“Repair this model, if you please.” These words were spoken to James Watt, an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, in 1764. The model showed how a steam engine worked, but what a steam engine! The original engine of which this miniature working model was a copy, was heavy and clumsy. Worse than that, it was extremely wasteful of the steam that ran it and therefore of the coal that was burned to generate the steam. Such steam engines, built by an English blacksmith named Newcomen, had been used for 40 years, but only in mines to pump out water. Wasteful or not, one steam pump, night and day, did the work of 50 men.
Watt had an orderly mind. Moreover, he was a Scotsman, with a Scotsman’s traditional dislike of waste. Any machine that wasted most of the fuel that made it go was something to be improved, not merely repaired. Watt worked on the model and found out what the matter was. The steam was turned back into water (condensed) in the same part of the engine where it pushed against the piston, that is, in the cylinder. Only hot cylinders worked well, yet condensing steam in the cylinder cooled it off. Then why not condense the steam somewhere else?
That is what Watt did. He worked for years planning a new model with a separate cooling chamber for the steam. Now, with the same amount of fuel, the engine did two or three times as much work as before and why not let steam, like flowing water, turn Wheels? Watt hitched up the steam engine in such a way that it could turn wheels and run machinery. He also built a governor to keep engines going at the same rate of speed. These inventions, in turn, made possible steam driven factory machines, steam driven locomotives and thus paved the way for the Age of Power.
So it was Watt and not Newcomen, who came to be considered the inventor of the steam engine. A tool or an engine or a machine isn’t really and fully invented until it becomes practical. Improving it so as to make it practical may be as important as originating it in the first place.
Here we shall first review man’s progress in science and invention before modern times began. Then we shall see what further progress was made in these two related fields from about 1500 to 1900 — the 400 years preceding the century in which we are living. In brief, answers to the following questions:
1. How did science get its start?
2. How did understanding of basic scientific principles lead to important discoveries?
3. How did science and invention revolutionize industry and agriculture?
1. How Did Science Get Its Start?
“Ours is an age of science and invention.” Such a statement is heard so often — and is so very true — that we are inclined to belittle what was learned and done in earlier times. Before the beginning of the age we call modern, that is, before the year 1500, more science had been learned and more useful things invented than many of us realize.
We take for granted many of man’s basic discoveries and inventions. Man’s earliest discoveries were so simple and yet so fundamental that it is hard to conceive of human life before they were made. Although animals could use noises and sounds to coax or frighten, man’s tremendous discovery that sound can have a great variety of meanings led to speech. Man learned to lift and move heavy objects and to construct buildings that ranged from simple huts to the great pyramids of Egypt. He clothed himself with animals’ skins and learned to weave fibers into textiles.
No clear line can be drawn between chance discovery and invention. The man or woman who first found that meat tastes better when partly burned, invented cooking and pioneered in the use and control of fire. The man or woman who first noticed that new plants spring up from seeds and conceived the wonderful idea of putting seeds in the ground and waiting for them to bear fruit, invented agriculture. The child — perhaps it was a child — who first adopted a frightened lamb or calf or colt or puppy and discovered that it could be useful, started the domestication of animals. The person who first observed that he could roll logs which he couldn’t pick up or drag may have invented the wheel. Countless primitive people may have made each of these tremendously important discoveries independently.
The word “invention” can refer either to something we make or to something we do. For example, people learned to bury or embalm the dead. They invented weights and measures, money, signalling systems, writing and alphabets.
Early inventions were comparatively simple. From necessity, people in early times had invented many simple articles, like knives and spears, which could be produced with little or no scientific knowledge. Desire to save time and energy and to have more comforts had led to many simple labour-saving inventions such as the rake and the potter’s wheel. As civilization progressed, men found additional ways to ease their toil and add to their comfort. A list of useful discoveries and inventions developed by 1500 A.D. would be longer than you might suspect. Yet inventions continued to be quite simple. Modern inventions, on the other hand, are in many cases extremely complicated. Even a small country store sells scores of complex articles that were unknown before modern times. Tools and appliances that would have been complete mysteries even to our great-grandfathers can be found in every home today.
Science started more slowly than invention. Before 1500 the development of science (systematic knowledge and understanding of the universe) was much more spotty and uneven than the growth of invention. A few notable discoveries had been made In the year 585 B.C., more than 2000 years before the first telescopes were built, Thales predicted that on a certain day (which we with our modern calendar would call May 28) the moon would come squarely in front of the sun and shut off its light. That this happened on schedule was one of the greatest triumphs of man’s intelligence in all the ages.
Besides astronomy, the scholars of ancient times were well versed in arithmetic and geometry. They had collected many facts about plants and animals, but they knew little physics and hardly any chemistry. They knew a lot about the parts of the human body, anatomy, but very little about physiology, or how the body lives and operates. Medieval scholars became familiar with much of the scientific knowledge of the ancients, but did not add greatly to it. As yet, scientific knowledge had not greatly affected people’s ways of living.
Europeans began to take a new interest in their world. By the 1500’s, however, Europeans had been awakened to new ideas. The exploration of unknown seas and the discovery of distant lands widened their horizons. The growth of trade and cities created a new interest in the world about them. The invention of printing helped to spread ideas. A new spirit of curiosity was abroad. Men were no longer content with reading what long-dead scholars, such as Aristotle, had written about science; they wanted to find out things for themselves.
