Benson John Lossing.

Harper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) online

. (page 33 of 76)
Online LibraryBenson John LossingHarper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) → online text (page 33 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


sodium, for the first time. A fund was ful electro-magnet of soft iron. The his-
soon subscribed by " a few zealous culti- tory of the electric telegraph teaches us
vators and patrons of science," interested that to no single individual is the in-
in the discovery of Davy, and he had at vention due. The Morse system had been
his service no less than 2,000 cells of demonstrated in 1837, but not until 1844
voltaic battery. With the intense cur- was the first telegraph line built. It con-
rents obtained from it he again demon- nected Baltimore and Washington, and
strated the wonderful and brilliant the funds for defraying its cost were only
phenomenon of the electric arc, by first obtained from Congress after a severe
closing the circuit of the battery through struggle. The success of the Morse tele-
terminals of hardwood charcoal and then graph was soon followed by the establish-
separating them for a short distance. A ment of telegraph lines as a means of
magnificent arch of flame was maintained communication between all the large cities
between the separated ends, and the light and populous districts. Scarcely ten
from the charcoal pieces was of dazzling years elapsed before the possibility of a
splendor. Thus was born into the world transatlantic telegraph was mooted. The
the electric arc light, of which there are cable laid in 1858 was a failure. A few
now many hundreds of thousands burn- words passed, and then the cable broke
ing nightly in our own country alone. down completely. A renewed effort to

As early as 1774 attempts were made lay a cable was made in 1866, but disap-

by Le Sage, of Geneva, to apply frictional pointment again followed: the cable broke

electricity to telegraphy. It was easy in mid-ocean. The great task was suc-

206



ELECTRICITY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

cessfully accomplished in the following may be delivered to the electric line as
year. Even the lost cable of 1806 was electric energy. The electric motor, now
found, spliced to a new cable, and com- so common, is a machine like the dynamo,
pleted soon after as a second working line, in which the principle of action is simply
The delicate instruments for the working reversed; electric energy delivered from
of these long cables were due to the genius the lines becomes again mechanical motion
of Sir William Thomson, now Lord Kel- or power.

vin. The number of cables joining the The decade between I860 and 1870 open-
Eastern and Western hemispheres has ed a new era in the construction and work-
been increased from time to time, and the ing of dynamo machines and motors,
opening of a new cable is now an ordinary Gramme, in 1870, first succeeded in pro-
occurrence, calling for little or no especial ducing a highly efficient, compact, and
note. durable continuous-current dynamo. It

The introduction of the electric tele- was in a sense the culmination of many
graph was followed by the invention of years of development, beginning with the
various signalling systems, the most im- early attempts immediately following
portant being the fire-alarm telegraph, Faraday s discovery, already referred to.
automatic clock systems, automatic elec- In 1872 Von Hefner Alteneck, in Berlin,
trie fire signals, burglar alarms, telegraphs modified the ring winding of Gramme and
which print words and characters, as in produced the " drum winding," which
the stock " ticker," the telautograph, in avoided the necessity for threading wire
which writing is reproduced at the re- through the centre of the iron ring as in
ceiving end of the line, the duplex, quad- the Gramme construction,
ruplex, and multiplex systems of teleg- At the Centennial Exhibition, held at
raphy, automatic transmitting machines Philadelphia in 1876, but two exhibits of
and rapid recorders, etc. electric-lighting apparatus were to be

