Infomotions, Inc.Steam Steel and Electricity / Steele, James W.

Author: Steele, James W.
Title: Steam Steel and Electricity
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): electricity; magnet; dynamo; steam; wire; current; electric; battery; electrical; telegraph; steel; engine; iron; pressure
Contributor(s): é, Gustave, 1832-1883 [Illustrator]
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Title: Steam Steel and Electricity

Author: James W. Steele

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    What Steam is.--Steam in Nature.--The Engine in its earlier
    forms.--Gradual explosion.--The Hero engine.--The Temple-door
    machine.--Ideas of the Middle Ages.--Beginnings of the modern
    engine.--Branca's engine.--Savery's engine.--The Papin engine
    using cylinder and piston.--Watt's improvements upon the
    Newcomen idea.--The crank movement.--The first use of steam
    expansively.--The "Governor."--First engine by an American
    Inventor.--Its effect upon progress in the United
    States.--Simplicity and cheapness of the modern engine.--Actual
    construction of the modern engine.--Valves, piston, etc., with


    The various "Ages" in civilization.--Ancient knowledge of the
    metals.--The invention and use of Bronze.--What Steel is.--The
    "Lost Arts."--Metallurgy and chemistry.--Oriental Steel.--Modern
    definition of Steel.--Invention of Cast Steel.--First iron-ore
    discoveries in America.--First American Iron-works.--Early
    methods without steam.--First American casting.--Effect of iron
    industry upon independence.--Water-power.--The trip-hammer.--The
    steam-hammer of Nasmyth.--Machine-tools and their
    effects.--First rolling-mill.--Product of the iron industry in
    1840-50.--The modern nail, and how it came.--Effect of iron upon
    architecture.--The "Sky-Scraper."--Gas as fuel in iron
    manufactures.--The Steel of the present.--The invention of
    Kelley.--The Bessemer process.--The "Converter."--Present
    product of Steel.--The Steel-mill.


    The oldest and the youngest of the sciences.--Origin of the
    name.--Ancient ideas of Electricity.--Later experiments.--Crude
    notions and wrong conclusions.--First Electric
    Machine.--Frictional Electricity.--The Leyden Jar.--Extreme
    ideas and Fakerism.--Franklin, his new ideas and their
    reception.--Franklin's Kite.--The Man Franklin.--Experiments
    after Franklin, leading to our present modern uses.--Galvani and
    his discovery.--Volta, and the first "Battery."--How a battery
    acts.--The laws of Electricity, and how they were
    discovered.--Induction, and its discoverer.--The line at which
    modern Electricity begins.--Magnetism and Electricity.--The
    Electro-Magnet.--The Molecular theory.--Faraday, and his Law of
    Magnetic Force.


    CHAPTER I. The Four great qualities of Electricity which make
    its modern uses possible.--The universal wire.--Conductors and
    non conductors.--Electricity an exception in the ordinary Laws
    of Nature.--A dual nature: "Positive" and "Negative."--All
    modern uses come under the law of Induction.--Some of the laws
    of this induction.--Magnets and Magnetism.--Relationship between
    the two.--Magnetic "poles."--Practical explanation of the action
    of induction.--The Induction Coil.--Dynamic and Static
    Electricity.--The Electric Telegraph.--First attempts.--Morse,
    and his beginnings.--The first Telegraph Line.--Vail, and the
    invention of the dot-and-dash alphabet.--The old instruments and
    the new.--The final simplicity of the telegraph.

    CHAPTER II. The Ocean Cable.--Differences between land lines and
    cables.--The story of the first cable.--Field and his final
    success.--The Telephone.--Early attempts.--Description of Bell's
    invention.--The Telautograph.--Early attempts and the idea upon
    which they were based.--Description of Gray's invention.--How a
    Telautograph may be made mechanically.

    CHAPTER III. The Electric Light.--Causes of heat and light in
    the conductor of a current.--The first Electric Light.--The Arc
    Light, and how constructed.--The Incandescent.--The
    Dynamo.--Date of the invention.--Successive steps.--Faraday the
    discoverer of its principle.--Pixu's
    machine.--Pacinatti.--Wilde.--Siemens' and Wheatstone.--The
    Motor.--How the Dynamo and Motor came to be coupled.--Review of
    first attempts.--Kidder's battery.--Page's machine.--Electric
    Railroads.--Electrolysis.--General facts.--Electrical
    Measurements.--"Death Current."--Instruments of
    Measurement.--Electricity as an Industry.--Medical
    Electricity.--Incomplete possibilities.--What the "Storage
    Battery" is.

    CHAPTER IV. Electrical Invention in the United States.--Review
    of the careers of Franklin, Morse, Field, Edison and
    others.--Some of the surprising applications of
    Electricity.--The Range-Finder.--Cooking and heating by


That which was utterly unknown to the most splendid civilizations of the
past is in our time the chief power of civilization, daily engaged in
making that history of a new era that is yet to be written in words. It
has been demonstrated long since that men's lives are to be influenced
not by theory, or belief, or argument and reason, so much as by that
course of daily life which is not attempted to be governed by argument
and reason, but by great physical facts like steam, electricity and
machinery in their present applications.

The greatest of these facts of the present civilization are expressed in
the phrase, Steam and Steel. The theme is stupendous. Only the most
prominent of its facts can be given in small space, and those only in
outline. The subject is also old, yet to every boy it must be told
again, and the most ordinary intelligence must have some desire to know
the secrets, if such they are, of that which is unquestionably the
greatest force that ever yielded to the audacity of humanity. It is now
of little avail to know that all the records that men revere, all the
great epics of the world, were written in the absence of the
characteristic forces of modern life. A thousand generations had lived
and died, an immense volume of history had been enacted, the heroes of
all the ages, and almost those of our own time, had fulfilled their
destinies and passed away, before it came about that a mere physical
fact should fill a larger place in our lives than all examples, and that
the evanescent vapor which we call steam should change daily, and
effectively, the courses and modes of human action, and erect life upon
another plane.

It may seem not a little absurd to inquire now "what is steam?"
Everybody knows the answer. The non-technical reader knows that it is
that vapor which, for instance, pervades the kitchen, which issues from
every cooking vessel and waste-pipe, and is always white and visible,
and moist and warm. We may best understand an answer to the question,
perhaps, by remembering that steam is one of the three natural
conditions of water: ice, fluid water, and steam. One or the other of
these conditions always exists, and always under two others: pressure
and heat. When the air around water reaches the temperature of
thirty-two degrees by the scale of Fahrenheit, or   or zero by the
Centigrade scale, and is exposed to this temperature for a time, it
becomes ice. At two hundred and twelve degrees Fahrenheit it becomes
steam. Between these two temperatures it is water. But the change to
steam which is so rapid and visible at the temperature above mentioned
is taking place slowly all the time when water, in any situation, is
exposed to the air. As the temperature rises the change becomes more
rapid. The steam-making of the arts is merely that of all nature,
hastened artificially and intentionally.

The element of pressure, mentioned above, enters into the proposition
because water boils at a lower temperature, with less heat, when the
weight of the atmosphere is less than normal, as it is at great
elevations, and on days when, as we now express it, there is a low
barometer. Long before any cook could explain the fact it was known that
the water boiling quickly was a sign of storm. It has often been found
by camping-parties on mountains that in an attempt to boil potatoes in a
pot the water would all "boil away," and leave the vegetables uncooked.
The heat required to evaporate it at the elevation was less than that
required to cook in boiling water. It is one of the instances where the
problems of nature intrude themselves prominently into the affairs of
common life without previous notice.

This universal evaporation, under varying circumstances, is probably the
most important agency in nature, and the most continuous and potent.
There was only so much water to begin with. There will never be any less
or any more. The saltness of the sea never varies, because the loss by
evaporation and the new supply through condensation of the
steam--rain--necessarily remain balanced by law forever. The surface of
our world is water in the proportion of three to one. The extent of
nature's steam-making, silent, and mostly invisible, is immeasurable and
remains an undetermined quantity. The three forms of water combine and
work together as though through intentional partnership, and have, thus
combined, already changed the entire land surface of the world from what
it was to what it is, and working ceaselessly through endless cycles
will change it yet more. The exhalations that are steam become the water
in a rock-cleft. It changes to ice with a force almost beyond
measurement in the orderly arrangement of its crystals in compliance
with an immutable law for such arrangement, and rends the rock. The
process goes on. There is no high mountain in any land where water will
not freeze. The water of rain and snow carries away the powdered remains
from year to year, and from age to age. The comminuted ruins of
mountains have made the plains and filled up and choked the mouth of the
Mississippi. The soil that once lay hundreds of miles away has made the
delta of every river that flows into the sea. The endless and resistless
process goes on without ceasing, a force that is never expended, and but
once interrupted within the knowledge of men, then covered a large area
of the world with a sea of ice that buried for ages every living thing.

The common idea of the steam that we make by boiling water is that it is
all water, composed of that and nothing else, and this conception is
gathered from apparent fact. Yet it is not entirely true. Steam is an
invisible vapor in every boiler, and does not become what we know by
sight as steam until it has become partly cooled. As actual steam
uncooled, it is a gas, obeying all the laws of the permanent gases. The
creature of temperature and pressure, it changes from this gaseous form
when their conditions are removed, and in the change becomes visible to
us. Its elasticity, its power of yielding to compression, are enormous,
and it gives back this elasticity of compression with almost
inconceivable readiness and swiftness. To the eye, in watching the
gliding and noiseless movements of one of the great modern engines, the
power of which one has only a vague and inadequate conception seems not
only inexplicable, but gentle. The ponderous iron pieces seem to weigh
nothing. There is a feeling that one might hinder the movement as he
would that of a watch. There is an inability to realize the fact that
one of the mightiest forces of nature is there embodied in an easy,
gliding, noiseless impulse. Yet it is one that would push aside massy
tons of dead weight, that would almost unimpeded crush a hole through
the enclosing wall, that whirls upon the rails the drivers of a
locomotive weighing sixty tons as though there were no weight above
them, no bite upon the rails. There is an enormous concentration of
force somewhere; of a force which perhaps no man can fairly estimate;
and it is under the thin shell we call a boiler. Were it not elastic it
could not be so imprisoned, and when it rebels, when this thin shell is
torn like paper, there is a havoc by which we may at last inadequately
measure the power of steam.

We have in modern times applied the word "engine" almost exclusively to
the machine which is moved by the pressure of steam. Yet we might go
further, since one of the first examples of a pressure engine, older
than the steam machine by nearly four hundred years, is the gun. Reduced
to its principle this is an engine whose operation depends upon the
expansion of gas in a cylinder, the piston being a projectile. The same
principle applies in all the machines we know as "engines." An
air-engine works through the expansion of air in a cylinder by heat. A
gas-engine, now of common use, by the expansion, which is explosion,
caused by burning a mixture of coal-gas and air, and the steam-engine,
the universal power generator of modern life, works by the expansion of
the vapor of water as it is generated by heat. Steam may be considered a
species of _gradual_ explosion applied to the uses of industry. It
often becomes a real one, complying with all the conditions, and as
destructive as dynamite.

It cannot be certainly known how long men have experimented with the
expansive force of steam. The first feeble attempt to purloin the power
of the geyser was probably by Hero, of Alexandria, about a hundred and
thirty years before Christ. His machine was also the first known
illustration of what is now called the "turbine" principle; the
principle of _reaction_ in mechanics. [Footnote: This principle is
often a puzzle to students. There is an old story of the man who put a
bellows in his boat to make wind against the sail, and the wind did not
affect the sail, but the boat went backward in an opposite direction
from the nozzle of the bellows. There is probably no better illustration
of reaction than the "kick" of a gun, which most persons know about. The
recoil of a six-pound field piece is usually from six to twelve feet. It
can be understood by supposing a gun to be loaded with powder and an
iron rod longer than the barrel to be left on the charge. If the outer
end of this rod were then placed against a tree, and the gun were fired,
it is manifest that the gun would become the projectile, and be fired
off of the rod backward or burst. In ordinary cases the air in the bore,
and immediately outside of the muzzle, acts comparatively, and in a
measure, as the supposed rod against the tree would. It gives way, and
is elastic, but not as quickly as the force of the explosion acts, and
the gun is pushed backwards. It is the turbine principle, running into
hundreds of uses in mechanics.] He made a closed vessel from whose
opposite sides radiated two hollow arms with holes in their sides, the
holes being on opposite sides of the tubes from each other. This vessel
he mounted on an upright spindle, and put water in it and heated the
water. The steam issuing from the holes in the arms drove them backward.
The principle of the action of Hero's machine has been accepted for two
thousand years, though never in a steam-engine. It exists under all
circumstances similar to his. In water, in the turbine wheel, it has
been made most efficacious. The power applied now for the harnessing of
Niagara for the purpose of sending electric currents hundreds of miles
is the turbine wheel.


Hero appears to the popular imagination as the greatest inventor of the
past. Every school boy knows him. Archimedes, the Greek, was the
greater, and a hundred and fifty years the earlier, and was the author
of the significance of the word "Eureka," as we use it now. But Hero was
the pioneer in steam. He made the first steam-engine, and is immortal
through a toy.

The first _practical_ device in which expansion was used seems to
have been for the exploiting of an ecclesiastical trick intended to
impress the populace. There is a saying by an antique wit that no two
priests or augurs could ever meet and look at each other without a
knowing wink of recognition. Hero is said to have been the author of
this contrivance also. The temple doors would open by themselves when
the fire burned on the altar, and would close again when that fire was
extinguished, and the worshippers would think it a miracle. It is
interesting because it contained the principle upon which was afterwards
attempted to be made the first working low-pressure or atmospheric
steam-engine. Yet it was not steam, but air, that was used. A hollow
altar containing air was heated by the fire being kindled upon it. The
air expanded and passed through a pipe into a vessel below containing
water. It pressed the water out through another pipe into a bucket
which, being thereby made heavier, pulled open the temple doors. When
the fire went out again there was a partial vacuum in the vessel that
had held the water at first, and the water was sucked back through the
pipe out of the bucket. That became lighter again and allowed the doors
to close with a counter-weight. All that was then necessary to convince
the populace of the genuineness of the seeming miracle was to keep them
from understanding it. The machinery was under the floor. There have
been thousands of miracles since then performed by natural agencies, and
there have passed many ages since Hero's machine during which not to
understand a thing was to believe it to be supernatural.

[Illustration: THE TEMPLE-DOOR TRICK.]

From the time of Hero until the seventeenth century there is no record
of any attempt being made to utilize steam-pressure for a practical
purpose. The fact seems strange only because steam-power is so prominent
a fact with ourselves. The ages that intervened were, as a whole, times
of the densest superstition. The human mind was active, but it was
entirely occupied with miracle and semi-miracle; in astrology, magic and
alchemy; in trying to find the key to the supernatural. Every thinker,
every educated man, every man who knew more than the rest, was bent upon
finding this key for himself, so that he might use it for his own
advantage. During all those ages there was no idea of the natural
sciences. The key they lacked, and never found, that would have opened
all, is the fact that in the realm of science and experiment there is no
supernatural, and only eternal law; that cause produces its effect
invariably. Even Kepler, the discoverer of the three great laws that
stand as the foundation of the Copernican system of the universe, was in
his investigations under the influence of astrological and cabalistic
superstitions. [Footnote: Kepler, a German, lived between 1571 and 1630.
His life was full of vicissitudes, in the midst of which he performed an
astonishing Even the science of amount of intellectual labor, with
lasting results. He was the personal friend of Galileo and Tycho Brahe,
and his life may be said to have been spent in finding the abstract
intelligible reason for the actual disposition of the solar system, in
which physical cause should take the place of arbitrary hypothesis. He
did this.] medicine was, during those ages, a magical art, and the idea
of cure by medicine, that drugs actually _cure_, is existent to
this day as a remnant of the Middle Ages. A man's death-offense might be
that he knew more than he could make others understand about the then
secrets of nature. Yet he himself might believe more or less in magic.
No one was untouched; all intellect was more or less enslaved.

And when experiments at last began to be made in the mechanisms by which
steam might be utilized they were such as boys now make for amusement;
such as throwing a steam-jet against the vanes of a paddle-wheel. Such
was Branca's engine, made nine years after the landing of our
forefathers at Plymouth, and thought worthy of a description and record.
The next attempt was much more practical, but cannot be accurately
assigned. It consisted of two chambers, from each of which alternately
water was forced by steam, and which were filled again by cooling off
and the forming of a vacuum where the steam had been. One chamber worked
while the other cooled. It was an immense advance in the direction of

About 1698, we begin to encounter the names that are familiar to us in
connection with the history of the steam-engine. In that year Thomas
Savery obtained a patent for raising water by steam. His was a
modification of the idea described above. The boilers used would be of
no value now, nevertheless the machine came into considerable use, and
the world that learned so gradually became possessed with the idea that
there was a utility in the pressure of steam. Savery's engine is said to
have grown out of the accident of his throwing a flask containing a
little wine on the fire at a tavern. Concluding immediately afterwards
that he wanted it, he snatched it off of the fender and plunged it into
a basin of water to cool it. The steam inside instantly condensing, the
water rushed in and filled it as it cooled.

We now come to the beginning of the steam engine as we understand the
term; the machine that involves the use of the cylinder and piston.
These two features had been used in pumps long before, the atmospheric
pump being one of the oldest of modern machines. The vacuum was known
and utilized long before the cause of it was known. [Footnote: The
discoverer was an Italian, Torricelli, about 1643. Gallileo, his tutor
and friend, did not know why water would not rise in a tube more than
thirty-three feet. No one knew of the _weight of the atmosphere_,
so late as the early days of this republic. Many did not believe the
theory long after that time. Torricelli, by his experiments, demonstrated
the fact and invented the mercurial barometer, long known as the
"Torricellian Tube." This last instrument led to another discovery; that
the weight of the atmosphere varied from time to time in the same
locality, and that storms and weather changes were indicated by a rising
and falling of the column of mercury in the tube of the
siphon-barometer. That which we call the "weather-bureau," organized by
General Albert J. Myer, United States Army, in 1870, and growing out of
the army signal service, of which he was chief, makes its "forecasts" by
the use of the telegraph and the barometer. The "low pressure area"
follows a path, which means a change of weather on that path. Notices by
telegraph define the route, and the coming storm is not foretold, but
_foreknown;_ not prophesied, but _ascertained._ If we have
been led from the crude pump of Gallileo's time directly to the weather
bureau of the present with its invaluable signals to sailors and
convenience to everybody, it is no more than is continually to be traced
even to the beginning of the wonderful school of modern science.]

But in the beginning it was not proposed to use steam in connection with
the cylinder and piston which now really constitutes the steam-engine.
Reverting again to the example of the gun, it was suggested to push a
piston forward in a tube by the explosion of gunpowder behind it, or to
repeat the Savery experiment with powder instead of steam. These ideas
were those of about 1678-1685. The very earliest cylinder and piston
engine was suggested by Denis Papin in 1690. These early inventors only
went a portion of the way, and almost the entire idea of the
steam-engine is of much later date. Mankind had then a singular gift of
beginning at the wrong end. Every inventor now uses facts that seem to
him to have been always known, and that are his by a kind of intuition.
But they were all acquired by the tedious experience of a past that is
distinguished by a few great names whose owners knew in their time
perhaps one-tenth part as much as the modern inventor does, who is
unconsciously using the facts learned by old experience. But the others
began at the beginning.


In 1711, almost a hundred years after the arrival at Jamestown and
Plymouth of the fathers of our present civilization, the steam-engine
that is called Newcomen's began to be used for the pumping of water out
of mines. This engine, slightly modified, and especially by the boy who
invented the automatic cut-off for the steam valves, was a most rude and
clumsy machine measured by our ideas. There appears to have been
scarcely a single feature of it that is now visible in a modern engine.
The cylinder was always vertical. It had the upper end open, and was a
round iron vessel in which a plunger moved up and down. Steam was let in
below this plunger, and the walking-beam with which it was connected by
a rod had that end of it raised. When raised the steam was cut off, and
all that was then under the piston was condensed by a jet of cold water.
The outside air-pressure then acted upon it and pushed it down again. In
this down-stroke by air-pressure the work was done. The far end of the
walking-beam was even counter-weighted to help the steam-pressure. The
elastic force of compressed steam was not depended upon, was hardly even
known, in this first working and practical engine of the world. Every
engine of that time was an experimental structure by itself. The boiler,
as we use it, was unknown. Often it was square, stayed and braced
against pressure in a most complicated way. Yet the Newcomen engine held
its place for about seventy-five years; a very long time in our
conception, and in view of the vast possibilities that we now know were
before the science. [Footnote: As late as 1880, the steam-engine
illustrated and described in the "natural philosophy" text books was
still the Newcomen, or Newcomen-Watt engine, and this while that engine
was almost unknown in ordinary circumstances, and double-acting
high-pressure engines were in operation everywhere. This last, without
which not much could be done that is now done, was evidently for a long
time after it came into use regarded as a dangerous and unphilosophical
experiment, hardly scientific, and not destined to be permanently

In the year 1760, James Watt, who was by occupation what is now known as
a model-maker, and who lived in Glasgow, was called upon to repair a
model of a Newcomen engine belonging to the university. While thus
engaged he was impressed with the great waste of steam, or of time and
fuel, which is the same thing, involved in the alternate heating and
cooling of Newcomen's cylinder. To him occurred the idea of keeping the
cylinder as hot as the steam used in it. Watt was therefore the inventor
of the first of those economies now regarded as absolute requirements in
construction. He made the first "steam-jacket," and was, as well, the
author of the idea of covering the cylinder with a coat of wood, or
other non-conductor. He contrived a second chamber, outside of the
cylinder, where the then indispensable condensation should take place.
Then he gave this cylinder for the first time two heads, and let out the
piston-rod through a hole in the upper head, with packing. He used steam
on the upper side of the piston as well as the lower, and it will be
seen that he came very near to making the modern engine.

Yet he did not make it. He was still unable to dispense with the
condensing and vacuum and air-pressure ideas. Acting for the first time
in the line of real efficiency, he failed to go far enough to attain it.
He made a double-acting engine by the addition of many new parts; he
even attained the point of applying his idea to the production of
circular motion. But he merely doubled the Newcomen idea. His engine
became the Newcomen-Watt. He had a condensing chamber at each end of the
stroke and could therefore command a reciprocating movement. The
walking-beam was retained, not for the purpose for which it is often
used now, but because it was indispensable to his semi-atmospheric


It may seem almost absurd that the universal crank-movement of an engine
was ever the subject of a patent. Yet such was the case. A man named
Pickard anticipated Watt, and the latter then applied to his engines the
"sun-and-planet" movement, instead of the crank, until the patent on the
latter expired. The steam-engine marks the beginning of a long series of
troubles in the claims of patentees.

In 1782 came Watt's last steam invention, an engine that used steam
_expansively_. This was an immense stride. He was also at the same
time the inventor of the "throttle," or choke valve, by which he
regulated the supply of steam to the piston. It seems a strange thing
that up to this time, about 1767, an engine in actual use was started by
getting up steam enough to make it go, and waiting for it to begin, and
stopped by putting out the fire.

Then he invented the "governor," a contrivance that has scarcely changed
in form, and not at all in action, since it was first used, and is one
of the few instances of a machine perfect in the beginning. Two balls
hang on two rods on each side of an upright shaft, to which the rods are
hinged. The shaft is rotated by the engine, and the faster it turns the
more the two balls stand out from it. The slower it turns the more they
hang down toward it. Any one can illustrate this by whirling in his
hands a half-open umbrella. There is a connection between the movement
of these balls and the throttle; as they swing out more they close it,
as they fall closer to the shaft they open it. The engine will therefore
regulate its own speed with reference to the work it has to do from
moment to moment.

[Illustration: THE GOVERNOR.]

Through all these changes the original idea remained of a vacuum at the
end of every stroke, of indispensable assistance from atmospheric
pressure, of a careful use of the direct expansive power of steam, and
of the avoidance of the high pressures and the actual power of which
steam is now known to be safely capable. [Footnote: In a reputable
school "philosophy" printed in 1880, thus: "In some engines" (describing
the modern high-pressure engine, universal in most land service) "the
apparatus for condensing steam alternately above and below the piston is
dispensed with, and the steam, after it has moved the piston from one
end of the cylinder to the other, is allowed to escape, by the opening
of a valve, directly into the air. To accomplish this it is evident that
the steam must have an elastic force greater than the pressure of the
air, _or it could not expand and drive out the waste steam on the
other side of the piston, in opposition to the pressure of the air_."
According to this teaching, which the young student is expected to
understand and to entirely believe, a pressure of steam of, say eighty
to a hundred and twenty pounds to the inch on one side of the piston is
accompanied by an absolute vacuum there, which permits the pressure of
the outside air to exert itself against the opposite side of the piston
through the open port at the other end of the cylinder. That is, a state
of things which would exist if the steam behind the piston _were
suddenly condensed_, exists anyway. If it be true the facts should be
more generally known; if not, most of the school "philosophies" need
reviewing.] Then an almost unknown American came upon the scene. In
English hands the story at once passes from this point to the
experiments of Trevethick and George Stevenson with steam as applied to
railway locomotion. But as Watt left it and Trevethick found it, the
steam engine could never have been applied to locomotion. It was slow,
ponderous, complicated and scientific, worked at low pressures, and Watt
and his contemporaries would have run away in affright from the
innovation that came in between them and the first attempts of the
pioneers of the locomotive. This innovation was that of Evans, the
American, of whom further presently.

The first steam-engine ever built in the United States was probably of
the Watt pattern, in 1773. In 1776, the year of beginning for ourselves,
there were only two engines of any kind in the colonies; one at Passaic,
N. J., the other at Philadelphia. We were full of the idea of the
independence we had won soon afterwards, but in material respects we had
all before us.

In 1787, Oliver Evans introduced improvements in grain mills, and was
generally efficient as one of the beginners in the field of American
invention. Soon afterwards he is known to have made a steam-engine which
was the first high-pressure double-acting engine ever made. The engine
that used steam at each end of the cylinder with a vacuum and a
condenser, was in this first instance, so far as any record can be
found, supplanted by the engine of to-day. The reason of the delay it is
difficult to account for on any other grounds than lack of boldness, for
unquestionably the early experimenters knew that such an engine could be
made. They were afraid of the power they had evoked. Such a machine may
have seemed to them a willful toying with disaster. Their efforts were
bent during many years toward rendering a treacherous giant useful, yet
entirely harmless. Their boilers, greatly improved over those I have
mentioned, never were such as were afterwards made to suit the high
pressures required by the audacity of Hopkins. This audacity was the
mother of the locomotive, and of that engine which almost from that date
has been used for nearly every purpose of our modern life that requires
power. The American innovation may have passed unnoticed at the time,
but intentionally or otherwise it was imitated as a preliminary to all
modern engines. Nearly a century passed between the making of the first
practical engine and that one which now stands as the type of many
thousands. But now every little saw-mill in the American woods could
have, and finally did have, its little cheap, unscientific, powerful and
non-vacuum engine, set up and worked without experience, and maintained
in working order by an unskilled laborer. A thousand uses for steam grew
out of this experiment of a Yankee who knew no better than to tempt fate
with a high-pressure and speed and recklessness that has now become
almost universal.

There was with Watt and his contemporaries apparently a fondness for
cost and complications. Most likely the finished Watt engine was a
handsome and stately machine, imposing in its deliberate movements.
There is apparently nothing simpler than the placing of the head of the
piston-rod between two guide-pieces to keep it in line and give it
bearing. Yet we have only to turn back a few years and see the elaborate
and beautiful geometrical diagram contrived by Watt to produce the same
simple effect, and known as a "parallel motion." It kept its place until
the walking-beam was cast away, and the American horizontal engine came
into almost universal use.

The object of this chapter so far has been to present an idea of
beginnings; of the evolution of the universal and indispensable machine
of civilization. The steam-engine has given a new impetus to industry,
and in a sense an added meaning to life. It has made possible most that
was ever dreamed of material greatness. It has altered the destiny of
this nation, and other nations, made greatness out of crude beginnings,
wealth out of poverty, prosperity upon thousands of square miles of
uninhabitable wilderness. It was the chiefest instrumentality in the
widening of civilization, the bringing together of alien peoples, the
dissemination of ideas. Electricity may carry the idea; steam carries
the man with the idea. The crude misconceptions of old times existed
naturally before its time, and have largely vanished since it came.
Marco Polo and Mandeville and their kind are no longer possibilities.
Applied to transportation, locomotion alone, its effects have been
revolutionary. Applied to common life in its minute ramifications these
effects could not have been believed or foretold, and are incredible.
The thought might be followed indefinitely, and it is almost impossible
to compare the world as we know it with the world of our immediate
ancestors. Only by means of contrasts, startling in their details, can
we arrive at an adequate estimate, even as a moral farce, of the power
of steam as embodied in the modern engine in a thousand forms.

       *       *       *       *       *

Perhaps it might be well to attempt to convey, for the benefit of the
youngest reader, an idea of the actual working of the machine we call a
steam-engine. There are hundreds of forms, and yet they are all alike
in essentials. To know the principle of one is to know that of all.
There is probably not an engine in the world in effective common
use--the odd and unusual rotary and other forms never having been
practical engines--that is not constructed upon the plan of the cylinder
and piston. These two parts make the engine. If they are understood only
differences in construction and detail remain.

Imagine a short tube into which you have inserted a pellet, or wad of
any kind, so that it fits tolerably, yet moves easily back and forth in
the bore of the tube. If this pellet or wad is at one end of the tube
you may, by inserting that end in your mouth and putting air-pressure
upon it, make it slide to the other end. You do not touch it with
anything; you may push it back and forth with your breath as many times
as you wish, not by blowing against it, so to speak, but by producing an
actual air-pressure upon it which is confined by the sides of the tube
and cannot go elsewhere. The only pressure necessary is enough to move
the pellet.

