Things to track down:

HG Wells Anticipations and Wells’ life.

Other people to consider?
Oscar Wilde?

Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) (also built the Crystal Paris, Santiago rail station, etc) and also.

Edison’s life in pics (Pop Sci 1929)

the thing that killed the airship was its military use in WWI. If not for that, it may have prospered, and the French and British may have continued working on it, as well as Count Zeppelin. Also, and here’s a brief timeline:

Sir William Ramsay (1895) discovers helium in rock – large concentrations found in France.

In 1896, “Public Opinion” reprints an American military article on “
The Influence of the Air-Ship on War.”

1901 Smithsonian article on
“Count von Zeppelin’s Dirigible Airship.”

Outing presents “Yachting Among the Clouds.”

In 1909, McClure’s Magazine featured a long article on
“The Aërial Battleship.”

1919 artcicle on
“Commercial Production of Helium”

Pop. Sci 1923 was talking about
US airships and helium

1945 Pop Sci was still hoping for a new airship age

And then there’s real transportation for the people –

And the occasional

Okay. Back to the
causes of WWI. For my purposes, this might be boiled down to basically, Bismarck and the isolation of France from GB. The 3rd Republic , probably some good things in the Boulanger and Dreyfus crises (and) – this would be a good way to incorporate CB, Thiers, the Paris Commune, Zola, and even to flash back to Disraeli, Rothschild, and Paine v. Burke.

Turn of the Century Tech

Ideas from today’s research:

William Thomson: Transatlantic Cable – Lord Kelvin

1851 Dover-Calais cable.
1853 Port Patrick-Donaghadee cable
1856 Atlantic Telegraph Co., William Thomson a director.
1858 Ireland-Newfoundland cable. Proves Thomson’s mirror galvanometer, but quickly fails.
1865-6 Two attempts, 2
nd a success (plus recovers the first cable and completes it). Thomson knighted.
1892 Victoria creates Thomson (then Pres. of Royal Society) Baron Kelvin of Netherhall.
Alexander Russell, Lord Kelvin: His Life and Work, 1912)

Paris Pneumatic post network

1867: Wheatstone Automatic telegraph – “electric Jacquard” used morse code on punched tape.

1874: Jean Maurice Emile Baudot’s 12x line multiplexer uses 5-unit binary electrical pulses. Baudot’s apparatus was very stressful to operate, due to the timing requirements. But in general, technological improvement changed telegraphy from a high-skill to a low-skill job.

The telephone completely eliminated need for skilled intermediary. June 1877: 230 phones, July: 750, August: 1300, 1880: 30k.

Samuel FB Morse and Jedediah Morse – Illuminati conspiracy.

A couple more books on Tesla (and also on Edison, Westinghouse, Steinmetz, etc.) came in today, so there’s info to process…

1905: “
How to recognize the Autos of Todayand. Also the Berliet “French Mercedes”, How to recognize buses, and, and; taxis (and their history). Edison, batteries, more batteries and White Steam Cars

In the air, the
Davidson Aeroplane, the Lebaudy airship (and a wiki) and the Antionette Co. (Fr) made planes and efficient gas engines 1903-12. An Antionette engine powered Paul Cornu’s first helicopter in 1907. The Wright Bros first flight and Alberto Santos Dumont (Brazilian airship maker and first European flight), and, and , and, and a wiki. And of course, Count Zeppelin.

Finally, a
Renault racer, an Oldsmobile Van, a Steam Motorcycle, and Sir Marcus Samuel Bart., who started Royal Dutch Shell.


“Eighteen clean linen napkins were stacked as usual at his place. Nikola Tesla could no more have said why he favored numbers divisible by three than why he had a morbid fear of germs or, for that matter, why he was beset by any of the multitude of other obsessions tht plagued his life.” (Margaret Cheney,
Tesla, Man Out of Time (New York: Dorset Press, 1981), 1) Cheney identifies Tesla pretty clearly as what we’d call obsessive-compulsive. Is this accurate? She tends to skirt over many of the main elements of her story. Could be from lack of conclusive evidence – maybe she’s doing the best she can with scant documentation. Or maybe she feels this adds to the drama of the story.

“The strange thing about this tube lighting was that it had no connection to the loops of electrical wiring around the ceiling. Indeed, it had no connections at all, drawing all its energy from an ambient force field. He could pick up an unattached light and move it freely to any part of the workshop.” (2) Another frustrating element of the story. It’s unclear to me when Tesla developed this technology, and a complete mystery how it worked. I find it hard to believe that
NO ONE has figured it out in over a century. I suspect the technique requires excessive amounts of electricity to work – which would make it practical for Tesla’s lab but not for commercial or residential applications.

