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Posted in Engineering, Historical articles, Sea, Ships on Friday, 24 May 2013
This edited article about the Great Eastern originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 266 published on 18 February 1967.
At a time when steam navigation to the East and Australia was greatly handicapped by the lack of coaling facilities, a ship which could carry enough coal for a voyage to Australia and back was specially designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The Great Eastern, originally called the Leviathan because of her enormous size, had been laid down in 1854. When completed, she had a length of 692 feet and a beam of 82.5 feet. She had engines totalling 8,297 horse power to drive her paddle wheels and propeller and give her a maximum speed of 15 knots. Six masts carried a spread of 6,500 square yards of sail. Precautions that her hull should have the requisite strength included giving her a double bottom and a tubular upper deck.
A delay of three months in the launching of the Great Eastern drove the company which financed her construction into liquidation, and, as a result, she was purchased for use on the North Atlantic, a service she was not designed for, and for which she was most unsuitable.
In 1860 she made the first of several voyages to New York, but she never paid her way. She was then used to lay Atlantic cables, and in 1887 she was broken up.
Posted in Engineering, Geography, Historical articles, History on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about the Suez Canal originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 253 published on 19 November 1966.
Ferdinand de Lesseps and the Suez Canal
For thousands of years men turned over in their minds the possibility of joining the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea by a canal. In ancient times a small waterway was dug and the idea was never forgotten.
During the 19th century, France took the lead in plans for the construction of the present Suez Canal. The driving force behind the scheme was Ferdinand de Lesseps, a man whose determination made headway against overwhelming odds.
The Khedive of Egypt consented to the proposed Canal and to the formation of a company to finance it. But shares in the company were slow to sell, people believing that the enterprise would fail and that they would lose their money. England, in particular, was not interested in investing in the project, and it was only saved by the Khedive agreeing to buy the remaining shares himself.
Work began in April, 1859, and the 100-mile Canal was opened by the Empress of France on 16th November, 1869. Only then did the world realise the significance of what had been achieved.
The Prime Minister of England, Benjamin Disraeli, realised the opportunity England had missed.
In November, 1875, Disraeli heard that the Khedive’s shares were to be sold and, against the wishes of his most important ministers, but with the support of Queen Victoria, he decided that Britain should buy them and have her interests represented in the administration of the Canal.
The Suez Canal has continued to figure prominently in world history. In 1956, President Nasser of Egypt announced that the Canal was to be nationalised. Fearing that this vital link between Europe and the Far East might be severed or made unworkable by the Egyptians, the British and French governments decided to take military action and occupy the Canal zone, and this situation was further complicated by an Israeli attack on Egypt. After a period of international tension, the United Nations stepped in and Britain and France withdrew.
Posted in Aviation, Cars, Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Friday, 10 May 2013
This edited article about Charles Rolls originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 249 published on 22 October 1966.
Charles S Rolls' return flight across the English Channel without landing, 2 June 1910
When the Honourable Charles Rolls arrived at Bournemouth aerodrome to take part in the much-publicised flying display, he was already a national hero. Only five weeks earlier, on 1st June, 1910, he had been the first aviator to make a two-way cross-Channel flight.
Rolls had set his heart on winning the alighting contest which was one of the highlights of the display. In it the pilots had to land on a white patch in the middle of a large circle. On 12th July, the second day of the air show, a blustery 20 miles-an-hour wind blew across the aerodrome.
As Rolls’s turn came to touch down on the white patch, he turned his plane at a height of a 100 feet and met the wind head-on.
He started a sharp descent – too sharp.
“There was a sickening snap,” wrote one of the eye-witnesses. “Some . . . parts of the tail-plane had given way . . . and then there was a thud. Rolls was down, under our very eyes, it seemed but a few paces away.”
At the age of 32, Charles Rolls, motor-car enthusiast, balloonist, and aviator, was dead. Today, his name lives on mainly through the car, the Rolls-Royce, which he helped to make world famous.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Aerospace, Communism, Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, Science, Space, Technology on Thursday, 9 May 2013
This edited article about Sputnik originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.
Hitler's V2 rocket
The Second World War accelerated interest in the development of rockets, and by 1945 the famous V2, forerunner of modern rocket systems, was a familiar phenomenon. Scientists and engineers, in both the Eastern and Western worlds, strove to perfect a rocket powerful enough to launch an artificial satellite.