Leonardo da Vinci made scientific discoveries. Leonardo da Vinci illustrated this new spirit of curiosity and investigation. Da Vinci was a many-sided person. He excelled not only as a painter and sculptor but as a scientist and engineer. Da Vinci’s tremendous curiosity led him to study the human body as well as the forces of nature. He built engines of war and fortifications and figured out machines to make living more comfortable. There seemed almost nothing that did not capture da Vinci’s attention or set his mind working. Though some of his proposed machines look queer to us today, they were based on sound mechanical principles. In 1952 many American museums and libraries celebrated the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s birth by exhibiting models of his machines as well as his paintings and sketches. With all his amazing interests and practical achievements, da Vinci did not greatly advance knowledge of scientific principles. That was accomplished by later thinkers such as Copernicus and Newton.
Experiments confirmed Copernicus’ theory. The Polish astronomer Copernicus proposed a revolutionary theory about the relation between the earth and heavenly bodies. He asserted that the sun is the centre of that part of the universe that we call the solar system and that the earth is one of several planets that revolve around the sun.
Today we live in an age of scientific advancement. We accept, for example, theories about atoms and how they can be split to create tremendous force, even if we do not fully understand these theories, but 400 years ago there was no such confidence in scientists. Copernicus’ theory was new, improved and understood by only a very few other scientists. Most people, therefore, clung to the long accepted belief that the earth and not the sun was the centre of the universe. Why should they listen to the “wild notions” which Copernicus suggested?
A few men refused to regard Copernicus as a crackpot. One of them was a German astronomer named Kepler. For 25 years Kepler carried on his studies. He checked and re-checked his ideas by repeated observations and calculations. He arrived at the conclusion that, with some minor changes, Copernicus’ idea was sound. Further proof came from the Italian scientist Galileo. Galileo made a telescope through which he watched four moons revolve around the great planet Jupiter. The fact that other bodies had moons revolving around them backed up Copernicus’ theory.
Newton’s studies answered many questions. Copernicus had suggested — and Kepler and Galileo had proved — that the planets revolved about the sun and that they moved according to definite rules. This discovery in itself was a great advance in man’s understanding, but scientists had not yet explained why. Why did the earth move around the sun? Why did objects of different weight which Galileo dropped from the tower of Pisa fall at the same rate of speed? As a matter of fact, why does anything fall?
In the late 1600’s an Englishman, Isaac Newton, furnished the answer to these questions. His answer was stated in a single law of nature, the law of gravity. By reasoning and experimenting, Newton discovered the formula by which all matter everywhere attracts every other particle of matter. The law of gravity explained why the earth revolves round the sun instead of flying off into space, why the moon revolves round the earth, why the tides of the ocean rise and fall, and why an apple drops to the ground.
Pioneer scientists worked out rules to guide them. What these pioneer scientists had discovered was tremendously important. Their knowledge was to change our whole outlook on the universe. Even more important, however, was the way in which they arrived at that information. They and other early scientists worked out methods for successful scientific investigation. Let us check back and see what they had done.
1. Scientists discovered natural law. Scientists established the fact that the world of nature is orderly. Certain principles, or natural laws, accounted for this orderliness. If these natural laws could be discovered, man could not only get rid of old superstitions but increasingly control the world of nature in which he lived.
2. Conclusions were based on evidence. Scientists made experiments to learn the truth. Scientists were unwilling to accept an idea just because some scholar of the past had taught it or because most people believed it. They questioned everything. As Americans today might say, they were “from Missouri.” Every idea had to be tested by experiment; otherwise it should be doubted or discarded. You will recall that Kepler and Galileo refused to accept Copernicus’ theory until they had proved it by repeated observations and experiments. Although Newton discovered his law of gravity while he was still a young man, he delayed announcing it for 20 years until he had checked and re-checked it repeatedly.
This idea of experimentation lies at the very centre of modern science. We take it for granted today. Movies, television, magazines and advertising, as well as books on science, make us familiar with the picture of the white coated scientist moving about the laboratory and checking his complicated instruments, but 400 years ago this was a new idea which had occurred to only a few men. One of these men was an English lawyer and statesman, Francis Bacon. (Do not confuse Francis Bacon with Roger Bacon who lived three and a half centuries earlier.) Although Francis Bacon was not a scientist, he wrote about the advantages of scientific research. He described an imaginary “palace of invention” where scientists might gather for study and experimentation. Science, Bacon believed, held the answer to mankind’s problems.
3. Scientists developed important aids to investigation. Scientists found that if they were to carry on successful experiments, they had to be able to weigh and measure and observe accurately. So they began to develop scientific instruments for use in their studies. Thus Galileo used a telescope to prove Copernicus‘ theory. Other instruments which played an important part in advancing science were the microscope, the thermometer, the barometer and more accurate clocks.
Scientists also found it convenient to express their results in a form which was accurate and which would be understood no matter what language scholars spoke. Mathematics seemed to fit this need, but more advanced types of mathematics were required. A Frenchman named Descartes, who was intensely interested in scientific research, developed the branch of mathematics called analytical geometry and Newton not only gave the world the law of gravity but developed calculus, another advanced branch of mathematics. Since Newton’s time, scientists have made wide use of mathematical formulas to express the principles they have discovered in their laboratories.
4. Scientists exchanged ideas. Discovering new truths by experiments or by observation took so much time that most scientists had to limit their studies to a narrow field. They could not make real progress if they tried to learn new facts about too many subjects. On the other hand, a new truth or a new process discovered by a scientist working in one field might prove helpful to another scientists experimenting in a different field. So scientists formed the habit of exchanging ideas and reporting their progress. Much of this exchange of information took place through scientific societies.
