The Electric Mr. Edison

When Thomas Edison ran a wire inside a piece of glass, he fused electrical to mechanical. His result was less than perfect, and our marriage of the two remained unharmonious throughout history.

The problem of sealing wire to glass in a lightbulb hindered progress through the early 1900s. When heated, glass had a different expansion rate than wire. A secure seal was not made until Fink and Eldred wrapped a nickel-iron core wire in a copper sheath. Wire now expanded and contracted with glass as closely as possible. Their 1911 invention underpinned development of the vacuum tube (source: terralab.org).

Just how significant was the dumet wire seal? In 1922, it held so well that vacuum tube powered transmitters jumped up in power from 500 watts to 50,000 watts with watercooling (source: A Short Technical Early History of Vacuum Tubes).

But America was not alone. Foreign competition presented itself even in these early years. Hakunetsusha, established in 1890, was Japan’s first producer of incandescent electric lamps (source: Wikipedia). In 1915, this company invested heavily in dumet wire research and began factory production in 1917 (source: Toshiba Lighting and Technology Corporation).

The stage was set for the pulley man’s ceaseless battle with electricity.

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Model Problem-solver

When a night security guard lost his keys to the facility he was to secure, the poor man went home to ponder his problem. He decided that he would keep his keys attached on his belt with a clip.

The man gathered parts and made himself a machine that cut and bent metal belt clips. Word of his manufacture spread and soon he was mass producing key-holding belt clips.

The January 1940 issue of Popular Science has the story.

A common American fellow thought through a problem, gathered resources, built a solution. And that’s how products were created.

The problem-solver was called the inventor, the American entrepreneur.

We Spoke Machine

The linguistic language was English, but what rolled off the tongue was something else. From Civil War thru late 1970s, the United States of America spoke the language of the machine.

It was a unifying native tongue of simple machines. Everyone regardless of ethnic origin spoke it or at least recognized it. We grasped what to do with belts and pulleys, teeth and gears. We built engines, cars, clothes, and a great nation.

But in the 1980s, the language of the machine broke down, replaced by a free for all babble of computer, pharmaceutical, and financial morass. Century old industries moved overseas, and America’s debt spiked.

This blog will explore heroes of the machine age, and inquire what is our language for the future.