These early satellites were needed to study the problems and dangers that faced Man when he ventured into the upper atmosphere and out into space.
On 4th October, 1957, the U.S.S.R. launched the world’s first artificial satellite. Called Sputnik I, this first explorer of the upper atmosphere weighed 184 pounds and was a polished metal sphere about 23 inches across. Travelling at a height which varied between 133 and 585 miles, it circled the Earth once every 95 minutes. Until the batteries powering the radio transmitter failed, it relayed back much information to the Russian scientists.
Posted in Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Railways, Transport, Travel on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about the railways originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 244 published on 17 September 1966.
The Grand opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway by Harry Green
15th September, 1830, was a great day for Liverpool and Manchester. The Duke of Wellington had opened the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first railway to connect two English cities entirely by steam engine.
The previous year, while the track was still being laid, the directors had offered a prize of £500 for a locomotive which they would judge to be the most suitable for hauling trains on the new line. Among the nine engineers who entered for the competition was George Stephenson, who had built the engines for the much shorter Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825.
Only five locomotives were ready for the trials, which lasted for seven days. Stephenson’s “Rocket” won the prize after hauling a train at a speed of 12¬Ω miles an hour: so on 15th September, 1830, it was the “Rocket” which proudly drew the first train from Manchester to Liverpool, carrying passengers, including the Duke of Wellington.
The great occasion was, however, marked by tragedy. A talented member of Parliament, William Huskisson, was run over by the “Rocket” and killed. He was the first man in history to be killed by a train.
The building of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway solved many problems of main-line railway construction. In all, 63 bridges were built; a cutting two miles long and 100 feet deep was dug out; a tunnel 2,240 yards long was bored under Liverpool; and track had to be laid across the famous bogland called Chat Moss.
Posted in Engineering, Geography, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 244 published on 17 September 1966.
The Mont Cenis Tunnel, from the Italian side
On 12th September, 1871, the Mont Cenis tunnel was opened and for the first time a train could pass under the Alps between France and Italy.
Designed and built by French engineers, the Mont Cenis tunnel is 7 3/4 miles long, 26 feet wide and 19 feet high. It climbs upwards through the Alps and at its highest point reaches an altitude of 4,245 feet. Although a comparatively small tunnel by modern standards, it was, in its day, a tremendous engineering achievement.
Courage, muscles, candles and gunpowder were all the equipment the builders had when they started to bore their way through the Alps in 1857. Most of the rock had to be shattered by charges of gunpowder wedged in holes slowly and laboriously cut with hammers and chisels.
All the work had to be done by the light of candles, of which a ton were burned every week. With no mechanical haulage, every scrap of stone cut had to be hauled away by horses hitched to trucks.
The tunnel was bored from both ends and the surveyors did their work so well that when eventually the tunnellers from the two ends met, there was an error in alignment of only twelve inches.
For the first four years, the rate of tunnelling was only about seven feet a day. This was far too slow to satisfy Germain Sommeillier, the engineer in charge. After many experiments to speed up the work, he invented the pneumatic drill. This made the work of boring shot holes so much easier and quicker that the tunnelling speed was increased by 21 feet a day.
Posted in Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Trade on Tuesday, 30 April 2013
This edited article about John Spencer originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 237 published on 30 July 1966.
John Spencer seeing the accidentally sheet of metal which gave him an idea which revolutionised the building trade, by John Millar Watt
In the 1840s, railways were spreading rapidly across England. The Spencer Iron Works in Birmingham was making rails for a new line to run between London and Worcester via Oxford. In those days, rails were shaped rather like a broad upside-down “U”.
One day, a sheet of metal serving as a protection for men working on the rail – making machine, worked loose and was pulled into the machine. It emerged thoroughly crunched into a series of waves. The workmen cast it aside, put up a new sheet and got on with the job.
John Spencer, master of the ironworks, was walking round the works, checking that everything was running smoothly, when he saw the spoiled sheet. He picked it up.
Instead of flopping about as a thin sheet of metal normally would, it remained straight and rigid. Spencer stared at it. He stood it up and leaned his weight on it. It did not bend.
Spencer stood still for several minutes. Here was a marvellous new process which actually increased the strength of metal sheets! The sheets would be cheap to produce, easy to transport. They would revolutionise the building industry . . .