Now, if you push this little pellet one way by the air-pressure from
your mouth, and then, instead of reversing the tube in the mouth and
pushing it back again in the same way, reverse the process and suck the
air out from behind it, it comes back by the pressure of the outside
atmosphere. This was the way the first steam engines worked. Their only
purpose was to get the piston lifted, and air-pressure did all the
actual work.

If you turn the tube, and put an air-pressure first at one end and then
at the other, and pay no attention to vacuum or atmospheric pressure,
you will have the principle of the later modern, almost universal,
high-pressure, double-acting steam-engine.

But now you must imagine that the tube is fixed immovably, and that the
air-pressure is constant in a pipe leading to the tube, and yet must be
admitted first to one end of the tube and then to the other alternately,
in order to push the pellet back and forth in it. It seems simple.
Perhaps the young reader can find a way to do it, but it required about
a hundred years for ingenious men to find out how to do precisely the
same thing automatically. It involves the steam-chest and the
slide-valve, and all other kinds of steam valves that have been
invented, including the Corliss cut-off, and all others that are akin to
it in object and action.

But now imagine the tube closed at each end to begin with, and the
little moving pellet, or plunger, on the inside. To get the air into
both ends of the tube alternately, and to use its pressure on each side
of the pellet, we will suppose that the air-pipe is forked, and that one
end of each fork is inserted into the side of the tube near the end,
like the figure below, and imagine also that you have put a finger over
each end of the tube.

[Illustration: Fig. 1]

We are now getting the air-pressure through the pipe in both ends of the
tube alike, and do not move the pellet either way. To make it move we
must do something more, and open one end of the tube, and close that
fork of the air-pipe, and thus get all the pressure on one side of the
pellet. Remove one finger from the end of the tube, and pinch the fork
of the air-tube that is on that side. The pellet will now move toward
that end of the tube which is open. Reverse the process, and it can be
pushed back again with air-pressure to the other end, and so on

Let us improve the process. We will close each end of the tube
permanently, and insert four cocks in the tube and forked pipe.

We have here two tubes inserted at each end of the large tube, and in
each of these is a cock. We have each cock connected by a rod to the
lever set on a pin in the middle of the tube. We must have these cocks
so arranged that when the lever is moved (say) to the right, A. is
opened and B. is closed, and D. is opened and C. is closed. Now if the
air-pressure is constant through the forked air-tube, and the cock E. is
open, if the top of the lever is moved to the right, the pellet will be
pushed to the left in the large tube. If the lever is moved to the left,
and the two cocks that were open are closed, and the two that were
closed are opened again, the pellet will be sent back to the other end
of the tube. This movement of the pellet in the tube will occur as often
as the lever is moved and there is any air-pressure in the forked tube.
There is a _supply_-cock, opened and an _escape_-cock closed,
and an escape-cock _opened_ and a supply-cock _closed_, at
each end of the tube, _every time the lever is moved_.

[Illustration: Fig. 2]

We are using air instead of steam, and the movement of these four cocks
all at the same time, and the result of moving them, is precisely that
of the slide-valve of a steam-engine. The diagrams of this slide-valve
would be difficult to understand. The action of the cocks can be more
readily understood, and the result, and even much of the action, is
precisely the same.

But to make the arrangement entirely efficient we must go a little
further into the construction of a steam-engine. The pellet in the tube
has no connection with the outside, and we can get nothing from it. So
we give it a stem, thus: and when we do so we change it into a piston
and its rod. Where it passes through the stopper at the end of the tube
it must pass air- (or steam-) tight. Then as we push the piston back and
forth we have a movement that we can attach to machinery at the end of
the rod, and get a result from. We also move the cocks, or valves,
automatically by the movement of the rod.

[Illustration: Fig. 3]

Turning now to Fig. 3 again let us imagine a connection made between the
rod and the end of the lever in Fig. 2. Now put on the air (or steam)
pressure, and when the piston has reached the right-hand end of the tube
it automatically, by its connections, closes B. and opens A., and opens
D. and closes C. The pellet will be pushed back in the tube and go to
the other end of it, through the pressure coming against the piston
through the part of the air tube where the cock D. is open. It reaches
the left-hand end of the tube, and we must imagine that when it gets
there it, in the same manner and by the proper connections, closes D.,
opens C., closes A. and opens B. If these mechanical movements are
completed it must be plain that so long as the air (or steam) pressure
is continued in the forked pipe the piston will automatically cut off
its supply and open its escape at each alternate end, and move back and
forth. Any boy can see how a backward and forward movement may be made
to give motion to a crank. All other details in an engine are questions
of convenience in construction, and not questions of principle or manner
of action.

Of older readers, I might request the supposition that, in Fig. 2, only
the valves A. and B. were automatically and invariably opened and closed
by the action of the piston-rod of Fig. 3, and that C. and D. were
controlled solely by the governor, before mentioned, which we will
suppose to be located at E. Then the escape of the steam ahead of the
piston must always come at the same time with reference to the stroke,
but the supply will depend upon the requirements of each individual
stroke, and the work it has to do, and afford to the piston a greater or
less push, as the emergencies of that particular instant may require.
This arrangement would be one of regularity of movement and of economy
in the use of steam. That which is needed is supplied, and no more. This
is the principle and the object of the Corliss cut-off, and of all
others similar to it in purpose. Their principle is that _only the
escape is automatically controlled by the movements of the
piston-rod_, occurring always at the same time with reference to the
stroke, while _the supply is under control of the movement of the
governor_, and regulated according to the emergencies of the
movement. The governor, in any of its forms, as ordinarily applied,
performs only half of this function. It regulates the general supply of
steam to the cylinder, but the supply-valve continues to be opened,
always to full width, and always at the same moment with reference to
the stroke. With the two separate sets of automatic machinery required
by engines of the Corliss type, the piston does not always receive its
steam at the beginning of the stroke, and the supply may be cut off
partially or entirely at any point in its passage along the cylinder, as
the work to be done requires. The economic value of such an arrangement
is manifest. No attempt is made here to explain by means of elaborate
diagrams. It is believed that if the reason of things, and the principle
of action, is clear, the particulars may be easily studied by any reader
who is disposed to master mechanical details.


In very recent times the processes of civilization have had a strong and
almost unnoted tendency toward the increased use of the _best_.
Thus, most that iron once was, in use and practice, steel now is. This
use, growing daily, widens the scope that must be taken in discussing
the features of an Age of Steel. One name has largely supplanted the
other. In effect iron has become steel. Had this chapter been written
twenty, or perhaps ten, years earlier, it should have been more
appropriately entitled the Age of Iron. A separation of the two great
metals in general description would be merely technical, and I shall
treat the subject very much as though, in accordance with the practical
facts of the case, the two metals constituted one general subject, one
of them gradually supplanting the other in most of the fields of
industry where iron only was formerly used.

The greatest progresses of the race are almost always unappreciated at
the time, and are certainly undervalued, except by contrast and
comparison. We must continually turn backward to see how far we have
gone. An individual who is born into a certain condition thinks it as
hard as any other until by experience and comparison he discovers what
his times might have been. As for us, in the year 1894, we are not
compelled to look backward very far to observe a striking contrast.


All the wealth of today is built upon the forests and prairies and
swamps of yesterday, and we must take a wider and more comprehensive
glance backward if we should wish to institute those comparisons which
make contrasts startling.

We are accustomed to read and to hear of the "Age" of this or that.
There was a "Stone" Age, beginning with the tribes to whom it came
before the beginnings of their history, or even of tradition, and if we
look far backward we may contrast our own time with the times of men who
knew no metals. They were men. They lived and hoped and died as we do,
even in what is now our own country. Often they were not even
barbarians. They builded houses and forts, and dug drains and built
aqueducts, and tilled the soil. They knew the value of those things we
most value now, home and country; and they organized armies, and fought
battles, and died for an idea, as we do. Yet all the time, a time ages
long, the utmost help they had found for the bare and unaided hand was
the serrated edge of a splintered flint, or the chance-found fragment
beside a stream that nature, in a thousand or a million years of
polishing, had shaped into the rude semblance of a hammer or a pestle.
All men have in their time burned and scraped and fashioned all they
needed with an astonishing faculty of making it answer their needs. They
once almost occupied the world. Such were those who, so far as we know,
were once the exclusive owners of this continent. They were an
agricultural, industrious and home-loving people. [Footnote: The Mound
Builders and Cave Dwellers. They knew only lead and copper.]

Then came, with a strange leaving out of the plentiful and easily worked
metals which are the subject of this chapter, the great Age of Bronze.
This next stage of progress after stone was marked by a skillful alloy,
requiring even now some scientific knowledge in its compounding of
copper and tin. A thousand theories have been brought forward to account
for this hiatus in the natural stages of human progress, the truth
probably being that both tin and copper are more fusible than iron-ores,
and that both are found as natural metals. Some accident such as
accounts for the first glass, [Footnote: The story is told by Pliny.
Some sailors, landing on the eastern coast of Spain, supported their
cooking utensils on the sand with stones, and built a fire under them.
When they had finished their meal, glass was found to have been made
from the niter and sea-sand by the heat of their fire. The same thing
has been done, by accident, in more recent times, and may have been done
before the incident recounted. It is also done by the lightning striking
into sand and making those peculiar glass tubes known as
_Fulmenites_, found in museums and not very uncommon.] some
camp-fire unintended fusion, produced the alloy that became the metal of
all the arms and arts, and so remained for uncounted centuries. In this
connection it is declared that the Age of Bronze knew something that we
cannot discover; the art of tempering the alloy so that it would bear an
edge like fine steel. If this be true and we could do it, we should by
choice supplant the subject of this chapter for a thousand uses. As the
matter stands, and in our ignorance of a supposed ancient secret, the
tempering of bronze has an effect precisely opposite to that which the
process has upon steel.

Nevertheless, the old Age of Bronze had its vicissitudes. Those men knew
nothing that we consider knowledge now. It was a time when some of the
most splendid temples, palaces and pyramids were constructed, and these
now lie ruined yet indestructible in the nooks and corners of a desert
world. Perhaps the hard rock was chiselled with tools of tempered
copper. The fact is of little importance now since the object of the art
is almost unknown, and the scattered capitals and columns of Baalbeck
are like monuments without inscriptions; the commemorating memorials of
a memory unknown. The Age of Bronze and all other ages that have
preceded ours lacked the great essentials that insure perpetuity. The
Age of Steel, that came last, that is ours now; a degenerate time by all
ancient standards; has for its crowning triumph a single machine which
is alone enough to satisfy the union of two names that are to us what
Caster and Pollux were to the bronze-armed Roman legions of the heroic
time--the modern power printing-press.

It may be well to ask and answer the question that at the first view may
seem to the reader almost absurd. What is steel? The answer must, in the
majority of instances, be given in accordance with the common
conception; which is that it is not iron, yet very like it. The old
classification of the metal, even familiarly known, needs now to be
supplemented, since it does not describe the modern cast and malleable
compounds of iron, carbon and metalloids used for structural purposes,
and constituting at least three-fourths of the metal now made under the
name of steel. The old term, steel, meant the cast, but malleable,
product of iron, containing as much carbon as would cause the metal to
harden when heated to redness and quenched in water. It must also be
included in the definition that the product must be as free as possible
from all admixtures except the requisite amount of carbon. This is
"tool" steel. [Footnote: It must not be understood that tool steel was
always a cast metal. In manufacturing, iron bars were laid together in
a box or retort, together with powdered charcoal, and heated to a
certain degree for a certain time. The carbon from the charcoal was
absorbed by the iron, and from the blistered appearance of the bars when
taken out this product was, and is known as "blister" steel.]

And here occurs a strange thing. A skill in chemistry, the successor of
alchemy, is the educational product of the highest form of civilization.


Metallurgy is the highest and most difficult branch of chemistry. Steel
is the best result of metallurgy. Yet steel is one of the oldest
products of the race, and in lands that have been asleep since written
history began. Wendell Phillips in a lecture upon "The Lost Arts,"--
celebrated at the date of its delivery, but now obsolete because not
touching upon advances made in science since Phillips's day,--states
that the first needle ever made in England, in the time of Henry VIII,
was made by a Negro, and that when he died the art died with him. They
did not know how to prepare the steel or how to make the needle. He adds
that some of the earliest travelers in Africa found a tribe in the
interior who gave them better razors than the explorers had. Oriental
steel has been celebrated for ages as an inimitable product. It is
certainly true that by the simple processes of semi-barbarism the finest
tool-steel has been manufactured, perhaps from the days of Tubal Cain
downward. The keenness of edge, the temper whose secret is now unknown,
the marvelous elasticity of the tools of ancient Damascus, are familiar
by repute to every reader and have been celebrated for thousands of
years. The swords and daggers made in central Asia two thousand years
ago were more remarkable than any similar product of the present for
elaborate and beautiful finish as well as for a cutting quality and a
tenacity of edge unknown to modern days. All the tests and experiments
of a modern government arsenal, with all the technical knowledge of
modern times, do not produce such tool-steel. It is also alleged that
the ancient weapons did not rust as ours do, and that the oldest are
bright to this day. The steel tools and arms that are made in the
strange country of India do not rust there, while in the same climate
ours are eaten away. Besides the secret of tempering bronze, it would
seem that among the lost arts [Footnote: Modern science dates from three
discoveries. That of Copernicus, the effect of which was to separate
scientific astronomy, the astronomy of natural law and defined cause,
from astrology, or the astronomy of assertion and tradition. That of
Torricelli and Paschal of the actual and measurable weight of the
atmosphere, which was the beginning for us of the science of physics,
and that of Lavoisier who suspected, and Priestly who demonstrated,
oxygen and destroyed the last vestiges of the theory of alchemy. Stahl
was the last of these, and Lavoisier the first of the new school in that
which I have stated is the highest development of modern science,
chemistry. In all these departments we have no adequate reason to assert
that we are not ourselves mere students. Some of the functions of
oxygen, and the simplest, were unknown within five years before the date
of these chapters.]--a subject that it is easy to make too much
of--there was a chemical ingredient or proportion in steel that we now
know nothing of. The old lands of sameness and slumber have kept their

The definition of the word "steel" has been the subject of a scientific
quarrel on account of new processes. The grand distinguishing trait of
steel, to which it owes all the qualities that make it valuable for the
uses to which no other metal can be put, is _homogeneity due to
fusion_. Wrought iron, while having similar chemical qualities, and
often as much carbon, is _laminated in structure_. Structural
qualities are largely increasing in importance, and as the structural
compounds came gradually to be produced more and more by the casting
processes; as they ceased to be laminated in structure and became
homogeneous, they were called by the name of steel. The name has been
based upon the structure of the material rather than upon its chemical
ingredients as heretofore. There is now a disposition to call all
compounds of iron that are crystalline in structure, made homogeneous by
casting, by the general name of steel, and to distinguish all those
whose structural quality is due to welding by the name of iron.
[Footnote: It should be understood that the shapes of structural and
other forms of what we now call steel are given by rolling the ingot
after casting, and that the crystalline composition of the metal
remains.] This is an outline of the controversy about the differences
which should be expressed by a name, between tool steel and structural
steel. In tool steel there is an almost infinite variety as to quality.
The best is a high product of practical science, and how to make the
best seems now, as hinted above, a lost art. It has, besides, a great
variety. These varieties are only produced after thousands of
experiments directed to finding out what ingredients and processes make
toward the desired result. These processes, were they all known outside
the manufactories of certain specialists, would little interest the
general reader. All machinists know of certain brands of tool steel
which they prefer. Tool steel is made especially for certain purposes;
as for razors and surgical instruments, for saws, for files, for
springs, for cutting tools generally. In these there may be little
actual difference of quality or manufacture. The tempering of steel
after it has been forged into shape is a specialty, almost a natural
gift. The manufacture of tool steel, is, as stated, one of the most
technical of the arts, and one of the most complicated of the
applications of long experience and experiment.

Cast steel was first made in 1770 by Huntsman, who for the first time
melted the "blistered" steel, which until that time had been the tool
steel of commerce, in a crucible. Since that time the process of melting
wrought iron has become practical and cheap, and results in
_crystalline_, instead of a laminated structure for all steels. The
definition of steel now is that it is _a compound of iron which has
been cast from a fluid state into a malleable mass._

The ordinary test applied to distinguish wrought iron from steel is to
ascertain whether the metal hardens with heating and suddenly cooling in
cold water, becoming again softened on reheating and cooling slowly. If
it does this it is steel of some quality, good or bad; if not, it is

       *       *       *       *       *

The first mention of iron-ore in America is by Thomas Harriot, an
English writer of the time of Raleigh's first colonies. He wrote a
history of the settlement on Roanoke Island, in which he says: "In two
places in the countrey specially, one about foure score and the other
six score miles from the port or place where wee dwelt, wee founde neere
the water side the ground to be rockie, which by the triall of a
minerall man, was found to hold iron richly. It is founde in manie
places in the countrey else." Harriot speaks further of "the small
charge for the labour and feeding of men; the infinite store of wood;
the want of wood and the deerness thereof in England." It was before the
day of coal and coke, or of any of the processes known now. The iron
mines of Roanoke Island were never heard of again.

Iron-ore in the colonies is again heard of in the history of Jamestown,
in 1607. A ship sailed from there in 1608 freighted with "iron-ore,
sassafras, cedar posts and walnut boards." Seventeen tons of iron were
made from this ore, and sold for four pounds per ton. This was the first
iron ever made from American ores. The first iron-works ever erected in
this country were, of course almost, burned by the Indians, in 1622, and
in connection three hundred persons were killed.


Fire and blood was the end of the beginning of many American industries.
Ore was plentiful, wood was superabundant, methods were crude. They
could easily excel the Virginia colonists in making iron in Persia and
India at the same date. The orientals had certain processes, descended
to them from remote times, discovered and practiced by the first
metal-workers that ever lived. The difference in the situation now is
that here the situation and methods have so changed that the story is
almost incredible. There, they remain as always. The first instance of
iron-smelting in America is a text from which might be taken the entire
vast sermon of modern industrial civilization.

The orientals lacked the steam-engine. So did we in America. The blast
was impossible everywhere except by hand, and contrivances for this
purpose are of very great antiquity. The bellows was used in Egypt three
thousand years ago. It may be that the very first thought by primitive
man was of how to smelt the metals he wanted so much and needed so
badly. His efforts to procure a means of making his fire burn under his
little dump of ore led him first into the science which has attained a
new importance in very recent times, pneumatics. The first American
furnaces were blown by the ordinary leather bellows, or by a contrivance
they had which was called a "blowing tub," or by a very ancient machine
known as a _"trompe"_ in which water running through a wooden pipe
was very ingeniously made to furnish air to a furnace. It is when the
means are small that ingenuity is actually shown. If the later man is
deprived of the use of the latest machinery he will decline to undertake
an enterprise where it is required. The same man in the woods, with
absolute necessity for his companion, will show an astonishing capacity
for persevering invention, and will live, and succeed.


In the lack of steam they learned, as stated, to use water-power for
making the blast. The "blowing-tub" was such a contrivance. It was built
of wood, and the air-boxes were square. There were two of these, with
square pistons and a walking-beam between them. A third box held the air
under a weighted piston and fed it to the furnace. Some of these were
still in effective use as late as 1873. They were still used long after
steam came. The entire machine might be called, correctly, a very large
piston-bellows. A smaller machine with a single barrel may be found now,
reduced, in the hands of men who clean the interior of pianos, and tune

The first iron works built in the present United States that were
commercially successful, were established in Massachusetts, in the town
of Saugus, a few miles from Boston. The company had a monopoly of
manufacture under grant for ten years. [Footnote: Some quaint records
exist of the incidents of manufacturing in those times.

In 1728, Samuel Higley and Joseph Dewey, of Connecticut, represented to
the Legislature that Higley had, "with great pains and cost, found out
and obtained a curious art by which to convert, change, or transmute,
common iron into good steel sufficient for any use, and was the first
that ever performed such an operation in America." A certificate, signed
by Timothy Phelps and John Drake, blacksmiths, states that, in June,
1725, Mr. Higley obtained from the subscribers several pieces of iron,
so shaped that they could be known again, and that a few days later "he
brought the same pieces which we let him have, and we proved them and
found them good steel, which was the first steel that ever was made in
this country, that we ever saw or heard of." But this remarkable
transmuting process was not heard of again unless it be the process of
"case-hardening," re-invented some years ago, and known now to mechanics
as a recipe.

The smallness of things may be inferred from the fact that, in 1740, the
Connecticut Legislature granted to Messrs. Fitch, Walker & Wyllys "the
sole privilege of making steel for the term of fifteen years, upon this
condition that they should, in the space of two years, make half a ton
of steel." Even this condition was not complied with and the term was
extended.] They began in 1643, twenty-three years after the landing,
which is one of the evidences of the anxiety of those troublesome people
to be independent, and of how well men knew, even in those early times,
how much the production of iron at home has to do with that
independence. This new industry was, at all times, controlled and
regulated by law.

The very first hollow-ware casting made in America is said to be still
in existence. It was a little kettle holding less than a quart.


The beginnings of the iron industry in America were none too early.
There came a need for them very soon after they had extended into other
parts of New England, and into New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and
Maryland. In 1775, there were a large number of small furnaces and
foundries. But coal and iron, the two earth-born servants of national
progress which are now always twins, were not then coupled. The first of
them was out of consideration. The early iron men looked for water-falls
instead, and for the wood of the primeval forest. [Footnote: It is now
easy to learn that a coal-mine may be a more valuable possession than a
gold-mine, and that iron is better as an industry than silver. There are
mountains of iron in Mexico, but no coal, and silver-mines so rich that
silver, smelted with expensive wood fuel, is the staple product of the
country. Yet the people are among the poorest in Christendom. There is a
ceaseless iron-famine, so that the chiefest form of railway robbery is
the stealing of the links and pins from trains. There are almost no
metal industries. A barbaric agriculture prevails for the want of
material for the making of tools. The actual means of progress are not
at hand, notwithstanding the product of silver, which goes by weight as
a commodity to purchase most that the country needs.] They became very
necessary to the country in 1755--when the "French" war came, and they
then began the making of the shot and guns used in that struggle, and
became accustomed to the manufacture in time for the Revolution. Looking
back for causes conducive to momentous results, we may here find one not
usually considered in the histories. But for the advancement of the iron
industry in America, great for the time and circumstances, independence
could not have been won, and even the _feeling_ and desire of
independence would have been indefinitely delayed.

The industry was slow, painful, and uncertain, only because the mechanic
arts were pursued only to an extent possible with the skill and muscular
energy of men. There were none of the wonderful automatic mechanisms
that we know as machine-tools. There was only the almost unaided human
arm with which to subdue the boundless savagery of a continent, and win
independence and form a nation besides. The demand for huge masses of
the most essential of the factors of civilization has grown since,
because the ironclad and the big gun have come, and those inadequate
forces and crude methods supplied for a time the demand that was small
and imperative. The largest mass made then, and frequently spoken of in
colonial records, was a piece called a "sow;" spelled then "sowe." It
was a long, triangular mass, cast by being run into a trench made in
sand. [Footnote: When, later, little side-trenches were made beside the
first, with little channels to carry the metal into them, the smaller
castings were naturally called "pigges." Hence our "pig-iron."]


Those were the palmy days of the "trip hammer." Nasmyth was not born
until 1808, and no machine inventor had yet come upon the scene. The
steam-hammer that bears his name, which means a ponderous and powerful
machine in which the hammer is lifted by the direct action of steam in a
piston, the lower end of whose rod is the hammer-head, has done more for
the development of the iron industry than any other mechanical
invention. It was not actually used until 1842, or '43. It finally, with
many improvements in detail, grew into a monster, the hammer-head, or
"tup," being a mass of many tons. And they of modern times were not
content merely to let this great mass fall. They let in steam above the
piston, and jammed it down upon the mass of glowing metal, with a shock
that jars the earth. The strange thing about this Titanic machine is
that it can crack an egg, or flatten out a ton or more of glowing iron.
Hundreds of the forgings of later times, such as the wrought iron or
steel frames of locomotives, and the shafts of steamers, and the forged
modern guns, could not be made by forging without this steam hammer.

[Illustration: THE STEAM HAMMER.]

Then slowly came the period of all kinds of "machine tools." During the
period briefly described above they could not make sheet metal. The
rolling mill must have come, not only before the modern steam-boiler,
but even before the modern plow could be made. Can the reader imagine a
time in the United States when sheet metal could not be rolled, and even
tin plates were not known? If so, he can instantly transport himself to
the times of the wooden "trencher," and the "pewter" mug and pitcher, to
the days when iron rails for tramways were unknown, and when even the
"strap-iron," always necessary, was rudely and slowly hammered out on an
anvil. [Footnote: About 1720, nails were the most needed of all the
articles of a new country. Farmers made them for themselves, at home.
The secret of how to roll out a sheet and split it into nail-rods was
stolen from the one shop that knew how, at Milton, Mass., to give to
another at Mlddleboro. The thief had the Biblical name of Hashay H.
Thomas. He stole the secret while the hands of the Milton mill were gone
to dinner, and served his country and broke up a small monopoly in so

Shears came with the "rolls;" vast engines of gigantic biting capacity,
that cut sheets of iron as a lady's scissors cut paper. This cut the
squares of metal used for boiler plates, and the steam-engine having
come, was turned to the manufacture of materials for its own
construction. Others were able to bite off great bars.

The first mill in which iron was rolled in America, was built in 1817
near Connellsville, in Fayette county, Penn. Until 1844, the rolling
mills of this country produced little more than bar-iron, hoops, and
plates. All the early attempts at railroads used the "strap" rail;
unless cast "fish-bellies" were used; which was flat bar-iron provided
with counter sunk holes, in which to drive nails for holding the iron to
long stringers of wood laid upon ties. When actual rail-making for
railroads began, the rolling mill raised its powers to meet the
emergency. The "T" rail, universally now used, was invented by Robert
Stevens, president and chief engineer of the Camden and Amboy railroad,
and the first of them were laid as track for that road in 1832. From
this time until 1850, rolling mills for making "U" and "T" rails rapidly
increased in number, but in that year all but two had ceased to be
operated because of foreign competition.


During some five years previous to this writing a revolution has taken
place in the construction of buildings which has resulted in what is
known as the "sky-scraper." This was, in many respects, the most
startling innovation of times that are startling in most other respects,
and was begun in that metropolis of surprises and successes, the city of
Chicago. This innovation was really such in the matter of using steel in
the entire framing of a commercial building, but it was not the first
use of metal as a building material. The first iron beams used in
buildings were made in 1854, in a rolling mill at Trenton, N. J., and
were used in the construction of the Cooper Institute, and the building
of Harper & Brothers. For these special rolls, of a special invention,
were made. These have now become obsolete, and a new arrangement is used
for what are known as "structural shapes."


I have spoken of the use of wood-fuel in the early stages of iron
manufacture in this country, followed by the adoption exclusively of
coal and its products. Then, many years later, came the departure from
this in the use of gas for fuel. The first use of this kind is said to
date as far back as the eighth century, and modifications of the idea
had been put in practice in this country, in which gas was first made
from coal and then used as fuel. Then came "natural gas." This product
has been known for many centuries. It was the "eternal" fuel of the
Persian fire-worshippers, and has been used as fuel in China for ages.
Its earliest use in this country was in 1827, when it was made to light
the village of Fredonia, N. Y. Probably its first use for manufacturing
purposes was by a man named Tompkins, who used it to heat salt-kettles
in the Kenawha valley in 1842. Its next use for manufacturing purposes
was made in a rolling mill in Armstrong county, Penn., in 1874,
forty-seven years after it had been used at Fredonia, and twenty-nine
years after it had been used to boil salt.

Now the use of natural gas as manufacturing fuel is universal, not alone
over the spot where the gas is found, but in localities hundreds of
miles away. It is one of the strangest developments of modern scientific
ingenuity. That enormous battery of boilers, which was one of the most
imposing spectacles of the Columbian Exhibition of 1893, whose roar was
like that of Niagara, was fed by invisible fuel that came silently in
pipes from a state outside of that where the great fair was held. We are
left to the conclusion that the making of the coal into gas at the mine,
and the shipping of it to the place of consumption through pipes, is
more certain of realization than were a hundred of the early problems of
American progress that have now been successful for so long that the
date of their beginning is almost forgotten.

THE STEEL OF THE PRESENT.--The story of steel has now almost been told,
in that general outline which is all that is possible without an
extensive detail not interesting to the general reader. In it is
included, of necessity, a resume of the progress, from the earliest
times in this country, of the great industry which is more indicative
than any other of the material growth of a nation. I now come to that
time when steel began to take the place that iron had always held in
structural work of every class. The differences between this structural
steel and that which men have known by the name exclusively from remote
ages, I have so far indicated only by reference to the well-known
qualities of the latter. It now remains to describe the first.

In 1846 an American named William Kelley was the owner of an iron-works
at Eddyville, Ky. It was an early era in American manufactures of all
kinds, and the district was isolated, the town not having five hundred
inhabitants, and the best mechanical appliances were remote.

In 1847, Kelley began, without suggestion or knowledge of any
experiments going on elsewhere, to experiment in the processes now known
as the "Bessemer," for the converting of iron into steel. To him
occurred, as it now appears first, the idea that in the refining process
fuel would be unnecessary after the iron was melted if _powerful
blasts of air were forced into the fluid metal_. This is the basic
principle of the Bessemer process. The theory was that the heat
generated by the union of the oxygen of the air with the carbon of the
metal, would accomplish the refining. Kelley was trying to produce
malleable iron in a new, rapid and effective way. It was merely an
economy in manufacture he was endeavoring to attain.