Had you been interested in science in the 1600’s, you might have belonged to the Royal Society for Promoting Natural Knowledge, in London. Similar societies appeared in France, Italy, Germany and Russia. In groups like these there was much discussion and sometimes argument. Scientific societies issued printed reports of the discoveries of their members. Such societies also helped to establish libraries, purchase instruments and arrange for scientific expeditions.
Science became fully accepted. By the early 1700’s, then, modern science was off to a sound start. Scientists had discovered important new ideas and had developed the tools and the methods of investigation by which more and more progress could be made. Furthermore, the attitude toward science and scientists had completely changed. Educated persons were eager to learn what scientists were thinking. Perhaps the most striking proof of this changed attitude toward science was the difference in the way Galileo and Newton were treated. Galileo was imprisoned as a dangerous man. Isaac Newton, who died less than a hundred years after Galileo, was buried in Westminster Abbey — an honour usually reserved for Britain’s kings, war heroes and statesmen.
2. How Did Understanding of Basic Scientific Principles lead to Important Discoveries?
During the late 1700’s and the 1800’s science progressed at an astounding rate. One discovery led to another. Sometimes two or more scientists, each working by himself, arrived at similar conclusions at about the same time. These discoveries not only broadened man’s understanding of the world and how it operates; when put to work they helped to make life safer and more comfortable. In discovering scientific principles and in applying them to daily living, Americans as well as Europeans played an important role. Let us see what progress took place in various fields of science.
Later astronomers built on the work of Copernicus, Galileo and Newton. The development of more advanced mathematics, the use of bigger and better telescopes and the founding of observatories added to men’s knowledge of the universe. Astronomers discovered new planets — bodies that revolve, like our earth, round the sun. They located thousands of stars invisible to the naked eye. They mapped the surface of the moon (the side that is always turned toward the earth) almost as precisely as the surface of the earth. They were able to predict with uncanny accuracy the appearance of comets and the eclipses of the sun and moon. They learned the speed of light, the distance and size of many stars and the chemical elements of which they are made up. When human beings reached the moon they owed much to scientists who have rolled back the curtain of mystery from the skies.
Scientists discovered new forces. “Physics,” said an American scientist, “is the science of getting hold of things and pushing them around.” This definition was not meant to cover the whole subject, but it gives us an inkling of what scientists were doing in the field of physics. Scientists discovered, for example, that matter and energy are found together. They further discovered that heat, light, electricity and motion are all types of energy; and that they can be changed into different forms. Thus water which is heated turns into steam and the expanding steam produces pressure which can be used to turn a wheel. In other words, by pushing these forces around that is, experimenting — scientists paved the way for inventions which would put the forces of nature to work for mankind.
Steam was harnessed for man’s benefit. The ancient Greeks had constructed a gadget, hardly more than a toy, which proved that there is power hidden in steam. It was James Watt who turned steam into one of man’s most useful servants by his improvement of Newcomen’s engine. Later on, the same combination of scientific knowledge and inventive skill was to develop internal combustion engines, electric power plants and in our own day, atomic and nuclear power.
Electrical power was discovered. One of the most interesting branches of modern physics is the study of electricity. The ancient Greeks had noticed that bits of amber (electron in Greek), when rubbed, attracted bits of straw and lint, but the Greeks did not know why. It was not until the 1600’s and 1700’s that scientists began to experiment with electricity. One of the pioneers in this work was Benjamin Franklin, a scientist as well as a statesman. Franklin showed that lightning was simply a form of electricity. Then in the late 1700’s experimentation began to give results. An Italian named Volta built a battery which gave off an electric charge. Another scientist, Ampere, also experimented with electricity. An Englishman, Michael Faraday and an American, Joseph Henry, found out how to make dynamos to generate electricity.
TIMETABLE – OUTSTANDING BUILDERS OF SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE
THE 1500’s AND 1600’s
Copernicus (Polish) published theory of the solar system, 1543
Galileo (Italian) proved principles of mechanics (pendulum), used telescope to discover Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings, 1581-1637
Kepler (German) discovered the exact movements of the planets and proved Copernicus’ theory 1609-1619
Francis Bacon (British) described the scientific method of research and experiments, 1620
Descartes (French) developed analytic geometry, 1628-1650
Newton (British) developed calculus and stated law of gravity, 1665-1687
Linnaeus (Swedish) classified and catalogued plants, 1737-1750
Buffon (French) classified animals and published catalogues of natural history, 1749-1788
Franklin (American) proved that lightning is electricity, 1752
Lavoisier (French) discovered the true chemical nature of combustion, 1772-1790
THE 1800’s AND EARLY 1900’s
Volta (Italian) discovered principle of the electric battery, 1800
Dalton (British) stated theory that matter is made up of atoms, 1803
Lamarck (French) announced theory about inherited traits in animals, 1815
Ampére (French) showed relation between electricity and magnetism, 1820
Faraday (British) and Henry (American) used magnetism to produce an electric current (principle of the electric generator and motor), 1831
Von Liebig (German) studied chemistry of the soil and plant nourishment, 1840-1850
Darwin (British) announced theory of evolution, 1859
Mendel (Austrian) stated laws by which living things inherit different characteristics, 1865
Burbank (American) began to breed improved varieties of plants, 1872
Einstein (German) stated principle of relativity (relation between matter and energy), 1905
Americans took the lead in applying the growing knowledge of electricity to new inventions. In 1844 Samuel F. B. Morse tapped out a brief message over a wire strung from Washington to Baltimore. From this simple beginning sprang the great network of telegraph lines over which messages flash from one part of the continent to the other. Then twenty-two years later, England and the United States were united by cable, largely through the efforts of an American, Cyrus Field.
