Propriety

In 1913, as festivities were planned for the wedding of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s daughter, Berlin’s Hotel Adlon had to move the Kaiser’s brother-in-law from the fourth floor to the second because the tsar could not ride the elevator:

Russian court protocol governed every step the tsar took and nowhere did it mention an elevator. Thus there were no instructions for how the tsar and his retinue were to behave in such a situation. Should he enter the cab first? Was he permitted to keep his hat on? Who should operate the elevator’s crank? and God knows what else.

The protocol had survived unchanged from the days of Catherine the Great. Catherine, of course, had never ridden an elevator for the simple reason that there weren’t any back then, and that’s why the protocol contained not one word about this means of vertical transportation. … At any rate, an apartment on the second floor was prepared for Duke Ernst Gunther zu Schleswig-Holstein.

From Andreas Bernard, Lifted: A Cultural History of the Elevator, 2014.

The Schienenzeppelin

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-11902,_Berlin,_Schienenzeppelin.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The land speed record for a petrol-powered rail vehicle was set way back in 1931, when aircraft engineer Franz Kruckenberg experimented with a “rail zeppelin” on German railway lines. An aircraft engine drove a rearward-facing propeller to accelerate a lightweight aluminum body to the startling speed of 230.2 km/h (143.0 mph), a railway record that held until 1954.

The vehicle evolved over a few years but was eventually dropped in favor of other high-speed designs.

Oh Well

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sam_Hughes_holding_the_McAdam_shovel.jpg

In 1913 Canadian politician Sam Hughes proposed the MacAdam Shield Shovel, a spade that could double as a protective shield in the trenches — it was provided with a hole through which a soldier could survey the enemy.

Some 20,000 had been manufactured before it was discovered that the blade was not remotely bulletproof, and it wasn’t much use as a shovel … because there was a hole in it.

The Oxen Railroad

This sounds apocryphal, but it’s interesting. According to Texas lore, John Higginson, owner of the Memphis, El Paso & Pacific Railroad, faced a problem in the 1860s. He had committed to serve the route between Marshall, Texas, and Shreveport, La., but the Civil War had reduced his stock to three boxcars. How could he maintain regular service between two cities 40 miles apart with no engine?

He did it (the story goes) by loading a team of oxen into the first boxcar; freight and passengers into the second car; and the train’s crew and management into the third car. At Marshall, Higginson would start the train coasting down a long descending grade, and at the bottom they’d unload the oxen, hitch them to the front of the train, and drive them until they reached the top of the next hill. Then they’d load the oxen into the first car again and ride down the hill. At Shreveport they’d turn around and use the same method to get home.

In The Humor and Drama of Early Texas (2002), George U. Hubbard writes, “With gravity for the downgrades and oxen for the level areas and the upgrades, the little railroad managed to operate in both directions on a timely and consistent schedule.” With no competition on the Marshall-Shreveport line, Higginson (supposedly) maintained a profitable railroad with no engine at all.

Hubbard cites B.A. Botkin’s A Treasury of Railroad Folklore, from 1953. I find that the Southwestern Historical Quarterly ran an item giving essentially the same details in the early 1950s, citing a Texas newspaper of 1918, and Railway World mentioned it in 1911, quoting the Fort Worth Record (which calls it an “old railroad story”). I can’t find any corroboration beyond that. Good story, though!

Cloud Nine

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Project_for_Floating_Cloud_Structures_(Cloud_Nine).jpg

Here’s one solution to the population problem: In 1967 Buckminster Fuller patented a giant floating geodesic sphere enclosing a city, hoping to reduce the economic and environmental costs of using land for housing. Each sphere would be a mile in diameter, enclosing an enormous volume of air that would be warmed by the sun, enabling it to carry buildings bearing thousands of people. The structural weight of even a half-mile sphere would be a thousandth the weight of the air inside, and heating the air even 1 degree would raise the whole structure like a hot-air balloon. By opening and closing polyethylene “curtains,” the occupants could keep the sphere floating at a chosen altitude. The cities could be tethered to mountaintops or float freely, enabling them (for example) to travel to disaster sites in a matter of days, and permitting humans to “converge and deploy around Earth without its depletion.”