To this end he made a furnace into which passed an air-blast pipe,
through which a stream of air was forced into the mass of melted metal.
He produced refined iron. Following this he made what is now called a
"converter," in which he could refine fifteen hundred pounds of metal in
five minutes, effecting a great saving in time and fuel, and in his
little establishment the old processes were thenceforth dispensed with.
It was locally known as "Kelley's air-boiling process." It proved
finally to be the most important, in large results, ever conceived in
metallurgy. I refer to it hurriedly, and do not attempt to follow the
inventor's own description of his constructions and experiments. When he
heard that others in England were following the same line of experiment,
he applied for a patent. He was decided to be the first inventor of the
process, and a patent was granted him over Bessemer, who was a few days
before him. There is no question that others were more skillful, and
with better opportunities and scientific associations, in carrying out
the final details, mechanical and chemical, which have completed the
Kelley process for present commercial uses. Neither is there any
question that this back-woods iron-making American was the first to
refine iron by passing through it, while fluid, a stream of air, which
is the process of making that steel which is not tool steel, and yet is
steel, the now almost universal material for the making of structures;
the material of the Ferris wheel, the wonderful palaces of the Columbian
exposition, the sky-scrapers of Chicago, the rails, the tacks,
[Footnote: In the history of Rhode Island, by Arnold, it is claimed that
the first cold cut nails in the world were made by Jeremiah Wilkinson,
in 1777. The process was to cut them from an old chest-lock with a pair
of shears, and head them in a smith's vise. Then small nails were cut
from old Spanish hoops, and headed in a vise by hand. Needles and pins
were made by the same person from wire drawn by himself. Supposing this
to be the beginning of the cut-nail idea, _the machine for making
them_ would still remain the actual and practical invention, since it
would mark the beginning of the industry as such. The importance of the
latter event may be measured by the fact that about the end of the last
century there began a strong demand. In the homely farm-houses, or the
little contracted shops of New England villages, the descendants of the
Pilgrims toiled providently, through the long winter months, at beating
into shape the little nails which play so useful a part in modern
industry. A small anvil served to beat the wire or strip of iron into
shape and point it; a vise worked by the foot clutched it between jaws
furnished with a gauge to regulate the length, leaving a certain portion
projecting, which, when beaten flat by a hammer, formed the head. This
was industry, but not manufacture, for in 1890 the manufacturers of this
country produced over _eight hundred million pounds_ of iron,
steel, and wire nails, representing a consumption of this absolutely
indispensable manufacture for that year, at the rate of over _twelve
pounds_ for each individual inhabitant of the United States.] the
fence-wire, the sheet-metal, the rails of the steam-railroads and the
street-lines, the thousand things that cannot be thought of without a
list, and which is a material that is furnished more cheaply than the
old iron articles were for the same purposes.


The technical detail of steel-making is exceedingly interesting to
students of applied science, but it _is_ detail, the key to which
is in the process mentioned; the forcing of a stream of air through a
molten mass of iron. The "converter" is a huge pitcher-shaped vessel,
hung upon trunnions so as to be tilted, and it is usual to admit through
these trunnions, by means of a continuing pipe, the stream of air. The
converters may contain ten tons or more of liquid metal at one time,
which mass is converted from iron into steel at one operation.

Forty-five years ago, or less, works that could turn out fifty tons of
iron in a day were very large. Now there are many that make _five
hundred tons_ of steel in the same time. Then, nearly all the work
was done by hand, and men in large numbers handled the details of all
processes. Now it would be impossible for human hands and strength to do
the work. The steel-mill is, indeed, the most colossal combination of
Steam and Steel. There are tireless arms, moved by steam, insensible
alike to monstrous strains and white heat, which seize the vast ingots
and carry them to and fro, handling with incredible celerity the masses
that were unknown to man before the invention of the Bessemer process.
And all these operations are directed and controlled by a man who stands
in one place, strangely yet not inappropriately named a "pulpit," by
means of the hand-gear that gives them all to him like toys.

No one who has seen a steel-mill in operation, can go away and really
write a description of it; no artist or camera has ever made its
portrait, yet it is the most impressive scene of the modern, the
industrial, world. There is a "fervent heat," surpassing in its
impressions all the descriptions of the Bible, and which destroys all
doubt of fire with capacity to burn a world and "roll the heavens
together as a scroll." There is a clang and clatter accompanying a
marvelous order. There are clouds of steam. There are displays of sparks
and glow surpassing all the pyrotechnics of art. Monstrous throats gasp
for a draught of white-hot metal and take it at a gulp. Glowing masses
are trundled to and fro. There are mountains of ore, disappearing in a
night, and ever renewed. There is a railway system, and the huge masses
are conveyed from place to place by locomotive engines. There is a water
system that would supply a town. There may be miles of underground pipes
bringing gas for fuel. Amid these scenes flit strong men, naked to the
waist, unharmed in the red pandemonium, guiding every process,
superintending every result; like other men, yet leading a life so
strange that it is apparently impossible. The glowing rivers they
escape; corruscating showers of flying white-hot metal do not fall upon
them; the leaping, roaring, hungry, annihilating flames do not touch
them; the gurgling streams of melted steel are their familiar
playthings; yet they are but men.

The "rolling" of these slabs and ingots into rails is a following
operation still. The continuous rail is often more than a hundred feet
in length, which is cut into three or four rails of thirty feet each,
and it goes through every operation that makes it a "T" rail weighing
ninety pounds to the yard with the single first heat. There are trains
of rolls that will take in a piece of white-hot metal weighing six tons,
and send it out in a long sheet three thirty-seconds of an inch thick
and nearly ten feet wide. The first steel rails made in this country
were made by the Chicago Rolling Mill Company, in May, 1865. Only six
rails were then made, and these were laid in the tracks of the Chicago
and North Western Railroad. It is said they lasted over ten years. The
first nails, or tacks, were made of steel at Bridgewater, Mass., at
about the same date.

[Illustration: ROLLING INGOTS.]

Some thirty years ago there were but two Bessemer converters in the
United States, and the manufacture of steel did not reach then five
hundred tons per annum. In 1890 the product was more than five million

In 1872 the price of steel was one hundred and eighty-six dollars per
gross ton. It can be purchased now at varying prices less than thirty
dollars per ton. The consumption of seventy millions of people is so
great that it is difficult to imagine how so enormous a mass of almost
imperishable material can be absorbed, and the latest figures show a
consumption greatly in excess of those mentioned as the sum of

We turn again for the comparison without which all figures are valueless
to the good year 1643, when the "General court" passed a resolve
commending the great progress made in the manufacture of iron which they
had licensed two years before, and granted the company still further
privileges and immunities upon condition that it should furnish the
people "with barre iron of all sorts for their use at not exceedynge
twenty pounds per ton." We recall the first little piece of hollow ware
made in America. We remember how old the old world is said to be and how
long the tribes of men have plodded upon it, and then the picture
appears of the progress that has grown almost under our eyes. The real
Age of Steel began in 1865. It is not yet thirty years old. By
comparison we are impressed with the fact that the real history of the
metal is compressed into less than half an ordinary lifetime.



There is a sense in which electricity may be said to be the youngest of
the sciences. Its modern development has been startling. Its phenomena
appear on every hand. It is almost literally true that the lighting has
become the servant of man.

But it is also the oldest among modern sciences. Its manifestations have
been studied for centuries. So old is its story that it has some of the
interest of a mediaeval romance; a romance that is true. Steam is gross,
material, understandable, noisy. Its action is entirely comprehensible.
The explosives, gunpowder, begriming the nations in all the wars since
1350, nitroglycerine, oxygen and hydrogen in all the forms of their
combination, seem to be gross and material, the natural, though
ferocious, servants of mankind. But electricity floats ethereal, apart,
a subtle essence, shining in the changing splendors of the aurora yet
existent in the very paper upon which one writes; mysteriously
everywhere; silent, unseen, odorless, untouchable, a power capable of
exemplifying the highest majesty of universal nature, or of lighting the
faint glow of the fragile insect that flies in the twilight of a summer
night. Obedient as it has now been made by the ingenuity of modern man,
docile as it may seem, obeying known laws that were discovered, not
made, it yet remains shadowy, mysterious, impalpable, intangible,
dangerous. It is its own avenger of the daring ingenuity that has
controlled it. Touch it, and you die.

Electricity was as existent when the splendid scenes described in
Genesis were enacted before the poet's eye as it is now, and was
entirely the same. Its very name is old. Before there were men there
were trees. Some of these exuded gum, as trees do now, and this gum
found a final resting place in the sea, either by being carried thither
by the currents of the streams beside which those trees grew, or by the
land on which they stood being submerged in some of the ancient changes
and convulsions to which the world has been frequently subject. In the
lapse of ages this gum, being indestructible in water, became a fossil
beneath the waves, and being in later times cast up by storms on the
shores of the Baltic and other seas, was found and gathered by men, and
being beautiful, finally came to be cut into various forms and used as
jewelry. One has but to examine his pipe-stem, or a string of yellow
beads, to know it even now. It is amber. The ancient Greeks knew and
used it as we do, and without any reference to what we now call
"electricity" their name for it was ELEKTRON. The earliest mention of it
is by Homer, a poet whose personality is so hidden in the mists of far
antiquity that his actual existence as a single person has been doubted,
and he mentions it in connection with a necklace made of it.

But very early in human history, at least six hundred years before
Christ, this elektron had been found to possess a peculiar property that
was imagined to belong to it alone. It mysteriously attracted light
bodies to it after it had been rubbed. Thales, the Franklin of his
remote time, was the man who is said to have discovered this peculiar
and mysterious quality of the yellow gum, and if it be true, to him must
be conceded the unwitting discovery of electricity. It was the first
step in a science that usurps all the prerogatives of the ancient gods.
He recorded his discovery, and was impressed with awe by it, and
accounted for the phenomenon he had observed by ascribing to the dull
fossil a living soul. That is the unconscious impression still, after
twenty-five hundred years have passed since Thales died; that hidden in
the heart of electrical phenomena there is a weird sentience; what a
Greek would consider something divine and immortal apart from matter.
But neither Thales, nor Theophrastus, nor Pliny the elder, nor any
ancient, could conceive of a fact but dimly guessed until the day of
Franklin; that this secret of the silent amber was also that of the
thunder-cloud, that the essence that drew to it a floating filament is
also that which rends an oak, that had splintered their temples and
statues, and had not spared even the image of Jupiter Tonans himself.
The spectral lights which hung upon the masts of the ancient galleys of
the Mediterranean were named Castor and Pollux, not electricity.
Absolutely no discovery was made, though the religion of ancient Etruria
was chiefly the worship of a spirit by them seen, but unknown; to us
electrical science; a science chained, yet really unknown and still
feared though chained. It is the story of this servitude only that is
capable of being told, and the first weak bands were a hundred and
forty-six years in forging; from the Englishman Gilbert's "_De
Magnete_," to Franklin's Kite.

During all this time, and to a great degree long after, electricity was
a scientific toy. Experiences in the sparkling of the fur of cats, the
knowledge that there were fishes that possessed a mysterious paralyzing
power, and various common phenomena all attributable to some unknown
common cause, did not greatly increase the sum of actual knowledge of
the subject. There was no divination of what the future would bring, and
not the least conception of actual and impending possibilities. When,
finally, the greatest thinkers of their times began to investigate; when
Boyle began to experiment, and even the transcendent genius of Newton
stooped to enquiry; from the days of those giants down to those of the
American provincial postmaster, Benjamin Franklin, a period of some
seventy years, almost all the knowledge obtained was only useful in
indicating how to experiment still further. So small was the knowledge,
so aimless the long experimenting, that the discovery that not amber
only, but other substances as well, possessed the electric quality when
rubbed, was a notable advance in knowledge. Later, in 1792, it was found
by Gray that certain substances possessed the power of carrying;
"conducting" as we now term it; the mysterious fluid from one substance
to another; from place to place. This discovery constituted an actual
epoch in the history of the science, and justly, since this small
beginning with a wet string and a cylinder of glass or a globe of
sulphur was the first unwitting illustration of the net-work of wires
now hanging all over the world. The next step was to find that all
substances were not alike in a power to conduct a current; _i.e._,
that there were "conductors" and "non-conductors," and all varying
grades and powers between. The next discovery was that there were, as
was then imagined, several kinds of electricity. This conclusion was
incorrect, and its use was to lead at last to the discovery, by
Franklin, that the many kinds were but two, and even these not kinds,
but qualities, present always in the unchanging essence that is
everywhere, and which are known to us now by the names that Franklin
gave them; the _positive_ and _negative_ currents; one always
present with the other, and in every phenomenon known to electrical

Probably the first machine ever contrived for producing an electric
current was made by a monk, a Scotch Benedictine named Gordon who lived
at Erfurt, in Saxony. I shall have occasion, hereafter, to describe
other machines for the same purpose, and this first contrivance is of
interest by comparison. It was a cylinder of glass about eight inches
long, with a wooden shaft in the center, the ends of which were passed
through holes in side-pieces, and it is said to have been operated by
winding a string around the shaft and drawing the ends of the string
back and forth alternately.


The Franklinic machine, the modern glass disc fitted with combs,
rubbers, bands and cranks, is nothing more in principle or manner of
action than the first crude arrangement of the monk of Erfurt.

All these experiments, and all that for many years followed, were made
in electricity produced by friction; by rubbing some body like glass,
sulphur or rosin. Many men took part in producing effects that were
almost meaningless to them--the preliminaries to final results for us.
Improved electrical machines were made, all seeming childish and
inadequate now, and all wonderful in their day. There is a long list of
immortal names connected with the slow development of the science, and
among their experiments the seventeenth century passed away. Dufaye and
the Abbe Nollet worked together about 1730, and mutually surprised each
other daily. Guericke, better known as the inventor of the air-pump,
made a sulphur-ball machine, often claimed to have been the first.
Hawkesbee constructed a glass machine that was an improvement over that
of Guericke. Stephen Gray unfolded the leading principles of the
science, but without any understanding of their results as we now
understand them. The next advance was made in finding a way to hold some
of the electricity when gathered, and the toy which we know as the
Leyden Jar surprised the scientific world. Its inventor, Professor
Muschenbrock, wrote an account of it to Reaumur, and lacks language to
express the terror into which his own experiments had thrown him. He had
unwittingly accumulated, and had accidentally discharged, and had, for
the first time in human experience, felt something of the shock the
modern lineman dreads because it means death. He had toiled until he
held the baleful genie in a glass vessel partially filled with water,
and the sprite could not be seen. Accidentally he made a connection
between the two surfaces of the jar, and declared that he did not
recover from the experience for two days, and that nothing could induce
him to repeat it. He had been touched by the lightning, and had not
known it. [Footnote: The Leyden Jar has little place in the usefulness
of modern electricity, and has no relationship with the modern so-called
"Storage" Battery.]

Then began the fakerism which attached itself to the science of
electricity, and that has only measurably abandoned it in very late
times. Itinerant electricians began to infest the cities of Europe,
claiming medicinal and almost supernatural virtues for the mysterious
shock of the Leyden Vial, and showing to gaping multitudes the quick and
flashing blue spark which was, though no man knew it then, a miniature
imitation of the bolt of heaven. That fact, verging as closely upon the
sublimest power of nature as a man may venture to and live, was not even
suspected until Franklin had invented a battery of such jars, and had
performed hundreds of experiments therewith that finally established in
his acute, though prosaic, mind the identity of his puny spark with that
terrific flash that, until that time, had been regarded by all mankind
as a direct and intentional expression of the power of Almighty God.

Thus Franklin came into the field. He was an investigator who brought to
his aid a singular capacity possessed by the very few; the capacity for
an unbiased looking for the hidden reasons of things. There was no field
too sacred or too old for his prying investigations and his private
conclusions. He was, as much as any man ever is, an original thinker. He
knew of all the electrical experiments of others, and they produced in
his mind conclusions distinctly his own. He was, upon topics pertaining
to the field of reason, experience and common sense, the clearest and
most vigorous writer of his time save one, and such conclusions as he
arrived at he knew how to promulgate and explain. All that Franklin
discovered would but add to the tedium of the subject of electricity
now, but from his time definitely dates the knowledge that of
electricity, in all its developments, there is really but one kind,
though for convenience sake we may commonly speak of two, or even more.
He first gave the names by which they are still known to the two
qualities of one current; a name of convenience only. He knew first a
fact that still puzzles inquiry, and is still largely unknown--that
electricity is not _created_, produced, manufactured, by any human
means, and that all we may do, then or now, is to gather it from its
measureless diffusion in the air, the world, or the spaces of the wide
creation, and that, like "heat" and "cold," it is a relative term. He
demonstrated that any body which has electricity gives it to any other
body that has at the moment less. Before he had actually tried that
celebrated experiment which is alone sufficient to give him place among
the immortals, he had declared the theory upon which he made it to be
true, and by reasoning, in an age that but dimly understood the force
and conditions of inductive reason, had proved that lightning is but an
electric spark. It seems hardly necessary to add that his theories were
ridiculed by the most intelligent scientists of his time, and scoffed at
even by the countrymen of Newton and Davy, the members of the Royal
Society of England. Franklin was a provincial American, and had, in
other fields than electricity, troubled the British placidity.

[Illustration: B. FRANKLIN]

Only one of these, a man named Collinson, saw any value in these
researches of the provincial in the wilds of America. He published
Franklin's letters to him. Buffon read them, and persuaded a friend to
translate them into French. They were translated afterwards into many
languages, and when in his isolation he did not even know it, the
obscure printer, the country postmaster who kept his official accounts
with his own hands, was the bearer of a famous name. He was assailed by
the Nollet previously mentioned, and by a party of French philosophers,
yet there arose, in his absence and without his knowledge, a party who
called themselves distinctively "Franklinists."

Then came the personal test of the truth of these theories that had been
promulgated over Europe in the name of the unknown American. He was then
forty-five years old, successful in his walk and well-known in his
immediate locality, but by no means as prominent or famous among his
neighbors as he was in Europe. He was not so fertile in resources as to
be in any sense inspired, and had privately waited for the finishing of
a certain spire in the little town of Philadelphia so that he might use
it to get nearer to the clouds to demonstrate his theory of lightning.
It was in June, 1752, that this great exemplar of the genius of
common-sense descended to the trial of the experiment that was the
simplest and the most ordinary and the most sublime; the commonest in
conception and means yet the most famous in results; ever tried by man.
He had grown impatient of delay in the matter of the spire, and hastily,
as by a sudden thought, made a kite. It was merely a silk handkerchief
whose four corners were attached to the points of two crossed sticks. It
was only the idea that was great; the means were infantile. A thunder
shower came over, and in an interval between sprinklings he took with
him his son, and went by back ways and alleys to a shed in an open
field. The two raised the kite as boys did then and do now, and stood
within the shelter. There was a hempen string, and on this, next his
hand, he had tied a bit of ribbon and an ordinary iron key. A cloud
passed over without any indications of anything whatever. But it began
to rain, and as the string became wet he noticed that the loose
filaments were standing out from it, as he had often seen them do in his
experiments with the electrical machine. He drew a spark from the key
with his finger, and finally charged a Leyden jar from this key, and
performed all the then known proof-experiments with the lightning drawn
from heaven.

It is manifest that the slightest indication of the presence of the
current in the string was sufficient to have demonstrated the fact which
Franklin sought to fix. But it would have been insufficient to the
general mind. The demonstration required was absolute. Even among
scientists of the first class less was then known about electricity and
its phenomena, and the causes of them, than now is known by every child
who has gone to school. No estimate of the boldness and value of
Franklin's renowned experiment can be made without a full appreciation
of his times and surroundings. He demonstrated that which was undreamed
before, and is undoubted now. The wonders of one age have been the toys
and tools of the next through the entire history of mankind. The meaning
of the demonstration was deep; its results were lasting The
experimenters thereafter worked with a knowledge that their
investigations must, in a sense, include the universe. Perhaps the
obscure man who had toyed with the lightnings himself but vaguely
understood the real meaning of his temerity. For he had, as usual, an
intensely practical purpose in view. He wished to find a way of "drawing
from the heavens their lightnings, and conducting them harmless to the
earth." He was the first inventor of a practical machine, for a useful
purpose, with which electricity had to do. That machine was the
lightning-rod. Whatever its purpose, mankind will not forget the simple
greatness of the act. At this writing the statue of Franklin stands
looking upward at the sky, a key in his extended hand, in the portico of
a palace which contains the completest and most beautiful display of
electrical appliances that was ever brought together, at the dawn of
that Age of Electricity which will be noon with us within one decade.
The science and art of the civilized world are gathered about him, and
on the frieze above his head shines, in gold letters, that sentence
which is a poem in a single line. "ERIPUIT CAELO FULMEN, SCEPTRUMQUE
TYRANNIS." [Footnote: "He snatched the lightning from heaven, and the
sceptre from tyrants."]

       *       *       *       *       *

THE MAN FRANKLIN.--Benjamin Franklin was born at Boston, Mass., Jan.
17th, 1706. His father was a chandler, a trade not now known by that
term, meaning a maker of soaps and candles. Benjamin was the fifteenth
of a family of seventeen children. He was so much of the same material
with other boys that it was his notion to go to sea, and to keep him
from doing so he was apprenticed to his brother, who was a printer. To
be apprenticed then was to be absolutely indentured; to belong to the
master for a term of years. Strangely enough, the boy who wanted to be a
sailor was a reader and student, captivated by the style of the
_Spectator_, a model he assiduously cultivated in his own extensive
writings afterwards. He was not assisted in his studies, and all he ever
knew of mathematics he taught himself. Being addicted to literature by
natural proclivity he inserted his own articles in his brother's
newspaper, and these being very favorably commented upon by the local
public, or at least noticed and talked about, his authorship of them was
discovered, and this led to a quarrel between the two brothers.
Nevertheless, when James, the elder brother, was imprisoned for alleged
seditious articles printed by him, the paper was for a time issued in
young Benjamin's name. But the quarrel continued, the boy was imposed
upon by his master, and brother, as naturally as might have been
expected under the circumstances of the younger having the monopoly of
all the intellectual ability that existed between the two, and in 1723,
being then only seventeen, he broke his indentures, a heinous offense in
those times, and ran away, first to New York and then to Philadelphia,
where he found employment as a journeyman printer. He had attained a
skill in the business not usual at the time.

The boy had, up to this time, read everything that came into his hands.
A book of any kind had a charm for him. His father observing this had
intended him for the ministry, that being the natural drift of a pious
father's mind in the time of Franklin's youth, when he discovered any
inclination to books on the part of a son. But, later, he would neglect
the devotions of the Sabbath if he had found a book, notwithstanding the
piety of his family. Sometimes he distressed them further by neglecting
his meals, or sitting up at night, for the same reason. There is no
question that young Franklin was a member of that extensive fraternity
now known as "cranks." [Footnote: Most people, then and now, can point
to people of their acquaintance whom they hold in regard as originals or
eccentrics. It is a somewhat dubious title for respect, even with us who
are reckoned so eccentric a nation. And yet all the great inventions
which have done so much for civilization have been discovered by
eccentrics--that is, by men who stepped out of the common groove; who
differed more or less from other men in their habits and ideals.] He
read a book advocating exclusive subsistence upon a vegetable diet and
immediately adopted the idea, remaining a disciple of vegetarianism for
several years. But there is another reason hinted. He saved money by the
vegetable scheme, and when his printer's lunch had consisted of
"biscuits (crackers) and water" for some days, he had saved money enough
to buy a new book.

This young printer, who, at school, in the little time he attended one,
had "failed entirely in mathematics," could assimilate "Locke on the
Understanding," and appreciate a translation of the Memorabilia of
Xenophon. Even after his study of this latter book he had a fondness for
the calm reasoning of Socrates, and wished to imitate him in his manner
of reasoning and moralizing. There is no question but that the great
heathen had his influence across the abyss of time upon the mind of a
young American destined also to fill, in many respects, the foremost
place in his country's history. There was one, at least, who had no
premonition of this. His brother chastised him before he had been
imprisoned, and after he had begun to attract attention as a writer in
one of the only two newspapers then printed in America, and beat him
again after he was released, having meantime been vigorously defended by
his apprentice editorially while he languished. To have beaten Benjamin
Franklin with a stick, when he was seventeen years old, seems an absurd
anti-climax in American history. But it is true, and when the young man
ran away there was still another odd episode in a great career.

Upon his first arrival in Philadelphia as a runaway apprentice, with one
piece of money in his pocket, occurs the one gleam of romance in
Franklin's seemingly Socratic life. He says he walked in Market Street
with a baker's loaf under each arm, with all his shirts and stockings
bulging in his pockets, and eating a third piece of bread as he walked,
and this on a Sunday morning. Under these circumstances he met his
future wife, and he seems to have remembered her when next he met her,
and to have been unusually prepossessed with her, because on the first
occasion she had laughed at him going by. He was one of those whose
sense of humor bears them through many difficulties, and who are even
attracted by that sense in others. He was, at this period, absurd
without question. Having eaten all the bread he could, and bestowed the
remainder upon another voyager, he drank out of the Delaware and went to
church; that is, he sat down upon a bench in a Quaker meeting-house and
went to sleep, and was admonished thence by one of the brethren at the
end of the service.

Franklin had, in the time of his youth, the usual experiences in
business. He made a journey to London upon promises of great advancement
in business, and was entirely disappointed, and worked at his trade in
London. Afterwards, during the return voyage to America, he kept a
journal, and wrote those celebrated maxims for his own guidance that are
so often quoted. The first of these is the gem of the collection: "I
resolve to be extremely frugal for some time, until I pay what I owe." A
second resolve is scarcely less deserving of imitation, for it declares
it to be his intention "to speak all the good I know of everybody." It
must be observed that Franklin was afterwards the great maximist of his
age, and that his life was devoted to the acquisition of worldly wisdom.
In his body of philosophy there is included no word of confidence in the
condemnation of offenses by the act or virtue of another, no promise of,
or reference to, the rewards of futurity.

When about twenty-one years of age, we find this old young man tired of
a drifting life and many projects, and desiring to adopt some occupation
permanently. He had courted the girl who had laughed at him, and then
gone to England and forgotten her. She had meantime married another man,
and was now a widow. In 1730 he married her. Meantime, entering into the
printing business on his own account, he often trundled his paper along
the streets in a wheelbarrow, and was intensely occupied with his
affairs. His acquisitive mind was never idle, and in 1732 he began the
publication of the celebrated "Poor Richard's Almanac." This was among
the most successful of all American publications, was continued for
twenty-five years, and in the last issue, in 1757, he collected the
principal matter of all preceding numbers, and the issue was extensively
republished in Great Britain, was translated into several foreign
languages, and had a world-wide circulation. He was also the publisher
of a newspaper, _The Pennsylvania Gazette_, which was successful
and brought him into high consideration as a leader of public opinion in
times which were beginning to be troubled by the questions that finally
brought about a separation from the mother country.

Time and space would fail in anything like a detailed account of the
life of this remarkable man. His only son, the boy who was with him at
the flying of the kite, was an illegitimate child, and it is a
remarkable instance of unlikeness that this only son became a royalist
governor of New Jersey, was never an American in feeling, and removed to
England and died there. The sum of Franklin's life is that he was a
statesman, a financier of remarkable ability, a skillful diplomat, a
law-maker, a powerful and felicitous writer though without imagination
or the literary instinct, and a controversialist who seldom, if ever,
met his equal. He was always a printer, and at no period of his great
career did he lose his affection for the useful arts and common
interests of mankind. He is the founder of the American Philosophical
Society, and of a college which grew into the present University of
Pennsylvania. To him is due the origin of a great hospital which is
still doing beneficent work. He raised, and caused to be disciplined,
ten thousand men for the defense of the country. He was a successful
publisher of the literature of the common people, yet a literature that
was renowned. He could turn his attention to the improvement of
chimneys, and invented a stove still in use, and still bearing his name
as the author of its principle. [Footnote: The stove was not used in
Franklin's time to any extent. The "Franklin Stove" was a fireplace so
far as the advantages were concerned, such as ventilation and the
pleasure of an open fire. But it also radiated heat from the back and
sides as well as the front, and was intended to sit further out into a
room; to be both fireplace and stove.] He organized the postal system of
the United States before the Union existed. He was a signer of the
Declaration of Independence. He sailed as commissioner to France at the
age of seventy-one, and gave all his money to his country on the eve of
his departure, yet died wealthy for his time. Serene, even-tempered,
philosophical, he was yet far-seeing, care-taking, sagacious, and
intensely industrious. He acquired a knowledge of the Italian and
Spanish languages, and was a proficient French speaker and writer. He
possessed, in an extraordinary degree, the power of gaining the regard,
even the affection, of his fellow-men. He was even a competent musician,
mastering every subject to which his attention was turned; and
province-born and reared in the business of melting tallow and setting
types, without collegiate education, he shone in association with the
men and women who had place in the most brilliant epoch of French
intellectual history. At fourscore years he performed the work that
would have exhausted a man of forty, and at the same time wrote, for
mere amusement, sketches such as the "Dialogue between Franklin and the
Gout," and added, with the cool philosophy of all his life still
lingering about his closing hours: "When I consider how many terrible
diseases the human body is liable to, I think myself well off that I
have only three incurable ones, the gout, the stone, and old age."

[Illustration: THE FRANKLIN STOVE.]

