Pitcoal, and consuming all its smoke" (vol II no. vi pp 57-74, plus two plates, "written at sea, 1785"). His "Maritime Observations" in the same volume (especially pp 306ff) describe a Bernoulli-based steam propulsion system... and there are a number of other 'technological' articles here and there --on Dr. Barker's mill in vol III (pp 185ff), on Grist and Saw Mills in vol IV (pp 348ff), and so on, mixed in with stuff on phlogiston, philology, and rattlesnakes. I wonder if there's any index for all of that? Seems like there ought to be, and the source gives a good idea of the month-to-month progress of ideas in late 18th c. Philadelphia.
(at the end of vol IV there is a "General index to the first four volumes" --a number of articles on chimneys, mills, Jefferson on a mould-board design (vol IV pp 313ff), Bushnell's submarine (vol IV pp 303ff), though most of the content is in the realms of natural history rather than mechanical/technological).
A case in point (yet another reason to look at such hoary old tomes, this bit from Benjamin Franklin's "Maritime Observations" [1786]):
Islands of ice are frequently seen off the banks of Newfoundland, by ships going between North-America and Europe. In the day-time they are easily avoided, unless in a very thick fog. I remember two instances of ships running against them in the night. The first lost her bowsprit, but received little other damage. The other struck where the warmth of the sea had wasted the ice next to it, and a part hung over above. This perhaps saved her, for she was under great way; but the upper part of the cliff taking her foretopmast, broke the shock, though it carried away the mast. She disengaged herself with some difficulty, and got safe into port; but the accident shows the possibility of other ships being wrecked and sunk by striking those vast masses of ice, of which I have seen one that we judged to be seventy feet high abouve the water, consequently eight times as much under water; and it is another reason for keeping a good look-out before, though far from any coast that may threaten danger.
(Transactions of the American Philosophical Society vol II, pg 306)
(Q11 .P6)

24 April
Some bits on

What cannot you do if you will get yourself about it.

(John Fitch, quoted in Hindle 1981:28)

28 April
Written while hiking in the James River Face:

The essence of Technology: how to do something. That covers a lot, but generally involves a contrivance (which may be mechanical, but doesn't have to be) that permits or facilitates. Human history --indeed, human evolution-- is a glorious progression of technological innovations and social and cultural upshots (consequences, implications).

Technologies are instructive to examine because they underlie so much that's of cultural, social, political, economic consequence. Frequently technology impels cultural, social, political, economic events and processes, but neither the scientific nor the technical is well understood by social scientists whose research is in those realms, and the same is generally true of the humanities.

Technology deals with materials, processes, energy transformations, mechanisms, the taming and domestication of physical forces and biological systems --all ways in which humans direct brain power towards accomplishment of goals, plans, schemes, strategies and designs.

Managerial and administrative revolutions/evolutions are an important part of history of technology, though the connection isn't very clearly made in some of the tech-history books, and management folks don't necessarily have really clear understanding of nuts and bolts. But it's an area worth a lot of attention. Livesay's books look worthwhile:

 AUTHOR       Livesay, Harold C.
 TITLE        American made : men who shaped the American economy / by Harold
                C. Livesay.
 PUBLISHER    Boston : Little, Brown, c1979.
 SUBJECT      Businessmen -- United States -- Biography.
 Leyburn Library        HC102.5.A2 L58

 AUTHOR       Livesay, Harold C.
 TITLE        Andrew Carnegie and the rise of big business / Harold C.
                Livesay ; edited by Oscar Handlin.
 PUBLISHER    [New York] : HarperCollins, c1975.
 SUBJECT      Carnegie, Andrew, 1835-1919.
              Industrialists -- United States -- Biography.
              Millionaires -- United States -- Biography.
              Philanthropists -- United States -- Biography.
              Steel industry and trade -- United States -- History.
 Leyburn Library        HD9520.C3 L58 1975

 AUTHOR       Porter, Glenn.
 TITLE        Merchants and manufacturers : studies in the changing structure
                of nineteenth-century marketing / Glenn Porter and Harold C.
 PUBLISHER    Baltimore : Johns Hopkins Press, [1971]
 SUBJECT      Marketing -- Management -- United States -- History -- 19th
              United States -- Commerce -- History -- 19th century.
 Leyburn Library        HF5415.1 .P55

And while we're at it, publicity would be interesting to include as well.