In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, an outgrowth of the telegraph. During the later 1800’s Thomas Edison developed the electric light bulb. So energetic and skillful was Edison that during a long lifetime his laboratory truly became a “palace of invention.” You can see, then, that one discovery led to another and that, in the case of electricity, what began with laboratory experiments mushroomed into a great industry.
The science of chemistry took form. Astronomy and physics were the first sciences to win widespread attention. They had been favourites of the ancient Greeks and were, as you have seen, widely studied during the Renaissance. Important discoveries in Chemistry did not come till later. It was not until the late 1700’s that people began to discover the true elements of which objects are made up and how these are combined.
“About eight days ago,” wrote a French scientist named Lavoisier in 1772, “I discovered that sulfur in burning, far from losing weight, on the contrary gains it. . . . It is the same with phosphorus. This increase in weight arises from a prodigious quantity of air that is fixed [absorbed] during the combustion. . . . This discovery, which I have established by experiments that I regard as decisive, has led me to think that what is observed in the combustion of sulfur and phosphorus may well take place in the case of all substances that gain in weight by combustion.”
What was scientifically significant about this report written by Lavoisier? He had discovered a basic principle of chemical change — oxidation, the combining of oxygen with another substance!
Basic laws of chemistry were developed. Once the true nature of chemical change was understood, scientists could break up almost any substance into the elements which compose it. Water, they learned, was a compound of two gases, oxygen and hydrogen. Ordinary table salt, they discovered, consisted of a union of a greenish gas called chlorine and a metal named sodium (which looks like cheese and takes fire when exposed to water). Living tissues, chemists found out, were made up of the very same elements that are found in rocks, but the elements are combined in different ways.
Chemistry became creative. Chemistry, the science of substances and how they change, made new industries possible. A good example of this can be found in the dye industry. Ancient Phoenician traders guarded well the secret of the purple dye they obtained from a sea snail. In 1909 this old dye was analyzed by chemists and found to be no better than a certain artificial dye already in common use and inferior to other dyes. By the end of the 1800’s, plastics of several kinds, certain medicines and paints had been developed by chemical processes. Chemistry opened the door to the production in man’s laboratories of materials better or cheaper or more plentiful than what Nature provides.
Biology became an established branch of science. Savages have to be good naturalists. They must know what fruits are poisonous and what are not. They must know the hunting and feeding habits of four-Iegged animals, fowls and fishes. Scholars had an even greater curiosity in this field than savages. Studies had been begun in ancient times, but exploration of distant lands had uncovered new and fascinating information about plants and animals. Scientists of the 1700’s brought to a high point the science of descriptive biology. A French naturalist, Buffon, named and classified the different kinds of animals then known. A Swedish botanist, Linnaeus, did the same for plants. Each species of animal or plant was believed to be unchanging: Robins had always been robins, oaks had always been oaks.
Could new traits be acquired? A few scientists in the 1700’s and 1800’s thought all kinds of plants and animals had distant ancestors of a quite different sort. By studying rocks, geologists had found that the earth was millions of years old. Scientists also discovered deep in rocks the bones of strange animals and prints of fossil plants which resembled nothing living today. How could changes such as these have occurred?
A Frenchman named Lamarck had the interesting idea that when animals tried successfully to do certain things, their success could be inherited by their young. Animals that inherited success were better off than animals that didn’t. In short, Lamarck believed that animals were changed by inheritance. The earliest giraffes may have had short necks, but as generation after generation of giraffes reached into trees for food, their necks became longer. A man might have weak muscles, but if he exercised them enough not only would he strengthen himself but his children would start life with better muscles. This theory of “inheriting acquired characteristics” had opponents as well as defenders and is today abandoned by most scientists. It failed to explain a good many things. Then a British scientist named Charles Darwin proposed another interesting idea which also has been widely debated.
Charles Darwin studied plant and animal differences. As a young man Charles Darwin got the chance to go on a long sea voyage. Wherever the ship went, Darwin made the most of his unusual opportunity to study plant and animal life. Why, he wondered, are various kinds of plant and animal life different?
Darwin got a useful hint from Malthus, an English clergyman. Malthus believed that human beings would increase in numbers faster than food could be found for them. If this were true among human beings, who have the brain power to help them find food, wouldn’t it be much more true among plants and animals? If animals had to struggle to keep alive, wouldn’t only the fittest survive and have young? In such a case, wouldn’t the possession of any small advantage over the rest be important?
Darwin suggested the “survival of the fittest.” Darwin wondered. The idea seemed to make sense. Why does the deer run fast? Because the slow deer were eaten up long ago, leaving only the swift ones. Why has the polar bear a white coat? Because the brown-coated bear showed up dark against the snow and was quickly spotted by enemies. But the white bear lived on and had cubs that inherited its white fur. Why are desert plants prickly and spiny? Because broad-leaved trees could not hold water well enough to survive in the desert and so withered and died.