       *       *       *       *       *

After Franklin, electrical experiments went on with varying results,
confined within what now seems to have been a very narrow field, until
1790. The great facts outside of the startling disclosure made by
Franklin's experiments remained unknown. It was another forty years of
amused and interested playing with a scientific toy. But in that year
the key to the _utility_ of electricity was found by one Galvani.
He was not an electrician at all, but a professor of anatomy in the
university of Bologna. It may be mentioned in passing that he never knew
the weight or purport of his own discovery, and died supposing and
insisting that the electric fluid he fancied he had discovered had its
origin in the animal tissues. Misapprehending all, he was yet
unconsciously the first experimenter in what we, for convenience,
designate _dynamic_ electricity. He knew only of _animal_
electricity, and called it by that name; a misnomer and a mistake of
fact, and the cause of an early scientific quarrel the promoting of
which was the actual reason of the advance that was made in the science
following his accidental and enormously important discovery.

There are many stories of the details of the ordinarily entirely
unimportant circumstances that led to _Galvanism_ and the
_Galvanic Battery_. Volta actually made this battery, then known as
the Voltaic Pile, but he made it because of Galvani's discovery. The
reader is requested to bear these names in mind; Galvani and Volta. They
have a unique claim upon us. With others that will follow, they have
descended to all posterity in the immortal nomenclature of the science
of electricity. It is through the accidental discovery of the plodding
demonstrator of anatomy in a medical college, a man who died at last in
poverty and in ignorance of the meaning of his own work, that we have
now the vast web of telegraph and telephone wires that hangs above the
paths of men in every civilized country, and the cables that lie in the
ooze of the oceans from continent to continent. His discovery was the
result of one of the commonest incidents of domestic life. Variously
described by various writers, the actual circumstance seems reducible to

In Galvani's kitchen there was an iron railing, and immediately above
the railing some copper hooks, used for the purpose of hanging thereon
uncooked meats. His wife was an invalid, and wishing to tempt her
appetite he had prepared a frog by skinning it, and had hung it upon one
of the copper hooks. The only use intended to be asked of this renowned
batrachian was the making of a little broth. Another part of the skinned
anatomy touched the iron rail below, and the anatomist observed that
this casual contact produced a convulsive twitching of the dead
reptile's legs. He groped about this fact for many years. He fancied he
had discovered the principle of life. He made the phenomenon to hang
upon the facts clustering about his own profession, familiar to him, and
about which it was natural for him to think. He promulgated theories
about it that are all now absurd, however tenable then. His was an
instance of how the fatuities of men in all the fields of science, faith
or morals, have often led to results as extraordinary as they have been
unexpected. That he died in poverty in 1798 is a mere human fact. That
in this life he never knew is merely another. It is but a part of that
sadness that, through life, and, indeed, through all history, hangs over
the earthly limitations of the immortal mind.

Volta, his contemporary and countryman, finally solved the problem as to
the reason why. and made that "Voltaic Pile" which came to be our modern
"battery." Acting upon the hint given by Galvani's accident, this pile
was made of thin sheets of metal, say of copper and zinc, laid in series
one above the other, with a piece of cloth wet with dilute acid
interposed between each sheet and the next. The sheets were connected at
the edges in pairs, a sheet of zinc to a sheet of copper, and the pile
began with a sheet of one metal and ended with one of the other. It is
to be noted that a single pair would have produced the same result as a
hundred pairs, only more feebly. A single large pair is, indeed, the
modern electric battery of one cell. The beginning and the ending sheets
of the Voltaic pile were connected by a wire, through which the current
passed. We, in our commonest industrial battery, use the two pieces of
metal with the fluid between. The metals are usually copper and zinc,
and the fluid is water in which is dissolved sulphate of copper. The
wire connection we make hundreds of miles long, and over this wire
passes the current. If we part this wire the current ceases. If we join
it again we instantly renew it. There are many forms of this battery.
The two metals, the _electrodes_, are not necessarily zinc and
copper and no others. The acidulated fluid is not invariably water with
sulphate of copper dissolved in it. Yet in all modifications the same
thing is done in essentially the same way, and the Voltaic pile, and a
little back of that Galvani's frog, is the secret of the telegraph, the
telephone, the telautograph, the cable message. In the case of Galvani's
frog, the fluids of the recently killed body furnished the liquid
containing the acid, the copper hook and the iron railing furnished the
dissimilar metals, and the nerves and muscles of the frog's body,
connecting the two metals, furnished the wire. They were as good as
Franklin's wet string was. The effect of the passage of a current of
electricity through a muscle is to cause it to spasmodically contract,
as everyone knows who has held the metallic handles of an ordinary small
battery. Many years passed before the mystery that has long been plain
was solved by acute minds. Galvani thought he saw the electric quality
_in the tissues of the_ frog. Volta came to see them as produced
_by chemical action upon two dissimilar metals_. The first could
not maintain his theories against facts that became apparent in the
course of the investigations of several years, yet he asserted them with
all the pertinacious conservatism of his profession, which it has
required ages to wear away, and died poor and unhonored. The other
became a nobleman and a senator, and wore medals and honors. It is a
world in which success alone is seen, and in which it may be truthfully
said that the contortions of an eviscerated and unconscious frog upon a
casual hook were the not very remote cause of the greatest advancements
and discoveries of modern civilization.

Yet the mystery is not yet entirely explained. In the study of
electricity we are accustomed to accept demonstrated facts as we find
them. When it is asked _how_ a battery acts, what produces the
mysterious current, the only answer that can now be given is that it is
_by the conversion of the energy of chemical affinity into the energy
of electrical vibrations_. Many mixtures produce heat. The
explanation can be no clearer than that for electricity. Electricity and
heat are both _forms of energy_, and, indeed, are so similar that
one is almost synonymous with the other. The enquiry into the original
sources of energy, latent but present always, will, when finally
answered, give us an insight into mysteries that we can only now infer
are reserved for that hereafter, here or elsewhere, which it is part of
our nature to believe in and hope for. The theory of electrical
vibrations is explained elsewhere as the only tenable one by which to
account for electrical action. One may also ask how fire burns, or,
rather, why a burning produces what we call "heat," and the actual
question cannot be answered. The action of fire in consuming fuel, and
the action of chemicals in consuming metals, are similar actions. They
each result in the production of a new form of energy, and of energy in
the form of vibrations. In the action of fire the vibrations are
irregular and spasmodic; in electricity they are controlled by a certain
rhythm or regularity. Between heat and electricity there is apparently
only this difference, and they are so similar, and one is so readily
converted into the other, that it is a current scientific theory that
one is only a modified form of the other. Many acute minds have
reflected upon the problem of how to convert the latent energy of coal
into the energy of electricity without the interposition of the steam
engine and machinery. There apparently exist reasons why the problem
will never be solved. There is no intelligence equal to answering the
question as to precisely where the heat came from, or how it came, that
instantly results upon the striking of a common match. It was
_evolved_ through friction. The means were necessary. Friction, or
its precise equivalent in energy, must occur. The result is as strange,
and in the same manner strange, as any of the phenomena of electricity.
Precisely here, in the beginning of the study of these phenomena, the
student should be warned that an attitude of wonder or of awe is not one
of enquiry. The demonstrations of electricity are startling chiefly for
three reasons: newness, silence, and inconceivable rapidity of action.
Let one hold a wire in one's hand six or eight inches from the end, and
then insert that end into the flame of a gas-jet. It is as old as human
experience that that part of the wire which is not in the flame finally
grows hot, and burns one's fingers. A change has taken place in the
molecules of the wire that is not visible, is noiseless, and that has
_traveled along the wire_. It excites neither wonder nor remark. No
one asks the reason why. Yet it cannot be explained except by some
theory more or less tenable, and the phenomenon, in kind though not in
degree, is as unaccountable as anything in the magic of electricity. In
a true sense there is, nothing supernatural, or even wonderful, in all
the vast universe of law. If we would learn the facts in regard to
anything, it must be after we have passed the stage of wonder or of
reverence in respect to it. That which was the "Voice of God"--as truly,
in a sense, it was and is--until Franklin's day, has since been a
concussion of the air, an echo among the clouds, the passage of an
electric discharge. It is the first lesson for all those who would

The time had now come when that which had seemed a lawless wonder should
have its laws investigated, formulated and explained. A man named
Coulomb, a Frenchman, is the author of a system of measurements of the
electric current, and he it was who discovered that the action of
electricity varies, not with the distance, but, like gravity, _in the
inverse ratio of the square of the distance_. Coulomb was the maker
of the first instrument for measuring a current, which was known as the
_torsion balance_. The results of his practical investigations made
easier the practical application of electrical power as we now use it,
though he foresaw nothing of that application; and the engineer of
to-day applies his laws, and those of his fellow scientists, as those
which do not fail. Volta was one of these, and he also furnished, as
will hereafter be seen, a name for one of the units of electrical

Both Galvani and Volta passed into shadow, when, in 1820, Professor H.
C. Oersted, of Copenhagen, discovered the law upon which were afterwards
slowly built the electrical appliances of modern life. It was the great
principle of INDUCTION. The student of electricity may begin here if he
desires to study only results, and is not interested in effects, causes,
and the pains and toils which led to those results. The term may seem
obscure, and is, doubtless, as a name, the result of a sudden idea; but
upon induction and its laws the simplest as well as the most complicated
of our modern electrical appliances depend for a reason for action. Its
discovery set Ampere to work. They had all imagined previously that
there was some connection between electricity and magnetism, and it was
this idea that instigated the investigations of Ampere. It was imagined
that the phenomena of electricity were to be explained by magnetism.
This was not untrue, but it was only a part of the truth. Ampere proved
that _magnetism could also readily be produced by a current of
electricity_. From this idea, practically carried out, grew the
ELECTRO MAGNET, and to Ampere we are indebted for the actual discovery
of the elementary principles of what we now call electrodynamics, or
dynamic electricity, [Footnote: In all science there is a continual
going back to the past for a means of expression for things whose
application is most modern. _Dynamic_; DYNAMO, is the Greek word
for power; to be able. Once established, these names are seldom
abandoned. There is no more reason for calling our electrical
power-producing machine a "Dynamo" than there would be in so designating
a steam engine or a water-wheel. But, a term of general significance if
used at all, it has come to be the special designation of that one
machine. It is brief, easily said, and to the point, but is in no way
necessarily connected with _electrical_ power distinctively.] in
which are included the Dynamo, and its twin and indispensable, the
Motor. Ampere is also the author of the _molecular theory_, by
which alone, with our present knowledge, can the action of electricity
be explained in connection with the iron core which is made a magnet by
the current, and left again a mere piece of iron when the current is
interrupted. Ten years later Faraday explained and applied the laws of
Induction, basing them upon the demonstrations of Ampere. The use of a
core of soft iron, magnetized by the passage of a current through a
helix of wire wrapping it as the thread does a spool, is the
indispensable feature, in some form meaning the same thing, with the
same results, in all machines that are given movement to by an electric
current. This is the electro-magnet. It is made a magnet not by actual
contact, or by being made the conductor of a current, but by being
placed in the "electrical field" and temporarily magnetized by

Faraday began his brilliant series of experiments in 1831. To express
briefly the laws of action under which he worked, he wrote the
celebrated statement of the Law of Magnetic Force. He proved that the
current developed by induction is the same in all its qualities with
other currents, and, indeed, demonstrated Franklin's theory that all
electricity is the same; that, as to _kind_, there is but one. All
electrical action is now viewed from the Faradic position.

The story of electricity, as men studied it in the primary school of the
science, ends where Faraday began. Under the immutable laws he
discovered and formulated we now enter the field of result, of action,
of commercial interest and value. We might better say the field of
usefulness, since commercial value is but another expression for
usefulness. A revolution has been wrought in all the ways and thoughts
of men since a date which a man less than sixty years old can recall.
The laws under which the miracle has been wrought existed from all
eternity. They were discovered but yesterday. Progress, the destiny of
man, has kept pace in other fields. We live our time in our predestined
day, learning and knowing, like grown-up children, what we may. In a
future whose distance we may not even guess, the children of men shall
reap the full fruition of the prophesy that has grown old in waiting,
and "shall be as gods, knowing good from evil."



Electricity, in all its visible exhibitions, has certain unvarying
qualities. Some of these have been mentioned in the preceding chapter.
Others will appear in what is now to follow. These qualities or habits,
invariable and unchangeable, are, briefly:

(1) It has the unique power of drawing, "attracting" other objects at a

(2) For all human uses it is instantaneous in action, through a
conductor, at any distance. A current might be sent around the world
while the clock ticked twice.

(3) It has the power of decomposing chemicals (Electrolysis), and it
should be remembered that even water is a chemical, and that substances
composed of one pure organic material are very rare.

(4) It is readily convertible into heat in a wire or other conductor.

These four qualities render its modern uses possible, and should be
remembered in connection with what is presently to be explained.

These uses are, in application, the most startling in the entire history
of civilization. They have come about, and their applications have been
made effective, within twenty years, and largely within ten. This
subtlest and most elusive essence in nature, not even now entirely
understood, is a part of common life. Some years ago we began to spell
our thoughts to our fellow-men across land and sea with dots and dashes.
Within the memory of the present high school boy we began to talk with
each other across the miles. Now there is no reason why we shall not
begin to write to each other letters of which the originals shall never
leave our hands, yet which shall stand written in a distant place in our
own characters, indisputably signed by us with our own names. We
apparently produce out of nothing but the whirling of a huge bobbin of
wire any power we may wish, and send it over a thin wire to where we
wish to use it, though every adult can remember when the difficulty of
distance, in the propelling of machinery, was thought to have been
solved to the satisfaction of every reasonable man by the making of wire
cables that would transmit power between grooved wheels a distance of
some hundreds of feet. We turn night into day with the glow of lamps
that burn without flame, and almost without heat, whose mysterious glow
is fed from some distant place, that hang in clusters, banners, letters,
in city streets, and that glow like new stars along the treeless prairie
horizon where thirty years ago even the beginnings of civilization were
unknown. Yet the mysterious agent has not changed. It is as it was when
creation began to shape itself out of chaos and the abyss. Men have
changed in their ability to reason, to deduce, to discover, and to
construct. To know has become a part of the sum of life; to understand
or to abandon is the rule. When the ages of tradition, of assertion
without the necessity for proof, of content with all that was and was
right or true because it was a standard fixed, went by, the age not
necessarily of steam, or of steel, or of electricity, but the age of
thought, came in. Some of the results of this thought, in one of the
most prominent of its departments, I shall attempt to describe.

A wire is the usual concomitant in all electrical phenomena. It is
almost the universally used conductor of the current. In most cases it
is of copper, as pure as it can be made in the ordinary course of
manufacture. There are other metals that conduct an electrical current
even better than copper does, but they happen to be expensive ones, such
as silver. The usual telegraph-line is efficient with only iron wire.

We habitually use the words "conductor" and "conduct" in reference to
the electric current. A definition of that common term may be useful. It
is a relative one. _A conductor is any substance whose atoms, or
molecules, have the power of conveying to each other quickly their
electricities_. Before the common use of electricity we were
accustomed to commonly speak of conductors of heat; good, or poor. The
same meaning is intended in speaking of conductors of electricity.
_Non-conductors are those whose molecules only acquire this power
under great pressure_. Electricity always takes the _easiest_
road, not necessarily the shortest. This is the path that electricians
call that of "least resistance." There are no absolutely perfect
conductors, and there are no substances that may be called absolutely
non-conductors. A non-conductor is simply a reluctant, an excessively
slow, conductor. In all electrical operations we look first for these
two essentials: a good conductor and a good non-conductor. We want the
latter as supports and attachments for the first. If we undertake to
convey water in a pipe we do not wish the pipe to leak. In conveying
electricity upon a wire we have a little leak wherever we allow any
other conductor to come too near, or to touch, the wire carrying the
current. These little electrical leaks constantly exist. All nature is
in a conspiracy to take it wherever it can find it, and from everything
which at the moment has more than some other has, or more than its share
with reference to the air and the world, of the mysterious essence that
is in varying quantities everywhere. Glass is the usual non-conductor in
daily use. A glance at the telegraph poles will explain all that has
just been said. Water in large quantity or widely diffused is a fair
conductor. Therefore, the glass insulators on the telegraph-poles are
cup-shaped usually on the under side where the pin that holds them is
inserted, so that the rain may not actually wet this pin, and thus make
a water-connection between the wire, glass, pin, pole and ground.

We are accustomed to things that are subject to the law of gravity.
Water will run through a pipe that slants downward. It will pass through
a pipe that slants upward only by being pushed. But electricity, in its
far journeys over wires, is not subject to gravity. It goes
indifferently in any direction, asking only a conductor to carry it.
There is also a trait called _inertia_; that property of all matter
by which it tends when at rest to remain so, and when in motion to
continue in motion, which we meet at every step we take in the material
world. Electricity is again an exception. It knows neither gravity, nor
inertia, nor material volume, nor space. It cannot be contained or
weighed. Nothing holds it in any ordinary sense. It is difficult to
express in words the peculiar qualities that caused the early
experimenters to believe it had a soul. It is never idle, and in its
ceaseless journeyings it makes choice of its path by a conclusion that
is unerring and instantaneous.

We find that it is the constant endeavor of electricity to _equalize
its quantities and its two qualities, in all substances that are near it
that are capable of containing it_. To this end, seemingly by
definite intention, it is found on the outsides of things containing it.
It gathers on the surfaces of all conductors. If there are knobs or
points it will be found in them, ready to leap off. When any electrified
body is approached by a conductor, the fluid will gather on the side
where the approach is made. If in any conductor the current is weak,
very little of it, if any, will go off into the conductor before actual
contact is made. If it is strong, it will often leap across the space
with a spark. One body may be charged with positive, and another with
negative, electricity. There is then a disposition to equalize that
cannot be easily repressed. The positive and the negative will assume
their dual functions, their existence together, in spite of obstacles.
So as to quantity. That which has most cannot be restrained from
imparting to that which has less. The demonstration of these facts
belongs to the field of experimental, or laboratory, electricity. The
most common of the visible experiments is on a vast scale. It is the
thunder-storm. Mother Earth is the great depository of the fluid. The
heavy clouds, as they gather, are likewise full. Across the space that
lies between the exchange takes place--the lightning-flash.

In the preceding chapter I have hastily alluded to the phenomenon known
as the key to electricity as a utilitarian science; a means of material
usefulness. These uses are all made possible under the laws of what we
term INDUCTION. To comprehend this remarkable feature of electric
action, it must first be understood that all electrical phenomena occur
in what has been termed an "_Electrical Field_" This field may be
illustrated simply. A wire through which a current is passing _is
always surrounded by a region of attractive force_. It is
scientifically imagined to exist in the form of rings around the wire.
In this field lie what are termed "lines of force." The law as stated is
that the lines in which the magnetism produced by electricity acts
_are always at right angles with the direction in which the current is
passing_. Let us put this in ordinary phrase, and say that in a wire
through which a current is passing there is a magnetic attraction, and
that the "pull" is always _straight toward the wire_. This
magnetism in a wire, when it is doubled up and multiplied sufficiently,
has strong powers of attraction. This multiplying is accomplished by
winding the wire into a compact coil and passing a current through it.
If one should wind insulated wire around a core, or cylinder, and should
then pull out the cylinder and attach the two ends of the wire to the
opposite poles of a battery, when the current passed through the coil
the hollow interior of it would be a strong magnetic field. The air
inside might be said to be a magnet, though if there were no air there,
and the coil were under the exhausted receiver of an air-pump, the
effect would be the same, and the _vacuum_ would be magnetized. A
piece of iron inserted where the core was, would instantly become a
magnet, and when the insulated wire is wound around a soft iron core,
and the core is left in place, we have at once what is known as an

The wire windings of an electro-magnet are always insulated; wound with
a non-conductor, like silk or cotton; so that the coils may not touch
each other in the winding and thus permit the current to run off through
contact by the easiest way, and cut across and leave most of the coil
without a current. For it may as well be stated now that no matter how
good a conductor a wire may be, two qualities of it cause what is called
"_resistance_"--the current does not pass so easily. These two
qualities are _thinness_ and _length_. The current will not
traverse all the length of a long coil if it can pass straight through
the same mass, and it is made to go the long way _by keeping the wires
from touching each other_--preventing "contact," and lessening the
opportunity to jump off which electricity is always looking for.

When this coil is wound in layers, like the thread upon a spool, it
increases the intensity of the magnetism in the core by as many times as
there are coils, up to a certain point. If the core is merely soft iron,
and not steel, it becomes magnetized instantly, as stated, and will draw
another piece of iron to it with a snap, and hold it there as long as
there is a current passing through the coil. But as instantly, when the
current is stopped, this soft iron core ceases to be a magnet, and
becomes as it was before--an inert and ordinary piece of iron. What has
just been described is always, in some form, one of the indispensable
parts of the electromagnetic machines used in industrial electricity,
and in all of them except the appliances of electric lighting, and even
in that case it is indispensable in producing the current which consumes
the points of the carbon, or heats the filament to a white glow. The
current may traverse the wire for a hundred miles to reach this little
coil. But, instantly, at a touch a hundred miles away that forms a
contact, there is a continuous "circuit;" the core becomes a magnet, and
the piece of iron near it is drawn suddenly to it. Remove the distant
finger from the button, the contact is broken, and the piece of iron
immediately falls away again. It is the wonder of _the production of
instant movement at any distance, without any movement of any connecting
part_. It is a mysterious and incredible transmission of force not
included among human possibilities forty years ago. It is now common,
old, familiar. Conceive of its possibilities, of its annihilation of
time and space, of its distant control, and of that which it is made to
mean and represent in the spelled-out words of language, and it still
remains one of the wonders of the world: the Electric Telegraph.

       *       *       *       *       *

MAGNETS AND MAGNETISM.--Having described a magnet that is made and
unmade at will, it may be appropriate to describe magnets generally. The
ordinary, permanent magnet, natural or artificial, has little place in
the arts. It cannot be controlled. In common phrase, it cannot be made
to "let go" at will. The greatest value of magnetism, as connected with
electricity, consists in the fact of the intimate relationship of the
two. A magnet may be made at will with the electric current, as
described above. A little later we shall see how the process may be
reversed, and the magnet be made to produce the most powerful current
known, and yet owe its magnetism to the same current.

The word _Magnet_ comes from the country of _Magnesia_, where
"loadstone" (magnetic iron ore) seems first to have been found. The
artificial magnet, as made and used in early experiments and still
common as a toy or as a piece in some electrical appliances, is a piece
of fine steel, of hard temper, which has been magnetized, usually by
having had a current passed through or around it, and sometimes by
contact with another magnet. For the singular property of a magnet is
that it may continually impart its quality, yet never lose any of its
own. Steel alone, of all the metals, has the decided quality of
retaining its property of being a magnet. A "bar" magnet is a straight
piece of steel magnetized. A "horseshoe" magnet is a bar magnet bent
into the form of the letter "U."

Every magnet has two "poles"--the positive, or North pole, and the
negative, or South pole. If any magnet, of any size, and having as one
piece two poles only, be cut into two, or a hundred pieces, each
separate piece will be like the original magnet and have its two poles.
The law is arbitrary and invariable under all circumstances, and is a
law of nature, as unexplainable and as invariable as any in that
mysterious code. All bar magnets, when suspended by their centers, turn
their ends to the North and South, a familiar example of this being the
ordinary compass. But in magnetism, _like repels like_. The world
is a huge magnet. The pole of the magnet which points to the North is
not the North pole of the needle as we regard it, but the opposite, the

No one can explain precisely why iron, the purer and softer the better,
becomes a powerful and effective magnet under the influence of the
current, and instantly loses that character when the current ceases, and
why steel, the purer and harder the better, at first rejects the
influence, and comes slowly under it, but afterwards retains it
permanently. Iron and steel are the magnetic metals, but there is a
considerable list of metals not magnetic that are better than they as
_conductors_ of the electric current. In a certain sense they are
also the electric metals. A Dynamo, or Motor, made of brass or copper
entirely would be impossible. All the phenomena of combined magnetism
and electricity, all that goes to make up the field of industrial
electric action, would be impossible without the indispensable of
ordinary iron, and for the sole reason that it possesses the peculiar
qualities, the affinities, described.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is now an understanding of the electro-magnet, with some idea of
the part it may be made to play in the movement of pieces, parts, and
machines in which it is an essential. It has been explained how soft
iron becomes a magnet, not necessarily by any actual contact with any
other magnet, or by touching or rubbing, but by being placed in an
electric field. It acquired its magnetism by induction; by _drawing
in_ (since that is the meaning of the term) the electricity that was
around it. But induction has a still wider field, and other
characteristics than this alone. Some distinct idea of these may be
obtained by supposing a simple case, in which I shall ask the reader to
follow me.


Let us imagine a wire to be stretched horizontally for a little space,
and its two ends to be attached to the two poles of an ordinary battery
so that a current may pass through it. Another wire is stretched beside
the first, not touching it, and not connected with any source of
electricity. Now, if a current is passed through the first wire a
current will also show in the second wire, passing in an _opposite
direction_ from the first wire's current. But this current in the
second wire does not continue. It is a momentary impulse, existing only
at the moment of the first passing of the current through the wire
attached to the poles of the battery. After this first instantaneous
throb there is nothing more. But now cut off the current in the first
wire, and the second wire will show another impulse, this time in the
_same direction_ with the current in the first wire. Then it is all
over again, and there is nothing more. The first of these wires and
currents, the one attached to the battery poles, is called the
_Primary_. The second unattached wire, with its impulses, is called
the _Secondary_.

Let us now imagine the primary to be attached to the battery-poles
permanently. We will not make or break the circuit, and we can still
produce currents, "impulses," in the secondary. Let us imagine the
primary to be brought nearer to the secondary, and again moved away from
it, the current passing all the time through it. Every time it is moved
nearer, an impulse will be generated in the secondary which will be
opposite in direction to the current in the primary. Every time it is
moved away again, an impulse in the secondary will be in the same
direction as the primary current. So long, as before, as the primary
wire is quiet, there will be no secondary current at all.

There is still a third effect. If the current in the primary be
_increased or diminished_ we shall have impulses in the secondary.

This is a supposed case, to render the facts, the laws of induction,
clear to the understanding. The experiment might actually be performed
if an instrument sufficiently delicate were attached to the terminals of
the secondary to make the impulses visible. The following facts are
deduced from it in regard to all induced currents. They are the primary
laws of induction:--

A current which begins, which approaches, or which increases in strength
in the primary, induces, with these movements or conditions, a momentary
current in the _opposite direction_ in the secondary.

A current which stops, which retires, or which decreases in strength in
the primary, induces a momentary current _in the same direction_
with the current in the primary.

To make the results of induction effective in practice, we must have
great length of wire, and to this end, as in the case of the
electro-magnet, we will adopt the spool form. We will suppose two wires,
insulated so as to keep them from actually touching, held together side
by side, and wound upon a core in several layers. There will then be two
wires in the coil, and the opposite ends of one of these wires we will
attach to the poles of a battery, and send a current through the coil.
This would then be the primary, and the other would be the secondary, as
described above. But, since the power and efficiency of an induced
current depends upon the length of the secondary wire that is exposed to
the influence of the current carried by the primary, we fix two separate
coils, one small enough to slip inside of the other. This smaller, inner
coil is made with coarser wire than the outer, and the latter has an
immense length of finer wire. The current is passed through the smaller,
inside coil, and each time that it is stopped, or started, there will be
an impulse, and a very strong one, through the outer--the secondary
coil. Leave the current uninterrupted, and move the outer coil, or the
inner one, back and forth, and the same series of strong impulses will
be observed in the coil that has no connection with any source of

What I have just described as an illustration of the laws governing the
production of induced currents, is, in fact, what is known as the
_Induction Coil_. In the old times of a quarter of a century ago it
was extensively used as an illustrator of the power of the electric
current. Sometimes the outer coil contained fifty miles of wire, and the
spark, a close imitation of a flash of lightning, would pass between the
terminals of the secondary coil held apart for a distance of several
feet, and would pierce sheets of plate glass three inches thick. Before
the days of practical electric lighting the induction-coil was used for
the simultaneous lighting of the gas-jets in public buildings, and is
still so used to a limited extent. Its description is introduced here as
an illustration of the laws of induction which the reader will find
applied hereafter in newer and more effective ways. The commonest
instance now of the use of the induction-coil is in the very frequent
small machine known as a medical battery. There must be a means of
making and breaking the current (the circuit) as described above. This,
in the medical battery, is automatic, and it is that which produces the
familiar buzzing sound. The mechanism is easily understood upon

       *       *       *       *       *

At some risk of tediousness with those who have already made an
examination of elementary electricity, I have now endeavored to convey
to the reader a clear idea of (1), what electricity is, so far as known.
(2) Of how the current is conducted, and its influence in the field
surrounding the conductor. (3) The nature of the induced current, and
the manner in which it is produced. The sum of the information so far
may be stated in other words to be how to make an electromagnet, and how
to produce an induced current. Such information has an end in view. A
knowledge of these two items, an understanding of the details, will be
found, collectively or separately, to underlie an understanding of all
the machines and appliances of modern electricity, and in all
probability, of all those that are yet to come.