The first example of a working type found. Of these one was the Gramme and
of an arc lamp was that of W. E. Staite, the other the Wallace-Farmer exhibit. The
in 1847, and his description of the lamp Wallace exhibit contained other examples
and the conditions under which it could reflecting great credit on this American
be worked is a remarkably exact and full pioneer in dynamo work. Some of these
statement, considering the time of its ap- machines were very similar in construction
pearance. But it was a long time before to later forms which went into very ex-
the electric arc acquired any importance tensive use. The large search-lights oc
as a practical illuminant; the expense was casionally used in night illumination dur-
too great, and the batteries soon became ing the exhibitions were operated by the
exhausted. Michael Faraday, a most current from W r allace-Farmer machines,
worthy successor of Davy, made the ex- The Centennial Exhibition also marks
ceedingly important observation that a the beginning the very birth, it may be
wire, if moved in the field of a magnet, said of an electric invention destined to
would yield a current of electricity, become, before the close of the century, a
Simple as the discovery was, its effect has most potent factor in human affairs. The
been stupendous. The fundamental prin- speaking telephone of Alexander Graham
ciple of the future dynamo electric ma- Bell was there exhibited for the first time
chine was discovered by him. This was in to the savants, among whom was the dis-
1831. Both the electric motor and the tinguished electrician and scientist Sir
dynamo generator were now potentially William Thomson. For the first time in
present with us. Here, then, was the em- the history of the world a structure of
bryo dynamo. The century closed with copper wire and iron spoke to a listening
single dynamo machines of over 5,000 ear. The instruments were, moreover, the
horse-power capacity, and with single acme of simplicity. Within a year many
power stations in which the total electric a boy had constructed a pair of telephones
generation by such machines is 75,000 to at an expenditure for material of only a
100,000 horse-power. So perfect is the few pennies. The transmitter was only
modern dynamo that out of 1,000 horse- suited for use on short lines, and was soon
power expanded in driving it, 950 or more afterwards replaced by various forms of

207



ELECTRICITY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTUKY



carbon microphone transmitters, to the
production of which many inventors had
turned their attention, notably Edison,
Hughes, Blake, and Runnings.

Few of those who talk between Boston
and Chicago know that in doing so they
have for the exclusive use of their voices
a total of over 1,000,000 Ibs. of copper
wire in the single line. There probably
now exist in the United States alone be
tween 75,000 and. 100,000 miles of hard-
drawn copper wire for long-distance tele
phone service, and over 150,000 miles of
wire in underground conduits. There are
upward of 750,000 telephones in the
United States, and, including both over
head and underground lines, a total of
more than 500,000 miles of wire.

The display of electric light during the
Paris Exposition of 1878 was the first
memorable use of the electric light on a
large scale. The source of light was the
"electric candle" of Paul Jabloehkoff, a
Russian engineer. It was a strikingly
original and simple arc lamp. Instead of
placing the two carbons point to point,
as had been done in nearly all previous
lamps, he placed them side by side, with a
strip of baked kaolin between them. Owing
to unforeseen difficulties it was gradually
abandoned, after having served a great pur
pose in directing the attention of the world
to the possibilities of the electric arc
in lighting.

Inventors in America were not idle.
By the close of 1878, Brush, of Cleve
land, had brought out his series system
of arc lights, including special dynamos,
lamps, etc., and by the middle of 1879 had
in operation machines each capable of
maintaining sixteen arc lamps on one wire.
Weston, of Newark, had also in operation
circuits of arc lamps, and the Thomson-
Houston system had just started in com
mercial work with eight arc lamps in
series from a single dynamo. Maxim and
Fuller, in New York, were working arc
lamps from their machines.

Almost simultaneously with the begin
ning of the commercial work of arc light
ing, Edison, in a successful effort to
provide a small electric lamp for general
distribution in place of gas, brought to
public notice his carbon filament incan
descent lamp. Edison worked for nearly
two years on a lamp based upon the old



idea of incandescent platinum strips or
wires, but without success. The announce
ment of his lamp caused a heavy drop
in gas shares, long before the problem
was really solved by a masterly stroke in
his carbon filament lamp. Curiously, the
nearest approach to the carbon filament
lamp had been made in 1845, by Starr,
an American, who described in a British
patent specification a lamp in which elec
tric current passed through a thin strip
of carbon kept it heated while surrounded
by a glass bulb in which a vacuum was
maintained. Starr had exhibited his
lamps to Faraday, in England, and was
preparing to construct dynamos to furnish
electric current for them in place of bat
teries, but sudden death put an end to his
labors.

The Edison lamp differed from those
which preceded it in the extremely small
section of the carbon strip rendered hot by
the current, and in the perfection of the
vacuum in which it was mounted. Edison
first exhibited his lamp in his laboratory
at Menlo Park, in December, 1879; but
before it could be properly utilized an
enormous amount of work had to be done.
His task was not merely the improvement
of an art already existing; it was the
creation of a new art. The details of all
parts of the system were made more per
fect, and in the hands of Edison and others
the incandescent lamps, originally of high
cost, were much cheapened and the quality
of the production was greatly improved.

