Fresh Hell

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The Battle of the Somme saw the advent of a frightening new engine of war. “A man came running in from the left, shouting, ‘There is a crocodile crawling in our lines!'” recalled one German infantryman. “The poor wretch was off his head. He had seen a tank for the first time and had imagined this giant of a machine, rearing up and dipping down as it came, to be a monster. It presented a fantastic picture, this Colossus in the dawn light. One moment its front section would disappear into a crater, with the rear section still protruding, the next its yawning mouth would rear up out of the crater, to roll slowly forward with terrifying assurance.”

Interestingly, the first tanks came in two varieties, “male” and “female.” Males weighed a ton more and bore a cannon that the females lacked; early writers referred to “adventurous males,” “determined males,” “all-conquering females,” and “female man-killers.” Eventually the two merged into one standard design … called a hermaphrodite.

(From Peter Hart, The Great War, 2013. Thanks, Zach.)

Safety First

https://www.google.com/patents/US2079053

In 1936, J.E. Torbert patented a taillight for horses:

When a person is riding a horse along a road at night and an automobile approaches the horse from the rear, the signals will be illuminated by reflecting light from the headlights of the automobile and thus permit the driver of the automobile to see that there is a horse ahead of him and eliminate danger of the automobile striking and injuring the horse.

Simple enough. By that time we already had headlights for horses. What’s next?

Customer Service

https://books.google.com/books?id=A3MCAAAAIAAJ

The German papers reported that at Carlsruhe, toward the close of the late war, an aged mother came to the telegraph office carrying a dish full of sauerkraut, which she desired to have telegraphed to Rastadt. Her son must receive the kraut by Sunday. The operator could not convince her that the telegraph was not capable of such a performance. ‘How could so many soldiers have been sent to France by telegraph?’ she asked, and finally departed grumbling.

— “The Telegraph,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, August 1873

Query

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Thomas Edison proposed to his second wife, Mina, in Morse code.

“My later courtship was carried on by telegraph,” he wrote in his diary. “I taught the lady of my heart the Morse code, and when she could both send and receive we got along much better than we could have with spoken words by tapping out our remarks to one another on our hands. Presently I asked her thus, in Morse code, if she would marry me. The word ‘Yes’ is an easy one to send by telegraphic signals, and she sent it. If she had been obliged to speak of it, she might have found it harder.”

Progress

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What Did George the Third Know?

He never saw a match.
He never saw a bicycle.
He never saw an oil stove.
He never saw an ironclad.
He never saw a steamboat.
He never saw a gas engine.
He never saw a type-writer.
He never saw a phonograph.
He never saw a steel plough.
He never took laughing gas.
He never rode on a tram car.
He never saw a fountain pen.
He never saw a railway train.
He never knew of Evolution.
He never saw a postage stamp.
He never saw a pneumatic tube.
He never saw an electric railway.
He never saw a reaping machine.
He never saw a set of artificial teeth.
He never saw a telegraph instrument.
He never heard the roar of a Krupp gun.
He never saw a threshing machine, but used a flail.
He never saw a pretty girl work on a sewing machine.
He never saw a percussion cap, nor a repeating rifle.
His grandmother did his mending with a darning needle.
He never listened to Edison’s mocking machine or phonograph.
When he went to a hotel he walked upstairs, for they had no lifts.
He never saw a steel pen, but did all his writing with a quill.
He never held his ear to a telephone, or talked to his wife a hundred miles away.
He never saw a fire engine, but when he went to a fire, he stood in line and passed buckets.
He never knew the pleasure and profit to be derived from reading Science Siftings.

Science Siftings, 1894

Wire Bonds

The San Diego Daily Union of April 25, 1876, records a wedding by telegraph. W.H. Storey was the U.S. Signal Service operator at Camp Grant, Ariz. He couldn’t get leave to travel to San Diego, where Clara Choate lived, and there was no minister within hundreds of miles of the camp, so it appeared that the wedding couldn’t take place. But Storey thought, “A contract by telegraph is binding; then why can we not be married by telegraph?”

