When Flying and Railroading Were New

 

GLDIII posted Orville Wright’s 1905 description of the sensations of flying. This reminded me of Fanny Kemble’s description of her first train ride, in 1830. First, here’s Orville:

When you know, after the first few minutes, that the whole mechanism is working perfectly, the sensation is so keenly delightful as to be almost beyond description. Nobody who has not experienced it for himself can realize it. It is a realization of a dream so many persons have had of floating in the air. More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace, mingled with the excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination.

And now, here’s Fanny:

You can’t imagine how strange it seemed to be journeying on thus, without any visible cause of progress other than the magical machine, with its flying white breath and rhythmical, unvarying pace, between these rocky walls, which are already clothed with moss and ferns and grasses; and when I reflected that these great masses of stone had been cut asunder to allow our passage thus far below the surface of the earth, I felt as if no fairy tale was ever half so wonderful as what I saw. Bridges were thrown from side to side across the top of these cliffs, and the people looking down upon us from them seemed like pigmies standing in the sky… After proceeding through this rocky defile, we presently found ourselves raised upon embankments ten or twelve feet high; we then came to a moss, or swamp, of considerable extent, on which no human foot could tread without sinking, and yet it bore the road which bore us… We passed over it at the rate of five and twenty miles an hour, and saw the stagnant swamp water trembling on the surface of the soil on either side of us… It was lovely and wonderful beyond all words.

Fanny Kemble was a famous British actress and a gifted writer. She married an American and lived with him on his Georgia plantation; what she observed there caused her to become a strong opponent of slavery. She was an acute observer of American life and made many interesting comments. Fanny is definitely worth getting acquainted with; I reviewed and excerpted some of her work here.

Also, a longer excerpt of her description of the train journey appears in this post.

There are 21 comments.

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  1. Misthiocracy, Joke Pending Member
    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending
    @Misthiocracy

    It’s funny. The sensation of speed, danger, and excitement is much greater on a Vespa doing 25 MPH than it is in an airliner going over 500 MPH.

    After university my buddy bought a used Honda scooter and let me have a go on it in a parking lot. The first time on that thing freaked me the heck out, and it’s top speed was only 37 mph (a speed which I did not get nearly close to).

    • #1
  2. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):
    It’s funny. The sensation of speed, danger, and excitement is much greater on a Vespa doing 25 MPH than it is in an airliner going over 500 MPH.

    Until that airliner comes in for landing at over 100 mph in a crosswind.

    • #2
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Railroads, the telegraph, and photography all came in around 1830. I think of these three as the key miracle technologies of the 19th century. After all, once you had telegraphy, the idea of the telephone became thinkable; once you had phones, wireless was imaginable; once you had sounds over the air, pictures over the air were a logical next step. But in 1818, travel and communications took about as long as they had in Caesar’s time; few would have dreamed how fast the world would change. 

    • #3
  4. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Railroads, the telegraph, and photography all came in around 1830

    Also, railroads would have been of much more limited use had telegraphy not been available.  Imagine trying to run a railroad without any way of communicating about delays, line blockages, etc, other than the physical transportation of the message.  (Especially on a single-track line)

     

    • #4
  5. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    once you had phones, wireless was imaginable

    True. But it took the genius of James Clerk Maxwell in 1865  to lay the groundwork. From Wiki:

    In the millennium poll – a survey of the 100 most prominent physicists – Maxwell was voted the third greatest physicist of all time, behind only Newton and Einstein.

    • #5
  6. GLDIII Reagan
    GLDIII
    @GLDIII

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):
    It’s funny. The sensation of speed, danger, and excitement is much greater on a Vespa doing 25 MPH than it is in an airliner going over 500 MPH.

    Until that airliner comes in for landing at over 100 mph in a crosswind.

    Airliner?

    Try it in a 1200 pound plane with a 25 MPH gusting cross wind. Chalk it up to one of those Never Again lessons learned. 

    • #6
  7. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    The introduction of the railroad and the telegraph also had considerable social and political consequences.  There’s an interesting passage in a speech given by former Confederate general Porter Alexander (he was Lee’s artillery commander at Gettysburg), who after the war became a railroad president.

    Well that (state’s rights) was the issue of the war; & as we were defeated that right was surrendered & a limit put on state sovereignty. And the South is now entirely satisfied with that result. And the reason of it is very simple. State sovereignty was doubtless a wise political instution for the condition of this vast country in the last century. But the railroad, and the steamboat & the telegraph began to transform things early in this century & have gradually made what may almost be called a new planet of it… Our political institutions have had to change… Briefly we had the right to fight, but our fight was against what might be called a Darwinian development – or an adaptation to changed & changing conditions – so we need not greatly regret defeat.

    His thinking here can also be applied to our current era and the impact of such technologies as air freight, container freight, and the Internet.  See my post What Are the Limits of the Alexander Analysis?

    • #7
  8. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    once you had phones, wireless was imaginable

    True. But it took the genius of James Clerk Maxwell in 1865 to lay the groundwork. From Wiki:

    In the millennium poll – a survey of the 100 most prominent physicists – Maxwell was voted the third greatest physicist of all time, behind only Newton and Einstein.