In spite of the fact that it was well
known that a good dynamo when reversed
could be made a source of power, few
electric motors were in use until a con
siderable time after the establishment of
the first lighting stations. Even in 1884,
at the Philadelphia Electrical Exhibition,
only a few electric motors were shown.

Twenty years ago an electric motor was
a curiosity; fifty years ago crude examples
run by batteries were only to be oc
casionally found in cabinets of scientific
apparatus. Machinery Hall, at the Cen
tennial Exhibition of 1876, typified the
mill of the past, never again to be re
produced, with its huge engine and line?
of heavy shafting and belts conveying
power. The wilderness of belts and pul
leys is gradually being cleared away, and
electric distribution of power substituted.



208



ELECTRICITY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

Moreover, the lighting of the modern mill lines in operation. About 30,000 horses

or factory is done from the same electric and mules were replaced by electric power

plant which distributes power. in the single year of 1891. In 1892 the

The electric motor has already partly Thomson-Houston interests and those of
revolutionized the distribution of power the Edison General Electric Company
for stationary machinery, but as applied were merged in the General Electric Corn-
to railways in place of animal power the pany, an event of unusual importance, as
revolution is complete. The period which it brought together the two great coni-
luis elapsed since the first introduction of petitors in electric traction at that date,
electric railways is barely a dozen years. Other electric manufacturers, chief among
It is true that a few tentative experiments which was the Westinghouse Company,
in electric traction were made some time also entered the field and became promi-
in advance of 1888, notably by Siemens, nent factors in railway extension. In a
in Berlin, in 1870 and 1880, by Stephen D. few years horse traction in the United
Field, by T. A. Edison, at Menlo .Park, by States on tramway lines virtually disap-
J. C. Henry, by Charles A. Van Depoele, peared. While the United States and
and others. Farmer, in 1847, tried to pro- Canada have been and still are the theatre
pel railway cars by electric motors driven of the enormous advance in electric trac-
by currents from batteries carried on the tion, as in other electric work, many elec-
cars. These efforts were, of course, doom- trie car lines have in recent years been
ed to failure, for economical reasons. The established in Great Britain and on the
plan survives, however, in the electric continent of Europe. Countries like
automobile, best adapted to cities, where Japan, Australia, South Africa, and South
facilities for charging and caring for the America have also in operation many elec-
batteries can be had. trie trolley lines, and the work is rapidly

The modern overhead trolley, or under- extending. Most of this work, even in

running trolley, as it is called, seems to Europe, has been carried out either by

have been first invented by Van Depoele, importation of equipment from America,

and used by him in practical electric rail- or by apparatus manufactured there, but

way work about 1886 and thereafter. The following American practice closely.

year 1888 may be said to mark the be- In Chicago the application of motor-

ginning of this work, and in that year cars in trains upon the elevated railway

Frank J. Sprague put into operation the followed directly upon the practical dem-

electric line at Richmond, Va., using onstration at the World s Fair of the

the under-running trolley. The Richmond capabilities of third-rail electric traction

line was the first large undertaking. It on the Intramural Elevated Railway, and

had about 13 miles of track, numer- the system is rapidly extending so as to

ous curves, and grades of from 3 to 10 per include all elevated city roads. A few

cent. The Richmond installation, kept years will doubtless see the great change

in operation as it was in spite of all diffi- accomplished.

culties, convinced Mr. Henry M. Whitney The motor-car, or car propelled by its

and the directors of the West End Street own motors, has also been introduced upoii

Railway, of Boston, of the feasibility of standard steam roads to a limited extent

equipping the entire railway system of as a supplement to steam traction. The

Boston electrically. earliest of these installations are the one

The West End Company, with 200 miles at Nantasket, Mass., and that between

of track in and around Boston, began to Hartford and New Britain, in Connec-

c-quip its lines in 1888 with the Thomson- ticut. A number of special high-speed

Houston plant. The success of this great lines, using similar plans, have gone into

undertaking left no doubt of the future operation in recent years,

of electric traction. The difficulties which The three largest and most powerful

had seriously threatened future success electric locomotives ever put into service

were gradually removed. are those which are employed to take

Th electric railway progress was so trains through the Baltimore & Ohio

great in the United States that about Railroad tunnel at Baltimore. They have

Jan. 1, 1891, there were more than 240 been in service about seven or eight years,
Til. o 209



