Dashed Hopes

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wireless_station_interior,_Friday_Harbor,_San_Juan_Island,_Washington,_ca_1908_(BAR_177).jpeg

Early telegraph operators rejoiced in their secret knowledge of Morse code. In 1876 Chamber’s Journal reported on a popular play called Across the Continent in which a telegraph operator named Oliver sends out frantic messages from a railway station besieged by Indians. After a responding string of dots and dashes sent from offstage, Oliver cries out, “Thank God! We are saved!” After one performance a telegrapher in the audience noted that the response had been SAY, OLIVER, LET’S TAKE A DRINK.

In 1892 a writer for Harper’s Bazaar was riding a train when a groom and his beautiful bride entered the car. Two young men began a conversation by clicking their pocket knives on the metal arm of the seat.

“Her lips were just made for kisses,” one said.

“That’s what they were.”

“Say!”

“Well?”

“When the train gets to the next tunnel, I’m going to reach over and kiss her.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Yes, I would. She’d think it was her husband, you know.”

At this the bridegroom took out his own pocket knife and ticked off on the arm of his seat: “When the train gets to the next tunnel, the chump proposes to reach over and hammer your two heads together till your teeth drop out. See!”

Big News

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tupolev_TB-3_(14260526127).jpg

The Soviet Union took propaganda to a ludicrous extreme in the 1930s with the Maksim Gorki, a multimedia communications empire in the sky. With a wingspan of 206 feet and a takeoff weight of 42 tons, it was the largest land aircraft ever built at the time, requiring eight huge 900-horsepower engines to get aloft.

Aboard were a complete printing plant, capable of printing 10,000 copies per hour of an illustrated 12″ x 16″ newspaper, a photographic darkroom, and a high-speed radio apparatus and telegraph. On the ground, a projection room could cast movies onto a folding screen for up to 10,000 spectators through a window in the fuselage.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tupolev_ANT-20_%22Maxim_Gorky%22_overflying_Red_Square,_Moscow.jpg

“The aircraft also contained a cafe, its own internal telephone exchange, and sleeping quarters and toilets,” notes James Gilbert in The World’s Worst Aircraft. “Four auxiliary engines were required to generate the power to run the huge loudspeakers that broadcast the Soviet message down upon the astonished peasants over which the aircraft flew, and at night to power a system of lights along the underside flashing slogans.” Whether anyone wanted to hear all this is another question.

Airborne

https://www.google.com/patents/US1523989

In 1925, 20 years after completing his work on the airplane, Orville Wright patented a spring-propelled doll:

This invention relates to toys and more particularly to that type of toy in which any object, such as a doll, is projected through the air and caused to engage and to be supported by a swinging bar or other suitable supporting structure.

I don’t know the story behind it. Orville was 53 years old. Neither he nor Wilbur had any children, and their sister didn’t marry until the following year.

Perhaps he was tinkering just to tinker. “Isn’t it astonishing,” he once said, “that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!”

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

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_III_(by_Sir_William_Beechey).jpg

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