Noted in Schlereth's Material Culture Studies in America: "...the invention of the spiral spring encouraged the mass distribution of upholstered furniture." (Cohen pg 293)

now how would we find out about this 'spiral spring' thing?
Coil Spring - an element in the form of a spiral and which exhibits resilient characteristic when distorted from its original shape. May be in the form of a helix, a volute spiral or flat spiral. (Class 267, from http://patents.cnidr.org/pto/classes/us/267/267.html)
?but surely spiral springs were part of horology long before 19th c. furniture?

Modern Practice of the Electronic Telegraph (Frank L. Pope 1881) --the full text, with illustrations, lovingly input by somebody who found the book at Powell's in Portland.

and this from http://www.english.upenn.edu/~jlynch/Frank/People/hooke.html:

Robert Hooke

Robert Hooke, 1635-, English chemist, mathematician, physicist, and inventor.

Hooke's remarkable engineering abilities enabled him to invent and improve many mechanical devices, including timepieces (for which he invented the spiral spring), the quadrant, and the Gregorian telescope. Perhaps even more intriguing than his actual inventions are the devices he designed but never built: he anticipated the invention of the steam engine, and as early as 1684 he described a working telegraph system...

BUT there's this at http://www.eng.fsu.edu/~egungwu/hw2.html:
The earliest watches were invented about 1500 and made in Nuremberg, Germany in the first half of the sixteenth century. The first portable mechanical timekeeper was made possible by the invention of spring propulsion. Peter Henlein (1479 - 1542), master locksmith, invented the coiled propulsion mainspring. The watch was far from accurate, but it was pretty, so it was used more as jewelry than for timekeeping purposes. The technical breakthrough came with the application of the balance spiral spring, invented by Christiaan Hugens in 1657. The first watch implementing this innovation was made by Isaac Thuret in Paris on January 22, 1675 for Christiaan Hugens.

And Alpheus Myers' tapeworm trap ("Wacky patent of the month...")

On another subject altogether: the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition (1876) featured a "salute to American technological progress" (Cohen 293), and I wonder what graphic/text summaries of that event one could find and mine for inspiration? The whole subject of Expositions is certainly a fascinating one, anyhow.

And sure enough, a search of HOLLIS turns up an LCSH for the Exhibition, and some summary documents:
%AUTHOR: Ingram, J. S.
%TITLE: The Centennial Exposition.
%PUB. INFO: [New York]: Arno Press, 1976, [c1876].
%DESCRIPTION: 770 p., [1] fold. leaf of plates: ill.; 23 cm.
%NOTES: Reprint of the ed. published by Hubbard Bros., Philadelphia.  "Arno
press Collectiom."--Facing T.p.
%NUMBERS: ISBN 0405076959
%SUBJECTS: Centennial Exhibition (1876: Philadelphia, Pa.) \ Parks--United

%AUTHOR: Norton, Frank H. (Frank Henry), 1836-1921. ed.
%TITLE: A facsimile of Frank Leslie's illustrated historical register of the
Centennial Exposition, 1876.
%PUB. INFO: [New York] Paddington Press [1974]
%DESCRIPTION: 324 p. illus. 41 cm.
%NOTES: Frank Leslie's illustrated historical register of the Centennial
Exposition, 1876.  Original t.p. reads: Frank Leslie's historical register of
the United States Centennial Exposition, 1876. Embellished with nearly eight
hundred illustrations drawn expressly for this work by the most eminent artists
in America ... Edited by Frank H. Norton ... New York: Frank Leslie's Publishing
House, 1877.
%NUMBERS: ISBN 0846700220
%SUBJECTS: Centennial Exhibition (1876: Philadelphia, Pa.)