But in the prominent field of electric lighting (to which presently we
shall come), there is still another principle involved, and this
requires some explanation (as well given here as elsewhere) of the
current theory as to what electricity is. [Footnote: There are several
"schools" among scientists, those who pursue pure science, irrespective
of practical applications, and who are rather disposed to narrow the
term to include that field alone, that are divided among themselves upon
the question of what electricity is. The "Substantialists" believe that
it is a kind of matter. Others deny that, and insist that it is a "form
of Energy," on which point there can be no serious question. Still
others reject both these views. Tesla has said that "nothing stands in
the way of our calling electricity 'ether associated with matter, or
bound ether.'" Professor Lodge says it is "a form, or rather a mode of
manifestation, of the ether" The question is still in dispute whether we
have only one electricity or two opposite electricities. The great field
of chemistry enters into the discussion as perhaps having the solution
of the question within its possibilities. The practical electrician acts
upon facts which he knows are true without knowing their cause;
empirically; and so far adheres to the molecular hypothesis. The
demonstrations and experiments of Tesla so far produce only new
theories, or demonstrate the fallacies of the old, but give us nothing
absolute. Nevertheless, under his investigations, the possibilities of
the near future are widely extended. By means of currents alternating
with very high frequency, he has succeeded in passing by induction,
through the glass of 1 lamp, energy sufficient to keep a filament in a
state of incandescence _without the use of any connecting wires_.
He has even lighted a room by producing in it such a condition that an
illuminating appliance may be placed anywhere and lighted without being
electrically connected with anything. He has produced the required
condition by creating in the room a powerful electrostatic field
alternating very rapidly. He suspends two sheets of metal, each
connected with one of the terminals of the coil. If an exhausted tube is
carried anywhere between these sheets, or placed anywhere, it remains
always luminous.

Something of the unquestionable possibilities are shown in the following
quotation from _Nature_, as expressed in a lecture by Prof. Crookes
upon the implied results of Tesla's experiments.

The extent to which this method of illumination may be practically
available, experiments alone can decide. In any case, our insight into
the possibilities of static electricity has been extended, and the
ordinary electric machine will cease to be regarded as a mere toy.

Alternating currents have, at the best, a rather doubtful reputation.
But it follows from Tesla's researches that, is the rapidity of the
alternation increases, they become not more dangerous but less so. It
further appears that a true flame can now be produced without chemical
aid--a flame which yields light and heat without the consumption of
material and without any chemical process. To this end we require
improved methods for producing excessively frequent alternations and
enormous potentials. Shall we be able to obtain these by tapping the
ether? If so, we may view the prospective exhaustion of our coal-fields
with indifference; we shall at once solve the smoke question, and thus
dissolve all possible coal rings.

Electricity seems destined to annex the whole field, not merely of
optics, but probably also of thermotics.

Rays of light will not pass through a wall, nor, as we know only too
well, through a dense fog. But electrical rays of a foot or two
wave-length, of which we have spoken, will easily pierce such mediums,
which for them will be transparent.

Another tempting field for research, scarcely yet attacked by pioneers,
awaits exploration. I allude to the mutual action of electricity and
life. No sound man of science indorses the assertion that "electricity
is life." nor can we even venture to speak of life as one of the
varieties or manifestations of energy. Nevertheless, electricity has an
important influence upon vital phenomena, and is in turn set in action
by the living being--animal or vegetable. We have electric fishes--one
of them the prototype of the torpedo of modern warfare. There is the
electric slug which used to be met with in gardens and roads about
Hoinsey Rise; there is also an electric centipede. In the study of such
facts and such relations the scientific electrician has before him an
almost infinite field of inquiry.

The slower vibrations to which I have referred reveal the bewildering
possibility of telegraphy without wires, posts, cables, or any of our
present costly appliances. It is vain to attempt to picture the marvels
of the future. Progress, as Dean Swift observed, may be "too fast for
endurance."] As to this, all we may be said to know, as has been
remarked, is that it is one of the _forms of energy_, and its
manifestations are in the form of _motion_ of the minute and
invisible atoms of which it is composed. This movement is
instantaneously communicated along the length of a conductor. There
must, of course, be an end to this process in theory, because all the
molecules once moved must return to rest, or to a former condition,
before being moved again. Therefore it is necessary to add that when
the motion of the last molecule has been absorbed by some apparatus
for applying it to utility, the last particles, atoms, molecules, are
restored to rest, and may again receive motion from infringing particles,
and this transmission of energy along a conductor is
continuous--continually absorbed and repeated. This is _dynamic_
electricity; not differing in kind, in essence, from any other, but only
in application.

If the conductor is entirely insulated, so that no molecular movements
can be communicated by it to contiguous bodies, all its particles become
energized, and remain so as long as the conductor is attached to a
source of electricity. In such a case an additional charge is required
only when some of the original charge is taken away, escapes. This is
_Static_ electricity; the same as the other, but in theory
differing in application.

The molecular theory is, unquestionably, tenable under present
conditions. It is that to which science has attained in its inquiries to
the present date. The electric light is scarcely explainable upon any
other hypothesis. The remaining conclusions may be left in abeyance, and
without argument.

Science began with static electricity, so called, because its sources
were more readily and easily discovered in the course of scientific
accidents, as in the original discovery of the property of rubbed amber,
etc., and the long course of investigations that were suggested by that
antique, accidental discovery. What we know as the dynamic branch of the
subject was created by the investigations of Faraday; induction was its
mother. It is the practically important branch, but its investigation
required the invention of machinery to perform its necessary operations.
Between the two branches the sole difference--a difference that may be
said not actually to exist--is in _quantity and pressure_.

To the department of static electricity all those industrial appliances
first known belong, as the telegraph, electro-plating, etc. I shall
first consider this class of appliances and machines. The most important
of the class is


THE ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH.--The word is Greek, meaning, literally, "to
write from a distance." But long since, and before Morse's invention, it
had come to mean the giving of any information, by any means, from afar.
The existence of telegraphs, not electric, is as old as the need of
them. The idea of quickness, speedy delivery, is involved. If time is
not an object, men may go or send. The means used in telegraphing, in
ancient and modern times, have been sound and sight. Anything that can
be expressed so as to be read at a distance, and that conveys a meaning,
is a telegram. [Footnote: This word is of American coinage, and first
appeared in the _Albany Evening Journal_, in 1852. It avoids the
use of two words, as "Telegraphic Message," or "Telegraphic Dispatch,"
and the ungrammatical use of "Telegraph," for a message by telegraph.
The new word was at once adopted.] Our plains Indians used columns of
smoke, or fires, and are the actual inventors of the _heliograph_,
now so called, though formerly meaning the making of a picture by the
aid of the sun--photography. The vessels of a squadron at sea have long
used telegraphic signals. Some of the celebrated sentences of our
history have been written by visual signals, such as "Hold the fort, for
I am coming," "Don't give up the ship," etc. Order of showing,
positions, and colors are arbitrarily made to mean certain words. The
sinking of the "_Victoria_" in 1893, was brought about by the
orders conveyed by marine signals. Bells and guns signal by sound. So
does the modern electric telegraph, contrary to original design. It is
all telegraphy, but it all required an agreed and very limited code, and
comparative nearness. None of the means in ancient use were available
for the multifarious uses of modern commerce.

As soon as it was known that electricity could be sent long distances
over wires, human genius began to contrive a way of using it as a means
of conveying definite intelligence. The first idea of the kind was
attempted to be put into effect in 1774. This was, however, before the
discovery of the electro-magnet (about 1800), or even the Galvanic
battery, and it was seriously proposed to have as many wires as there
were letters; each wire to have a frictional battery for generating
electricity at one end of the circuit, and a pith-ball electroscope at
the other. The modern reader may smile at the idea of the hurried sender
of a message taking a piece of cat-skin, or his silk handkerchief, and
rubbing up the successive letter-balls of glass or sulphur until he had
spelled out his telegram. Later a man named Dyer, of New York, invented
a system of sending messages by a single wire, and of causing a record
to be made at the receiving office by means of a point passing over
litmus paper, which the current was to mark by chemical action, the
paper passing over a roller or drum during the operation. The battery
for this arrangement was also frictional. They knew of no other. Then
came the deflected-needle telegraph, first suggested by Ampere, and a
few such lines were constructed, and to some extent operated. In one of
the original telegraph lines the wires were bound in hemp and laid in
pipes on the surface of the ground. The expedient of poles and
atmospheric insulation was not thought of until it was adopted as a last
resort during the construction of Morse's first line between Washington
and Baltimore.

In the year 1832, an American named Samuel F. B. Morse was making a
voyage home from Havre to New York in the sailing packet _Sully_.
He was an educated man, a graduate of Yale, and an artist, being the
holder of a gold medal awarded him for his first work in sculpture, and
no want of success drove him to other fields. But during this tedious
voyage of the old times in a sailing vessel he seems to have conceived
the idea which thenceforth occupied his life. It was the beginning of
the present Electric Telegraph. During this same voyage he embodied his
notions in some drawings, and they were the beginnings of vicissitudes
among the most long-continued and trying for which life affords any
opportunity. He abandoned his studies. He paid attention to no other
interest. He passed years in silent and lonesome endeavors that seemed
to all others useless. He subjected himself to the reproaches of all his
friends, lost the confidence of business men, gained the reputation of
being a monomaniac, and was finally given over to the following of
devices deemed the most useless and unpromising that up to that time had
occupied the mind of any man.

The rank and file of humanity had no definite idea of the plan, or of
the results that would follow if it were successful. In reality no one
cared. It was Morse's enterprise exclusively--a crank's fad alone. There
has been no period in the history of society when the public, as a body,
was interested in any great change in the systems to which it was
accustomed. There is always enmity against an improver. In reality, the
question of how much money Morse should make by inventing the electric
telegraph was the question of least importance. Yet it was regarded as
the only one. He is dead. His profits have gone into the mass, his
honors have become international. The patents have long expired. The
public, the entire world, are long since the beneficiaries, and the
benefits continue to be inconceivably vast. Nothing in all history
exceeds in moral importance the invention of the telegraph except the
invention of printing with movable types.


After eight years of waiting, and the repeated instruction of the entire
Congress of the United States in the art of telegraphy, that body was
finally induced to make an appropriation of thirty thousand dollars to
be expended in the construction of an experimental line between
Washington and Baltimore. And now begins the actual strangeness of the
story of the Telegraph. After many years of toil, Morse still had
learned nothing of the efficient construction of an electro-magnet. The
magnet which he attempted to use unchanged was after the pattern of the
first one ever made--a bent U-shaped bar, around which were a few turns
of wire not insulated. The bar was varnished for insulation, and the
turns of wire were so few that they did not touch each other. The
apparatus would not work at a distance of more than a few feet, and not
invariably then. Professor Leonard D. Gale suggested the cause of the
difficulty as being in the sparseness of the coils of wire on the magnet
and the use of a single-cell battery. He furnished an electro-magnet and
battery out of his own belongings, with which the efficiency of the
contrivance was greatly increased. The only insulated wire then known
was bonnet-wire, used by milliners for shaping the immense flaring
bonnets worn by our grandmothers, and when it finally came to
constructing the instruments of the first telegraphic system the entire
stock of New York was exhausted. The immense stocks of electrical
supplies now available for all purposes was then, and for many years
afterwards, unknown. Previous to the investigations of Professor Henry,
in 1830, only the theory of causing a core of soft iron to become a
magnet was known, and the actual magnet, as we make it, had not been
made. Morse, in his beginnings, had not money enough to employ a
competent mechanic, and was himself possessed of but scant mechanical
skill or knowledge of mechanical results. Persistency was the quality by
which he succeeded.


The battery used first by Morse, as stated, was a single cell. The one
made later by his partner, Alfred Vail, the real author of all the
workable features of the Morse telegraph, and of every feature which
identifies it with the telegraph of the present, was a rectangular
wooden box divided into eight compartments, and coated inside with
beeswax so that it might resist the action of acids. The telegraphic
instrument as made by Morse was a rectangular frame of wood, now in the
cabinet of the Western Union Telegraph Company, at New York, which was
intended to be clamped to the edge of a table when in use. He knew
nothing of the splendid invention since known as the "Morse Alphabet,"
and the spelling of words in a telegram was not intended by him. His
complicated system, as described in his caveat filed by him in 1837,
consisted in a system of signs, by which numbers, and consequently words
and sentences, were to be indicated. There was then a set of type
arranged to regulate and communicate the signs, and rules in which to
set this type. There was a means for regulating the movement forward of
the rule containing the types. This was a crank to be turned by the
hand. The marking or writing apparatus at the receiving instrument was a
pendulum arranged to be swung _across_ the slip of paper, as it was
unwound from the drum, making a zig-zag mark the points of which were to
be counted, a certain number of points meaning a certain numeral, which
numeral meant a word. A separate type was used to represent each
numeral, having a corresponding number of projections or teeth. A
telegraphic dictionary was necessary, and one was at great pains
prepared by Morse. His process was, therefore, to translate the message
to be sent into the numerals corresponding to the words used, to set the
types corresponding to those numerals in the rule, and then to pass the
rule through the appliance arranged for the purpose in connection with
the electric current. The receiver must then translate the message by
reference to the telegraphic dictionary, and write out the words for the
person to whom the message was sent. This was all changed by Vail, who
invented the "dot-and-dash" alphabet, and modified the mechanical action
of the instrument necessary for its use. The arrangement of a steel
embossing-point working upon a grooved roller--a radical difference--was
a portion of this change. The invention of the axial magnet, also
Vail's, was another. Morse had regarded a mechanical arrangement for
transmitting signals as necessary. Vail, in the practice of the first
line, grew accustomed to sending messages by dipping the end of the wire
in the mercury cup,--the beginning of the present transmitting
instrument, which is also his invention--and Morse's "port-rule," types,
and other complicated arrangements, went into the scrap-heap.


Yet there were some strange things still left. The receiving relay
weighed 185 pounds. An equally efficient modern one need not weigh more
than half a pound. Morse had intended to make a _recording_
telegraph distinctively; it was to his mind its chiefest value. Almost
in the beginning it ceased to be such, and the recording portion of the
instrument has for many years been unknown in a telegraph office, being
replaced by the "sounder." This was also the invention of Vail. The more
expert of the operators of the first line discovered that it was
possible to read the signals _by the sound_ made by the armature
lever. In vain did the managers prohibit it as unauthorized. The
practice was still carried on wherever it could be without detection.
Morse was uncompromising in his opposition to the innovation. The
wonderful alphabet of the telegraph, the most valuable of the separate
inventions that make up the system, was not his conception. The
invention of this alphabetical code, based on the elements of time and
space, has never met with the appreciation it has deserved. It has been
found applicable everywhere. Flashes of light, the raising and lowering
of a flag, the tapping of a finger, the long and short blasts of a steam
whistle, spell out the words of the English language as readily as does
the sounder in a telegraph-office. It may be interpreted by sight,
touch, taste, hearing. With a wire, a battery and Vail's alphabet,
telegraphy is entirely possible without any other appliances.

[Illustration: MODERN "SOUNDER."]

A brief sketch of the difficulties attending the making of the first
practical telegraph line will be interesting as showing how much and how
little men knew of practical electricity in 1843. [Footnote: There was
no possibility of their knowing more, notwithstanding that, viewed from
the present, their inexperienced struggles seem almost pathetic. So,
also, do the ideas of Galvani and the experiments and conclusions of all
except Franklin, until we come to Faraday. It is one of the features of
the time in which we live that, regardless of age, we are all scholars
of a new school in which mere diligence and behavior are not rewarded,
and in which it is somewhat imperative that we should keep up with our
class in an understanding of _what are now the facts of daily
life_, wonders though they were in the days of our youth.] To begin
with, it was a "metallic circuit;" that is, two wires were to be used
instead of one wire and a "ground connection." They knew nothing of this
last. Vail discovered and used it before the line was finished. The two
wires, insulated, were inclosed in a pipe, lead presumably, and the pipe
was placed in the ground. Ezra Cornell, afterwards the founder of
Cornell University, had been engaged in the manufacture and sale of a
patent plow, and undertook to make a pipe-laying machine for this new
telegraph line. After the work had been begun Vail tested and united the
conductors as each section was laid. When ten miles were laid the
insulation, which had been growing weaker, failed altogether. There was
no current. Probably every schoolboy now knows what the trouble was. The
earth had stolen the current and absorbed it. The modern boy would
simply remark "Induction," and turn his attention to some efficient
remedy. Then, there was consternation. Cornell dexterously managed to
break the pipe-laying machine, so as to furnish a plausible excuse to
the newspapers and such public as there may be said to have been before
there was any telegraph line. Days were spent in consultation at the
Relay House, and in finding the cause of the difficulty and the remedy.
Of the congressional appropriation nearly all had been spent. The
interested parties even quarreled, as mere men will under such
circumstances, and the want of a little knowledge which is now
elementary about electricity came near wrecking forever an enterprise
whose vast importance could not be, and was not then, even approximately

[Illustration: ALFRED VAIL.]

Finally, after some weeks delay, it was decided to introduce what has
become the most familiar feature of the landscape of civilization, and
string the wires on poles. There is little need to follow the enterprise
further. Morse stayed with one instrument in the Capitol at Washington,
and Vail carried another with him at the end of the line. Already the
type-and-rule and all the symbols and dictionaries had been discarded,
and the dot-and-dash alphabet was substituted. On April 23d, 1844, Vail
substituted the earth for the metallic circuit as an experiment, and
that great step both in knowledge and in practice was taken.

Within an incredibly brief space the Morse Electric Telegraph had spread
all over the world. No man's triumph was ever more complete. He passed
to those riches and honors that must have been to him almost as a
fulfilled dream. In Europe his progresses were like those of a monarch.
He was made a member of almost all of the learned societies of the
world, and on his breast glittered the medals and orders that are the
insignia of human greatness. A congress of representatives of ten of the
governments of Europe met in Paris in 1858, and it was unanimously
decided that the sum of four hundred thousand francs--about a hundred
thousand dollars--should be presented to him. He died in New York in


Yet not a single feature of the invention of Morse, as formulated in his
caveat and described in his original patent, is to be found among the
essentials of modern telegraphy. They had mostly been abandoned before
the first line had been completed, and the arrangements of his
associate, Vail, were substituted. Professor Joseph Henry had, in 1832,
constructed an electromagnetic telegraph whose signals were made by
sound, as all signals now are in the so-called Morse system. He hung a
bar-magnet on a pivot in its center as a compass-needle is hung. He
wound a U-shaped piece of soft iron with insulated wire, and made it an
electro-magnet, and placed the north end of the magnetized bar between
the two legs of this electro-magnet. When the latter was made a magnet
by the current the end of the bar thus placed was attracted by one leg
of the magnet and repelled by the other, and was thus caused to swing in
a horizontal plane so that the opposite end of it struck a bell. Thus
was an electric telegraph made as an experimental toy, and fulfilling
all the conditions of such an one giving the signals by sound, as the
modern telegraph does. It lacked one thing--the essential. [Footnote:
The details of the construction of the modern telegraph line are not
here stated. There are none that change, in principle, the outline above

The Vail telegraphic alphabet had not been thought of. Had such an idea
been conceived previously a message could have been read as it is read
now, and with the toy of Professor Henry which he abandoned without an
idea of its utility or of the possibilities of any telegraph as we have
long known them. Morse knew these possibilities. He was one of the
innumerable eccentrics who have been right, one of the prophets who have
been in the beginning without honor, not only in respect to their own
country, but in respect to their times.



THE OCEAN CABLE.--The remaining department of Telegraphy is embodied in
the startling departure from ancient ideas of the possible which we know
as cable telegraphy, the messages by such means being _cablegrams_.
About these ocean systems there are many features not applying to lines
on land, though they are intended to perform the same functions in the
same way, with the same object of conveying intelligence in language,
instantly and certainly, but under the sea.

The marine cables are not simple wires. There is in the center a strand
of usually seven small copper wires, intended as the conductor of the
current. These, twisted loosely into a small cable, are surrounded by
repeated layers of gutta-percha, which is, in turn, covered with jute.
Outside of all there is an armor of wires, and the entire cable appears
much like any other of the wire cables now in common use with elevators,
bridges, and for many purposes. In the shallow waters of bays and
harbors, where anchors drag and the like occurrences take place, the
armor of a submarine cable is sometimes so heavy as to weigh more than
twenty tons to the mile.

There are peculiar difficulties encountered in sending messages by an
ocean cable, and some of these grow out of the same induction whose laws
are indispensable in other cases. The inner copper core sets up
induction in the strands of the outer armor, and that again with the
surrounding water. There is, again, a species of re-induction affecting
the core, so that faint impulses may be received at the terminals that
were never sent by the operators. All of these difficulties combined
result in what electricians term "retardation." It is one of the
departments of telegraphy that, like the unavoidable difficulties in all
machines and devices, educates men to their special care, and keeps them
thinking. It is one of the natural features of all the mechanical
sciences that results in the continual making of improvements.

The first impression in regard to ocean cables would be that very strong
currents are used in sending impulses so far. The opposite is true. The
receiving instrument is not the noisy "sounder" of the land lines. There
was, until recently, a delicate needle which swung to and fro with the
impulses, and reflected beams of light which, according to their number
and the space between them spelled out the message according to the Vail
dot-and-dash alphabet. Now, however, a means still more delicate has
been devised, resulting in a faint wavy ink-line on a long, unwinding
slip of paper, made by a fountain pen. This strange manuscript may be
regarded as the latest system of writing in the world, having no
relationship to the art of Cadmus, and requiring an expert and a special
education to decipher it. Those faint pulsations, from a hand three
thousand miles away across the sea, are the realization of a magic
incredible. The necromancy and black art of all antiquity are childish
by comparison. They give but faint indications of what they often
are--the messages of love and death; the dictations of statesmanship;
the heralds of peace or war; the orders for the disposition of millions
of dollars.

The story of the laying of the first ocean cable is worthy of the
telling in any language, but should be especially interesting to the
American boy and girl. It is a story of native enterprise and
persistence; perhaps the most remarkable of them all.

The earliest ocean telegraph was that laid by two men named Brett,
across the English Channel. For this cable, a pioneer though crossing
only a narrow water, the conservative officials of the British
government refused a charter. In August, 1850, they laid a single copper
wire covered with gutta-percha from Dover in England to the coast of
France. The first wire was soon broken, and a second was made consisting
of several strands, and this last was soon imitated in various short
reaches of water in Europe.

But the Atlantic had always been considered unfathomable. No line had
ever sounded its depths, and its strong currents had invariably swept
away the heaviest weights before they reached its bed. Its great
feature, so far as known, was that strange ocean river first noted and
described by Franklin, and known to us as the Gulf Stream. In 1853 a
circumstance occurred which again turned the attention of a few men to
the question of an Atlantic cable. Lieutenant Berryman, of the Navy,
made a survey of the bottom of the Atlantic from Newfoundland to
Ireland, and the wonderful discovery was made that the floor of the
ocean was a vast plain, not more than two miles below the surface,
extending from one continent to the other. This plain is about four
hundred miles wide and sixteen hundred long, and there are no currents
to disturb the mass of broken shells and unknown fishes that lie on its
oozy surface. It was named the "Telegraphic Plateau," with a view to its
future use. At either edge of this plateau huge mountains, from four to
seven thousand feet high, rise out of the depths. There are precipices
of sheer descent down which the cable now hangs. The Azores and Bermudas
are peaks of ocean mountains. The warm river known as the Gulf Stream,
coming northward meets the ice-bergs and melts them, and deposits the
shells, rocks and sand they carry on this plain. When it was discovered
the difficulty in the way of an Atlantic cable seemed no longer to
exist, and those who had been anxious to engage in the enterprise began
to bestir themselves.

Of these the most active was the American, Cyrus W. Field. He began life
as a clerk in New York City. When thirty-five years old he became
engaged in the building of a land line of telegraph across Newfoundland,
the purpose of which was to transmit news brought by a fast line of
steamers intended to be established, and the idea is said to have
occurred to him of making a line not only so far, but across the sea. In
November, 1856, he had succeeded in forming a company, and the entire
capital, amounting to 350,000 pounds, was subscribed. The governments of
England and the United States promised a subsidy to the stockholders.
The cable was made in England. The _Niagara_ was assigned by the
United States, and the _Agamemnon_ by England, each attended by
smaller vessels, to lay the cable. In August, 1857, the Niagara left the
coast of Ireland, dropping her cable into the sea. Even when it dropped
suddenly down the steep escarpment to the great plateau the current
still flowed. But through the carelessness of an assistant the cable
parted. That was the beginning of mishaps. The task was not to be so
easily done, and the enterprise was postponed until the following year.

That next year was still more memorable for triumph and disappointment.
It was now designed that the two vessels should meet in mid-ocean, unite
the ends of the cable, and sail slowly to opposite shores. There were
fearful storms. The huge _Agamemnon_, overloaded with her half of
the cable, was almost lost. But finally the spot in the waste and middle
of the Atlantic was reached, the sea was still, and the vessels steamed
away from each other slowly uncoiling into the sea their two halves of
the second cable. It parted again, and the two ships returned to

In July they again met in mid-ocean. Europe and America were both
charitably deriding the splendid enterprise. All faith was lost. It was
known, to journalism especially, that the cable would never be laid and
that the enterprise was absurd. But it was like the laying of the first
land line. There was a way to do it, existing in the brains and faith of
men, though at first that way was not known. From this third meeting the
two ships again sailed away, the _Niagara_ for America, the
_Agamemnon_ for Valencia Bay. This time the wire did not part, and
on August 29th, 1858, the old world and the new were bound together for
the first time, and each could read almost the thoughts of the other.
The queen saluted America, and the president replied. There were salutes
of cannon and the ringing of bells. But the messages by the cable grew
indistinct day by day, and finally ceased. The Atlantic cable had been
laid, and--had failed.

Eight years followed, and the cable lay forgotten at the bottom of the
sea. The reign of peace on earth and good will to men had so far failed
to come and they were years of tumult and bitterness. The Union of the
United States was called upon to defend its integrity in a great war. A
bitter enmity grew up between us and England. The telegraph, and all its
persevering projectors, were almost absolutely forgotten. Electricians
declared the project utterly impracticable, and it began, finally, to be
denied that any messages had ever crossed the Atlantic at all, and Field
and his associates were discredited. It was said that the current could
not be made to pass through so long a circuit. New routes were spoken
of--across Bering's Strait, and overland by way of Siberia--and
measures began to be taken to carry this scheme into effect.

Amid these discouragements, Field and his associates revived their
company, made a new cable, and provided everything that science could
then suggest to aid final success. This new cable was more perfect than
any of the former ones, and there was a mammoth side-wheel steamer known
as the _Great Eastern_, unavailable as it proved for the ordinary
uses of commerce, and this vessel was large enough to carry the entire
cable in her hold. In July, 1865, the huge steamer left Ireland,
dropping the endless coil into the sea. The same men were engaged in
this last attempt that had failed in all the previous ones. It is one of
the most memorable instances of perseverance on record. But on August
6th a flaw occurred, and the cable was being drawn up for repairs. The
sound of the wheel suddenly stopped; the cable broke and sunk into the
depths. The _Great Eastern_ returned unsuccessful to her port.

Field was present on board on this occasion, and had been present on
several similar ones. There was, so far as known, no record made by him
of his thoughts. There were now five cables in the bed of the Atlantic,
and each one had carried down with it a large sum of money, and a still
larger sum of hopes. Yet the Great Eastern sailed again in July, 1866,
her tanks filled with new cable and Field once more on her decks. It was
the last, and the successful attempt. The cable sank steadily and
noiselessly into the sea, and on July 26th the steamer sailed into
Trinity Bay. The connection was made at Heart's Content, a little New
Foundland fishing village, and one for this occasion admirably named.
Then the lost cable of 1865 was found, raised and spliced.

In these later times, if a flaw should occur, science would locate it,
and go and repair it. Even if this were not true, the fact remains that
this last cable, and that of 1865, have been carrying their messages
under the sea for nearly thirty years. The lesson is that repeated
failures do not mean _final_ failure. There is often said to be a
malice, a spirit of rebellion, in inanimate things. They refuse to
become slaves until they are once and for all utterly subdued, and then
they are docile forever. Yet the malice truly lies in the inaptitude and
inexperience of men. Had Field and his associates known how to make and
lay an Atlantic cable in the beginning as well as they did in the end,
the first one laid would have been successful. The years were passed in
the invention of machinery for laying, and in improving the construction
of each successive cable. Many have been laid since then, certainly and
without failure. Men have learned how. [Footnote: At present the total
mileage of submarine cables is about 152,000 miles, costing altogether
$200,000,000. The length of land wires throughout the world is over
2,000,000 miles, costing $225,000,000. The capital invested in all
lines, land and sea, is about $530,000,000.]

Thirteen years were passed in this succession of toils, expenditures,
trials and failures. Field crossed the Atlantic more than fifty times in
these years, in pursuit of his great idea. At last, like Morse, he was
crowned with wealth, success, medals and honors. He was acquainted with
all the difficulties. It is now known that he knew through them all that
an ocean cable could finally be laid.

THE TELEPHONE.--The telegraph had become old. All nations had become
accustomed to its use. More than thirty years had elapsed--a long time
in the last half of the nineteenth century--before mankind awoke to a
new and startling surprise; the telegraph had been made to transmit not
only language, but the human voice in articulate speech. [Footnote: It
has been noted that Morse's idea was a _recording_ telegraph, that
being in his mind its most valuable point, and that this idea has long
been obsolete. In like manner, when the Telephone was invented there was
a general business opinion that it was perhaps an instrument useful in
colleges for demonstrating the wonders of electricity, but not useful
for commercial purposes _because it made no record_. "Business will
always be done in black and white" was the oracular verdict of prominent
and experienced business men. It may be true, but a little conversation
across space has been found indispensable. The telephone is a remarkable
business success.] The fact first became known in 1873, and was the
invention of Alexander G. Bell, of Chicago.


