H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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All rights reserved.
Published February, 1902.















IT is proposed in this book to present, in as orderly
an arrangement as the necessarily diffused
nature of the subject admits, certain speculations
about the trend of present forces, speculations
which, taken all together, will build up an imperfect
and very hypothetical but sincerely intended fore-
cast of the way things will probably go in this new
century.* Necessarily diffidence will be one of the
graces of the performance. Hitherto such fore-
casts have been presented almost invariably in
the form of fiction, and commonly the provocation
of the satirical opportunity has been too much
for the writer, t The narrative form becomes more

* In the earlier papers of which this is the first, attention will
be given to the probable development of the civilized community
in general. Afterwards these generalizations will be modified in
accordance with certain broad differences of race, custom, and

t Of quite serious forecasts and inductions of things to come,
the number is very small indeed ; a suggestion or so of Mr. Herbert
Spencer's, Mr. Kidd's Social Evolution, some hints from Mr.
Archdall Reid, some political forecasts, German for the most
part (Hartmann's Earth in the Twentieth Century, e.g.), some



and more of a nuisance as the speculative induc-
tions become sincerer, and here it will be abandoned
altogether in favor of a texture o'f frank inquiries
and arranged considerations. Our utmost aim is
a rough sketch of the coming time, a prospectus,
as it were, of the joint undertaking of mankind
in facing these impending years. The reader is
a prospective shareholder he and his heirs
though whether he will find this anticipatory
balance-sheet to his belief or liking is another

For reasons that will develop themselves more
clearly as these papers unfold, it is extremely con-
venient to begin with a speculation upon the prob-
able developments and changes of the means of
land locomotion during the coming decades. No

incidental forecasts by Professor Langley (Century Magazine,
December, 1884, e.g.), and such isolated computations as Pro-
fessor Crookes's wheat warning, and the various estimates of
our coal supply, make almost a complete bibliography. Of
fiction, of course, there is abundance : Stories of the Year 2000,
and Battles of Dorking, and the like I learn from Mr. Peddie,
the bibliographer, over one hundred pamphlets and books of that
description. But from its very nature, and I am writing with the
intimacy of one who has tried, fiction can never be satisfactory
in this application. Fiction is necessarily concrete and definite ;
it permits of no open alternatives ; its aim of illusion prevents a
proper amplitude of demonstration, and modern prophecy
should be, one submits, a branch of speculation, and should
follow with all decorum the scientific method. The very
form of fiction carries with it something of disavowal ; in-
deed, very much of the Fiction of the Future pretty frankly
abandons the prophetic altogether, ana! becomes polemical,
cautionary, or idealistic, and a mere footnote and commentary
to our present discontents.



one who has studied the civil history of the nine-
teenth century will deny how far-reaching the con-
sequences of changes in transit may be, and no
one who has studied the military performances
of General Buller and General De Wet but will
see that upon transport, upon locomotion, may
also hang the most momentous issues of politics
and war. The growth of our great cities, the rapid
populating of America, the entry of China into the
field of European politics, are, for example, quite
obviously and directly consequences of new methods
of locomotion. And while so much hangs upon
the development of these methods that develop-
ment is, on the other hand, a process comparatively
independent now, at any rate of most of the other
great movements affected b3^ it. It depends upon a
sequence of ideas arising, and of experiments
made, and upon laws of political economy, almost
as inevitable as natural laws. Such great issues,
supposing them to be possible, as the return of
Western Europe to the Roman communion, the
overthrow of the British Empire by Germany, or the
inundation of Europe by the "Yellow Peril,"
might conceivably affect such details, let us say,
as door-handles and ventilators or mileage of line,
but would probably leave the essential features of
the evolution of locomotion untouched. The evolu-
tion of locomotion has a purely historical relation
to the Western European peoples. It is no longer
dependent upon them, or exclusively in their hands.



The Malay nowadays sets out upon his pilgrimage
to Mecca in an excursion steamship of iron, and
the immemorial Hindoo goes a'-shopping in a
train, and in Japan and Australasia and America
there are plentiful hands and minds to take up
the process now, even should the European let
it fall.

The beginning of this twentieth century happens
to coincide with a very interesting phase in that
great development of means of land transit that
has been the distinctive feature (speaking ma-
terially) of the nineteenth century. The nine-
teenth century, when it takes its place with the
other centuries in the chronological charts of the
future, will, if it needs a symbol, almost inevitably
have as that symbol a steam-engine running
upon a railway. This period covers the first
experiments, the first great developments, and the
complete elaboration of that mode of transit, and
the determination of nearly all the broad features
of this century's history may be traced directly
or indirectly to that process. And since an in-
teresting light is thrown upon the new phases
in land locomotion that are now beginning, it
will be well to begin this forecast with a retro-
spect, and to revise very shortly the history of
the addition of steam travel to the resources of

A curious and profitable question arises at
once. How is it that the steam locomotive ap-



peared at the time it did, and not earlier in the
history of the world?