29 April
I'm quite taken with the image Alan Howard put forward yesterday of a course as an atelier in which the instructor defines the fields of inquiry, provides tools and means of access, and students "enter the problematic environment" and figure out how to sort ot out. It's what I've been saying myself for long enough, but the atelier image is very helpful in offering a precedent.

He also noted that the students believe that they're actually doing something... and that what they have is a teaching opportunity, and their job is to explain what they find to others.

A memorable quote, talking of student strategies: "they may not know jack, but they know how to work the system."

Some historical dictionaries of technology at W&L

There's an online version of The Life of John Fitch, the inventor of the steamboat (Thompson Westcott 1857), part of University of Rochester's Steam Engine Library, which includes Oliver Evans' Abortion of the Young Steam Engineer's Guide (1805) and William H. Brown's History of the First Locomotives in America (1871) and a number of other wonderful sources!

30 April
A trip to Charlottesville to look at bound issues of American Machinist going back to the 1870s. NB also that the current incarnation of the mag has an online version, though it has little of the charm of a century ago. Among the things one might track through the pages of the old version: the process of introduction of electric power into machine shops. Of course the stuff from the 1880s is belt-driven, steam-based --and electric generators first appear as means to improve lighting. It would be interesting to follow that transition.

4 May
It occurs to me again and again that what we are after is stories. The latest source of that inspiration:

 AUTHOR       Plowden, David.
 TITLE        Imprints : David Plowden : a retrospective / preface and 
 PUBLISHER    Boston : Little, Brown, c1997.
 SUBJECT      United States -- Pictorial works.
              Photography, Artistic.
 Leyburn Library        E169.04 .P569 1997
(another in a lengthy series of evocative photography books... empty malls, decaying bridges, taconite pellet mountains, deserted main streets, etc.)

It strikes me that there are photographers of technology, both by intent and by default. Walker Evans, Charles Sheeler. Their work poses questions, elicits stories, illuminates processes of the sort this course attempts to engage.

A collection of technological famous last words

Looking through Leo Marx' The Machine in the Garden I was reminded of the Melville story "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" which I read in Gen Ed Ahf in 1961, and quite saw the 'Rabelasian' symbolic aspects that seemed to elude everybody else --but didn't have sufficient conviction to argue my case in class. The text is available online via the UVa Electronic text center. The conventional version of 'reality' sees this as anti-Satanic-mills, but look again.

5 May
And while we're on the literary kick, I've been reading Life on the Mississippi lately. There are some online versions of the text, though the one at teachersoft.com seems to be missing some bits...

And I happened on a link to Appleton's Cyclopedia of Applied Mechanics (1880) [access via its index], a work in progress but including the illustrations.

And 19th c. Scientific American online index:

Welcome to the Online Web page for the Index to 19th Century Scientific American, the annual years 1845 - 1859, Volumes I - XIV. Presently Volumes 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 13,and 14 indices are online in our data base. Volumes I and II never had indices, we are in the process of creating indices for them. Volume 9, 10 and 12 will be added soon. A simple Key Word search program is available, but wildcard searches are not possible at this time.
Thusfar Vol 1 and part of Vol 2 (1845) are available online.

There's also a 19th c. technology bulletin board which looks like it might offer some interesting assistance.

And U. Rochester also has a link to Godey's 'Not just for ladies' with articles on gunpowder and paper making.