Finally Darwin raised the most daring question of all: Why does man have his clever mind? His answer was this: Because the stupid man could not catch food enough, he either starved or was destroyed by wild beasts. Only clever men and women lived long enough to become parents. Darwin published his conclusions in 1859, just about a hundred and fifty years ago, in a book called ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.’ Darwin’s theory started an argument that is by no means settled, but scientists now believe that slow change, that is, evolution, actually takes place in different kinds of life.
Darwin failed to answer some questions. Darwin’s studies left some questions unanswered. For one thing, Darwin said little about how these differences that accounted for survival began in the first place. Why was one horse swifter than another? Why was one savage brighter than another? Nor did Darwin have much to say about the way in which traits are handed down from one generation to the next. We have learned a little about that, however, thanks to the work of a number of men who have studied the problems of inheritance, or heredity.
Mendel developed an important law. One of the students of heredity was an Austrian monk named Mendel. In his spare time he grew flowers, especially sweet peas. Mendel made careful records of the way in which different colours were inherited by the flowers. On the basis of his observations and records, he announced in 1865 certain natural laws of inheritance that apply to human beings also. Mendel’s work went unnoticed at the time and it was many years before biologists rediscovered what Mendel had learned and added to it. Mendel’s principles are used today by breeders of plants and animals.
Medical science had a slow start. Physics, chemistry and biology all made important contributions to the betterment of human life. The greatest benefits, however, grew out of the science of medicine. (Taken in its broad sense, the science of medicine refers to all methods of treatment used to keep us well or cure us when we are ill.)
It is amazing how little progress medicine had made until just about a hundred years ago. To be sure, in the early 1600’s an English physician named William Harvey startled the medical world with his studies on the circulation of the blood. Harvey’s description of how blood is pumped through the body in a network of arteries, tiny blood vessels and veins contradicted older ideas, but there were only a few pioneers like Harvey, who preferred experimentation to accepting the opinions of earlier writers. Moreover, although a good many useful remedies for disease had been discovered, nobody knew why they worked. Take, for example, the prevention and treatment of contagious diseases.
Why did vaccination and isolation work? In the 1700’s smallpox was widely feared. Everywhere there were men and women whose faces were deeply pitted and scarred from this terrible disease. An English doctor named Jenner happened to notice that milkmaids who had caught cowpox from the animals they took care of, rarely suffered from smallpox. So he vaccinated his patients with cowpox and found that, as he hoped, they escaped the far more dangerous small pox. After Jenner’s methods had been improved and had become widely used, smallpox became one of the rarest instead of one of the commonest of diseases. Jenner could not have told anyone why his lucky discovery worked. He knew only that it did.
It had also been noticed that many diseases were “catching.” For that reason people who became ill with them were isolated from others in order that the disease might not spread. Even in ancient times a leper had to warn other people to keep away. In the Middle Ages he was required to look into church through a small window so that he could hear the service without exposing others to leprosy.
Furthermore, good housewives had long noticed that clean homes made for better health. Although many people believed that dirt had something to do with disease, they did not know what that something was. The cause of disease was about as much a mystery in 1850 as it had been a thousand years earlier.
Microscopes revealed bacteria. The cause of contagious disease was found at last in little plants and animals too small to be seen with the naked eye. These germs, or bacteria, are so tiny that thousands of them would scarcely cover a pin’s head, but they are among man’s most dangerous enemies. The Dutch spectacle makers, whose lenses made possible Galileo’s first telescope, also developed the microscope. More than two centuries ago, one of these Dutchmen, Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, saw some of these germs through his microscope, but he did not realize how deadly they could be. This exciting discovery was the work of a French chemist, Louis Pasteur, in the late 1800’s.
Pasteur discovered the effects of bacteria. Throughout his life Pasteur was driven by true scientific curiosity. At that time most people thought that life could arise from dead matter, such as decaying flesh or rotting vegetation. Pasteur thought differently. He showed that once living matter was killed, as by boiling in a closed bottle, no life could ever appear in it unless it came in from the outside. “All life comes from life,” he said. His discovery then led Pasteur to study the effects of the bacteria. He found that some of them spoiled wine, that others killed silkworms, that still others gave a serious disease to sheep. If Pasteur had gone no further, he would have accomplished a great deal, for his discoveries greatly benefited the wine, silk and wool industries. Pasteur’s name is still used in the word pasteurize, which means to destroy bacteria in milk by heating.
Pasteur found a cure for rabies. Pasteur is perhaps best known, however, for his dramatic discovery of the cause and cure of hydrophobia, or rabies, in human beings. People thought that nothing could be done about this terrible disease, which is usually caused by the bite of a mad dog or other animal. Pasteur found that diluted amounts of the infection given to a dog in slowly increasing doses built up resistance to the disease.
Then one day, in 1885, a nine-year-old boy who had been bitten by a mad dog was brought to Pasteur. Should Pasteur try his experiment on the boy? He was a chemist, not a doctor. If the boy died under this strange new treatment that had never been applied to a human being, Pasteur would have to take the blame. Yet if he did not act and act at once, the boy would die a horrible death. Pasteur took the chance and the lad made a complete recovery.
By his experiments Pasteur started the science of bacteriology. He proved that germs cause certain diseases and found out how to build up resistance to them. In so doing he pointed the way for doctors and scientists to seek out and combat other dreaded diseases which threatened mankind.