ELECTRICITY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY



and are fully equal in power to the large
steam locomotives used on steam roads.
There was opened, in London, in 1900,
the Central Underground, equipped with
twenty-six electric locomotives for draw
ing its trains. The electric and power
equipment was manufactured in America
to suit the needs of the road.

The alternating current transformer not
only greatly extended the radius of supply
from a single station, but also enabled
the station to be conveniently located
where water and coal could be had without
difficulty. It also permitted the distant
water-powers to become sources of electric
energy for lighting, power, or for other
service. For example, a water-power
located at a distance of 50 to 100 miles
or more from a city, or from a large man
ufacturing centre where cost of fuel is
high, may be utilized.

A gigantic power-station has lately been
established at Niagara. Ten water-wheels,
located in an immense wheel-pit about
200 feet deep, each wheel of a capacity of
5,000 horse-power, drive large vertical
shafts, at the upper end of which are
located the large two-phase dynamos, each
of 5,000 horse-power. The electric energy
from these machines is in part raised in
pressure by huge transformers for trans
mission to distant points, such as the city
of Buffalo, and a large portion is delivered
to the numerous manufacturing plants
located at moderate distances from the
power-station. Besides the supply of
energy for lighting, and for motors, in
cluding railways, other recent uses of
electricity to which we have not yet al
luded are splendidly exemplified at Niag
ara. The arts of electro-plating of
metals, such as electro-gilding, silver-
plating, nickel-plating, and copper de
position as in eleetrotyping, are now
practised on a very large scale. Moreover,
since the introduction of dynamo current,
electrolysis has come to be employed in
huge plants, not only for separating
metals from each other, as in refining
them, but in addition for separating
them from their ores, for the manufacture
of chemical compounds before unknown,
and for the cheap production of numer
ous substances of use in the various arts
on a large scale. Vast quantities of cop
per are refined, and silver and gold often



obtained from residues in sufficient amount
to pay well for the process.

At Niagara also are works for the
production of the metal aluminum from
its ores. This metal, which competes in
price with brass, bulk for bulk, was only
obtainable before its electric reduction
at $25 to $30 per pound. The metal
sodium is also extracted from soda. A
large plant at Niagara also uses the elec
tric current for the manufacture of
chlorine for bleach, and caustic soda, both
from common salt. Chlorine of potas
sium is* also made at Niagara by elec
trolysis. The field of electro-chemisty
is, indeed, full of great future pos
sibilities. Large furnaces heated by elec
tricity, a single one of which will con
sume more than 1,000 horse-power, exist
at Niagara. In these furnaces is manufact
ured from coke and sand, by the Acheson
process, an abrasive material called car
borundum, which is almost as hard as
diamond, but quite low in cost. It is
made into slabs and into wheels for grind
ing hard substances. The electric furnace
furnishes also the means for producing
artificial plumbago, or graphite, almost
perfectly pure, the raw material being
coke powder.

A large amount of power from Niagara
is also consumed for the production in
special electric arc furnaces of carbide
of calcium from coke and lime. This is
the source of acetylene gas, the new il-
luminant, which is generated when water
is brought into contact with the carbide.

While it is not likely that electricity will
soon be used for general heating, special
instances, such as the warming of electric
cars in winter by electric heaters, the oper
ation of cooking appliances by electric
current, the heating of sad-irons and the
like, give evidence of the possibilities
should there ever be found means for the
generation of electric energy from fuel
with such high efficiency as 80 per cent,
or more. Present methods give, under
most favorable conditions, barely 10 per
cent., 90 per cent, of the energv value of
the fuel being unavoidably wasted.