And to material on Erie Canal history

A link to How the Other Half Lives (Jacob Riis)

Leo Marx cites Harvard professor Jacob Bigelow as the coiner of 'technology' (1829), though the OED sings a different song. Marx: "One of the first uses of the word technology to refer to the mechanic arts generally was in the title of the book by a man named Jacob Bigelow in 1829 called "The Elements of Technology." (http://sap.mit.edu/projects/colloquium/summaries/marx.html). Here's the book in question:

 AUTHOR       Bigelow, Jacob, 1786-1879.
 TITLE        Elements of technology, taken chiefly from a course of lectures
                delivered at Cambridge, on the application of the sciences to
                the useful arts / Now published for the use of seminaries and
                students. By Jacob Bigelow.
 PUBLISHER    Boston : Hilliard, Gray, Little and Wilkins, 1829.
 DESCRIPT     xii, 507 p. : XXII pl (partly fold.) ; 23 cm.
 NOTE         Rumford professorship lectures delivered at Harvard; published
                1840 with title: The useful arts considered in connexion with
                the applications of science.
 SUBJECT      Technology.
 Leyburn-Spec Coll-Rare T47 .B58

Leo Marx seems especially valuable for examination of how contemporaries (and especially literary folks) saw and represented technology and innovation --a book

...about the region of culture where literature, general ideas, and certain products of the collective imagination --we may call them 'cultural symbols'-- meet. To appreciate the significance and power of our American fables it is necessary to understand the interplay between the literary imagination and what happens outside literature, in the general culture. (The Machine in the Garden, pg 4)

6 May
technology and citizen choice: priorities and responsibility for tool selection (Justin Hall, Swarthmore) --A web-based thesis!

American Precision Museum in Windsor VT

A look at Mumford's Technics and Civilization (T15 .M8) --NB the chronology of inventions in the back, which would be worth transcribing into a grand Table of Inventions (with augmentations), if only to ask the question ?what was it like before...? It's a pretty raggedy list, but a place to start anyhow. It's tempting to focus upon 'invention', but that's generally better studied and understood (? --maybe it's just easier to deal with the 'solitary genius' model) than the spread and consequences of technologies which is really more our focus. I've italicized items that are European, to underline how much the U.S. relied upon importation in the early 19th c.

11 May
A place to collect illustrations

Some Muybridge links: girl with bucket and the whole gallery and another collection, and Sallie Gardner at a gallop and nude descending stairs

12 May
Reading Noble's America by Design (T 14.5 .N6 1977):

Of the new industries which emerged between 1880 and 1920 and transformed the nature of social production in America, only two grew out of the soil of science rather than traditional craft knowledge: the electrical and chemical industries... (which) set the pattern of production and management for modern industry as a whole. Moreover, they produced the people --industry-minded physicists and chemists and, especially, the electrical and chemical engineers-- who would carry the scientific revolution into the older and the new industries: extractive, petroleum, steel, rubber, and, most important of all in terms of American economic development, automotive. In all of these industries the systematic introduction of science as a means of production presupposed, and in turn reinforced, industrial monopoly... initially, the monopoly over science took the form of patent control --that is, control over the products of scientific technology. It then became control over the process of scientific production itself, by means of organized and regulated industrial research... (pp 5-6)

Even the most mundane industries have interesting stories. Noble sketches chemicals --sulfuric acid, alkalais, dyestuffs, petroleum, fertilizers, etc... WWI seizure of German patents...

Some references on barbed wire

2 June
It's interesting to think about looking forward in technological history, trying to place the present into context (and trying to comprehend what's so special about the present). Clearly the microcomputer is one of those things, something we see so close up that we don't appreciate its importance as a criterial element of 'our' technology. An article on Remembering the MEMEX is a valuable item (I found that I had to use the index to access the commentaries).

Jeff Overholtzer: "Interesting question for your history of technology course - the relationship between technology and economic prosperity..." Yup.

Looking at Robert Pool's Beyond Engineering: how society shapes technology (T45 .P66 1997), which is really about the nuclear industry, I found this passage:

Consider the automobile. In the arly part of this century, gas-powered cars shared the roads with those powered by boilers and steam engines, such as the Stanley Steamer. Eventually, internal combustion captured the amrket and the old steamers disappeared. Why? The usual assumption is that the two contenders went head to head and the best technology won. Not at all.

