Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When New Technologies Emerge

This is not another family history article, but as someone whose work life has been spent dealing with new technologies, it is of historical interest to me.

Whenever a new technology emerges there is often a reaction to the effect that "it's a fad" or "it will never replace xxxx". Sometimes, this is correct, but many times it's not. The opposite reaction is also seen by those early adopters who champion the cause. Again, sometimes the technology succeeds and other times it disappears into the aether. 

Here are two articles from the turn of the last century which appeal to me. One is fairly defensive in tone about an existing technology, whereas the second exudes an optimism for the future of a new technology.

In a search of the truly wonderful Trove website, I came across this first article from 30 December, 1910 issue of "The Sydney Wool and Stock Journal" entitled "The Horse".

"An American writer says: The automobile enthusiasts are still dreaming, talking, and writing of "the horseless ages", "For a clean city," this has been the burden of their song for ten years, and horses have increased 6,000,000 head and we now have 31,000,000 farm and city horses, with a £700.000,000 valuation higher prices than ever before £10 to £100 for good draught horses, and several £200 teams are in our cities. The automobile or mechanical traction has rather helped nor hurt the horse. The railroads and every form of machinery have called for more horses to do the increasing work, and when the horse is banish'd from the streets of our cities the great volume of business must cease and the freight trains will rust on the side tracks. Statistics show that only 80,000 automobiles and mechanical traction cars were made in the United States in 1909, and perhaps 100,000 for 1910, which at £200 a car is only £20,000.000.

"France makes about 50,000 cars; Great Britain, 60,000 cars; Germany, 25,000 cars; United States, 100,000 cars; total cars for 1910, 235,000; total valuation, £47,000.000.  

"The 2,000,000 horses in Illinois alone are value at £51,200,000, which is more than all of the automobiles in the world. Horse breeding is the most important and most profitable industry of Illinois, and the nation and the farmers cannot supply the increasing demand for more horses and better horses, regardless of price, for our American city markets; and a great export trade for all Europe eager for good American horses. Think of the American horse industry of £700,000,000. or £200,000,000 more than all the cattle, sheep, and hogs, and £100,000,000 more than all the cereal crops. There is no comparison at all with the £20,000,000 automobile industry. The great horses increased in value last year over £70,000,000, three times the value of all the automobiles made in America. American railroads are using £2,180,000 freight cars, which must be loaded and unloaded chiefly by good draught horses. The auto trucks would be welcomed to carry part of this burden that is increasing faster than horses can be produced to handle it, but they give practically no help to overburdened horses, and the automobile doesn't handle freight, so it is up to the farmers to raise more horses, and to raise larger and better horses."

Contrast that article with the following entitled "Airships" from the 12 February, 1910 edition of Adelaide's "The Register".

 "The exhibition in Adelaide of a Bleriot monoplane will stimulate public curiosity concerning the special merits of this type of flying machine relatively to its various rivals now in use. A cable message in The Register on Friday gave particulars of a new Zeppelin airship, which, if the inventor's expectations should be realized, will place Germany far in advance of any other nation in the application of aeronautical science to commercial requirements. The passenger accommodation attached to this huge gas-inflated aerial liner will more nearly resemble that of a small steamship or a cruising yacht than the orthodox 'car' of an ordinary balloon. At present there are no indications of similar improvements in aeroplanes, but most aviators cling tenaciously to the theoretical conviction that ultimately the supremacy of heavier-than-air gliding machines will be established. Certainly there are substantial reasons for assuming that the best existing types of aeroplanes will be greatly improved as a result of experimental work being done in France and elsewhere by many expert investigators. In estimating the present utility of monoplanes and biplanes it is necessary to remember that less than two years ago a flight of a few hundred yards
was considered a marvellous achievement. Even now there is diversity of opinion concerning such apparently simple problems as the relative merits of wood, steel, and aluminium for propeller blades; and further elaborate tests will be required to settle the supremely important question of distributing the weight of engines and human freight so as to adjust the centre of gravity with scientific precision. Another example of the rapidity with which constructional advances are being made is the fact that, with two exceptions, all the successful aeroplanes that participated in the great carnival at Betheny last August were propelled by motors invented or adapted to the new conditions of locomotion within the preceding nine months.

"There is still a conflict of opinion on the question whether water-jacket motors are so superior to air-cooled engines as to warrant the retention of the extra weight which the use of the former involves; but since M. Bleriot crossed the English Channel, and Mr. Farman established a three hours' record without the aid of water-cooling mechanism, the popularity of the lighter type of motor has increased. If this modification of expert prejudice should
become permanent it may prove an influential factor in directing future mechanical progress. Up to a certain point the distinctive characteristics of the monoplane appear to be conducive to its ultimate supremacy, but its utility will probably be restricted owing to the technical difficulties of giving stability to the wide spread of 'wings' necessary to secure great lifting power. 'The elegant bird-like monoplane,' remarks a writer in The Times, 'will be employed to carry only a pilot and one or two passengers at most; while biplanes, tripianes, and multiplanes will be the family coaches and the public omnibuses of aerial locomotion.' The problem of increasing the stability of airships is still one of the most perplexing aspects of aviation, especially in relation to the control of large aeroplanes. Experience has proved that the art of balancing a small flying machine can be easily acquired. Some authorities state that under competent tuition a pupil of average capabilities should be able to pilot a Bleriot machine in six weeks, and that some biplanes might be more rapidly mastered; but the skill to keep a flying machine stead differs from that which bicycle riding develops. 'No movement of the pilot's body, as such will lift a Bleriot or steer
an Antoinette. The process is far more subtle. He must learn to feel the coming of the wind, to set his planes at the right angle to make use of it, to move his levers and his pedals just enough, and no more — just quickly enough, and not too soon. He must be come an etherealized bicyclist, a transcendental sculler.'

"Evidently flying is a fascinating avocation when the initial nervousness in cidental to most novel sensations has been overcome; and it is not surprising that Paris firms which make a speciality of aeroplane construction have on their books more orders than they can deal with. Under present conditions the personal qualities of a pilot are among the prime factors of safety in aviation: and chief of his in dispensable qualifications are quickness of perception, strong nerve, and coolness in emergencies. In some quarters especially among military authorities fears have been expressed that difficulty would be experienced in obtain ing an adequate supply of men possessing those attributes. Similar pessimism was common during the early stages of automobile development, but the motor industry has never suffered from a dearth of skilful drivers. Only a few exceptionally clever novices however, are likely to challenge the sovereignty of such 'kings of the air' as the Wright brothers, Latham, Farman, Bleriot, or Santos Dumont, all of whom have been compelled to take risks not now unavoidable. 'Fly low and do not attempt long trips.' These are golden rules which every 'prentice aviator should observe if he desires to make safe progress. Experience has shown that, although a flying machine may be wrecked by falling from 20 to 50 ft., its pilot generally escapes uninjured in such circumstances. Under experienced guidance aeroplanes travel most securely at an altitude of 60 ft. to 100 ft, because in the event of a motor breaking down the impetus of the longer drop can be utilized to make the machine glide towards a safe landing place and, by a slanting impact, modify the jarring effects of the fall."