    Ugh. Flashback to E&M, and having to not only learn, but apply, the infernal Maxwell equations.

    Dislike.

    • #8
  9. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    dnewlander (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    once you had phones, wireless was imaginable

    True. But it took the genius of James Clerk Maxwell in 1865 to lay the groundwork. From Wiki:

    In the millennium poll – a survey of the 100 most prominent physicists – Maxwell was voted the third greatest physicist of all time, behind only Newton and Einstein.

    Ugh. Flashback to E&M, and having to not only learn, but apply, the infernal Maxwell equations.

    Dislike.

    By the way, the only reason Maxwell did so well in that poll was that no one was willing to admit they don’t understand Maxwell’s equations, either. Because they’re magic, not physics.

    • #9
  10. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    dnewlander (View Comment):
    By the way, the only reason Maxwell did so well in that poll was that no one was willing to admit they don’t understand Maxwell’s equations, either. Because they’re magic, not physics.

    • #10
  11. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Fanny Kemble’s description does provoke some thinking about what such propulsion would have felt like for those who had never experience locomotion except by their own feet or by a horse or two, Most of us have lived our entire lives with mechanically powered motion. The first mechanically powered motion would seem magical. We take it for granted.

    Now we take air travel for granted. Just yesterday, I walked into a metal tube near Dallas and Fort Worth, sat down in a seat along with 150 or so other people. A couple of hours later, I walked out of the metal tube into a building I was told was near Atlanta, but I have no first hand basis to know for certain. I walked a few hundred yards, got into another metal tube, and again sat in a seat along with about 130 other people. Another couple of hours later, I walked out of the tube, through a building, and met a friend in Rochester, New York. So it wasn’t quite Orville’s “sensation [] keenly delightful,” but is remarkable in hindsight.   

    • #11
  12. Misthiocracy, Joke Pending Member
    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending
    @Misthiocracy

    God said “let there be light” and there was light, but he didn’t prevent heat from leaking out so there was also entropy.

    ;-)

    • #12
  13. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    dnewlander (View Comment):
    By the way, the only reason Maxwell did so well in that poll was that no one was willing to admit they don’t understand Maxwell’s equations, either. Because they’re magic, not physics.

    Like I said, magic.

    • #13
  14. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    It’s funny. The sensation of speed, danger, and excitement is much greater on a Vespa doing 25 MPH than it is in an airliner going over 500 MPH.

    Rollercoaster designers tamper with this sensation by placement of objects around the track. 25mph feels faster depending on whether trees are spaced 10ft apart or 20ft apart. Even minor changes of elevation matter, as anyone who has driven a truck and then a car will know. 

    Perhaps the next comparable sensation will be afforded by autonomous vehicles. Or robots. Or augmented reality.

    • #14
  15. Misthiocracy, Joke Pending Member
    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending
    @Misthiocracy

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    It’s funny. The sensation of speed, danger, and excitement is much greater on a Vespa doing 25 MPH than it is in an airliner going over 500 MPH.

    Rollercoaster designers tamper with this sensation by placement of objects around the track. 25mph feels faster depending on whether trees are spaced 10ft apart or 20ft apart. Even minor changes of elevation matter, as anyone who has driven a truck and then a car will know.

    Perhaps the next comparable sensation will be afforded by autonomous vehicles. Or robots. Or augmented reality.

    There’s already been tests of autonomous F1-style racing cars.  Maybe civilians will get to pay a fee to let a robot take them around an F1 track at racing speeds.   Navigating a closed track with no other cars to get in the way is a much easier task for an AI driver than navigating busy city streets.  Imagine being able to ride even the notorious Nürburgring track in relative safety.

    • #15
  16. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    David Foster: More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace, mingled with the excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination.

    We may not feel this type of experience today with planes, trains, or automobiles, but there is an alternative way to experience this type of perfect peace with excitement: skydive.

     

    When skydiving, there is no sensation of falling. There is nothing in Yer vision passing You by. You just feel suspended… in the air… with a big fan blowing on You. The “perfect peace.” The excitement is in Yer head, knowing that Yer falling 120 mph towards Earth. Quite thrilling (and peaceful) that never gets old. 

    • #16
  17. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Zip ahead sixty or so years: Radio, automobiles, and motion pictures were all in an experimental, but working stage in 1895, with airplanes only a few years later. They share, in effect, the same graduating class. 

    As do their grandchildren-of-invention fifty years after that: atomic energy, computers, rocketry and television. 

    • #17
  18. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Zip ahead sixty or so years: Radio, automobiles, and motion pictures were all in an experimental, but working stage in 1895, with airplanes only a few years later. They share, in effect, the same graduating class.

    As do their grandchildren-of-invention fifty years after that: atomic energy, computers, rocketry and television.

    Relates well to the Kondratiev Wave Theory in economics – forty to sixty years, the cycles consist of alternating intervals of high sectoral growth and intervals of relatively slow growth.

    • #18
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    A British cartoon of the early 1830s, satirically predicting steam carriage traffic jams by 1850. 

    • #19
  20. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    One century later: experimental televisions on display, 1931.

    • #20
  21. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Looks pretty modern, doesn’t it? More than 79 years ago. 

    • #21

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