The electric current is used for welding
together the joints of steel car-rails, for
welding teeth in saws, for making many
parts of bicycles, and in tool making. An
instance of its peculiar adaptability to



210



ELECTRICITY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY ELECTROCUTION

unusual conditions is the welding of the velopments are to come, who can pi-edict?

iron bands embedded within the body of The electrical progress has been great

a rubber vehicle tire for holding the tire very great but after all only a part of

in place. For this purpose the electric that grander advance in so many other

weld has been found almost essential. fields. Man still spends his best effort,

Another branch of electric development and has always done so, in the construc-
concerns the storage of electricity. The tion and equipment of his engines of
storage battery is based upon principles destruction, and now exhausts the mines
discovered by Gaston Plante, and applied, of the world of valuable metals, for ships
since 1881, by Brush, by Faure, and of war, whose ultimate goal is the bottom
others. Some of the larger lighting sta- of the sea. Perhaps all this is necessary
tions employ as reservoirs of electric now, and, if so, well. But if a fraction
energy large batteries charged by surplus of the vast expenditure entailed were
dynamo current. This is afterwards turned to the encouragement of advance
drawn upon when the consumer s load is in the arts and employments of peace, can
heavy, as during the evening. The storage it be doubted that, at the close of the
battery is, however, a heavy, cumbrous ap- twentieth century, the nineteenth century
paratus, of limited life, easily destroyed might come to be regarded, in spite of its
unless guarded with skill. If a form not achievements, as a rather wasteful, semi-
possessing these faults be ever found, the barbarous transition period ?
field of possible application is almost Electrocution. The popular name of a
limitless method of inflicting capital punishment

The wonderful X-rays, and the rich by electricity as ordered by the legislature
scientific harvest which has followed the of New York in 1888 and amended in 1892.
discovery by Rontgen of invisible radiation New York is the only State in the coun-
from a vacuum tube, was preceded by try where this method of capital punish-
much investigation of the effects of elec- ment has been sanctioned. The first per-
tric discharges in vacuum tubes, and Hit- son executed by the new method was
torf, followed by Crookes, has given special William Kemmler, a convicted murderer,
study to these effects in very high or on whom the death sentence was thus
nearly perfect vacua. It was as late as carried out in Auburn Prison, Aug. 6,
1896 that Rontgen announced his dis- 1890. The apparatus used in the execu-
covery. Since that time several other tion, as officially described, consisted of a
sources of invisible radiation have been stationary engine, alternating-current
discovered, more or less similar in effect dynamo and exciter, a voltmeter with
to the radiations from a vacuum tube, but extra resistance coil, calibrated from a
emitted, singular as the fact is, from rare range of from 30 to 2,000 volts, an am-
substances extracted from certain min- meter for alternating currents from 0.10
erals. Leaving out of consideration the to 3 amperes, a Wheatstone-bridge rheostat,
great value of the X-ray to physicians and bell signals, and a number of switches,
surgeons, its effect in stimulating scientific The death-chair had an adjustab e head-
inquiry has almost been incalculable. It rest, binding-straps, and two adjustable
ie as unlikely that the mystery of the electrodes, one of which was placed on
material universe will ever be completely the top of the head and the other at the
solved as it is that we can gain an lower part of the spine. The execution
adequate conception of infinite space or room contained only the death-chair, the
time. But we can at least extend the electrodes, and the wires attached to them,
range of our mental vision of the processes the remainder of the equipment being in
of nature as we do our real vision into the adjoining room. At the end of seven-
space depths by the telescope and spectro- teen seconds after the contact was made
scope. the victim was pronounced dead. The

The nineteenth century closed with current strength was believed to have been
many important problems in electrical at least 1,500 volts, although there was no
science unsolved. What great or far- official record kept of many details, but
reaching discoveries are yet in store, who in later executions the electromotive press-
can toll? What valuable practical de- ure varied from 458 to 716 volts, while

211



ELECTRO-MAGNETIC TELEGRAPH ELIOT



the ammeter has shown a variation in
current of from 2 to 7 amperes. After
the first execution there was rather a
widespread protest against this method of
carrying out capital punishment, and the
constitutionality of the legislative act was
taken to the Supreme Court of the United



Online LibraryBenson John LossingHarper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) → online text (page 33 of 76)