Although the internal combustion engine did have some advantages in performance and convenience, steam-pwered cars had their own pluses: they had no transmission or shifting of gears, they were simpler to build, and they were smoother and quieter to operate. Experts then and now have called it a draw --the 'better' technology was mostly a matter of opinion. Instead, the steamers were illed off by several factors that had little or nothing to do with their engineering merits. For one, the Stanley Brothers, builders of the best steam-powered cars of the time, had little interest in mass production. They were content to sell a few cars at high prices to aficionados who could appreciate their superiority. Meanwhile, Henry Ford and other Detroit automakers were flooding the country with inexpensive gas-powered cars. Even so, the steamers might well have survived as high-end specialty cars were it not for a series of unlucky breaks. At one point, for example, an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease caused public horse troughs to be drained, removing a major source of water for refilling the cars' boilers. It took the Stanley Brothers three years to develop a closed-cycle steam engine that didn't need constant refilling, but by then WWI had begun, bringing strict government limits on the number of cars that businesses could build for the consumer market. The Stanley company never recovered, and it folded a few years later... (pp 6-7)

(and see Public Understanding of Science and Technology from sloan.com for more on the series of which this book is one)

One can ask for any item: what were its unintended consequences? And for any technology, what have been the influences of society upon it? Nontechnical forces do shape technologies.

Another link to not-lose: The End of Science Writing (Jon Franklin --on the National Association of Science Writers web site, which has other things of interest too)

Another from Beyond Engineering:

...it's well known that the Microsoft Corporation's dominating influence on software got its start by pure chance. When IBM decided to create its personal computer, the PC, the group in charge of its development first approached a company called Digital Research about providing the PC's operating system. When Digital Research put IBM off, the group interviewed Bill Gates and his still-small company, Microsoft. Recognizing what a tremendous opportunity it was, Gates did everything he could to convince IBM that Microsoft would be the right choice, but the ultimate selection of Microsoft came down at least in part to a personal connection: IBM chairman John Opel had served on the board of the United Way with Gates's mother and thought it would be nice to do business with "Mary Gates's boy's company."..." (Pool Beyond Engineering pg 22)

8 June
Public Works Images Online from Library of Virginia: James River Company for example, but see others at http://images.vtls.com/

9 June
Reading Pool's Beyond Engineering:
Amarillo National Resource Center for Plutonium and Electronic Resource Library on Plutonium

DOE Hanford web site ("Environmental Excellence")

A sterling quotation:

Why are some new technologies accepted immediately and others resisted or even rejected? The answer lies in what might be called a 'momentum of ideas' --the way that opinions, attitudes, and beliefs take on a life of their own, both in individuals and in groups. The imp[ortance of this momentum is often underestimated by people who see ideas as weightless things, able to be changed or redirected at the drop of a new discovery. But, in truth, the momentum of ideas shapes technology as surely as does the momentum of historical circumstances, the momentum of technological infrastructure, or the momentum of scientific knowledge.

The most obvious example of this is the frequent failure by people to recognize the value of an innovation. The history of technology is littered with examples of valuable inventions that received the same sort of treatment the telephone and the copier did... In the late 1950s, when scientists at Bell Labs did early work on the laser, now at the heart of fiber-optic long-distance telephone systems, company patent lawyers saw no need to apply for a patent on it. Light had never played a role in communications, so why should Bell be interested...

Pool 1997:54-55

10 June
Reading Ivan Amato's Stuff: the materials the world is made of (TA403.2 .A48 1997), it occurs to me that a class on materials (materials science, the limitations imposed by tools and materials themselves, the opportunities on the horizon, the transformative effects of new materials [viz: silicon --but also of course bakelite and cast steel and and and...]) would be a good idea, and might appeal to Tom Williams.

The treatment of band-gap engineering (pp 191-227) makes accessible some pretty difficult conceptual stuff ["An optical fiber rigged with a silicon detector is like a music lover wearing earmuffs at a concert." (209)]. A search in the patents database for 'Capasso' turns up quite a few, of course... and underlines the utility of patent text for the course.