In many cases, I wonder if this is the key to Tesla’s ambiguous position in science. His ideas were revolutionary, and most of them worked. But many were ridiculously impractical. The later competition with Marconi could be seen in this light too: the worldwide broadcasting capability was conceptually meaningless to people who didn’t see a market. If you’re looking for the ability to send a simple message point to point, then the worldwide web and 500 channels of TV aren’t worth paying for. Modern readers prefer Tesla’s solution, because we know where communications technology led.

One of Cheney’s main sources is
Tesla’s short book My Inventions. It seems to be a promotional pamphlet, and Tesla probably exaggerates a little. He says “If memory serves me right, it was in November, 1890, that I performed a laboratory experiment which was one of the most extraordinary and spectacular ever recorded in the annals of science. In investigating the behavior of high frequency currents I had satisfied myself that an electric field of sufficient intensity could be produced in a room to light up electrodeless vacuum tubes. Accordingly, a transformer was built to test the theory and the first trial proved a marvelous success.” (55) Again, what might be a marvelous success in Tesla’s lab might also be completely impractical for lighting the apartment next door.

Some of Tesla’s ideas found there way into science fiction. As a young man, he had the idea for a “gargantuan elevated ring around the equator. At first it would have scaffolding. Once this was knocked away the ring would rotate freely at the same speed as the Earth.” (17) It’s a visionary idea, but Cheney seems uninterested in the fact that a vision isn’t the same as an invention. This may be the problem with many of Tesla’s other ideas.

In his 1891 Columbia lectures, Tesla showed a “button lamp” (55) which was a forerunner of the electron microscope. It might be interesting to speculate what might have happened if people (if Tesla) had understood what he had, and used it! Tesla’s European contemporaries were Henri Becquerel, the Curies, J. A. Fleming, Sir James Dewar and Lord Kelvin. These people could have taken his ideas farther into their own fields.

Cheney seems to suspect Tesla was gay, but she doesn’t want to come out and say it. She is adamant that he never had a sexual relationship with any of the women known to be his friends. But he did “at one period maintain an apartment at the luxurious Hotel Marguery on the west side of Park Avenue between 47
th and 48th Streets at the same time that his residence was at another hotel; and he once told Kenneth Swezey that he used it for meeting ‘special’ friends and acquaintances.” (84)

Tesla apparently believed in the therapeutic effects of electricity. He told a reporter “I don’t believe I could have borne up but for the regular electric treatment which I administered to myself. You see, electricity puts into the tired body just what it most needs—life force, nerve force. It’s a great doctor, I can tell you, perhaps the greatest of all doctors.” (107) Tesla also believed in the power of oscillating vibrations, as a way of boosting electrical power as well as doing physical work. He boasted to reporters that he had a pocket-sized oscillator that he could use to destroy the Empire State Building or Brooklyn Bridge (116, the ESB was built in 1939 – like many of Cheney’s statements, these lack a specific time and place. So it’s hard to know when he made these claims, or whether he continued making them for decades).

Chauncey McGovern of
Pearson’s Magazine in London wrote a May 1899 article called “The New Wizard of the West.” He wrote regular sci/tech articles for Pearson’s, and seems like an interesting character in his own right. A more recent writer, Leland Anderson (1977), suggested “Tesla’s 1903 patents 723,188 and 725,605 contain the basic principles of the logical AND circuit element.” (131) These patents, although they were devoted to preventing interference of radio-controlled weapons, have made it difficult for later applicants to receive patents on AND gates. This is an interesting element of intellectual property law that I was completely unaware of. Cheney later says Tesla’s 1901 patents “in which he describes the supercooling of conductors to appreciably lower their resistance…is yet another instance in which his pioneer work has gone unacknowledged—possibly because it might open a door for the U.S. Patent Office to invalidate later claims.” (153)

“World Telegraphy [Tesla elsewhere calls this the World System] constitutes, I believe, in its principles of operation, means employed and capacities of application, a radical and fruitful departure from what has been done heretofore. I have no doubt that it will prove very efficient in enlightening the masses, particularly in still uncivilized countries and less accessible regions, and that it will add materially to the general safety, comfort, and convenience, and maintenance of peaceful relations. It involves the employment of a number of plants, all of which are capable of transmitting individualized signals to the uttermost confines of the earth. Each of them will be preferably located near some important center of civilization, and the news it receives through any channel will be flashed to all points of the globe. A cheap and simple device, which might be carried in one’s pocket may then be set up anywhere on sea or land, and it will record the world’s news or such special messages as may be intended for it. Thus the entire earth will be converted into a huge brain, capable of response in every one of its parts. Since a single plant of but one hundred horse-power can operate hundreds of millions of instruments, the system will have a virtually infinite working capacity, and it must needs immensely facilitate and cheapen the transmission of intelligence.” (179, same text found in
1904 Public Opinion article.


“Nikola Tesla,” T. C. Martin, The Century, 1894.

“Tesla’s Oscillator and Other Inventions,” T. C. Martin, The Century, 1894.

“Nikola Tesla and the electrical Outlook,” The Review of Reviews, 1895.