Because it was not invented. But why was
it not invented? Not for want of a crowning
intellect, for none of the many minds concerned
in the development strikes one as the mind of
Newton, Shakespeare, or Darwin strikes one
as being that of an unprecedented man. It is
not that the need for the railway and steam-engine
had only just arisen, and to use one of the most
egregiously wrong and misleading phrases that
ever dropped from the lips of man the demand
created the supply; it was quite the other way
about. There was really no urgent demand for
such things at the time; the current needs of the
European world seem to have been fairly well
served by coach and diligence in 1800, and, on the
other hand, every administrator of intelligence
in the Roman and Chinese empires must have
felt an urgent need for more rapid methods of
transit than those at his disposal. Nor was the
development of the steam locomotive the result
of any sudden discovery of steam. Steam, and
something of the mechanical possibilities of
steam, had been known for two thousand years;
it had been used for pumping water, opening
doors, and working toys before the Christian
era. It may be urged that this advance was the
outcome of that new and more systematic handling
of knowledge initiated by Lord Bacon and sus-



tained by the Royal Society; but this does not
appear to have been the case, though no doubt
the new habits of mind that spread outward from
that centre played their part. The men whose
names are cardinal in the history of this develop-
ment invented, for the most part, in a quite em-
pirical way, and Trevithick's engine was running
along its rails and Evan's boat was walloping
up the Hudson a quarter of a century before
Carnot expounded his general proposition. There
were no such deductions from principles to applica-
tion as occur in the story of electricity to justify
our attribution of the steam-engine to the scientific
impulse. Nor does this particular .invention
seem to have been directly due to the new pos-
sibilities of reducing, shaping, and casting iron,
afforded by the substitution of coal for wood in iron
works, through the greater temperature afforded
by a coal fire. In China coal has been used in the
reduction of iron for many centuries. No doubt
these new facilities did greatly help the steam-
engine in its invasion of the field of common life,
but quite certainly they were not sufficient to set
it going. It was, indeed, not one cause, but a
very complex and unprecedented series of causes,
set the steam locomotive going. It was indirectly,
and in another way, that the introduction of coal
became the decisive factor. One peculiar con-
dition of its production in England seems to
have supplied just one ingredient that had been



missing for two thousand years in the group of
conditions that were necessary before the steam
locomotive could appear.

This missing ingredient was a demand for
some comparatively simple, profitable machine,
upon which the elementary principles of steam
utilization could be worked out. If one studies
Stephenson's "Rocket" in detail, as one realizes
its profound complexity, one begins to understand
how impossible it would have been for that struct-
ure to have come into existence de novo, however
urgently the world had need of it. But it happened
that the coal needed to replace the dwindling forests
of this small and exceptionally rain - saturated
country occurs in low, hollow basins overlying
clay, and not, as in China and the Alleghanies,
for example, on high-lying outcrops, that can be
worked as chalk is worked in England. From
this fact it followed that some quite unprecedented
pumping appliances became necessary, and the
thoughts of practical men were turned thereby
to the long-neglected possibilities of steam. Wind
was extremely inconvenient for the purpose of
pumping, because in these latitudes it is incon-
stant: it was costly, too, because at any time the
laborers might be obliged to sit ai, the pit's mouth
for weeks together, whistling for a gale or waiting
for the water to be got under again. But steam
had already been used for pumping upon one or
two estates in England rather as a toy than in



earnest before the middle of the seventeenth
century, and the attempt to employ it was so
obvious as to be practically unavoidable.* The
water trickling into the coal measures! acted, there-
fore, like water trickling upon chemicals that have
long been mixed together, dry and inert. Im-
mediately the latent reactions were set going.
Savery, Newcomen, a host of other workers cul-
minating in Watt, working always by steps that
were at least so nearly obvious as to give rise again
and again to simultaneous discoveries, changed
this toy of steam into a real, a commercial thing,
developed a trade in pumping - engines, created
foundries and a new art of engineering, and, al-
most unconscious of what they were doing, made
the steam locomotive a well-nigh unavoidable
consequence. At last, after a century of improve-
ment on pumping-engines, there remained nothing
but the very obvious stage of getting the engine
that had been developed on wheels and out upon
the ways of the world.