There were several, no one knows how many, attempts to accomplish this
remarkable feat previous to the success of Professor Bell. One of these
was by Reis, of Frankfort, in 1860. It did not embrace any of the most
valuable principles involved in what we know as the telephone, since it
could not transmit _speech_. Professor Bell's first operative
apparatus was accompanied by simultaneous inventions by Gray, Edison,
and others. This remarkable instance of several of the great
electricians of the country evolving at nearly the same time the same
principal details of a revolutionary invention, has never been fully
explained. The first rather crude and ineffective arrangements were
rapidly improved by these men, and by others, prominent among whom is
Blake, whose remarkable transmitter will be described presently. The
best devices of these inventors were finally embodied, and in the
resulting instrument we have one of the chiefest of those modern wonders
whose first appearance taxed the credulity of mankind. [Footnote: There
were, until a recent period, a line of statements, alleged facts and
reasonings, that were incredible in proportion to intelligence. The
occurrences of recent times have reversed this rule with regard to all
things in the domain of applied science. It is the ignorant and narrow
only who are incredulous, and the ears of intelligence are open to every
sound. All that is not absurd is possible, and all that is possible is
sure to be accomplished. The telephone, as a statement, _was_
absurd, but not to the men who worked for its accomplishment and finally
succeeded. The lines grow narrow. It requires now a high intelligence to
decide even upon the fact of absurdity within the domain of natural

In reality the telephone is simple in construction. Workmen who are not
accomplished electricians constantly erect, correct and repair the lines
and instruments. The machine is not liable to derangement. Any person
may use it the first time of trying, and this use is almost universal.
Yet it is, from the view of any hour in all the past, an
incomprehensible mystery. A moment of reflection drifts the mind
backward and renders it almost incredible in the present. The human
voice, recognizable, in articulate words, is apparently borne for miles,
now even for some hundreds of miles, upon an attenuated wire which hangs
silent in the air carrying absolutely nothing more than thousands of
little varying impulses of electricity. Not a word that is spoken at one
end of it is ever heard at the other, and the conclusion inevitable to
the reason of even twenty years ago would be that if one person does not
actually hear the other talk there is a miracle. Probably this idea that
the voice is actually carried is not very uncommon. The facts seem
incomprehensible otherwise, and it is not considered that if that idea
were correct it _would_ be a miracle.

The entire explanation of the magic of the telephone lies in electrical
induction. To the brief explanation of that phenomenon previously given
the reader is again referred for a better understanding of what now

But, first, a moment's consideration may be given to the results
produced by the use of this appliance, which, as an illustration of the
way of the world was an innovation that, had it remained uninvented or
impossible, would never have been even desired. One third more business
is said now to be transacted in the average day than was possible
previously. Since many things can now go on together which previously
waited for direction, authority and personal arrangement, a man's
business life is lengthened one-third, while his business may mostly be
done, to his great convenience, from one place. It has given employment
to a large number of persons, a large proportion of whom are young
women. The status of woman in the business world has been, fortunately
or unfortunately, by so much changed. It has introduced a new necessity,
never again to be dispensed with. It has changed the ancient habits, and
with them, unconsciously, _the habit of thought_. Contact not
personal between man and man has increased. The _thought_ of others
is quickly arrived at. It has caused us to become more appreciative of
the absolute meanings and values of words, without assistance from face,
manner or gesture. Laughter may be heard, but tears are unseen. It has
induced caution in speech and enforces brevity. While none of its
conveniences are now noted, and all that it gives is expected, the
telephone, with all its effects, has entered--into the sum of life.

On the wall or table there is a box, and beside this box projects a
metal arm. In a fork of this arm hangs a round, black, trumpet-shaped,
hard rubber tube. This last is the receiving instrument. It is taken
from its arm and held close to the ear. The answers are heard in it as
though the person speaking were there concealed in an impish embodiment
of himself. Meantime the talking is done into a hole in the side of the
box, while the receiver is held to the ear. This is all that appears
superficially. An operation incredible has its entire machinery
concealed in these simplicities. It is difficult to explain the mystery
of the telephone in words--though it has been said to be simple--and it
is almost impossible unless the reader comprehends, or will now
undertake to comprehend, what has been previously said on the subject of
the production of magnetism by a current of electricity, as in the case
of the electro-magnet, and on the subject of induction and its laws.

It has been shown that electricity produces magnetism; that the current,
properly managed as described, creates instantly a powerful magnet out
of a piece of soft iron, and leaves it again a mere piece of iron at the
will of the operator. This process also will work backwards. An electric
current produces a magnet, and _a magnet also may be made to produce
an electric current_. It is one more of the innumerable, almost
universal, cases where scientific and mechanical processes may be
reversed. When the dynamo is examined this process is still further
exemplified, and when we examine the dynamo and the motor together we
have a striking example of the two processes going on together.

The application of this making of a current, or changing its intensity,
in the telephone, is apparently totally unlike the continuous
manufacture of the induced current for daily use by means of the steam
engine and dynamo. But it is in exact accord with the same laws. It
will, perhaps, be more readily understood by recalling the results of
the experiment of the two wires, where it was found that an _approach
to_, or a _receding from_, a wire carrying a current, produces
an impulse over the wire that has by itself no current at all. Now, it
must be added to that explanation that if the battery were detached from
that conducting wire, and if, instead of its being a wire for the
carrying of a battery current _it were itself a permanent magnet_,
the same results would happen in the other wire if it were rapidly moved
toward and away from this permanent magnet. If the reader should stretch
a wire tightly between two pegs on a table, and should then hold the
arms of a common horseshoe magnet very near it, and should twang the
stretched wire with his finger, as he would a guitar string, the
electrometer would show an induced alternate current in the wire. Since
this is an illustration of the principle of the dynamo, stated in its
simplest form, it may be well to remember that in this manner--with the
means multiplied and in all respects made the most of--a very strong
current of electricity may be evolved without any battery or other
source of electricity except a magnet. In connection with this
substitution of a magnet for a current-carrying wire, it must be
remembered that moving the magnet toward or from the wire has the same
result as moving the wire instead. It does not matter which piece is

In addition to the above, it should be stated that not only will an
induced current be set up in the wire, but also _the magnetism in the
magnet will be increased or diminished as the tremblings of the wire
cause it to approach or recede from it_. Therefore if a wire be led
away from each pole of a permanent magnet, and the ends united to form a
circuit, an induced current will appear in this wire if a piece of soft
iron is passed quickly near the magnet.

There is an essential part of the telephone that it is necessary to go
outside of the field of electricity to describe. It is undoubtedly
understood by the reader that all sound is produced by vibrations, or
rapid undulations, of the surrounding air. If a membrane of any kind is
stretched across a hoop, and one talks against it, so to speak, the
diaphragm or membrane will be shaken, will vibrate, with the movement of
the air produced by the voice. If a cannon be fired all the windows
rattle, and are often broken. A peal of thunder will cause the same jar
and rattle of window panes, manifestly by what we call
"sound"--vibrations of the air. The window frame is a "diaphragm." The
ear is constructed on the same principle, its diaphragm being actually
moved by the vibrations of air, being what we call hearing. With these
facts about sound understood in connection with those given in
connection with the substitution of a magnet for a battery current, it
is entirely possible for any non-expert to understand the theory of the
construction of the telephone.

In the Bell telephone, now used with the Blake transmitter [which
differs somewhat from the arrangement I shall now describe] a bar magnet
has a portion of its length wound with very fine insulated wire. Across
the opposite end of this polarized [Footnote: "Polarized" means
magnetized; having the two poles of a permanent magnet. The term is
frequently used in descriptions of electrical appliances. Instead of
using the terms _positive_ and _negative_, it is also
customary to speak of the "North" or the "South" of a magnet, battery or
circuit.] magnet, crosswise to it, and very close, there is placed a
diaphragm of thin sheet iron. This is held only around its edge, and its
center is free to vibrate toward and from the end of this polarized
magnet. This thin disc of iron, therefore, follows the movements, the
"soundwaves," of the air against it, which are caused by the human
voice. We have an instance of apiece of soft iron moving toward, and
away from, a magnet. It moves with a rapidity and violence precisely
proportioned to the tones and inflections of the voice. Those movements
are almost microscopic, not perceptible to the eye, but sufficient.

The approaching and receding have made a difference, in the quality of
the magnet. Its magnetism has been increased and diminished, and the
little coil of insulated wire around it has felt these changes, and
carried them as impulses over the circuit of which it is a part. In that
circuit, at the other end, there is a precisely similar little insulated
coil, upon a precisely similar polarized magnet. These impulses pass
through this second coil, and increase or diminish the magnetism in the
magnet round which it is coiled. That, in turn, affects by magnetic
attraction the diaphragm that is arranged in relation to its magnet
precisely as described for the first. The first being controlled as to
the extent and rapidity of its movements by the loudness and other
modifications of the voice, the impulses sent over the circuit vary
accordingly. As a consequence, so does the strength of the magnet whose
coil is also in the circuit. So, therefore, does its power of attraction
over its diaphragm vary. The result is that the movements that are
caused in the first diaphragm by the voice, are caused in the second by
an _attraction_ that varies in strength in proportion to the
vibrations of the voice speaking against the first diaphragm.

This is the theory of the telephone. The sounds are not carried, but
_mechanically produced_ again by the rattle of a thin piece of iron
close to the listener's ear. The voice is full, audible, distinct, as we
hear it naturally, and as it impinges upon the transmitting diaphragm.
In reproduction at the receiving instrument it is small in volume;
almost microscopic, if the phrase may be applied to sound. We hear it
only by placing the ear close to the diaphragm. It will be seen that
this is necessarily so. No attempts to remedy the difficulty have so far
been successful. There is no means of reproducing the volume of the
voice with the minute vibrations of a little iron disc.

In actual service an electro-magnet is used instead of, or in addition
to, the bar magnets described above. A steady flow from a battery is
passed through an instrument which throws this current into proper
vibrations by stopping the flow of the current at each interval between
impulses. There is a piece of carbon between the diaphragm and its
support. The wires are connected with the diaphragm and its support, and
the current passes through the carbon. When the diaphragm vibrates, the
carbon is slightly compressed by it. Pressure reduces its resistance,
and a greater current passes through it and over the wires of the
circuit for the instant during which the touch remains. This is the
Blake transmitter. It should be explained that carbon stands low on the
list of conductors of electricity. The more dense it is, the better
conductor. The varying pressures of the diaphragm serve to produce this
varying density and the consequent varying impulses of the current which
effect the receiving diaphragm.

The transmitter, as above described, is in the square box, and its round
black diaphragm may be seen behind the round hole into which one talks.
[Footnote: Shouting into a telephone doubtless comes of the idea,
unconscious, that one is speaking to a person at a distance. To speak
distinctly is better, and in an ordinary tone.] The receiver is the
trumpet-shaped tube which hangs on its side, and is taken from its hook
to be used. The call-bell has nothing to do with the telephone. It is
operated by a small magneto-generator,--a very near relative of the
dynamo-the current from which is sent over the telephone circuit (the
same wires) when the small crank is turned. Sometimes the question
occurs: "Why ring one's own bell when one desires to ring only that at
the central office?" The answer is that both bells are in the same
circuit. If the circuit is uninterrupted your bell will ring when you
ring the other, and a bell at each end of your circuit is necessary in
any case, else you could not yourself be called.

When the receiving instrument is on its hook its weight depresses the
lever slightly. This slight movement _connects_ the bell circuit
and _disconnects_ the telephone circuit. Take it off the hook and
the reverse is effected.

The long-distance telephone differs from the ordinary only in larger
conductors, improved instruments, and a metallic circuit--two wires
instead of the ordinary single wire and ground connections.


THE TELAUTOGRAPH.--This, the latest of modern miracles in the field of
electricity, comes naturally after the telegraph and telephone, since it
supplements them as a means of communication between individuals. It
also is the invention of Prof. Elisha Gray, who seems to be as well the
author of the name of his extraordinary achievement. It is not the first
instrument of the kind attempted. The desire to find a means of writing
at a distance is old. Bain, of Edinburgh, made a machine partially
successful fifty years ago. Like the telegraph as intended by Morse,
there was the interposition of typesetting before a message could be
sent. It did not write, or follow the hand of the operator in writing,
though it did reproduce at the other end of the circuit in facsimile the
faces of the types that had been set by the sender. It was a process by
electrolysis, well understood by all electricians. Several of this
variety of writing telegraphs have been made, some of them almost
successful, but all lacking the vital essential. [Footnote: The lack of
_one vital essential_ has been fatal to hundreds of inventions.
Inventors unconsciously follow paths made by predecessors. The entire
class of transmitting instruments must dispense with tedious
preliminaries, and must use _words_. Vail accomplished this in
telegraphy. Bell and others in the telephone, and Gray has borne the
same fact in mind in the present development of the telautograph.] In
1856 Casselli, of Florence, made a writing telegraph which had a
pendulum arrangement weighing fourteen pounds. Only one was ever made,
but it resulted in many new ideas all pertaining to the facsimile
systems--the following of the faces of types--and all were finally

The invention of Gray is a departure. The sender of a message sits down
at a small desk and takes up a pencil, writing with it on ordinary paper
and in his usual manner. A pen at the other end of the circuit follows
every movement of his hand. The result is an autograph letter a hundred
miles or more away. A man in Chicago may write and sign a check payable
in Indianapolis. Personal directions may be given authoritatively and
privately. As in the case of the telephone, no intervening operator is
necessary. No expertness is required. Even the use of the alphabet is
not necessary. A drawing of any description, anything that can be traced
with a pen or pencil, is copied precisely by the pen at the receiving
desk. The possibilities of this instrument, the uses it may develop, are
almost inconceivable. It might be imagined that the lines drawn would be
continuous. On the contrary, when the pen is lifted by the writer at the
sending desk it also lifts itself from the paper at that of the

The action of the telautograph depends upon the variations in magnetic
strength between two small electro-magnets. It has been seen that an
electro-magnet exerts its attractive force in proportion to the current
which passes through its coil. To use a phrase entirely non-technical,
it will "pull" hard or easy in proportion to the strength of the passing
current. This fact has been observed as the cause of action in the
telephone, where one diaphragm, moved by the air-vibrations caused by
the voice, causes a varying current to pass over the wire, attracting
the other diaphragm less or more as the first is moved toward or away
from its magnet. In the telautograph the varying currents are caused not
by the diaphragm influenced by the voice, but _by a pencil moved by
the hand_.

To show how these movements may be caused let us imagine a case that may
occur in nature. It is an interesting mechanical study. There is an
upright rush or reed growing in the middle of a running stream. The stem
of this rush has elasticity naturally; it has a tendency to stand
upright; but it bends when there is a current against it. It is easy
enough to imagine it bending down stream more or less as the current is
more or less strong.

Imagine now another stream entering the first at right angles to it, and
that the rush stands in the center of both currents. It will then bend
to the force of the second stream also, and the direction in which it
will lean will be a compromise between the forces of the two. Lessen the
flow of the current in one of the streams, and the rush will bend a
little less before that current and swing around to the side from which
it receives less pressure. Cut off either of the currents entirely, and
it will bend in the direction of the other current only. In a word,
_if the quantity or strength of the current of both streams can be
controlled at will, the rush can be made to swing in any direction
between the two, and its tip will describe any figure desired, aided, of
course, by its own disposition to stand upright when there is no

Let us imagine the rush to be a pen or pencil, and the two streams of
water to be two currents of electricity having power to sway and move
this pencil in proportion to their relative strength, as the streams did
the rush. Imagine further that these two currents are varied and changed
with reference to each other by the movements of a pen in a man's hand
at another place. It is an essential part of the mechanism of the
telautograph, and the movement is known among mechanicians as
"compounding a point."

Gray, while using the principles involved in compounding a point, seems
to have discarded the ways of transmitting magnetic impulses of varying
strength commonly in use. His method he calls the "step-by-step"
principle, and it is a striking example of what patience and ingenuity
may accomplish in the management of what is reputedly the most elusive
and difficult of the powers of nature. The machine was some six years in
being brought into practical form, and was perfected only after a long
series of experiments. In its operation it deals with infinitesimal
measurements and quantities. The first attempts were on the "variable
current" system, which was later discarded for the "step-by-step" plan

In writing an ordinary lead pencil may be used. From the point of this
two silk cords are extended diagonally, their directions being at right
angles to each other, and the ends of these cords enter openings made
for them in the cast iron case of the instrument on each side of the
small desk on which the writing is done.

Inside the case each cord is wound on a small drum which is mounted on a
vertical shaft. Now if the pencil-point is moved straight upward or
downward it is manifest that both shafts will move alike. If the
movement is oblique in any direction, one of the shafts will turn more
than the other, and the degree of all these turnings of each shaft in
reference to the other will be precisely governed by the direction in
which the pencil-point is moved.


Now, suppose each shaft to carry a small, toothed wheel, and that upon
these teeth a small arm rests. As the wheel turns this arm will move as
a pawl does on a ratchet. Imagine that at each slight depression between
the ratchet-teeth it breaks a contact and cuts off a current, and at
each slight rise renews the contact and permits a current to pass. This
current affects an electro-magnet--one for each shaft--at the receiving
end, and each of these magnets, when the current is on, attracts an
armature bearing a pawl, which, being lifted, allows the notched wheel,
upon which it bears, to turn _to the extent of one notch_. The
arrangement may be called an electric clutch, that may be arranged in
many ways, and the detail of its action is unimportant in description,
so that it be borne in mind that _each time a notch is passed in
turning the shaft by drawing upon or relaxing the cords attached to the
pencil-point_, an impulse of electricity is sent to an electro-magnet
and armature which allows _a corresponding wheel and its shaft to turn
one notch, or as many notches, as are passed at the transmitting
shaft_. In moving the pencil one inch to one side, we will suppose it
permits the shaft on which the cord is wound to turn forty notches. Then
forty impulses of electricity have been sent over the wire, the clutch
has been released forty times, and the shaft to which it is attached has
turned precisely as much as the shaft has which was turned, or was
allowed to turn, by the cord wound upon it and attached to the pencil.

It will be remembered that the arrangement is double. There are two
shafts operated by the writer's pencil--one on each side of it. Two
corresponding shafts occupy relative positions in respect to the
automatic pen of the receiving instrument. There are two circuits, and
two wires are at present necessary for the operation of the instrument.
It remains to describe the manner of operating the automatic pen by
connection with its two shafts which are turned by the step-by-step
arrangement described, precisely as much and at the same time as those
of the transmitting instrument are.


To each shaft of the receiving instrument is attached an aluminum
pen-arm by means of cords, each arm being fixed, in regard to its shaft,
as a bow drill is in regard to its drill. These arms meet in the center
of the writing tablet, V-shaped, as the cords are with relation to the
writer's pencil in the sending instrument. A small tube conveys ink from
a reservoir along one of the pen-arms, and into a glass tube upright at
the junction of the arms. This tube is the pen. Now, let us imagine the
pencil of the writer pushed straight upward from the apex of the
V-shaped figure the cords and pencil-point make on the writing desk.
Then both the shafts at the points of the arms of the V will rotate
equally. [Footnote: See diagram of mechanical Telautograph, and of bow
drill. In the latter, in ordinary use, the stick and string; rotate the
spool. Rotating the spool will, in turn, move the stick and string, and
this is its action in the pen-arms of the Telautograph.] The number of
impulses sent from each of these shafts, by the means explained, will be
equal. Each of the shafts of the receiving instrument will rotate alike,
and each draw up its arm of the automatic pen precisely as though one
took hold of the points of the two legs of the V, and drew them apart to
right and left in a straight line. This moves the apex of the V, with
its pen, in a straight line upward at the same time the writer at the
sending instrument pushed his pencil upward. If this one movement,
considered alone, is understood, all the rest follow by the same means.
This is, as nearly as it may be described without the use of technical
mechanical terms, the principle of the telautograph. It must be seen
that all that is necessary to describe any movement of the sender's
pencil upon the paper under the receiving pen is that the rotating
upright shafts of the latter should move precisely as much, and at the
same time, with those two which get their movement from the wound cords
and attached pencil-points in the hand of the writer.

Only one essential item of the movement remains. The shafts of both
instruments must be rotated by some separate mechanical agency, capable
of being automatically reversed. By an arrangement unnecessary to
explain in detail, the pencil of the writer lifted from the paper
resting on the metallic table which forms the desk; results in the
automatic lifting of the pen from the paper at the receiving desk.

       *       *       *       *       *

Prof. Elisha Gray was born in 1835, in Ohio. He was a blacksmith, and
later, a carpenter. But he was given to chemical and mechanical
experiments rather than to the industries. When twenty-one, he entered
Oberlin College, remaining there five years, and earning all the money
he spent. He devoted his time chiefly to studies of the physical
sciences. As a young man he was an invalid. Later he was not remarkably
successful in business, failing several times in his beginnings. His
first invention was a telegraph self-adjusting relay. It was not
practically successful. Afterwards he was employed with an electrical
manufacturing company at Cleveland and Chicago. Most of his earlier
inventions in the line of electrical utility are not distinctively
known. He has never been idle, and they all possessed practical merit.
For many years before he was known as the wizard of the telautograph, he
was foremost in the ranks of physicists and electricians. He is not a
discoverer of great principles, but is professionally skillful and
accomplished, and eminently practical. His every effort is exerted to
avoid intricacy and clumsiness in machinery. In 1878 he was awarded the
grand prize at the Paris Exposition, and was given the degree of
Chevalier and the decorations of the Legion of Honor by the French
Government, and again in 1881, at the Electrical Exposition at Paris, he
was honored with the gold medal for his inventions. He secured the
degree of A.M. at Oberlin College, and was the recipient of the degree
of Ph.D. from the Ripon (Wis.) College. For years he was connected with
those institutions as non-resident Lecturer in Physics. Another
University gave him the degree of LL.D. He is a member of the American
Philosophical Society, the Society of Electrical Engineers of England,
and the Society of Telegraph Engineers of London. He received an award
and a certificate from the Centennial Exposition for his inventions in

The same lesson is to be gathered from his career, so far, that is given
by the life of every noted American. It means that money, family,
prestige, have no place as leverages of success in any field. The rule
is toward the opposite. The qualities and capacities that win do so
without these early advantages, and all the more surely because there is
an inducement to use them. There is no "luck."




It has been stated that modern theory recognizes two classes of
electricity, the _Static_ and the _Dynamic_. The difference
is, however, solely noticeable in operation. Of the dynamic class there
can be no more common and striking example than the now almost universal
electric light. Yet, with a sufficient expenditure of chemicals and
electrodes, and a sufficient number of cells, electric lighting, either
arc or incandescent, can be as effectively accomplished as with the
current evolved by a powerful dynamo. [Footnote: As an illustration of
the day of beginnings, a few years ago the _thalus_, or lantern,
the pride of the rural Congressman, on the dome of the Capitol at
Washington was lighted by electricity, and an immense circular chamber
beneath the dome was occupied by hundreds of cells of the ordinary form
of battery. The lamps were of the incandescent variety, and what we now
know as the filament was platinum wire. Vacuum bulb, filament, carbon,
dynamo, were all unknown. But the current, and the heat of resistance,
and every fact now in use in electric lighting, were there in

The reader will understand that modern dynamic electricity owes its
development to the principle of economy in production. Practical science
most effectively awakens from its lethargy at the call of commerce.
Nevertheless, from the earliest moment in which it became known that
electricity was akin to heat--that an interruption of the easy passage
of a current produced heat--the minds of men were busy with the question
of how to turn the tremendous fact to everyday use. Progress was slow,
and part of it was accidental. The great servant of modern mankind was
first an untrained one. It was a marked advance when the gaslights in a
theater could be all lighted at once by means of batteries and the spark
of an induction coil. The bottom of Hell Gate, in New York harbor, was
blown out by Gen. Newton by the same means, and would have been
impossible otherwise. But these were only incidents and suggestions.
The question was how to make this instantaneous spark _continuous_.
There was pondering upon the fact that the only difference between heat
and electricity is one of molecular arrangement. Heat is a molecular
motion like that of electricity, without the symmetry and harmony of
action electricity has. The vibrations of electricity are accomplished
rapidly, and without loss. Those of heat are slow, and greatly
radiated. _When a current of electricity reaches a place in the
conductor where it cannot pass easily, and the orderly vibrations of its
molecules are disturbed, they are thrown into the disorderly motion
known as heat._ So, when the conductor is not so good; when a large
wire is reduced suddenly to a small one; when a good conductor, such as
copper, has a section of resisting conduction, such as carbon; heat and
light are at once evolved at that point, and there is produced what we
know as the electric light. However concealed by machinery and devices,
and all the arrangements by which it is made more lasting, steady,
economical and automatic, it is no more nor less than this. _The
difference between heat and electricity is only a difference in the
rates of vibration of their molecules._ Whatever the theory as to
molecules, or essence, or actual nature and origin, the practical fact
that heat and light are the results of the circumstances described above
remains. This has long been known, and the question remained how to
produce an adequate current economically. The result was the machine we
know as the Dynamo.

The first electric light was very brief and brilliant and was made by
accident. Sir Humphrey Davy, in 1809, in pulling apart the two ends of
wires attached to a battery of two thousand small cells, the most
powerful generator that had been made to that time, produced a brief and
brilliant spark, the result of momentarily _imperfect contact._
Every such spark, produced since then innumerable times by accident, is
an example of electric lighting. There are now in use in the United
States some two million arc lights and nearly double that number of

There are two principal systems of electric lighting; one is by actually
burning away the ends of carbon-points in the open air. This is the
"arc." The other is by heating to a white heat a filament of carbon, or
some substance of high resistance, in a glass bulb from which the air
has been exhausted. This is the "incandescent."


In the arc light the current passes across an _imperfect contact_,
and this imperfection consists in a gap of about one-sixteenth of an
inch between the extremities of two rods of carbon carrying a current.
This small gap is a place of bad conduction and of the piling up of
atoms, producing heat, burning, light. In the body of the lamp there are
appliances for the automatic holding apart of the two points of the
carbon, and the causing of them to continually creep together, yet never
touch. Many devices have been contrived to this end. With all theories
and reasons well known, and all effects accurately calculated, upon this
small arrangement depends the practical utility of the arc light. The
best arrangement is the invention of Edison, and is controlled most
ingeniously by the current itself, acting through the increased
difficulty of its passage when the two carbon-points are too far apart,
and the increased ease with which it flows when they are too near
together. The current, in leaping the small gap between the
carbon-points, takes a _curved_ path, hence the name "arc" light.
In passing from the positive to the negative carbon it carries small
particles of incandescent carbon with it, and consequently the end of
the positive carbon is hollowed out, while the end of the negative is
built up to a point.

The incandescent light is in principle the same as the arc, produced by
the same means and based upon the same principle of impediment to the
free passage of the current. It was first produced by heating with the
current to incandescence a fine platinum wire. As stated above,
electricity that quietly traverses a large wire will suddenly develop
great heat upon reaching a point where it is called upon to traverse, a
smaller one. Platinum was attempted for this place of greater resistance
because of its qualities. It does not rust, has a low specific heat, and
is therefore raised to a higher temperature with less heat imparted. But
it was a scarce and expensive material, and so long as it was heated to
incandescence in the open air, that is, so long as its heat was fed as
other heat is, by oxygen, it was slowly consumed. Platinum is no longer
in the field of electric lighting, and the substitute which takes its
place in the present incandescent lamp, and which is known as a
"filament," is not heated in contact with the air. The experiments and
endeavors that brought this result constitute the story of the
incandescent lamp.

The result is due to the patient intelligence of the American scientist
and inventor, Thomas A. Edison. After all the absolute essentials of a
practical incandescent lamp had been thought out; after the qualities
and characteristics of the current were all known under the
circumstances necessary to its use in lighting, the practical
accomplishment still remained. Edison is said to have once worked for
several weeks in the making of a single loop-shaped carbon filament that
would bear the most delicate handling. This was then carefully carried
to a glass-worker to be inclosed in a bulb, and at the first movement he
broke it, and the work must be done over and done better. It finally
was. The little pear-shaped bulb with its delicate loop of filament,
which cost months of toil and experiment at first, is now a common
article, manufactured at an absurdly small cost, packed in barrelfuls
and shipped everywhere, and consumed by the million. A means has been
found for producing the vacuum of its interior rapidly, cheaply and
thoroughly, and the beautiful incandescent glow hangs in lines and
clusters over the civilized world. The phenomenon of incandescence
without oxygen seems peculiar to these lights alone. [Footnote: The
"electric field," previously explained, seemed to exist by giving a
magnetic quality to the surrounding air. It would be as true if one
should speak of a magnetized vacuum, since the same field would exist in
that as in surrounding air.]

So simple are great facts when finally accomplished that there remains
little to add on the subject of the mechanism of the electric light. The
two varieties, arc and incandescent, are used together as most
convenient, the large and very brilliant arc being especially adapted to
out-of-doors situations, and the gentler, steadier and more permanent
glow of the incandescent to interiors. The latter is also capable of a
modification not applicable to the arc. It can, in theaters and other
buildings, be "turned down" to a gentle, blood-red glow. The means by
which this is accomplished is ingenious and surprising, since it means
that the supply of electricity over a wire--seemingly the most subtle
and elusive essence on earth--may be controlled like a stream from a
cock, or the gas out of a burner. But this reduction of the current that
makes the red glow in the clusters in a theater is by no means the only
instance. The trolley-car, and even the common motor, may be made to
start very slowly, and the unseen current whose touch kills is fed to
its consumer at will.


THE DYNAMO.--To the man who has been all his life thinking of the steam
engine as the highest and almost only embodiment of controlled
mechanical power, another machine, both supplementary to the steam
engine and far excelling it, whose familiar _burring_ sound is now
heard in almost every village in the United States and has become the
characteristic sound of modern civilization, must constitute a source of
continual question and surprise. To be accustomed to the dynamo, to look
upon it as a matter of course and a conceded fact, one must have come to
years of maturity and found it here.