A search for 'quantum well' turns up 8000+ in AltaVista, including

11 June
Pool's Beyond Engineering has a nice summary (pp 86 ff.) of the Xerox PARC microcomputer story: an excellent product that didn't make it in the marketplace for a variety of reasons (no spreadsheet software, not an open platform, price, conflict in corporate culture among them).

Modern technology is created not so much by individuals as by organizations, and the characteristics of those organizations --their histories, their leaders, their structures, their cultures, their financial well-being, their relationships with other organizations-- will shape the sorts of technology that their engineers produce... (pp 89-90)

...and goes on to outline the Apple/IBM evolution.

19 June
A very nice "Evolution of the American Landscape" course at VaTech, its syllabus page leading to all manner of other materials. Good presentation, nice consistent format.

14 July
My vacation included stops at the American Precision Museum in Windsor VT and the Lowell National Historical Park. The two are very different in ambience and mission, but provide glimpses of some of the riches out there.

I bought

 AUTHOR       Gordon, Robert B. (Robert Boyd), 1929-
 TITLE        The texture of industry : an archaeological view of the
                industrialization of North America 
 PUBLISHER    New York : Oxford University Press, 1994.
 SUBJECT      Industrial archaeology -- North America.
              Industrialization -- North America.
 1 > Science Library        T21 .G67 1994
which is an excellent summary...

20 July
A project on the history of technology in Rockbridge County recommends itself.

Our Technology Heritage (U.S. Army "time machine" site)

Fort Collins CO timeline

Manufacturing, with links to a number of specific sites --Edison, Ford, textiles, etc. from Pomperaug Museum of History

21 July
Some images of wireless apparatus from John Jenkins' 'Virtual' Radio Museum

22 July
Ruth Schwartz Cowan's A Social History of American Technology (Oxford, 1997) seems a good candidate for a text for the course. Here's a link to the chapter titles and subheadings of the book, perhaps for later outline purposes.

One thing the young have to develop: perspective on the past. Consider what somebody 20 or so years old knows about computers from personal observation and experience: at the age when they could have become cognizant (say about 5, 1983 or so) microcomputers were just beginning to be household items in a tiny fraction of households --but the CRT display was part and parcel of the definition of 'computer', the CPU was right there on the desk, and real-time (as versus batch processing) was the essence of the interaction between person and machine. And CRT-based games (perhaps edutainment --Reader Rabbit and suchlike) were the likeliest first encounters.

The world of time-sharing, batch processing, 'data processing', serious work, programming... all that is not part of the 20-year old's image of what computers are and do. For them, the computer is a personal utility, lacking some of the mystique that attends the machines in the minds of people over, say, 30.
Extend this to other realms of technology: somebody of 40 or 50 has personal memories of superceded (and even vanished) technologies, and perforce thinks of 'technological progress' differently than a person of 20. Life was different when there were steam trains, no television, no integrated circuits, no interstate highways... and to someone of 20-odd those are "olden times". The film Pleasantville ("two teenagers find themselves in a 1950s sitcom" --there's a 42MB QuickTime trailer available at http://web.starlinx.com/jwoerner/movies/p/pleasantville.html) and the Back to the Future series (see Back to the Future website, and Screen It! summary ["Entertainment reviews for parents"]) and other time travel flicks play on these intersections of nostalgia and amnesia, in ways that might be fun to analyze. A list of time travel films --compare Douglas Chapman's list, and another by P.T. Leung.

23 July
A link to the full text of Bessemer's Autobiography

Full text of Samuel Smiles Iron Workers and Tool Makers (1863)

24 July
It's obvious that iron and steel are basic technologies, both in the sense that so much of what we take for granted in 20th century life is grounded in these materials, and in the sense that an understanding of these technologies and their implications is good preparation for looking at other materials and processes. My brief dip into the sources listed above and on the Rockbridge page has occasioned a lot of ruminations and side trips, just the sort of associative exercise one hopes to inspire in the young.