Ever and again during the eighteenth century
an engine would be put upon the roads and pro-
nounced a failure one monstrous Palaeoferric
creature was visible on a French high-road as
early as 1769 but by the dawn of the nineteenth
century the problem had very nearly got itself

* It might have been used in the same way in Italy in the first
century, had not the grandiose taste for aqueducts prevailed,
t And also into the Cornwall mines, be it noted.



solved. By 1804 Trevithick had a steam locomo-
tive indisputably in motion and almost financially
possible, and from his hands it puffed its way,
slowly at first, and then, under Stephenson, faster
and faster, to a transitory empire over the earth.
It was a steam locomotive but for all that it
was primarily a steam-engine for pumping adapted
to a new end; it was a steam-engine whose an-
cestral stage had developed under conditions
that were by no means exacting in the matter
of weight. And from that fact followed a con-
sequence that has hampered railway travel and
transport very greatly, and that is tolerated nowa-
days only through a belief in its practical necessity.
The steam locomotive was all too huge and heavy
for the high-road it had to be put upon rails.
And so clearly linked are steam-engines and rail-
ways in our minds, that, in common language
now, the latter implies the former. But, indeed,
it is the result of accidental impediments, of avoid-
able difficulties, that we travel to-day on rails.

Railway travelling is at best a compromise.
The quite conceivable ideal of locomotive con-
venience, so far as travellers are concerned, is
surely a highly mobile conveyance capable of
travelling easily and swiftly to any desired point,
traversing, at a reasonably controlled pace, the
ordinary roads and streets, and having access
for higher rates of speed and long-distance travel-
ling to specialized ways restricted to swift traffic



and possibly furnished with guide rails. For
the collection and delivery of all sorts of perishable
goods also the same system is obviously altogether
superior to the existing methods. Moreover, such
a system would admit of that secular progress
in engines and vehicles that the stereotyped con-
ditions of the railway have almost completely
arrested, because it would allow almost any new
pattern to be put at once upon the ways without
interference with the established traffic. Had
such an ideal been kept in view from the first, the
traveller would now be able to get through his
long-distance journeys at a pace of from seventy
miles or more an hour without changing, and
without any of the trouble, waiting, expense,
and delay that arise between the household or
hotel and the actual rail. It was an ideal that
must have been at least possible to an intelligent
person fifty years ago, and, had it been resolutely
pursued, the world, instead of fumbling from
compromise to compromise as it always has done,
and as it will do very probably for many centuries
yet, might have been provided to-day, not only
with an infinitely more practicable method of
communication, but with one capable of a steady
and continual evolution from year to year.

But there was a more obvious path of develop-
ment and one immediately cheaper, and along
that path went short-sighted Nineteenth Century
Progress, quite heedless of the possibility of end-



ing in a cul-de-sac. The first locomotives, apart
from the heavy tradition of their ancestry, were,
like all experimental machinery, needlessly clumsy
and heavy, and their inventors, being men of
insufficient faith, instead of working for light-
ness and smoothness of motion, took the easier
course of placing them upon the tramways that
were already in existence chiefly for the transit
of heavy goods over soft roads. And from that
followed a very interesting and curious result.

These tram-lines very naturally had exactly
the width of an ordinary cart, a width prescribed
by the strength of one horse. Few people saw
in the locomotive anything but a cheap substitute
for horseflesh, or found anj^thing incongruous
in letting the dimensions of a horse determine
the dimensions of an engine. It mattered nothing
that from the first the passenger was ridiculously
cramped, hampered, and crowded in the carriage.
He had always been cramped in a coach, and it
would have seemed "Utopian" a very dreadful
thing indeed to our grandparents to propose
travel without cramping. By mere inertia the
horse-cart gauge the 4 ft. 8^ in. gauge nemine
contradicente, established itself in the world,
and now everywhere the train is dwarfed to a
scale that limits alike its comfort, power, and
speed. Before every engine, as it were, trots
the ghost of a superseded horse, refuses most
resolutely to trot faster than fifty miles an hour,



and shies and threatens catastrophe at every
point and curve. That fifty miles an hour,
most authorities are agreed, is the limit of our
speed for land travel so far as existing conditions
go.* Only a revolutionary reconstruction of the
railways or the development of some new com-
peting method of land travel can carry us beyond

People of to-day take the railways for granted
as they take sea and sky; they were born in a
railway world, and they expect to die in one. But
if only they will strip from their eyes the most
blinding of all influences, acquiescence in the
familiar, they will see clearly enough that this
vast and elaborate railway system of ours, by
which the whole world is linked together, is really
only a vast system of trains of horse-wagons and
coaches drawn along rails by pumping - engines
upon wheels. Is that, in spite of its present vast
extension, likely to remain the predominant method
of land locomotion, even for so short a period as
the next hundred years?