Its practical existence dates back at furthest to 1870. Yet it is based
upon principles long since known, and can scarcely be said to be the
invention of any one mind or man. Its lineal ancestor was the
_magneto-electric machine_, in the early construction of which
figure the names of Siemens, Wilde, Ladd, and earlier and later
electricians. Kidder's medical battery used forty years ago or more, and
still used and purchasable in its first form, was a dynamo. A footnote
in a current encyclopedia states that: "An account of the
Magneto-electric machine of M. Gramme, in the London _Standard_ of
April 9th, 1873, confirmed by other information, leads to the belief
that a decided improvement has been made in these machines." The word
"dynamo" was then unknown. Later, Edison, Weston, Thompson, Hopkinson,
Ferranti and others appear as improvers in the mechanism necessary for
best developing a well-known principle, and many of these improvements
may be classed among original inventions. As soon as the
magneto-electric machine attained a size in the hands of experimenters
that took it out of the field of scientific toys it began to be what we
now know as a dynamo. A paragraph in the encyclopedia referred to says,
in speaking of Ladd, of London, "These developments of electric action
are not obtained without corresponding expenditure of force. The armatures
are powerfully attracted by the magnets, and must be forcibly pulled away.
Indeed, one of Wilde's machines, when producing a very intense electric
light, required about five horse power to drive it."


Thus was the secret in regard to electric power unconsciously divulged
some twenty years ago.

In all nature there is no recipe for getting something for nothing. The
modern dynamo, apparently creating something out of nothing, like all
other machines _gives back only what is given to it_, minus a fair
percentage for waste, loss, friction, and common wear. Its advantages
amount to a miracle of convenience only. So far as power is concerned,
it merely transfers it for long distances over a single wire. So far as
light is considered, it practically creates it where wanted, in new and
convenient forms, with a new intensity and beauty, but with the same
expenditure of transmitted energy in the form of burned coal as would be
used in manufacturing the gas that was new, wonderful, and a luxury at
the beginning of the century.

The dynamo is the most prominent instance of actual mechanical utility
in the field of electrical induction. It seems almost incredible that
the apparently small facts discovered by Faraday, the bookbinder, the
employe of Sir Humphrey Davy at weekly wages the struggling experimenter
in the subtleties of an infant giant, should have produced such results
within sixty years. [Footnote: Faraday was not entirely alone in his
life of physical research. He was associated with Davy, and quarreled
with him about the liquefaction of chlorine and other gases, and was the
companion of Wallaston, Herschel, Brand, and others. In connection with
Stodart, he experimented with steel, with results still considered
valuable. The scientific world still speaks of his quarrel with Davy
with regret, since the personalities of great men should be free from
ordinary weaknesses. But Lady Davy was not a scientist, and while the
brilliant young mechanic was in her husband's employment for scientific
purposes she insisted upon treating him as a servant, whereat the
independence of thinking which made him capable of wandering in fields
unknown to conventionality and routine blazed into natural resentment.
The quarrel of 1823 must have been greatly augmented, in the lady's
eyes, in 1824, for in that year Faraday was made a member of the Royal

In his lectures and public experiments he was greatly assisted by a man
now almost forgotten, an "intelligent artilleryman" named Andersen. This
unknown soldier with a taste for natural science doubtless had his
reward in the exquisite pleasure always derived from the personal
verification of facts hitherto unknown. There is often a pecuniary
reward for the servant of science. Just as often there is not, and the
work done has been the same.

It was on Christmas morning, 1821, that Faraday first succeeded in
making a magnetic needle rotate around a wire carrying an electric
current. He was the discoverer of benzole, the basis of our modern
brilliant aniline dyes. In 1831 he made the discovery he had been
leading to for many years--that of magneto-electric induction. All we
have of electricity that is now a part of our daily life is the result
of this discovery.

Faraday was born in 1791, and died August, 1867, in a house presented to
him by Victoria, who had not the same opinion of his relations to the
aristocracy that Lady Davy seems to have had. His insight into science
was something explainable only on the supposition that he was gifted
with a kind of instinct. He was a scientific prophet. A man who could,
in 1838, foresee the ocean cable, and describe those minute difficulties
in its working that all in time came true, must be classed as one of the
great, clear, intuitive intellects of his race. He was in youth
apprenticed to a bookbinder, "and many of the books he bound he read." A
line in his indentures says: "In consideration of his faithful service,
no premium is to be given." When these words were written there was no
dream that the "faithful service" should be for all posterity.]

[Illustration: Faraday's Spark. Striking the leg of a horseshoe magnet
with an iron bar wound with insulated wire causes a contact between
loose end of wire and small disc, and a spark.

Faraday's First Magneto-Electric Experiment. A horseshoe magnet passed
near a bent soft iron wound with insulated wire caused an induced
current in the wire.


He who made the first actual machine to evolve a current in compliance
with Faraday's formulated laws was an Italian named Pixu, in 1832. His
machine consisted of a horseshoe magnet set on a shaft, and made to
revolve in front of two cores of, soft iron wound with wire, and having
their ends opposite the legs of the magnet. Shortly after Pixu, the
inventors of the times ceased to turn the magnet on a shaft, and turned
the iron cores instead, because they were lighter. In like manner, the
huge field magnets of a modern dynamo are not whirled round a stationary
armature, but the armature is whirled within the legs of the magnet with
very great rapidity. The next step was to increase the number of magnets
and the number of wire-wound iron cores--bobbins. The magnets were made
compound, laminated; a large number of thin horseshoe magnets were laid
together, with opposite poles touching. These were all comparatively
small machines--what we now, with some reason, regard as having been
toys whose present results were rather long in coming.


Then came Siemens, of Berlin, in 1857. He was probably the first to wind
the iron core, what we now call the _armature_, with wire from end
to end, _lengthwise_, instead of round and round as a spool. This
resulted, of course, in the shaft of the armature being also placed
crosswise to the legs of the magnet, as it is in the modern dynamo. One
of the ends of the wire used in this winding was fastened to the axle of
the armature, and the other to a ring insulated from the shaft, but
turning with it. Two springs, one bearing on the shaft and the other on
the ring, carried away the current through wires attached to them.
Siemens also originated the mechanical idea of hollowing out the legs of
the magnet on the inside for the armature to turn in close to the
magnet, almost fitting. It was the first time any of these things had
been done, and their author probably had no idea that they would be
prominent features of the dynamo of a little later time, in all
essentials closely imitated.


It will be guessed from what has been previously said on the subject of
induction that the currents from such an electro-magnetic machine would
be alternating currents, the impulses succeeding each other in alternate
directions. To remedy this and cause the currents to flow always in the
same direction, the "_commutator_" was devised. The ring mentioned
above was split, and the two springs both bore upon it, one on each
side. The ends of the wires were both fastened to this ring. The springs
came to be known as "brushes." The effect was that one of them was in
the insulated space between the split halves of the ring while the other
was bearing on the metal to which the wire was attached. This action was
alternate, and so arranged that the current carried away was always
direct. When an armature has a winding of more than one wire, as the
practical dynamo always has, the insulated ring is divided into as many
pieces as there are wires, and the two brushes act as above for the
entire series.

Pacinotti, of Florence, constructed a magneto-electric machine in which
the current flows always in one direction without a commutator. It has
what is known as a _ring armature_, and is the mother of all
dynamos built upon that principle. It is exceedingly ingenious in
construction, and for certain purposes in the arts is extensively used.
A description of it is too technical to interest others than those
personally interested in the class of dynamo it represents.

Wilde, of Manchester, England, improved the Siemens machine in 1866 by
doing that which is the feature that makes possible the huge "field
magnet" of the modern dynamo, which is not a magnet at all, strictly
speaking. He caused the current, after it had been rectified by the
commutator, to return again into coils of wire round the legs of his
field magnets, as shown in the diagram. This induced in them a new
supply of magnetism, and this of course intensified the current from the
armature. It is true he had a separate smaller magneto-electric machine,
with which he evolved a current for the coil around the legs of the
field magnet of a greatly larger machine upon which he depended for his
actual current, and that he did not know, although he was practically
doing the same thing, that if he should divert this current made by the
larger machine itself back through the coils of its field magnet, he
would not need the extra small machine at all, and would have a much
more powerful current.


And here arises a difference and a change of name. All generating
machines to this date had been called "_Magneto-electric_" because
they used _permanent_ steel magnets with which to generate a
current by the whirling of the bobbin which we now call an armature. The
time came, led to by the improvement of Wilde, in which those steel
permanent magnets were no longer used. Then the machine became the
"_dynamo-electric_" machine, and leaving off one word, according to
our custom, "_dynamo_."

Siemens and Wheatstone almost simultaneously invented so much of the
dynamo as was yet incomplete. It has "cores"--the parts that answer to
the legs of a horseshoe magnet--of soft iron, sometimes now even of cast
iron. These, at starting, possess very little magnetism--practically
none at all--yet sufficient to generate a very weak current in the
coils, windings, of the armature when it begins to turn. This weak
current, passing through the windings of the field magnet, makes these
still stronger magnets, and the effect is to evolve a still stronger
current in the armature. Soon the full effect is reached. The big iron
field magnet, often weighing some thousands of pounds, is then the same
as a permanent steel horseshoe magnet, which would hardly be possible at
all. One who has watched the installation of a dynamo, knowing that
there is nowhere near any ordinary source of electricity, and has seen
its armature begin to whirl and hum, and then in a few moments the
violet sparklings of the brushes and the evident presence of a powerful
current of electricity, is almost justified in the common opinion that
the genius of man has devised a machine to _create_ something out
of nothing. It is true that a _starting_ quantity of electricity is
required. It exists in almost every piece of iron. Sometimes, to hasten
first action, some cells of a galvanic battery are used to pass a
current through the coils of the field magnet. After the first use there
is always enough magnetism remaining in them during rest or stoppage to
make a dynamo efficient after a few moments operation.


This is the dynamo in principle of action. The varieties in construction
now in use number scores, perhaps hundreds. Some of them are monsters in
size, and evolve a current that is terrific. They are all essentially
the same, depending for action upon the laws illustrated in the simplest
experiment in induced electricity. One of the best known of the modern
machines is Edison's, represented in the picture at the head of this
article. In it the field magnet--answering to the horseshoe magnet of
the magneto-electric machine--is plainly distinguishable to the
unskilled observer. It is not even solid, but is made of several pieces
bolted together. Its legs are hollowed at the ends to admit closely the
armature which turns there. There are valuable peculiarities in its
construction, which, while complying in all respects with the dynamo
principle, utilize those principles to the best mechanical advantage. So
do others, in other respects that did not occur even to Edison, or were
not adopted by him. Probably the modern dynamo is the most efficient,
the most accurately measurable, the least wasteful of its power, and the
most manageable, of any power-machine so far constructed by man for
daily use.

The motor.--This is the twin of the dynamo. In all essentials the two
are of the same construction. A difference in the arrangement of the
terminals of the wire coils or the wrappings of armature and field
magnet, makes of the one a dynamo and of the other a motor.
Nevertheless, they are separate studies in electrical science. Practice
has brought about modified constructions, as in the case of the dynamo.
The differences between the two machines, and their similarities as
well, may be explained by a general brief statement.

_It is the work of the dynamo to convert mechanical energy into the
form of electrical energy. The motor, in turn, changes this electrical
energy back again into mechanical energy._

Where the electric light is produced by the dynamo current no motor
intervenes. The current is converted into heat and light by merely
having an impediment, a restriction, a narrowness, interposed to its
free passage on a conducting wire, as heretofore explained, very much as
water in a pipe foams and struggles at a narrow place or an obstruction.
Where mechanical movements are to be produced by the dynamo current the
motor is always the intermediate machine. In the dynamo the armature is
rotated by steam power, producing an electrical energy in the form of a
powerful current transmitted by a wire. In the motor the armature, in
turn, _is rotated by_ this current. It is but another instance of
that ability to work backwards--to reverse a process--that seems to
pervade all machines, and almost all processes. I have mentioned steam
power, and, consequently, the necessary burning of coal and expenditure
of money in producing the dynamo current. The dynamo and motor are not
necessarily economical inventions, but the opposite when the force
produced is to be transmitted again, with some loss, into the same
mechanical energy that has already been produced by the burning of coal
and the making of steam. Across miles of space, and into places where
steam would not be possible, the power is invisibly carried. Suggestions
of this convenience--stated cases--it is not necessary to cite. The
fact is a prominent one, to be noted everywhere.

And it may be made a mechanical economy. The most prominent instance of
this is the new utilization of Niagara as a turbine water-power with
which to whirl the armatures of gigantic dynamos, using the power thus
obtained upon motors, and in the production of light and the
transmission of power to neighboring cities.

The discovery of the possibility of transmitting power by a wire, and
converting it again into mechanical energy, is a strange story of the
human blindness that almost always attends an acuteness, a thinking
power, a prescience, that is the characteristic of humanity alone, but
which so often stops short of results. This discovery has been
attributed to accident alone; the accident of an employe mistaking the
uses of wires and fastening their ends in the wrong places. But a French
electrician thus describes the occurrence as within his own experience.
His name is Hypolyte Fontaine.

But let us first advert to the forgetfulness of the man who really
invented the machine that was capable of the opposite action of both
dynamo and motor. This was the Italian, Pacinotti. [Footnote: Moses G.
Farmer, an American, and celebrated in his day for intelligent
electrical researches, is claimed to have made the first reversible
motor ever contrived. A small motor made by Farmer in 1847, and
embodying the electro-dynamic principle was exhibited at the great
exposition at Chicago in 1893. If the genealogy of this machine remains
undisputed it fixes the fact that the discovery belongs to this country,
and to an American.] He mentioned that his machine could be used either
to generate a current of electricity on the application of motive power
to its armature, or to produce motive power on connecting it with a
source of electricity. Yet it did not occur to him to definitely
experiment with two of his machines for the purpose of accomplishing
that which in less than twenty years has revolutionized our ideas and
practice in transmitted force. He did not suggest that two of his
machines could be run together, one as a generator and the other as a
motor. He did not think of its advantages with the facilities for it, of
his own creation, in his hands.

M. Fontaine states that at the Vienna Exposition of 1873 there was a
Gramme machine intended to be operated by a primary battery, to show
that the Gramme was capable of being worked by a current, and, as there
was also a second machine of the same kind there, of also generating
one. These two machines were to demonstrate this range of capacity as
_separately worked_, one by power, the other with a battery. There
was, then, no intention of coupling them together as late as 1873, with
the means at hand and the suggestion almost unavoidable. The dynamo and
motor had not occurred to any one. But M. Fontaine states that he failed
to get the primary (battery) current in time for the opening, and was
troubled by the dilemma. Then the idea occurred to him, as he could do
no better, to work one of the machines with a current "deprived," partly
stolen, from the other, as a temporary measure. A friend lent him the
necessary piece of wire, and he connected the two machines. The machine
used as a motor was connected with a pumping apparatus, and when the
machine intended as a generator started, and this make-shift,
temporarily-stolen current was carried to the acting motor, the action
of the last was so much more vigorous than was intended that the water
was thrown over the sides of the tank. Fontaine was forced to remedy
this excessive action by procuring an additional wire of such length
that its resistance permitted the motor to work more mildly and throw
less water. This accidentally established the fact of distance,
convenience, a revolution in the power of the industrial world. Fontaine
states that Gramme had previously told him that he had done the same
thing with his machines. The idea was never patented. Neither Pacinotti,
who invented the machine originally, nor Gramme, one of the great names
of modern electricity, nor this skilled practical electrician, Fontaine,
who had charge of the exhibit of the Gramme system at Vienna, considered
the fact of the transmission of concentrated power over a thin wire to a
great distance as one of value to its inventor or to the industries of
mankind. With the motor and the dynamo already made, it was an accident
that brought them together after all.

       *       *       *       *       *

It may be amusing, if not useful, to spend a moment in reviewing of the
efforts of men to utilize the power of the electrical current in
mechanics before the day of the dynamo and a motor, and while yet the
electric light was an infant in the nursery of the laboratory. They knew
then, about 1835 to 1870, of the laws of induction as applied to the
electro-magnet, or in small machines the generating power, so called, of
the magneto-electric arrangement embodied, as a familiar example, in
Kidder's medical battery. There is a long list of those inventors,
American and European. The first patent issued for an American
electro-motor was in 1837, to a man named Thomas Davenport, of Brandon,
Vt. He was a man far ahead of his times. He built the first electric
railroad ever seen, at Springfield, Mass., in 1835, and considering the
means, whose inadequacy is now better understood by any reader of these
lines than it then was by the deepest student of electricity, this first
railroad was a success. Davenport came as near to solving the problem of
an electric motor as was possible without the invention of Pacinotti.
Following this there were many patents issued for electro-magnetic
motors to persons residing in all parts of the country, north and south.
One was made by C. G. Page, of the Smithsonian Institute, in which the
motive power consisted in a round rod, acting as a plunger, being pulled
into the space where the core would be in an ordinary electro-magnet,
and thereby working a crank. [Footnote: The _National
Intelligencer_, a prominent Washington newspaper, said with reference
to Page's motor "He has shown that before long electro-magnetic action
will have dethroned steam and will be the adopted motor," etc. This was
an enthusiasm not based upon any fact then known about a machine not
even in the line of the present facts of electro-dynamics.] A large
motor of this kind is alleged, in 1850, to have developed ten horse
power. It was actually applied to outdoor experiment as a car-motor on
an actual railroad track, and was efficient for several miles. But it
carried with it its battery-cells, and they were disarranged and stirred
by the jolting, and being made of crockeryware were broken. The
chemicals cost much more than fuel for steam, and there could be no
economical motive for further experiment. It was a huge toy, as the
entire sum of electrical science was until it was made useful first in
the one instance of the telegraph, and long after that date the use of
the electro-magnet, with a cam to cut off and turn on again the current
at proper intervals, which was the one principle of all attempts, was a
repeated and invariable failure. That which was wanted and lacking was
not known, and was finally discovered and successively developed as has
been described.

Electric railroads.--There was an instance of almost simultaneous
invention in the case of the first practical electric railroads. S. D.
Field, Dr. Siemens, and Thomas A. Edison all applied for patents in
1880. Of these, Field was first in filing, and was awarded patents. The
combined dynamo and motor were, of course, the parents of the practical
idea. Field's patents covered a motor in or under the car, operated by a
current from a stationary source of electricity--of course a dynamo.
These first electric roads had the current carried on the rail. They
were partially successful, but there was something wrong in the plan,
and that something was induction by the earth. Later came, as a remedy
for this, the "Trolley" system; the trolley being a small, grooved wheel
running upon a current-carrying wire overhead. The question of how best
to convey a current to the car-motor is a serious one, doubtless at this
moment occupying the attention of highly-trained intelligence
everywhere. The motor current is one of high power, and as such
intractable; and it is in the character of this current, rather than in
methods of insulation, that the remedy for the much-objected-to overhead
wire is to be found. It will be remembered that all the phenomena of
induction are _unhindered by insulation_.

Aside from the current-carrying problem, the electric road is
explainable in all its features upon the theory and practice of the
dynamo and motor. It is merely an application of the two machines. The
last is, in usual practice, under the car, and geared to the truck-axle.
A more modern mechanical improvement is to make the axle the shaft of
the motor armature. When the motor has used the current it passes by
most systems into the rail and the ground. By others there is a
"metallic circuit"--two wires. Many men whose interest and occupation
leads them to a study of such matters know that the use of electricity,
instead of steam locomotion, is merely a question of time on all
railroads. I have said elsewhere that the actual age of electricity had
not yet fully come. It seems to us now that we have attained the end;
that there is little more to know or to do. But so have all the
generations thought in their day. In the field of electricity there are
yet to come practical results of which one may have some foreshadowings
in the experiments of men like Tesla, which will make our present times
and knowledge seem tame and slow.

Electrolysis.--In all history, fire has been the universal practical
solvent. It has been supplanted by the electrical current in some of the
most beautiful and useful phenomena of our time. Electrolysis is the
name of the process by which fluid chemicals are decomposed by the

A familiar early experiment in electrolysis is the decomposition of
water--a chemical composed of oxygen and hydrogen, though always thought
of and used as a simple, pure fluid. If the poles of a galvanic battery
are immersed in water slightly mixed with sulphuric acid to favor
electrical action, these poles will become covered with bubbles of gas
which presently rise to the surface and pass off. These bubbles are
composed of the two constituents of water, the oxygen rising from the
positive and the hydrogen from the negative pole. Particles of the
substance decomposed are transferred, some to one pole and some to the
other; and, therefore, electrolysis is always practiced in a fluid in
order that this transference may more readily occur.

The quantity of _electrolyte_--the substance decomposed--that is
transferred in a given time is in proportion to the strength of the
current. When this electrolyte is composed of many substances a current
will act a little on all of them, and the quantity in which the
elementary bodies appear at the poles of the current depends upon the
quantities of the compounds in the liquid, and on the relative ease with
which they yield to the electrical action.

The electrolytic processes are not the mere experiments a brief
description of them would indicate, but are among the important
processes for the mechanical products of modern times. The extensive
nickel-plating that became a permanent fad in this country on the
discovery of a special process some years ago, is all done by
electrolysis. The silver plating of modern tableware and table cutlery,
as beautiful and much less expensive than silver, and the fine finish of
the beautiful bronze hardware now used in house-furnishing, are the
results of the same process. Some use for it enters into almost every
piece of fine machinery, and into the beautifying or preserving of
innumerable small articles that are made and used in unlimited quantity.

The process and its principle is general, but there are many details
observed in the actual work of electroplating which interest only those
engaged. One of the most usual of these is that of making an
electrotype. This may mean the making of an exact impression of a medal,
coin, or other figure, or a depositing of a coating of the same on any
metallic surface. Formerly the faces of the types used in printing were
very commonly faced with copper to give them finish and a wearing
quality. Even fresh, natural fruits that have been evenly coated with
plumbago may be covered with a thin shell of metal. A silver head may be
placed on the wood of a walking stick, precisely conforming on the
outside to the form of the wood within.

The deposit of metal in the electrotyping process always takes place at
the negative pole--the pole by which the current passes out of the fluid
into its conductor. This is the "_cathode_." The other is the
"_anode_." The "bath," as the fluid in which the process is
accomplished is called, for silver, gold or platinum contains one
hundred parts of water, ten of potassium cyanide, and one of the cyanide
of whichever of those metals is to be deposited. The articles to be
plated are suspended in this bath and the battery-power, varying in
intensity according to circumstances, is applied. After removal they are
buffed and finished. A varying detail is practiced for different metals,
and the current now commonly used is from a dynamo. [Footnote: Among
modern modifications of the dynamic current, is its use, modified by
proper appliances, for the telegraph and the telephone circuits of
cities and the larger towns. Every electric current may now be safely
attributed to that source, and from the same circuit and generator all
modifications may be produced at once.]

The origin of electrolysis is said to be with Daniell, who noticed the
deposit of copper while experimenting with the battery that bears his
name. Jacobi, at St. Petersburg, first published a description of the
process in 1839. The Elkingtons were the first to actually put the
process into commercial practice.

It would be interesting now, were it apropos, to describe the seemingly
very ancient processes by which our ancestors gilded, plated, were
deceived and deceived others, previous to about 1845. For those things
were done, and the genuineness of life has by no means been destroyed by
the modern ease with which a precious metal may be deposited upon one
utterly base. A contemplation of the moral side of the subject might
lead at once to the conclusion that we could now spare one of the least
in actual importance of the processes of the all-pervading and wonderful
essence that alike makes the lightning-stroke and gilds the plebeian pin
that fastens a baby's napkin. But from any other view we could not now
dispense with anything electricity does.

General facts.--The names of many of the original investigators of
electrical phenomena are perpetuated in the familiar names of electrical
measurements. For, notwithstanding its seeming subtlety, there is no
force in use, or that has ever been used by men, capable of being so
definitely calculated, measured, determined beforehand, as electricity
is. As time passes new measurements are adopted and named, some of them
being proposed as lately as 1893. An instance of the value of some of
these old determinations of a time when all we now know of electrical
science was unknown, may be given in what is known as Ohm's Law. Ohm was
a native of Erlangen, in Bavaria, and was Professor of Physics at
Munich, where he died in 1874. He formulated this Law in 1827, and it
was translated into English in 1847. He was recognized at the time, and
was given the Copley medal of the Royal Society of London. The Law--for
by that distinctive name is it still called, though the name "Ohm," also
expresses a unit of measurement--is that _the quantity of current that
will pass through a conductor is proportional to the pressure and
inversely proportional to the distance_. That is:

Current = Pressure / Resistance.

Transposing the terms of the equation we may get an expression for
either of those elements, current, pressure, or resistance, in the terms
of the other two. This relation holds true and is accurate in every
possible case and condition of practical work. This remarkable precision
and definiteness of action has made possible the creation of an
extensive school of electrical testing, by which we are not only enabled
to make accurate measurement of electrical apparatus and appliances, but
also to make determinations in _other_ fields by the agency of
electricity. When an ocean cable is injured or broken the precise
location of the trouble is made _by measuring the electrical
resistance of the parts on each side of the injury_.

The magnitudes of measurements of electricity are expressed in the
following convenient electrical units:

The VOLT (named from Volta) equals a unit of _pressure_ that is
equal to one cell of a gravity battery.

The OHM, as a unit of measurement, equals a unit of _resistance_
that is equivalent to the resistance of a hundred feet of copper wire
the size of a pin.

The AMPERE (named from Ampere, 1775-1836, author of a "Collection of
Observations on Electro-Dynamics" and other works, and a profound
practical investigator) equals a unit of _current_ equivalent to
the current which one Volt of pressure will produce through one Ohm of
wire (or resistance).

The Coulomb (1736--inventor of the means of measuring electricity called
the "Torsion balance," and general early investigator) equals a unit of
_quantity_ of one Ampere flowing for one second.

The Farad (from Faraday, the discoverer of the laws of Induction, see
_ante_), equals that unit of _capacity_ which is the capacity
for holding one Coulomb. Death current.--What is now spoken of as the
"Death Current" is one that will instantly overcome the "resistance" of
the human, or animal, body. It is a current of from one to two thousand
Volts--about the same as that used in maintaining the large arc lights.
This question of the killing capacity of the current became officially
prominent some years ago, upon the passage by the legislature of the
State of New York of a statute requiring the death penalty to be
inflicted by means of electricity. The object was to deter evildoers by
surrounding the penalty with scientific horror, [Footnote: Hence also
the new lingual atrocity, the word "electrocute," derived from "execute"
by decapitation and the addition of "electro"] and the idea had its
origin in the accidents which formerly occurred much more frequently
than now. The "death current" is now almost everywhere, though the care
of the men who continually work about "live" wires has grown to be much
like that of men who continually handle firearms or explosives, and
accidents seldom happen. At first it was apparently difficult for the
general public to appreciate the fact that the silent and
harmless-looking wires must be avoided. There was suddenly a new and
terrific power in common use, and it was as slender, silent and
unobtrusive as it was fatal.

Insulation of the hands by the use of rubber gloves, and extreme care,
are the means by which those who are called "linemen"--a new
industry--protect themselves in their occupation. But there is a new
commandment added to the list of those to be memorized by the
body-politic. "Do not tread upon, drive over, or touch _any_ wire."
It may be, and probably is, harmless. But you cannot positively
know. [Footnote: It is a common trait of general human nature to refuse
to learn save by the hardest of experiences, and so far as the crediting
of statements is concerned, to at first believe everything that is not
true, and reject most that is. The supernatural, the phenomena of
alleged witchcraft and diabolism, and of "luck," "hoodoo," "fate," etc.,
find ready disciples among those who reject disdainfully the results of
the working of natural law. When the railroads were first built across
the plains the Indians repeatedly attempted to stop moving trains by
holding the ends of a rope stretched across the track in front of the
engine, and with results which greatly surprised them When the lines
were first constructed in northern Mexico the Mexican peasant could not
be induced to refrain from trying personal experiments with the new
power, and scores of him were killed before he learned that standing on
the track was dangerous. In the United States the era of accidents
through indifference to common-looking wires has almost passed, but for
some years the fatality was large because people are always governed by
appearances connected with _previous_ notions, until _new_
experiences teach them better.]

INSTRUMENTS OF MEASUREMENT.--Some of the most costly and beautiful of
modern scientific instruments are those used in the measurements and
determinations of electrical science. There are many forms and varieties
for every specific purpose. Electrical measurement has become a
department of physical science by itself, and a technical, extensive and
varied one. Already the electrical specialist, no more an original
experimenter or investigator than the average physician is, has become
professional. He makes plans, submits facts, estimates cost, and states
results with almost certainty.

ELECTRICITY AS AN INDUSTRY.--Immense factories are now devoted to the
manufacture of electrical goods exclusively. Large establishments in
cities are filled with them. The installation of the electric plant in a
dwelling house is done in the same way, and as regularly, as the
plumbing is. Soon there must be still another enlargement, since the
heating of houses through a wire, and the kitchen being equipped with
cooking utensils whose heat is for each vessel evolved in its own
bottom, is inevitable.

The following are some of the facts, in figures, of the business side of
electricity in the United States at the present writing. In 1866, about
twenty years after the establishment of the telegraph, but with a
population of only a little more than half the present, there were
75,686 miles of telegraph wire in use, and 2,520 offices. In 1893 there
were 740,000 miles of wire, and more than 20,000 offices. The receipts
for the year first named are unknown, but for 1893 they were about
$24,000,000. The expenses of the system for the same year were

The telephone, an industry now about sixteen years old, had in 1893, for
the Bell alone, over 200,000 miles of wire on poles, and over 90,000
miles of wire under ground. The instruments were in 15,000 buildings.
There were 10,000 employes, and 233,000 subscribers. All companies
combined had 441,000 miles of wire. Ninety-two millions of dollars were
invested in telephone _fixtures_.