31 July
I've started a weblet on iron and iron-working --nothing systematic, just a collection point for material.

3 August
Thinking about the actual teaching, this passage is worth keeping in mind:

...I had asked the students to read what I thought were ringing statements of conviction by the American regionalists of the 1930s. They had not, however, rung for the students. The readings and the students' souls had clearly stayed in separate spheres, even separate time zones. While I tried to tug them into discussion, the students gave me the eloquent look mastered by every undergraduate. "We are, of course, your powerless captives," the look says. "If you want to bore us to death, it is your right, but we can see to it that exercising that right will give you no pleasure."
Patricia Nelson Limerick, "Region and Reason", in Ayers et al. All Over the Map, pp 85-86 [E179.5 .A43 1996]

7 August
Searching for connections to Diderot, I came upon the following:

11 August
I happened upon a link to A Quick Tour of the City of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which includes quite a bit of information on the Johnstown Flood of 1889, an event that ties in with technological history in all sorts of ways (see Johnstown Flood Museum pages), including steel, coal, and rail transport --as well as industrial greed, waste, etc.

12 August
I feel the need for a summary of the overall scheme of this enterprise.

17 August
John Blackburn's extracts from Thomas Jefferson's descriptions of Virginia mineral resources.

19 August
The question of failure of materials and contrivances is interesting, and has occasioned various political activities --one thinks of the Challenger disaster, but there's also an interesting history of bursting boilers, nicely discussed in John Burke's "Bursting boilers and the federal power" (Technology and Culture 1966, reprinted in Readings from Technology and Culture [T14.5 .T44138 1991]). He notes that Journal of the Franklin Institute was very much concerned with the subject of boiler explosions. Regulatory activity ensued, the first 'research grant' of a technological nature in was made by the federal government in1831 (and Franklin Institute experiments 1831-1836 --well worth a look), and a (flawed --no inspection criteria specified, no qualifications for engineers) bill establishing mandatory inspections was passed in 1838, with license to navigate contingent upon passing inspection --though not until 1852 was there a really effective law. Opponents decried the "treat to private property rights", proponents argued "the duty of government to act in the public weal". These acts were cited as examples of government action in the establisment of the ICC (1874?) and railroad regulation acts.

Bursting steamboat boilers... should be seen also as creating a dilemma as to how far the lives and property of the general public might be endangered by unrestricted private enterprise. The solution was an important step toward the inauguration of the regulatory and investigative agencies in the federal government. [p 65]

20 Aug
Electricity is obviously one of the enabling technologies, one of those that ramified throughout society once introduced, affecting just about everything. Nye says "in short, modern production methods are unimaginable without it." [1990:14].

30 Aug
From Nye's Electrifying America:

A factory's form of power determines its maximum size and possible locations. For 250 years water wheels supplied the majority of all industrial energy in the United States. Water poer tied production to the banks of swiftly moving streams and required the construction of dams, channels, and spillways. Water power could not be transported long distances, and required that materials be taken to the power source, often a rather cramped valley... Within the mill, energy had to be transmitted by gears, belts, and pulleys, which lost power at literally every turn. in an economy based on such power transmission, the factory reached an absolute limit on its size beyond which inefficiencies were too great. the mill's form was also dictated by the need to minimize the distance between the flowing water and the work. Buildings were invariably multistoried structures placed as close to the water as possible, usually parallel to the stream. thus water power, not the comfort or efficiency of the workers, determined the structure of early factories. Only in 1870 did steam engines supplant water power as the chief energy source, not so much through a process of replacement of existing facilities as in new plant construction, particularly in the Middle West where the flat terrain made water power less feasible...

Electrical power made possible entirely new factory forms. Strictly speaking it did not replace water and steam power but intervened in the transmission process... Industry would not electrify until the electrical manufacturers had efficient and reliable motors that surpassed mechanical systems.