They were. Clara traveled to Camp Grant, and the pair were married over the wire by Jonathan L. Mann, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal church of San Diego. Lt. Philip Reade invited all managers along the line between California and Arizona to be present at their stations as wedding guests.

At 8:30 p.m. the father of the bride sent this message from San Diego:

Greeting to our friends at Camp Grant. We are ready to proceed with the ceremony.
D. CHOATE AND PARTY.

The answer came back:

We are ready.
W.H. STOREY.
CLARA E. CHOATE.

Then the Rev. Mr. Mann read the marriage service, which was repeated to Camp Grant as uttered, word for word, by Mr. Blythe, chief operator at the San Diego office. At the proper moment, the solemn ‘I do’ came back over the wires signed first by ‘William H. Storey,’ then by ‘Clara E. Choate.’ Then, following the words of the minister, the instruments clicked.

‘As a token of your sincerity you will please join your right hands.’

The answer came promptly: ‘It is done.’

The service was then concluded in regular form, after which congratulatory messages were sent the bride and groom from all stations. Suddenly Chief Operator Blythe of San Diego broke in and telegraphed Mr. Storey that ‘the Silver Cornet band of San Diego is just outside the office, giving you and your bride a serenade,’ a welcome that was warmly appreciated even though it was not heard at Camp Grant, 650 miles away.

Mr. and Mrs. Storey are still living in San Diego and have a happy family of five bright children who will always find pleasure in telling the story of their parents’ romantic wedding.

Listening In

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In 1890, as the telephone’s influence spread across the United States, Judge Robert S. Taylor of Fort Wayne, Ind., told an audience of inventors that the telephone had introduced an “epoch of neighborship without propinquity.” Scientific American called it “nothing less than a new organization of society.” The New York Times reported that two Providence men “were recently experimenting with a telephone, the wire of which was stretched over the roofs of innumerable buildings, and was estimated to be fully four miles in length”:

They relate that on the first evening of their telephonic dissipation, they heard men and women singing songs and eloquent clergymen preaching ponderous sermons, and that they detected several persons in the act of practising on brass instruments. This sort of thing was repeated every evening, while on Sunday morning a perfect deluge of partially conglomerated sermons rolled in upon them. … The remarks of thousands of midnight cats were borne to their listening ears; the confidential conversations of hundreds of husbands and wives were whispered through the treacherous telephone. … The two astonished telephone experimenters learned enough of the secrets of the leading families of Providence to render it a hazardous matter for any resident of that city to hereafter accept a nomination for any office.

In 1897 one London writer wrote, “We shall soon be nothing but transparent heaps of jelly to each other.”

(From Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New, 1988.)

Small World

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A striking example of the strength of the British Empire in the early 20th century: In 1911 Britain completed the “All Red Line,” a network of telegraphs that linked its possessions. The system was so redundant that an enemy would have had to cut 49 cables to isolate the United Kingdom, 15 to isolate Canada, or 5 to isolate South Africa. As a result, British communications remained uninterrupted throughout World War I.

Sir Sandford Fleming described the network as “the cerebro-spinal axis of our political system … through which would freely pass the sensory impressions and the motor impulses of the British people in every longitude.”

Related: In Air Facts and Problems (1927), Secretary of State for Air Christopher Thomson noted that the whole empire might be visited by an aircraft capable of “long hops”:

For the purposes of the immediate future a ‘long hop’ may be taken as 1,500 miles in length. One such hop would cover the distance from the south coast of England to Malta, a second would reach Egypt, a third Bushire (on the Persian Gulf), a fourth India, at Karachi or Bombay, a fifth Ceylon, a sixth the Straits Settlements, a seventh Port Darwin in Northern Australia; three more would reach New Zealand.

“Thus, in ten ‘long hops,’ or ten days and nights, the traveller and the mailbag out of England would arrive in the most distant of our dominions without landing at an air station which was not either British or under British control.”