Surgical methods were improved. Until the mid-1800’s, patients suffered terrible agonies during surgical operations and often died from infections afterward. With the advance of chemical knowledge, it was found that nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and ether had pain-killing qualities. During the 1840’s two Americans a Georgia physician named Dr. Crawford Long and Dr. William Morton, a dentist in Boston — used ether successfully in operations. Chloroform, another chemical, came into use to prevent pain a bit later in England. The use of pain-killing drugs (anesthetics) not only has relieved suffering but has permitted doctors to perform lengthy and intricate operations.
A Scottish surgeon, Joseph Lister, helped to overcome the dangerous after-effects of operations. He discovered that if a wound could be washed with a solution of carbolic acid there was less danger of the infections and blood poisoning which had caused so many deaths. Pasteur’s discovery of the existence of bacteria supplied a reason. Infections did not arise from inside the body, but came in as invisible germs when the skin was cut. Within the wound they increased till there were billions of them and a dangerous infection set in. In the old days many a well-meaning doctor or surgeon, hurrying from case to case, carried these germs on his clothes or his fingers or his instruments and thus spread death wherever he went. Nowadays, because of disinfectants and drugs that kill gems, blood poisoning following an operation rarely occurs.
Medical science lengthened human life. Improvements in medical and surgical knowledge contributed heavily to human welfare. One striking proof of this fact is found in the lengthening life span — the average number of years people lived. About 1750, for example, the life span was about 33 years in western Europe; today in America it is about 88 years.
You have been reading about a number of remarkable advances made possible in the 1700’s and 1800’s. Just as striking were other changes which science and invention brought about in industry and agriculture.
3. How Did Science and Invention Revolutionize Industry and Agriculture?
If you had lived in the 1600’s, you might have bought a fully illustrated book with this long title-Survey of All Kinds of Water, Animal-Driven and Hand-Driven Mills and Beautiful and Useful Pumps. This book shows that there were inventors, or at least mechanics, in Italy, Germany, France and Holland as well as in Great Britain. Yet it was in Great Britain in the 1700’s and 1800’s that power-driven machinery first came into wide use: It was Great Britain, too, that became the world’s first great manufacturing nation. Why, you may ask, was this so?
The British had the advantages needed to encourage machine industry. England is a small, closely knit country. Its climate is mild enough to permit work the year round. Moreover, England had fine seaports that lay close to the harbours and markets on Europe’s mainland. There were great coal mines and ample supplies of iron ore, both easy to get at and both essential to industry.
The British were protected by the sea and by their great navy, the strongest in the world during the 1700’s and 1800’s. Though Englishmen were often at war, they had suffered less from foreign invasion or civil war than any nation on the continent of Europe. Remember, too, that Englishmen had more freedom and a more stable government than was common in Europe. People were freer to run their businesses as they pleased than in any country on the Continent.
Moreover, Great Britain in the 1700’s was prosperous. It had colonies across the Atlantic and in India. It was sure of a supply of raw materials and of markets in which to sell its products. In addition to these advantages, there were thousands of Englishmen who were skillful workmen. They could build machines as well as run them. There were many wealthy people who could provide the capital-money, land, buildings and machines — necessary in setting up factories. In short, England in the 1700’s had what was needed to build a prosperous industrial nation.
The Industrial Revolution begun in Great Britain. What is called the Industrial Revolution, therefore, first appeared in England in the late 1700’s. The term Industrial Revolution means: (1) the invention and use of machines in place of hand labour, (2) the development of new sources of power to drive the machines, and (3) manufacturing in factories rather than in the workers’ homes. The Industrial Revolution was first felt in the textile or cloth-making industry.
Thread and cloth had been made by hand. Next to growing food, the most widely practiced of human occupations was the making of clothing. For thousands of years this work had been done by hand, aided only by the spinning wheel and the weaver’s handloom. Cloth-making had become an important English industry by the 1700’s. English spinners and weavers wove English-grown wool, Irish-grown flax, and Indian-grown cotton into woolen, linen and cotton thread and cloth.
Most of this work was done at home by spinners and weavers who divided their time between cloth-making and farming. They did their spinning and weaving for a businessman who paid them for their products, but thread and cloth made in homes were not of uniform quality and could not be produced in large enough quantities to be cheap. The chart shows how this domestic system of manufacturing worked.
Cloth-making was improved. Cloth consists of many threads woven together. If you have ever seen someone using a handloom, you can understand that it was no easy matter to produce a good-sized piece of cloth by this method. In 1733 one John Kay invented a way to improve this process. His fly shuttle not only cut down the number of hand operations involved in weaving, but made it possible to weave a wide piece of cloth. The shuttle was a great step forward but created a new problem: One weaver could now use up all the thread several spinners could turn out. Twisting loose fibers into strong thread was a slow and laborious task.
Machines speeded up spinning and weaving. In 1767 James Hargreaves, an English weaver, solved the thread problem. Hargreaves rigged up a series of spindles (revolving sticks tapering at both ends) so that they could be turned by a single spinning wheel. He called this invention a spinning jenny, a term which may have been a shortened form of “spinning engine” or perhaps was named after his wife. The spinning jenny was later improved so that 80 spindles could be operated at the same time.
The next step was to apply power. Richard Arkwright, a barber with a shrewd eye for business, made use of water power to run a spinning machine. Since his “water frames” were too large and expensive to be used in homes, he set them up in buildings, or factories, where water power was available. So Arkwright is sometimes credited with starting the factory system. About the same time a clergyman, Edmund Cartwright, invented a loom run by water power. Later, many more improvements were made in spinning and weaving machines. As knowledge of chemistry grew, methods of dyeing and bleaching (whitening) cloth were improved.
Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. The new textile machines could turn out much greater quantities of thread and cloth. To keep them working, more cotton fibre was needed. In America, southern plantations produced a great deal of cotton, but removing seeds from the lint fibres of the cotton plant was a slow and expensive process. A New England schoolteacher, Eli Whitney, changed all this with the invention of his cotton gin, or engine, in 1793. With his hand-cranked machine, Whitney declared, “one man will clean ten times as much cotton as he can in any other way. . . . This machine may also be turned by water or with a horse, with the greatest of ease, and one man and a horse will do more than 50 men with the old machines. . . .”
Whitney’s cotton gin had far-reaching results. Whitney’s cotton gin, though crude compared to present-day machines, was tremendously important. For the British it promised greater supplies of raw cotton. This meant more cotton thread, more cotton cloth, more cotton mills and more workers in the mills. In America it led to a boom in raising cotton. Great plantations worked by slaves increased in the South. Whereas in 1791 the United States produced only 2 million pounds of cotton, 35 years later its output was more than 160 times as much. Raw cotton became America’s most important export.
The steam engine made possible further advances in industry. The great spurt in the British textile or cloth-making industry would not have been possible without improved power. Water-power for turning spinning and weaving machines was, of course, a great advancement, but streams sometimes dried up, and it was not always convenient to build a factory near them. James Watt’s steam engine was the key to further progress. Crude as it was, it cut fuel costs by about two-thirds. Watt obtained a partner and together they built over 300 engines for use in mines and to run machines in the growing textile industry. No longer were mills restricted to water-power sites; steam engines could be set up anywhere.
The Industrial Revolution was a continuous movement. You have already seen how one advance in the textile industry led to another in spinning thread, weaving cloth, cleaning cotton and finding more efficient kinds of power. Each advancement in the Industrial Revolution opened up new needs and new opportunities. Watt’s engine was fueled by coal, because of which improvements were worked out in the mining of coal. Indeed, although in recent years oil-burning and electric engines have been developed, coal remains a very important fuel and steam a very important source of power.
The iron industry also grew out of the needs and opportunities created by the Industrial Revolution. When machines came into use, there was need for more durable materials than wood from which to make them. Iron seemed like a good answer to this need, but parts made by hand could neither be precisely fashioned nor produced cheaply. So machines were invented which would make uniform and inexpensive iron parts for machines. This was the beginning of the machine-tool industry and using coke (produced by baking coal) instead of charcoal to smelt iron greatly reduced production costs.
Nor was this the end. Although iron was much stronger than wood, it lacked the toughness and strength possessed by steel. Steel, however, was expensive. Then, in the 1850’s, Henry Bessemer in England and William Kelly in the United States found a new and cheaper way to produce steel by turning a blast of air on melted iron. This discovery, made by each of the two men independently of the other, paved the way for an Age of Steel.
Steam power was applied to ships. The Industrial Revolution also spread to transportation. The first steam engines were stationary, but why could they not be mounted on carriages or ships and used to make them go? Several inventors had used steam power to propel boats, but none of the earliest steamboats had been completely successful. Then in 1807 an American, Robert Fulton, sent up the Hudson River a queer-looking vessel having on each side a paddle wheel driven by steam. Fulton’s Clermont splashed its way from New York City to Albany and back in about sixty hours. Some of those who had laughed at what they called “Fulton’s Folly” now wanted to buy part ownership in the steam-driven vessel. By the 1850’s steamboats had appeared in large numbers on American and British rivers and were making their way across the Atlantic Ocean.
The steam locomotive came into use. A few steam automobiles were tried out on land, but without rubber tires they gave an exceedingly rough ride on the poor roads of two centuries ago. These new vehicles also frightened people, so a law was passed requiring a man to go ahead of each machine carrying a red flag to warn people to keep out of the way!
British inventors then turned to rails or tracks instead of highways on which to run steam-powered cars. (Tracks were already used for dragging carts in the coal mines.) Early in the 1800’s an English engineer, Richard Trevithick, tried out a steam engine on rails, but real success first came to George Stephenson, another English engineer. In 1825 Stephenson ran a locomotive over a short railway in northern England, the first public steam railroad in the world. A few years later his improved engine, the Rocket, its stack red-hot, won a prize competition by going almost thirty miles an hour!
Despite gloomy predictions, railroads spread. Many people had said that railroads were dangerous and impractical. They declared that even if such speeds as 30 miles an hour could be reached, people would die of heart failure. They said it would be safer to run horsecars on the rails, or, at most, have the cars dragged along by ropes attached to a stationary steam engine. They asked how a train could escape being wrecked if a cow should amble across the track and predicted that the sparks from the smoke-stack would set fire to the countryside.
Stephenson, however, proved that these difficulties were either exaggerated or imaginary and his invention speedily came into general use. Between 1825 and 1840 railroad lines appeared in England, the United States, France, Germany, Canada, Russia, Austria and Italy — in that order. Early lines were usually only a few miles long. Later on, railway systems many miles in length developed as shorter lines were united. By the year 1900, the United States was far ahead of all other countries in mileage and several newly settled countries like Australia and Argentina were ahead of smaller countries like Austria which had been among the first to build railroads.
The Industrial Revolution reached other lands. There were good reasons why Great Britain was the first to become a manufacturing nation. The British tried to hold this advantage, even to the point of passing laws which forbade taking machines or plans of machines out of the country.