Such motors did not exist until 1884 when Frank Sprague developed one that sparked little and maintained a constant speed, regardless of whether the load changed or not... (pp 193-195)

And another:

...before about 1905 few individual machines operated with their own motores. Factories refused to scrap expensive existing installations and time-tested manufacturing methods just because it was possible to have a costly electric motor directly attached to each machine. Instead, manufacturers preferred to use large electrical motors to drive the system of shafts and belts previously attached to water wheels or steam engines... (pg 199)

21 Oct
D. Hughes asked about and article about monorails in the 1917 Sci Am, but we weren't able to find it. I did find The Monorail Society website.

29 Oct

 AUTHOR       Singer, Edward N.
 TITLE        20th century revolutions in technology / Edward Nathan Singer.
 PUBLISHER    Commack, NY : Nova Science Pub., 1998.
 SUBJECT      Technological innovations -- History -- 20th century.
              Technology -- History -- 20th century.
              Inventions -- History.
 Science Library        T173.2 .S56 1998
(quite interesting for short summaries of technological innovation and upshots)

23 Nov
Some sites with useful summaries of the technological side of agricultural history:

And here's an exemplary discussion of the technology of mowers

22 December
Flights of Inspiration: the Wright Brothers, a site at the Franklin Institute

The Pneumatic Post of Paris (J.D. Hayhurst)

The Forgotten Futures Library ("...an expanding collection of magazine articles and stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scanned for electronic distribution. This is copyright-expired material and may be used as clip art, for academic purposes, etc., and distributed freely." --but, alas, the stuff isn't available online. Still, nice to see that somebody is doing this sort of gatheration.)

23 Dec
Alan Howard's syllabus and The Rise of Barbed Wire and Its Transformation of the American Frontier (Scott Cook)

Some other links from Alan Howard's syllabus:

Technology Timeline from PBS

Technologies of Writing (Jaishree K. Odin)

1876 Centennial Exhibition (from A Digital Archive of American Architecture)

6 Jan 1999
It's pretty much a given that the first thing I do when I run across something novel is to do search on the web for some interesting links. Today's example: the Ferris wheel:

Another bit of serendipity: a passing book on The Bends yields this tidbit.
Decompression sickness (the bends) can rightly be called the modern age's first disease. It did not exist until the machines of the Industrial Revolution, powerful enough to compress air for technical application, were adapted for human use in engineering... Decompression sickness was created by a new world of mechanization...

(pg 2)

 AUTHOR       Phillips, John L., 1965-
 TITLE        The bends : compressed air in the history of science, 
diving, and engineering / John L. Phillips.
 PUBLISHER    New Haven : Yale University Press, c1998.
 SUBJECT      Compressed air.
 Science Library        TJ985 .P46 1998 

7 Jan
The same thing keeps happening to me again and again... I start reading about something, am inspired to do a bit of searching, and suddenly I'm up to my ears in stuff. The latest case in point is the bicycle, inspired by the McGee quotation. I quarried Annie, went to the stacks, came back with a half dozen gems, leafed through one and was inspired to search for 'velocipedes' on the web... and found these (among others):

And of course there's lots more out there.

4 Feb
A question from Audrey Hawkins about the history of the computer mouse led to this little weblet of links

10 Feb
A weblet on Bakelite

15 Feb
A weblet on computer bits and pieces, for eventual augmentation

19 Feb
Found Mike Mahoney's interesting Freshman Seminar website on the history of computers, via his excellent Reading a Machine

1 Mar
some stuff on the Corliss steam engine

17 May
A new book to keep in mind:

 TITLE        Visions of technology : a century of vital debate about machines,
                systems, and the human world / edited by Richard Rhodes.
 PUBLISHER    New York, NY : Simon & Schuster, c1999.
 SERIES       The Sloan technology series.
 SUBJECT      Technology -- History -- 20th century.
              Technology -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
 Science Library        T20 .V57 1999