Now, so much capital is represented by the

* It might be worse. If the biggest horses had been Shetland
ponies, we should be travelling now in railway carriages to
hold two each side at a maximum speed of perhaps twenty miles
an hour. There is hardly any reason, beyond this tradition
of the horse, why the railway carriage should not be even nine
or ten feet wide, the width, that is, of the smallest room in which
people can live in comfort, hung on such springs and wheels
as would effectually destroy all vibration, and furnished with
all the equipment of comfortable chambers.



existing type of railways, and they have so stable
an establishment in the acquiescence of men,
that it is very doubtful if the railways will ever
attempt any very fundamental change in the
direction of greater speed or facility, unless they
are first exposed to the pressure of our second
alternative, competition, and we may very well
go on to inquire how long will it be before that
second alternative comes into operation if ever
it is to do so.

Let us consider what other possibilities seem to
offer themselves. Let us revert to the ideal we
have already laid down, and consider what hopes
and obstacles to its attainment there seem to be.
The abounding presence of numerous experimental
motors to-day is so stimulating to the imagina-
tion, there are so many stimulated persons at
work upon them, that it is difficult to believe the
obvious impossibility of most of them, their con-
vulsiveness, clumsiness, and in many cases
exasperating trail of stench will not be rapidly
fined away.* I do not think that it is asking too

* Explosives as a motive power were first attempted by Huy-
ghens and one or two others in the seventeenth century, and,
just as with the turbine type of apparatus, it was probably the
impetus given to the development of steam by the convenient
collocation of coal and water and the need of an engine that
arrested the advance of this parallel inquiry until our own time.
Explosive engines, in which gas and petroleum are employed,
are now abundant, but for all that we can regard the explosive
engine as still in its experimental stages. So far, research in
explosives has been directed chiefly to the possibilities of higher



much of the reader's faith in progress to assume
that so far as a light, powerful engine goes, com-
paratively noiseless, smooth-running, not obnox-
ious to sensitive nostrils, and altogether suitable
for high-road traffic, the problem will very speedily
be solved. And upon that assumption, in what
direction are these new motor vehicles likely to
develop? how will they react upon the railways?
and where, finally, will they take us?

At present they seem to promise developments
upon three distinct and definite lines.

There will, first of all, be the motor truck for
heavy traffic. Already such trucks are in evidence

and still higher explosives for use in war, the neglect of the me-
chanical application of this class of substance being largely
due to the fact that chemists are not as a rule engineers, nor
engineers chemists. But an easily portable substance, the
decomposition of which would evolve energy, or what is, from
the practical point of view, much the same thing an easily
portable substance which could be decomposed electrically by
wind or water power, and which would then recombine and
supply force, either in intermittent thrusts at a piston or as an
electric current, would be infinitely more convenient for all locomo-
tive purposes than the cumbersome bunkers and boilers required
by steam. The presumption is altogether in favor of the pos-
sibility of such substances. Their advent will be the begin-
ning of the end for steam traction on land and of the steamship
at sea the end indeed of the Age of Coal and Steam. And even
with regard to steam, there may be a curious change of method
before the end. It is beginning to appear that, after all, the
piston and cylinder type of engine is, for locomotive purposes
on water at least, if not on land by no means the most perfect.
Another, and fundamentally different type, the turbine type,
in which the impulse of the steam spins a wheel instead of shov-
ing a piston, would appear to be altogether better than the adapted
pumping-engine at any rate, for the purposes of steam naviga-



distributing goods and parcels of various sorts.
And sooner or later, no doubt, the numerous ad-
vantages of such an arrangement will lead to the
organization of large carrier companies, using
such motor trucks to carry goods in bulk or parcels
on the high-roads. Such companies will be in an
exceptionally favorable position to organize storage
and repair for the motors of the general public
on profitable terms, and possibly to co-operate in
various ways with the manufacturers of special
tjTpes of motor machines.

In the next place, and parallel with the motor
truck, there will develop the hired or privately

tion. Hero, of Alexandria, describes an elementary form of
such an engine, and the early experimenters of the seventeenth
century tried and abandoned the rotary principle. It was not
adapted to pumping, and pumping was the only application
that then offered sufficient immediate encouragement to persist-
ence. The thing marked time for quite two centuries and a
half, therefore, while the piston engines perfected themselves ;
and only in the eighties did the requirements of the dynamo-
electric machine open a " practicable " way of advance. The
motors of the dynamo-electric machine in the nineteenth cen-
tury, in fact, played exactly the rdle of the pumping -engine
in the eighteenth, and by 1894 so many difficulties of detail had
been settled that a syndicate of capitalists and scientific men
could face the construction of an experimental ship. This
ship, the Turbinia, after a considerable amount of trial and
modification, attained the unprecedented speed of 34 */t knots an
hour, and her Majesty's navy has possessed, in the Turbinia 's
younger and greater sister, the Viper, now unhappily lost, a
torpedo-destroyer capable of forty-one miles an hour. There can
be little doubt that the sea speeds of fifty and even sixty miles
an hour will be attained within the next few years. But I do
not think that these developments will do more than delay the

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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 1 of 21)