Nevertheless ideas did trickle out. As early as 1791 an Englishman named Samuel Slater introduced spinning and weaving machines into America. He was so familiar with the complicated plans of such machines that he was able from memory to set up new ones in Rhode Island.
The use of machinery did not spread evenly to all countries. Its growth in a particular country depended on how favourable conditions were. France and Belgium, for example, had plenty of coal, iron and skilled workers. These two countries imitated British railway building and cloth-making by the use of machinery. Germany had even greater coal supplies than France and Belgium; and Germans were skilled in crafts and sciences. German industry could not really get under way until Germany became a unified nation. Italy lacked coal, though it had ample sources of water power. Some countries, like Russia and the smaller nations of southem Europe, made little industrial progress until the 1900’s. Their people went on tending their farms much as they had been doing for centuries.
The United States spurred ahead industrially in the 1800’s. Industrialization (changing over from hand to machine methods of manufacture) started later in the United States than in Great Britain, but nowhere did it develop more rapidly. Before the 1800’s, the United States produced chiefly foodstuffs and raw materials. After the young nation got firmly on its feet, it made rapid strides in industry.
The United States, like Great Britain, possessed many advantages which enabled it to become a leading industrial nation. Three facts were especially important. (1) The United States possessed almost unbelievable natural resources. During the late 1800’s the largest known coal, iron and oil deposits in the world were opened up in this country. (2) Because the United States was a new country with seemingly unlimited opportunities, Americans were spurred to great accomplishments. (3) To an unusual degree, Americans developed inventive skill and the ability to apply the teachings of science to industry.
American inventors and businessmen contributed to the growth of industry. You have already learned in this chapter about the inventions or discoveries of a number of Americans — Franklin, Whitney, Fulton and Edison. Many of them won fame for more than one achievement. For example, Eli Whitney, though best known for inventing the cotton gin, also made parts for guns that could fit any gun of the same model and make. This notion of making standard parts was a century later to prove very important in the mass production of goods. Edison was important not only for the electric light bulb but for helping to bring about electric power plants, street railways, the phonograph and motion pictures.
There were other Americans during the 1800’s who contributed greatly to industrial progress. The experiments of Charles Goodyear made possible the widespread use of rubber. Although a Frenchman named Daguerre had discovered how to take photographs, George Eastman did much to perfect photography. George Westinghouse developed the air brake which made rail road travel safer. Charles Hall discovered a cheap process of making aluminum. German inventors had discovered that power could be produced by burning a fuel, such as gasoline, inside a closed cylinder. American engineers and businessmen, however, developed this principle of the internal combustion engine so that in the 1900’s Americans were able to enjoy automobile and airplane travel on a vast scale. Businessmen encouraged inventions and new processes by raising funds and building factories. Industrial leaders created giant industries — for example, John D. Rockefeller in oil and Andrew Carnegie in steel.
As a result of the efforts of many Americans, then, the United States by 1900 had become the leading manufacturing country in the world. Railroad tracks covered the continent like a huge spider web. Mines and factories dotted regions of the country where, a century before, there had been only small farming communities or pioneer cabins.
Science and invention also revolutionized agriculture. During the 1700’s and 1800’s important changes took place in farming as well as in industry. Indeed, without improvements in farming it would have been impossible to feed the world’s expanding population and at the same time release the workers needed in industry. In America, for example, population grew from less than 4 million in George Washington’s day to about 75 million in 1900. Yet during this same period, the number of American workers engaged in farming declined from nine out of every ten to four.
Medieval methods of farming disappeared. Such progress would have been impossible on the European manors of the Middle Ages, with their scattered strips of farm land and wasteful methods of farming. As the feudal system declined, these farm strips were replaced by small farms owned by freemen or by large estates worked by tenant farmers. A new interest in scientific farming grew up, especially in England. Experiments were tried in rotating crops, that is, planting different crops on the same land over a series of years to renew its fertility. An English landowner, Viscount Townshend, for example, found that he could raise more crops and yet keep his land fertile by rotating crops of wheat, turnips, barley and clover.
Science aided farming in many ways. During the 1700’s and 1800’s new scientific knowledge was applied to the raising of crops and livestock. A German professor named Von Liebig made a careful study of soil and the elements in it which aided plant growth. Chemists developed new and better types of fertilizer to enrich poor or worn out soil. The study of biology led to experiments in breeding better livestock. A pioneer in this work was Robert Bakewell, who devoted a lifetime to breeding heavier beef cattle, sheep with finer wool and cows that gave more and better milk. A century or more later an American, Luther Burbank, pioneered in the improving of plant life. His experiments improved existing fruits, vegetables, flowers and led to entirely new varieties.
New equipment and machines transformed farming. We have already learned how one invention, the cotton gin, benefited American cotton growers as well as English cloth-makers. Other inventions aided farming, particularly in the United States. Simple tools like plows were improved by the use of iron (and later steel) in place of wood. In the 1830’s Cyrus McCormick invented a horse-drawn reaper. This invention enabled fewer men to raise larger crops than when grain was harvested by hand. Other new machines such as cultivators, mowers and threshers were developed. Finally, machines were devised which performed several operations at once. These were forerunners of the huge “combines,” powered by motor driven tractors, now in use.
It would be impossible to list here all the triumphs of science and invention during the 1700’s and 1800’s, but enough has been said to emphasize this important facts. Once the principles of science were understood and put to work by men with inventive talent, the daily living of millions of people changed in many ways.