Tag: History of Technology

How Repeating Firearms Remade America

 

“They say God created all men, but Samuel Colt made them equal.” This saying originated in the American West, testimony to the impact repeating firearms had in nineteenth-century America. Samuel Colt, known for the Colt revolver, may be the best-known gun maker in the United States. In the nineteenth century, he was one among many firearms pioneers.

“Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them,” by John Bainbridge, Jr. tells the story of the men who brought repeating firearms to market, and the companies they started. They included Christian Sharps, Benjamin Henry, Oliver Winchester, Horace Smith, and Daniel Wesson.

All founded companies to manufacture firearms. A few disappeared. Others, including Colt and Smith and Wesson, still exist. This book’s emphasis is on their histories during their birth century, the period between the late 1830s and 1898.

A Remarkable Father-Son Team

 

Isambard Kingdom Brunel is probably the most famous engineer of the nineteenth century. He may have been the best.  Or not. Another lesser-known Brunel is in the running for that title; his father, Marc Isambard Brunel is.

“The Brunels, Father and Son,” by Anthony Burton, is a joint biography of two remarkable men. Burton does a compare-and-contrast on the pair. He concludes it is hard to say who was better.

Isambard Kingdom was best known for building the Great Western Railroad (with its six-foot gauge) and three pioneer steamships, Great Western, Great Britain, and Great Eastern.  Marc Isambard’s signature accomplishment was the Thames Tunnel,  which baffled earlier engineers. He is also known for pioneering mass-production techniques, most notably blocks and army boots.

A Tale of a Real Shooting Railroad War

 

Railroad rivalries played a significant role in nineteenth-century US history. No rivalry was as intense or bitter as the one between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, and the Denver and Rio Grande railroads.  At times it erupted into actual gunfire.

“From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West,” by John Sedgwick tells the stories of their battles. The stakes were high. The winner could gain access to the Pacific. Could, rather than would because other railroads sought to block the winner from advancing.

Sedgwick frames the story as a personal duel between two individuals: General William J. Palmer and William Barstow Strong. Palmer, a Civil War hero, had relocated to Colorado to build the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Strong was the corporate-minded manager of the Santa Fe. Both men had a vision of driving a railroad to the Rio Grande River and from there west to the Pacific Ocean.

Technology Knit into the Fabric of Society

 

The story of textiles proves to be the story of human ingenuity. The history of fiber and cloth is also the history of civilization. Fabric is so interwoven with our history, our culture and our civilization we often overlook its importance.

These claims form the thesis of “The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World,” by Virginia Postrel. It examines the significance fiber products in the emergence of civilization, and their importance today.

Postrel begins examining the building blocks of textiles. She spends a chapter each on fiber, thread, cloth, and dye. This follows the progression from raw material to finished cloth. Thread is formed from fiber and cloth from thread. Dyes (coloring) applied to either thread or cloth decorate the result.

Member Post

 

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday. Book Review Prominent engineer helps change engineering world By MARK LARDAS Preview Open

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This Week’s Book Review – What We Did in Bed

 

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘What We Did in Bed’ a lighthearted look a history

By MARK LARDAS

The Infant Moses Owned an IBM Computer. Now It’s Mine

 

“Computer user” defines the limits of my expertise. I can’t describe them with the fluency of @hankrhody. I can’t build precision electronics like @SkipSul. I can’t program them the way @judgemental or @arahant can. But people like me had an important part to play in the microcomputer revolution: We’re the suckers who paid for it, usually cheerfully. I flipped through a few quarter-century old computer magazines, noticing just how wildly expensive everything was in 1994-’97, for much less performance and far fewer capabilities than today’s computers. Still, to a non-computer specialist like me, the mid-Nineties is a world that’s almost two thirds a modern one. There were slick magazines advertising laptops and desktop machines with color monitors. Accessories like printers and modems plugged right in. The software was by then largely standardized on MS-DOS/Windows 3.1. It was already assumed that you’d want a modem for online use, although it would be for contact via plain old telephone lines with bulletin board systems, not the World Wide Web just quite yet. 1994 or so, in other words, is a primitive but recognizable world to a computer user of today.

Recently I acquired a copy of Byte Magazine from August 1982. This is a lucky find because it’s from a brief, in between period in the history of personal computers. 1982 is most of the way back to the crudely printed newsletters and bulletins of the geeky computer clubs of the Seventies, like the one in northern California that spawned Apple. This issue of Byte runs to 512 pages (!), an amount of advertising that demanded filling in with a whole bunch of dry-as-sawdust technical articles about object-oriented programming, and defining characteristics of sprites on mapped x-y coordinates. That was Byte’s readership.

Member Post

 

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) Well, they did it again. They moved the book reviews from Sunday to Wednesday, which means the review which should have appeared here today has not yet been published. […]

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