In 1893, the average cost of a telegram was thirty-one and one
six-tenths cents, and the average alleged cost of sending the same to
the companies was twenty-two and three-tenths cents, leaving a profit of
nine and three-tenths cents on every message. It must be remembered that
with mail facilities and cheapness that are unrivalled, the telegraph
message is always an extraordinary mode of communication; an emergency.
These few figures may serve to give the reader a dim idea of the
importance to which the most ordinary and general of the branches of
electrical industry have grown in the United States.

MEDICAL ELECTRICITY.--For more than fifty years the medical fraternity
in regular practice persisted in disregarding all the claims made for
the electric current as a therapeutic agent. In earlier times it was
supposed to have a value that supplanted all other medical agencies.
Franklin seems to have been one of the earliest experimenters in this
line, and to have been successful in many instances where his brief
spark from the only sources of the current then known were applicable to
the case. The medical department of the science then fell into the hands
of charlatans, and there is a natural disposition to deal in the
wonderful, the miraculous or semi-miraculous, in the cure of disease.
Divested of the wonder-idea through a wider study and greater knowledge
of actual facts, electricity has again come forward as a curative agent
in the last ten years. Instruction in its management in disease is
included in the curriculum of almost every medical school, and most
physicians now own an outfit, more or less extensive, for use in
ordinary practice. To decry and utterly condemn is no longer the custom
of the steady-going physician, the ethics of whose cloth had been for
centuries to condemn all that interfered with the use of drugs, and
everything whose action could not be understood by the examples of
common experience, and without special study outside the lines of
medical knowledge as prescribed.

Perhaps the developments based upon the discoveries of Faraday have had
much to do with the adoption of electricity as a curative agent. The
current usually used is the Faradic; the induced alternate current from
an induction coil. This is, indeed, the current most useful in the
majority of the nervous derangements in the treatment of which the
current is of acknowledged utility.

In surgery the advance is still greater. "Galvano-cautery" is the
incandescent light precisely; the white-hot wire being used to cut off,
or burn off, and cauterize at the same time, excrescences and growths
that could not be easily reached by other means than a tube and a small
loop of platinum wire. A little incandescent lamp with a bulb no bigger
than a pea is used to light up and explore cavities, and this advance
alone, purely mechanical and outside of medical science, is of immense
importance in the saving of life and the avoidance of human suffering.

It may be added that there is nothing magical, or by the touch, or
mysterious, in the treatment of disease by the electrical current. The
results depend upon intelligent applications, based upon reason and
experience, a varied treatment for varying cases. Nor is it a remedy to
be applied by the patient himself more than any other is. On the
contrary, he may do himself great injury. The pills, potions, powders
and patent medicines made to be taken indiscriminately, and which he
more or less understands, may be still harmful yet much safer. Even the
application of one or the other of the two poles with reference to the
course of a nerve, may result in injury instead of good.

INCOMPLETE POSSIBILITIES.--There are at least two things greatly desired
by mankind in the field of electrical science and not yet attained. One
of these, that may now be dismissed with a word, is the resolving of the
latent energy of, say a ton of coal, into electrical energy without the
use of the steam engine; without the intervention of any machine. For
electricity is not manufactured; not created by men in any case. It
exists, and is merely gathered, in a measure and to a certain extent
confined and controlled, and sent out as a _concentrated form of
energy_ on its various errands. Should a means for the concentration
of this universally diffused energy be found whereby it could be made to
gather, by the new arrangement of some natural law such as places it in
enormous quantities in the thundercloud, a revolution that would
permeate and visibly change all the affairs of men would take place,
since the industrial world is not a thing apart, but affects all men,
and all institutions, and all thought.

The other desideratum, more reasonable apparently, yet far from present
accomplishment, is a means of storing and carrying a supply of
electricity when it has been gathered by the means now used, or by any

THE STORAGE BATTERY is an attempt in this last direction. The name is
misleading, since even in this attempt electricity is in no sense
"stored," but a chemical action producing a current takes place in the
machine. The arrangement is in its infancy. Instances occur in which,
under given circumstances, it is more or less efficient, and has been
improved into greater efficiency. But many difficulties intervene, one
of which is the great weight of the appliances used, and another,
considerable cost. The term "storage battery" is now infrequently used,
and the name "secondary" battery is usually substituted. The principle
of its action is the decomposing of combined chemicals by the action of
a current applied from a stationary generator or dynamo, and that these
chemicals again unite as soon as they are allowed to do so by the
completing of a circuit, _and in re-combining give off nearly as much
electricity as was first used in separating them._ The action of the
secondary, "storage," battery, once charged, is like that of a primary
battery. The current is produced by chemical action. Two metals outside
of the solution contained in a primary battery cell, but under differing
physical conditions from each other, will yield a current. A piece of
polished iron and a piece of rusty iron, connected by a wire, will yield
a small current. Rusty lead, so to speak, so connected with bright lead,
has a high electromotive force. Oxygen makes lead rusty, and hydrogen
makes it bright. Oxygen and hydrogen are the two gases cast off when
water is subjected to a current. (See _ante_ under
_Electrolysis_) So Augustin Plante, the inventor of as much as we
yet have of what is called a storage or secondary battery, suspended two
plates of lead in water, and when a current of electricity was passed
through it hydrogen was thrown off at one plate, making it bright, and
oxygen at the other plate, peroxydizing its surface. When the current
was removed the altered plates, connected by a wire, would send off a
current which was in the opposite direction from the first, and this
would continue until the plates were again in their original condition.
This is the principle and mode of action of the storage battery. So far
it has assumed many forms. Scores of modifications have been invented
and patented. The leaden plates have taken a variety of forms, yet have
remained leaden plates, one cleaned and the other fouled by the
electrolytic action of a current, and giving off an almost equivalent
current again by the return process. The arrangement endures for several
repetitions of the process, but is finally expensive and always
inconvenient. The secondary battery, in its infancy, as stated, presents
now much the same obstacles to commercial use the galvanic, or primary,
battery did before the induced current had become the servant of man.



A list of the electrical inventors of this country would be very long.
Many of the names are, in the mass and number of inventions, almost
lost. It happens that many of the practical applications described in
this volume, indeed most of them, are the work of citizens of this

In previous chapters I have referred briefly to Franklin, Morse, Field,
and others. These men have left names that, without question, may be
regarded as permanent. Their chiefest distinguishing trait was
originality of idea, and each one of them is a lesson to the American
boy. In a sense the greatest of all these, and in the same sense, the
greatest American, was Benjamin Franklin. A sketch of his career has
been given, but to that may be added the following: He had arrived at
conclusions that were vast in scope and startling in result by applying
the reasoning faculty upon observations of phenomena that had been
recurring since the world was made, and had been misunderstood from the
beginning. He used the simplest means. His experiment was in a different
way daily performed for him by nature. He was philosophically daring,
indifferently a tinker with nature's terrific machinery; a knocker at
the door of an august temple that men were never known to have entered;
a mortal who smiled in the face of inscrutable and awful mystery, and
who defied the lightning in a sense not merely moral. [Footnote:
Professor Richmann, of St. Petersburg, was instantly killed by lightning
while repeating Franklin's experiment.]

His genius lay in a power of swift inductive reasoning. His common sense
and his sense of humor never forsook him. He uttered keen apothegms that
have lived like those of Solon. He was a philosopher like Diogenes,
lacking the bitterness. He wrote the "Busy-Body," and annually made the
plebeian and celebrated "Almanac," and the "Ephemera" that were not
ephemeral, and is the author of the story of "The Whistle," that
everybody knows, and everybody reads with shamefacedness because it is a
brief chapter out of his own history.

He was apparently an adept in the art of caring for himself, one of the
most successful worldings of his time, yet he wrote, thought, toiled
incessantly, for his fellow men. He had little education obtained as it
is supposed an education must be obtained. He was commonplace. No one
has ever told of his "silver tongue," or remembered a brilliant
after-dinner speech that he has made. Yet he finally stood before
mankind the companion of princes, the darling of splendid women, covered
with the laurels of a brilliant scientific renown. But he was a printer,
a tinkerer with stoves, the inventor of the lightning rod, the man who
had spent one-half his life in teaching apprentices, such as he himself
had been when his jealous and common-minded brother had whipped him,
that "time is money," that "credit is money"--which is the most
prominent fact in the commercial world of 1895--and that honor and
self-respect are better than wealth, pleasure, or any other good.

Yet clear, keen, cold and inductive as was Franklin's mind, no vision
reached him, in the moment of that triumph when he felt the lightning
tingling in his fingers from a hempen string, of those wonders which
were to come. He knew absolutely nothing of that necromancy through
which others of his countrymen were to girdle the world with a common
intelligence, and yet others were to use in sprinkling night with
clusters as innumerable and mysterious as the higher stars.

The story of the Morse telegraph has been repeatedly told, and I have
briefly sketched it in connection with the subject of the telegraph.
But, unlike the original, scientifically lonely and independent
Franklin, Morse had the best assistance of his times in the persons of
men more skilled than himself and almost as persistent. The chief of
these was Alfred Vail, a name until lately almost unknown to scientific
fame, who eliminated the clumsy crudities of Morse's conception, remade
his instruments, and was the inventor of that renowned alphabet which
spells without letters or writing or types, that may be seen or heard or
felt or tasted, that is adapted to any language and to all conditions,
and that performs to this day, and shall to all time, the miracle of
causing the inane rattle of pieces of metal against each other to speak
to even a careless listener the exact thoughts of one a thousand miles

Another of the men who might be appropriately included in any
comprehensive list of aiders and abettors of the present telegraph
system were Leonard D. Gale, then Professor of Chemistry in the
University of New York, and Professor Joseph Henry, who had made, and
was apparently indifferent to the importance of it because there was no
alphabet to use it with, the first electric telegraph ever constructed
to be read, or used, _by sound_. Last, though hardly least if all
facts are understood, might be included a skillful youth named William
Baxter, afterwards known as the inventor of the "Baxter Engine," who,
shut in a room with Vail in a machine shop in New Jersey, made in
conjunction with the author of the alphabet the first telegraphic
instrument that, with Henry's magnet and battery cells, sent across
space the first message ever read by a person who did not know what the
words of the message would say or mean until they had been received.

After the telegraph the state of electrical knowledge was for a long
time such that electrical invention was in a sense impossible. The
renowned exploit of Field was not an invention, but a heroic and
successful extension of the scope and usefulness of an invention. But
thought was not idle, and filled the interval with preparations for
final achievements unequaled in the history of science. Two of these
results are the electric light and the telephone. For the various
"candles," such as that of Jablochkoff, exhibited at Paris in 1870, only
served to stimulate investigation of the alluring possibilities of the
subject. The details of these great inventions are better known than
those of any others. The telegraph and the newspaper reporter had come
upon the field as established institutions. Every process and progress
was a piece of news of intense interest. When the light glowed in its
bulb and sparkled and flashed at the junction points of its
chocolate-colored sticks it had been confidently expected. There was
little surprise. The practical light of the world was considered
probable, profitable, and absolutely sure. The real story will never be
told. The thoughts, which phrase may also include the inevitable
disappointments of the inventor, are never written down by him. That
variety of brain which, with a few great exceptions, was not known until
modern, very recent times, which does not speculate, contrive, imagine
only, but also reduces all ideas to _commercial_ form, has yet to
have its analysis and its historian, for it is to all intents a new
phase of the evolution of mind.

[Illustration: THOMAS A. EDISON.]

A typical example of this class of intellect is Mr. Thomas A. Edison. It
may be doubted if such a man could, in the qualities that make him
remarkable, be the product of any other country than ours. In common
with nearly all those who have left a deep impression upon our country,
Edison was the child of that hackneyed "respectable poverty" which here
is a different condition from that existing all over Europe, where the
phrase was coined. There, the phrase, and the condition it describes,
mean a dull content, an incapacity to rise, a happy indifference to all
other conditions, a dullness that does not desire to learn, to change,
to think. To respectable poverty in other civilizations there are strong
local associations like those of a cat, not arising to the dignity of
love of country. In the United States, without a word, without argument
or question, a young man becomes a pioneer--not necessarily one of
locality or physical newness, but a pioneer in mind--in creed, politics,
business--in the boundless domain of hope and endeavor. In America no
man is as his father was except in physical traits. No man there is a
volunteer soldier fighting his country's battles except from a
conviction that he ought to be. A man is an inventor, a politician, a
writer, first because he knows that valuable changes are possible, and,
second, because he can make such changes profitable to himself. It is
the great realm of immutable steadfastness combined with constant
change; unique among the nations.

Edison never had more than two months regular schooling in his entire
boyhood. There is, therefore, nothing trained, "regular," technical,
about him. If there had been it is probable that we might never have
heard of him. He is one of the innumerable standing arguments against
the old system advocated by everybody's father, and especially by the
older fathers of the church, and which meant that every man and woman
was practically cut by the same pattern, or cast in the same general
mould, and was to be fitted for a certain notch by training alone. No
more than thirty years ago the note of preparation for the grooves of
life was constantly sounded. Natural aptitude, "bent," inclination, were
disregarded. The maxim concocted by some envious dull man that "genius
is only another name for industry," was constantly quoted and believed.

But Edison's mother had been trained, practically, as an instructor of
youth. He had hints from her in the technical portions of a boy's
primary training. He is not an ignorant man, but, on the contrary, a
very highly educated one. But it is an education he has constructed for
himself out of his aptitudes, as all other actual educations have really
been. When he was ten years old he had read standard works, and at
twelve is stated to have struggled, ineffectually perhaps, with Newton's
_Principia_. At that age he became a train-boy on the Grand Trunk
railroad for the purpose of earning his living; only another way of
pioneering and getting what was to be got by personal endeavor. While in
that business he edited and printed a little newspaper; not to please an
amateurish love of the beautiful art of printing, but for profit. He was
selling papers, and he wanted one of his own to sell because then he
would get more out of it in a small way. He never afterwards showed any
inclination toward journalism, and did not become a reporter or
correspondent, or start a rural daily. While he was a train-boy,
enjoying every opportunity for absorbing a knowledge of human nature,
and of finally becoming a passenger conductor or a locomotive engineer,
something called his attention to the telegraph as a promoter of
business, as a great and useful institution, and he resolved to become
an "operator." This was his electrical beginning. Yet before he took
this step he was accused of a proclivity toward extraordinary things. In
the old "caboose" where he edited, set up, and printed his newspaper he
had established a small chemical laboratory, and out of these chemicals
there is said to have been jolted one day an accident which caused him
some unpopularity with the railroad people. He was all the time a
business man. He employed four boy helpers in his news and publishing
business. It took him a long time to learn the telegraph business under
the circumstances, and when he was at last installed on a "plug" circuit
he began at once to do unusual things with the current and its machines
and appliances. This is what he tells of his first electrical invention.

There was an operator at one end of the circuit who was so swift that
Edison and his companion could not "take" fast enough to keep up with
him. He found two old Morse registers--the machines that printed with a
steel point the dots and dashes on a paper slip wound off of a reel.
These he arranged in such a way that the message written, or indented,
on them by the first instrument were given to him by the second
instrument at any desired rate of speed or slowness.

This gave to him and his friend time to catch up. This, in Morse's time,
would have been thought an achievement. Edison seems to regard it as a
joke. There was no time for prolonged experiment. It was an emergency,
and the idea must necessarily have been supplemented by a quick
mechanical skill.

It was this same automatic recorder, the idea embodied in it, that by
thought and logical deduction afterwards produced that wonderful
automaton, the phonograph. He rigged a hasty instrument that was based
upon the idea that if the indentations made in a slip of paper could be
made to repeat the ticking sound of the instrument, similar indentations
made by a point on a diaphragm that was moved by the _voice_ might
be made to repeat the voice. His rude first instrument gave back a sound
vaguely resembling the single word first shouted into it and supposed to
be indented on a slip of paper, and this was enough to stimulate further
effort. He finally made drawings and took them to a machinist whom he
knew, afterwards one of his assistants, who laughed at the idea but made
the model. Previously he bet a friend a barrel of apples that he could
do it. When the model was finished he arranged a piece of tin foil and
talked into it, and when it gave back a distinct sound the machinist was
frightened, and Edison won his barrel of apples, "which," he says, "I
was very glad to get."

The "Wizard" is a man evidently pertaining to the class of human
eccentrics who excite the interest of their fellow-men "to see what they
will do next," but without any idea of the final value of that which may
come by what seems to them to be mere unbalanced oddity. Such people are
invariably misunderstood until they succeed. When he invented the
automatic repeating telegraph he was discharged, and walked from Decatur
to Nashville, 150 miles, with only a dollar or two as his entire
possessions. With a pass thence to Louisville, he and a friend arrived
at that place in a snowstorm, and clad in linen "dusters." This does not
seem scientific or professor-like, but it has not hindered; possibly it
has immensely helped. It reminds one of the Franklinic episodes when
remembered in connection with future scientific renown and the court of

One of the secrets of Edison's great success is the ease with which he
concentrates his mind. He is said to possess the faculty of leaving one
thing and taking up another whenever he wills. He even carries on in his
mind various trains of thought at the same time. The operations of his
brain are imitated in his daily conduct, which is direct and simple in
all respects. He is never happier than when engaged in the most
absorbing and exacting mental toil. He dresses in a machinist's clothes
when thus employed in his laboratory, and was long accustomed to work
continuously for as long as he was so inclined without regard to
regularity, or meals, or day or night. He is willing to eat his food
from a bench that is littered with filings, chips and tools. To relieve
strain and take a moment's recreation he is known to have bought a
"cottage" organ and taught himself to play it, and to go to it in the
middle of the night and grind out tunes for relaxation. He has a working
library containing several thousand books. He pores over these volumes
to inform himself upon some pressing idea, and does so in the midst of
his work. No man could have made some of his inventions unaided by
technical science and a knowledge of the results of the investigations
of many others, and it has often been wondered how a man not technically
educated could have seemed so well to know. There was a mistake. He
_is_ educated; a scientific investigator of remarkable attainments.

In thinking of the inventions of Edison and their value, a dozen of the
first class, that would each one have satisfied the ambition or taken
the time of an ordinary man, can be named. The mimeograph and the
electric pen are minor. Then there are the stock printer, the automatic
repeating telegraph, quadruplex telegraphy, the phono-plex, the
ore-milling process, the railway telegraph, the electric engine, the
phonograph. Some of these inventions seem, in the glow of his
incandescent light, or with one's ear to the tube of the telephone he
improved in its most essential part, to be too small for Edison. But
nothing was too small for Franklin, or for the boy who played idly with
the lid of his mother's tea-kettle and almost invented the steam-engine
of today, or for Hero of Alexandria, who dreamed a thousand years before
its time of the power that was to come. So was Henry's first electric
telegraph the merest toy, and his electro-magnet was supported upon a
pile of books, his signal bell was that with which one calls a servant,
and his idea was a mere experiment without result. There was a boy
Edison needed there then, whose toys reap fortunes and light, and
enlighten, the world. The electric pen was in its day immensely useful
in the business world, because it was the application of the stencil to
ordinary manuscript, and caused the making of hundreds of copies upon
the stencil idea, and with a printer's roller instead of a brush. The
mimeograph was the same idea in a totally different form. It was writing
upon a tablet that is like a bastard-file, with a steel-pointed stylus.
Each slight projection makes a hole in the paper, and then the stencil
idea begins again.

Something has been previously said of the difficulties attending the
making of the filament for the incandescent light. It is a little thing,
smaller than a thread, frail, delicate, sealed in a bulb almost
absolutely exhausted of air, smooth without a flaw, of absolutely even
caliber from end to end. The world was searched for substances out of
which to make it, and experiments were endlessly and tediously tried;
all for this one little part of a great invention, which, like all other
inventions, would be valueless in the want of a single little part.

There are hundreds, an unknown number, of inventions in electricity in
this country whose authors are unknown, and will never be known to the
general public. The patent office shows many thousands of such in the
aggregate. Many useful improvements in the telephone alone have come
under the eye of every casual reader of the newspapers. These are now
locked up from the world, with many other patented changes in existing
machines, because of the great expense attending their substitution for
those arrangements now in use.

All the principles--the principles that, finally demonstrated, become
laws--upon which electrical invention is based, are old. It seems
impossible, during the entire era of modern thought, to have found a new
trait, a development, a hitherto unsuspected quality. Tesla, in some of
his most wonderful experiments, seems almost to have touched the
boundaries of an unexplored realm, yet not quite, not yet, and most
likely absolute discovery can no farther go. To play upon those known
laws--to twist them to new utilities and give them new developments--has
been the work of the creators of all the modern electrical miracles.
There is scarcely a field in which men work in which the results are not
more apparent, yet all we have, and undoubtedly most we shall ever have,
of electricity we shall continue to owe to the infant period of the

It may be truthfully claimed that most of these extraordinary
applications of electricity have been made by American inventors.
Wherever there is steam, on sea or land, there, intimately associated
with American management, will be found the dynamic current and all its
uses. The science of explosive destruction has almost entirely changed,
and with a most extraordinary result. But one of the factors of this
change has been the electric current, a something primarily having
nothing to do with guns, ships or sailing. The modern man-of-war,
beginning with those of our own navy, is lighted by the electric light,
signalled and controlled by the current, and her ponderous guns are
loaded, fired, and even _sighted_ by the same means. Her officers
are a corps of electrical experts. A large part of her crew are trained
to manipulate wires instead of ropes, and her total efficiency is
perhaps three times what it would be with the same tonnage under the old
regime. There is a new sea life and sea science, born full grown within
ten years from a service encrusted with traditions like barnacles, and
that could not have come by any other agency. A big gun is no longer
merely that, but also an electrical machine, often with machinery as
complicated as that of a chronometer and much more mysterious in

I have said that the huge piece was even sighted by electricity. There
is really nothing strange in the statement, though it may read like a
fairy tale or a metaphor to whoever has never had his attention called
to the subject. In a small way, with the name of its inventor almost
unknown except to his messmates, it is one of the most wonderful, and
one of the simplest, of the modern miracles. As a mere instance of the
wide extent of modern ideas of utility, and of the possibilities of
application of the laws that were discovered and formulated by those
whose names the units of electrical measurements bear, it may be briefly
stated how a group of gunners may work behind an iron breastwork, and
never see the enemy's hull, and yet aim at him with a hundred times the
accuracy possible in the day of the _Old Ironsides_ and the

And first it may be stated that the _range-finder_ is largely a
measure of mere economy. A two-million-dollar cruiser is not sailed, or
lost, as a mere pastime. Whoever aims best will win the fight. Ten years
ago the way of finding distance, or range, which is the same thing, was
experimental. If a costly shot was fired over the enemy the next one was
fired lower, and possibly between the two the range might be got, both
vessels meantime changing positions and range. To change this, to either
injure an antagonist quickly or get away, the "range-finder" was
invented, as a matter not of business profit, by Lieutenant Bradley A.
Fiske, of the U. S. Navy, in 1889. It has its reason in the familiar
mathematical proposition that if two angles and one side of a triangle
are known, the other sides of the triangle are easily found. That is,
that it can be determined how far it is to a distant object without
going to it. But Fiske's range-finder makes no mathematical
calculations, nor requires them to be made, and is automatic. A base
line permanently fixed on the ship is the one side of a triangle
required. The distance of the object to be hit is determined by its
being the apex of an imaginary triangle, and at each of the other
angles, at the two ends of the base line, is fixed a spyglass. These are
directed at the object.

So far electricity has had nothing to do with the arrangement, but now
it enters as the factor without which the device could have no
adaptation. As the telescopes are turned to bear upon the target they
move upon slides or wires bent into an arc, and these carry an electric
current. The difference in length of the slide passed over in turning
the telescopes upon the object causes a greater or less resistance to
the current, precisely as a short wire carries a current more easily;
with less "resistance;" than a long one. A contrivance for measuring the
current, amounting to the same thing that other instruments do of the
same class that are used every day, allows of this resistance being
measured and read, not now in units of electricity, but _in distance
to the apex of the triangle where the target is_; in yards. The man
at each telescope has only to keep it pointed at the target as it moves,
or as the vessel moves which wishes to hit it. And now even the
telephone enters into the arrangement. Elsewhere in the ship another man
may stand with the transmitter at his ear. He will hear a buzzing sound
until the telescopes stop moving, and at the same time there will be
under his eye a pointer moving over a graduated scale. The instant the
sound ceases he reads the range denoted by the index and scale. The
information is then conveyed in any desired way to the men at the guns;
these, of course, being aimed by a scale corresponding to that under the
eye of the man at the telephone. The plan is not here detailed as
technical information valuable to the casual reader, but as showing the
wide range of electrical applications in fields where possible
usefulness would not have been so much as suspected a few years ago. The
same gentleman, Lieut. Fiske, is also the author of ingenious electrical
appliances for the working of those immense gun-carriages that have
grown too big for men to move, and for the hoisting into their cavernous
breeches of shot and shell. The men who work these guns now do not need
to see the enemy, even through the porthole or the embrasure. They can
attend strictly to the business of loading and firing, assisted by
machines nearly or quite automatic, and can cant and lay the piece by an
index, and fire with an electric lanyard. The genius of science has
taken the throne vacated by the goddess of glory. The sailor has gone,
and the expert mechanician has taken his place. The tar and his training
have given way to the register, the gauge and the electrometer. The big
black guns are no longer run backward amid shouts and flying splinters,
and rammed by men stripped to the waist and shrouded in the smoke of the
last discharge, but swing their long and tapering muzzles to and fro out
of steel casemates, and tilt their ponderous breeches like huge
grotesque animals lying down. The grim machinery of naval battle is
moved by invisible hands, and its enormous weight is swayed and tilted
by a concealed and silent wire.

This strange slave, that toils unmoved in the din of battle, has been
reduced to domestic servitude of the plainest character. The
demonstrations made of cooking by electricity at the great fair of 1893
leave that service possible in the future without any question.
Electrical ovens, models of neatness, convenience and _coolness_,
were shown at work. They were made of wood, lined with asbestos, and
were lighted inside with an incandescent lamp. The degree of temperature
was shown by a thermometer, and mica doors rendered the baking or
roasting visible. There could be no question of too much heat on one
side and too little on another, because switches placed at different
points allowed of a cutting off, or a turning on, whenever needed.
Laundry irons had an insulated pliable connection attached, so that heat
was high and constant at the bottom of the iron and not elsewhere. There
were all the appliances necessary for the broiling of steaks, the making
of coffee and the baking of cakes, and the same mystery, which is no
longer a mystery, pervaded it all. Woman is also to become an
electrician, at least empirically, and in time soon to come will
understand her voltage and her Amperes as she now does her drafts and
dampers and the quality of her fuel.

It is a practical fact that chickens are hatched by the thousand by the
electrical current, and that men have discovered more than nature knew
about the period of incubation, and have reduced it by electricity from
twenty-one to nineteen days. The proverb about the value of the time of
the incubating hen has passed into antiquity with all things else in the
presence of electrical science.

Whenever an American mechanician, a manufacturer or an inventor, is
confronted by a difficulty otherwise insolvable he turns to electricity.
Its laws and qualities are few. They seem now to be nearly all known,
but the great curiosity of modern times is the almost infinite number of
applications which these laws and qualities may be made to serve. One
may turn at a single glance from the loading and firing of naval guns to
the hatching of chickens and the cooking of chocolate by precisely the
same means, silently used in the same way. Most of these applications,
and all the most extraordinary ones, are of American origin. Their
inventors are largely unknown. There is no attempt made here to more
than suggest the possibilities of the near future by a glimpse of the
present. The generation that is rising, the boy who is ten years old,
should easily know more of electrical science than Franklin did. There
are certain primal laws by which all explanations of all that now is,
and most probably of almost all that is to come so far as principles go,
may be readily understood, and these I have endeavored, in this and
preceding chapters, to explain.

There are in the United States new applications of electricity literally
every day. Before the written page is printed some startling application
is likely to be made that gives to that page at once an incompleteness
it is impossible to guard against or avoid. There is a strong
inclination to prophesy; to tell of that which is to come; to picture
the warmed and illuminated future, smokeless and odorless, and the homes
in which the children of the near future shall be reared. Some of those
few apprehended things, suggested as being possible or desirable in
these chapters, have been since done and the author has seen them. This
American facility of electrical invention has one great cause, one
specific reason for its fruitfulness. It is because so many acute minds
have mastered the simple laws of electrical action. This knowledge not
only fosters intelligent and fruitful experiment but it prevents the
doing of foolish things. No man who has acquired a knowledge of
mechanical forces, who understands at least that great law that for all
force exerted there is exacted an equivalent, ever dreams upon the folly
of the perpetual motion. In like manner does a knowledge, purely
theoretical, of the laws of electricity prevent that waste of time in
gropings and dreams of which the story of science and the long human
struggle in all ages and in all departments is full.

Finally, I would, if possible dispell all ideas of strangeness and
mystery and semi-miracle as connected with electrical phenomena. There
is no mystery; above all, there is no caprice. There are, in electricity
and in all other departments of science, still many things undiscovered.
It is certain that causes lead far back into that realm which is beyond
present human investigation. _Force_ has innumerable manifestations
that are visible, that are understood, that are controlled. Its
_origin_ is behind the veil. A thousand branching threads of
argument may be taken up and woven into the single strand that leads
into the unknown. Out of the thought that is born of things has already
arisen a new conception of the universe, and of the Eternal Mind who is
its master. Among these things, these daily manifestations of a seeming
mystery, the most splendid are the phenomena of electricity. They court
the human understanding and offer a continual challenge to that faculty
which alone distinguishes humanity from the beasts. The assistance given
in the preceding pages toward a clear understanding of the reason why,
so far as known, is perhaps inadequate, but is an attempt offered for
what of interest or value may be found.

End of Project Gutenberg's Steam Steel and Electricity, by James W. Steele


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