Cochrane, Charles Henry. The Wonders of Modern Mechanism (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1896) Just past the article on Tesla is a longer article on Electric Locomotives.

Routledge, Robert. Discoveries and Inventions of the Nineteenth Century (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1896)

Tesla, Nikola and Thomas Commerford Martin. The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla (New York: The Electrical Engineer, 1894) Includes the Columbia, London and Paris lectures.

Tesla, Nikola. Electrical Communication with the Planets, 1902

Tesla, Nikola. Transmission of Electric Energy Without Wires, 1904

Tesla, Nikola. “The Future of the Wireless Art,” Massie, Walter W. amd Charles R. Underhill, Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony (New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1909)

“Home Workshop: Simplified Tesla Coil,” Kenneth M. Swezey, Popular Science, Dec. 1934.

“Cigar-Box Tesla Coil Works Weird Wonders,” Tracy Diers, Popular Science, Jan 1946.

Bradlaugh and antrhopology

I’m thinking about a story that includes CB and some of the scientists of his day. Darwin is the obvious one who comes to mind, but I’m actually more interested in the people around Darwin (both before and after), who either elaborated ideas similar to Darwin’s, or alternatives.

Victorian Sensation needs another, closer look (as does the Vestiges). And there are some interesting leads in a series of lectures on Anthropology given by CB in 1881 at the Hall of Science. These are interesting for several reasons. First, they show CB in the role of scientific lecturer. Significant, because he isn’t just debating churchmen or attacking the Bible (this is the picture his rivals wanted to paint of him; and even the sympathetic reader might fall into this belief, given the huge volume of writing and speaking CB did on anti-religious topics).

The lectures show CB disseminating the latest ideas of British and French scientists to the general public. The Hall of Science attracted crowds of working people, so the nature of these talks is altogether different from lectures by the scientists themselves to academic audiences. As a result, it’s interesting to look at the type of information that was making its way into the general public’s understanding of contemporary science (both from the pulpit of the Hall of Science, and in the form of 2-penny reprints of CB’s talks).

CB begins the first of his three talks with a quote from Huxley’s
Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature: “The question of questions for mankind—the problem which underlies all others and is more deeply interesting than any other—is the ascertainment of the place man occupies in nature and of his relation to the universe of things.” Thomas H. Huxley had himself been lecturing to working men at Jermyn Street since 1855. The lines CB quotes are the beginning of Huxley’s section “On the Relations of Man to the Lower Animals,” which he had given as a series of lectures at Jermyn Street in 1860. Huxley wrote to his friend Dyster, “I am sick of the dilettante middle-class, and mean to try what I can do with these hard-headed fellows who live among facts.”

CB goes on to quote
Dr. Paul Broca, Dr. James Hunt, and W.H. Fowler on the scope of anthropology. The science seems to have contained an element of archaeology and physiology, as well as an unfortunate focus on race based on contemporary ideas from craniology and language theory. He cites as his main sources Dr. Paul Topinard’s text, Huxley’s book, Geiger’s “History of the Development of the Human Race,” and Letourneau’s Biology.

CB is clearly interested in establishing in his listeners’ minds that the anthropological point of view is at odds with Christianity. Discussing the controversy over single or multiple origins, he notes that “polygenists” like Louis Agassiz, Gliddon and Nott, “having in view the very few thousand years then claimed by the Churches for man’s existence on earth, contended that the ordinarily accepted time was insufficient for the development of known diversities of type…But two features have now to be considered which were then excluded: one, the admittedly huge period of time man has inhabited the earth; the other, the light resulting from the untiring labors of Darwin in the path opened out by Lamarck and somewhat hesitatingly trodden by Wallace.”

In addition to being the field that “more than any other science finds itself in conflict with religious and political institutions,” anthropology in CB’s mind is the best place to look for moral answers. “To know what man should do,” he says, “it is first necessary to know what man is, and what it is he can do.” This is a key to CB’s interest in lecturing to his working-class audiences on the subject. The other key is anthropology’s potential as a source of insight for the biological improvement of humanity. He quotes Topinard saying “it is undeniable that man by a certain method of high breeding and well-managed crossing is capable of being changed in successive generations in his physical as well as in his moral character. According to the modes adopted he will go on either degenerating or improving.” While these words in
Topinard’s “Introduction” form the closing point in an argument regarding the utility of anthropology, CB would have seen their congruence with his belief in individual self-determination. Perfectibility in CB’s mind was all about individuals making the right choices. As such, it was quite distinct from the top-down, large-group focus a eugenicist might use to interpret Topinard’s words. Biological improvement and moral choice was also a refutation of the type of historical inevitability proposed by Marx and his followers. And it was a positive application of the principles that led CB to support population control doctrines. Anthropology provided a way out of both the accusation that “atheism is only a rejection,” and the claim that Neo-Malthusian ideas were “against life.”