“Cloud Nine is probably possible, but even Bucky didn’t expect to see one soon,” writes J. Baldwin in BuckyWorks: Buckminster Fuller’s Ideas for Today (1996). “He offered it as a jarring exercise, intended to stimulate the imaginative thinking we’re going to need if the billions of new Earth citizens predicted to arrive soon are to have decent housing.”

Respects

https://www.reddit.com/r/WarshipPorn/comments/ktk9rl/when_uss_independence_encountered_a_fullrigged/

Cruising the Mediterranean in 1962, the American aircraft carrier USS Independence came upon a full-rigged sailing ship with a striped hull, a teak deck, and an ornamented bow and stern.

With a light signal the carrier asked, “Who are you?”

The ship answered, “Training ship Amerigo Vespucci, Italian navy.”

The Independence replied, “You are the most beautiful ship in the world.”

Dependent Claws

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Falling_cat_1894.jpg

The first motion picture to feature a live cat is believed to be this 1894 short in which French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey drops an inverted feline to watch it land on its feet.

When the experiment was published in Nature in 1894, the editors wrote, “The expression of offended dignity shown by the cat at the end of the first series indicates a want of interest in scientific investigation.”

“Valentine by a Telegraph Clerk”

Another poem by James Clerk Maxwell:

The tendrils of my soul are twined
With thine, though many a mile apart.
And thine in close coiled circuits wind
Around the needle of my heart.

Constant as Daniel, strong as Grove.
Ebullient throughout its depths like Smee,
My heart puts forth its tide of love,
And all its circuits close in thee.

O tell me, when along the line
From my full heart the message flows,
What currents are induced in thine?
One click from thee will end my woes.

Through many a volt the weber flew,
And clicked this answer back to me;
I am thy farad staunch and true,
Charged to a volt with love for thee.

Ambition

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Unfinished_Obelisk,_Aswan,_AG,_EGY_(48027110231).jpg

In a quarry at Aswan lies an unfinished obelisk, the largest the ancient Egyptians ever attempted. It’s 137 feet long and weighs more than 1,000 tons, more than two jumbo jets or 200 African elephants. If it had been completed it would have weighed more than twice as much as any other obelisk that the Egyptians ever erected. Cracks appeared in the granite before workers could carve it from the bedrock, so the project was abandoned.

“The obelisk is so large that it makes a cameo appearance in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments,” writes Egyptologist Bob Brier in Cleopatra’s Needles (2021). “In one scene we see Israelites toiling under the whip of a cruel taskmaster, pulling a large block of stone up an inclined ramp. That incline is the unfinished obelisk!”

Progress

Deposition of Elizabeth Brett, a Hertfordshire farmer’s servant, regarding an alarming experience on Sept. 15, 1784:

This deponent, on her oath, saith, that on Wednesday the 15th day of September instant, between four and five o’clock in the afternoon, she, this deponent, being then at work in her master’s brewhouse, heard an uncommon and loud noise, which, on attending to it, she conceived to be the sound of men singing as they returned from harvest-home. That upon going to the door of the house she perceived a strange large body in the air, and, on approaching it in a meadow-field near the house, called Long Mead, she perceived a man in it; that the person in the machine, which she knew not what to make of, but which the person in it called an air-balloon, called to her to take hold of the rope, which she did accordingly; that John Mills and George Philips, labourers with said Mr. Thomas Read, came up soon after, and, being likewise requested to assist in holding the rope, both made their excuses, one of them, George Philips, saying he was too short, and John Mills saying that he did not like it; that this deponent continued to hold the rope till some other harvest-men of Mr. Benjamin Robinson, of High Cross, came up, by whose assistance the machine was held down till the person got out of the machine. And this deponent further, on her oath, saith, that the person now present and shown to her by William Baker, Esq., the justice of peace before whom this deposition is taken, as Mr. Vincent Lunardi, and in her presence declares himself to be Mr. Vincent Lunardi, was the person who called to me from the machine, as above stated, and who descended therefrom in the said field called Long Meadow.

Other witnesses acknowledged that Lunardi had told them “that he had set out from the Artillery Ground in London, a little before two o’clock in the afternoon of the said day, in the machine, and had travelled through the air to the place where they found him.” He later described his view of the city from this new perspective.

From Christopher H. Turnor’s Astra Castra, 1865, via Humphrey Jennings, Pandaemonium, 1985.