Spencer obtained a patent and started manufacturing corrugated sheets, and other iron masters soon followed his example. The sheets were made from wrought or puddled iron.
They were corrugated in the black (raw) state and were then galvanised by dipping in an open bath of molten zinc, to prevent corrosion or rusting. In the early days of the process, the output was small, and the cost higher than John Spencer had anticipated, but the quality was excellent and showed great promise.
In 1860, the corrugating of steel sheets became a commercial proposition, but they were produced only in heavy gauges, and it was not until 30 years later that light gauges were successfully achieved.
By 1891, the total production of corrugated metal exceeded 200,000 tons, 75 per cent of which was exported. The sheets were used for roofing, siding, fume-ducts and culverts, etc. Some of this sheeting is still in use, although it was fixed in place more than 60 years ago.
Nowadays, cardboard, aluminium, plastics and most malleable materials may be corrugated to increase their strength – and all because of that incident at the Spencer works in 1843.
Posted in Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Industry, Revolution on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about John Kay originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 235 published on 16 July 1966.
A weaver sits at a loom showing the workings of the flying shuttle
Man has been weaving cloth for thousands of years, but until the flying shuttle was invented by John Kay, born on July 16, 1704, the weaver’s craft had hardly changed since the days of Ancient Egypt.
Cloth is woven by passing horizontal threads, called the weft, through alternate vertical threads called the warp. The weft threads were held in a device called a shuttle, which was sent forward through the warp threads by one hand, and returned by the other.
John Kay was the son of a weaver and he had often watched his father swinging the shuttle backwards and forwards by hand. It occurred to him that there must be some easier way of moving the shuttle.
He made experiments and in 1733 took out a patent for a new type of loom, needing only one hand to pass the shuttle backwards and forwards through the warp. He also invented an automatic mechanism which closed up the threads of the weft much more tightly.
Weaving firms quickly realised that Kay’s Flying Shuttle would greatly speed up production, but had no intention of paying for the idea. In court Kay’s claims were upheld, but the legal costs were so heavy that he lost most of his money.
Kay managed to open a factory of his own, but the weavers, fearing the new looms would put many of them out of work, wrecked his workshop.
Kay went to France for a time. He invented a power loom but was too poor to develop it. He returned to England to find the weavers making huge profits out of his invention. He died in poverty in 1764.
Posted in America, Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about the sewing machine originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.
Elias Howe, inventor of the sewing machine
Elias Howe, a mechanically-minded farm boy who was born at Spencer, Massachusetts, on July 9, 1819, is often described as the inventor of the sewing-machine.
This is not strictly true, because the idea of the sewing-machine had been thought of long before Howe’s day. What Howe did was to produce the first practical machine fitted with a feed movement and shuttle that made lock-stitching possible.
As early as 1755, Charles Weisenthal had patented a sewing-machine using a double-pointed needle with the eye in the centre, but he did not have sufficient money to develop his idea.
The first sewing-machine to be used on a large scale was that invented in 1820 by Barthelemy Thimonnies, a Paris tailor. His machine so impressed the French War office that in 1829 he received a large contract to make army uniforms, and opened a factory in which 100 of his machines were installed. But the hand-tailors feared that sewing-machines would put them out of work and wrecked his factory.
Elias Howe patented his sewing-machine in 1846. It was a greatly improved version of previous machines and, with various modifications, is the sewing-machine we know today. It involved, for the first time, a needle moving with a shuttle to make lock-stitches, and a device to give the thread the tension essential to even stitching.
Howe died on October 3, 1867, having made a huge fortune from his invention.
Posted in Engineering, Historical articles, History, Trade on Thursday, 25 April 2013
This edited article about the Kiel Canal originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 232 published on 25 June 1966.
Pre-war Germany shows her military strength in Kiel Bay where the Kiel Canal ends, by Graham Coton
On June 19, 1895, a procession of 80 warships representative of the world’s naval powers passed for the first time through the Kiel Canal, which links the North Sea with the Baltic.
This official opening by Kaiser Wilhelm II made a 500-year-old dream a reality.
Since the expansion of North European trade in the 12th century, the great peninsular of Jutland and Schleswig-Holstein had formed a land barrier between the North Sea and the Baltic. Ships bound from the North Sea ports for those in the Baltic had to make the long, difficult and often stormy passage round the north coast of Denmark; a voyage of 646 miles. A seaway cutting across the peninsular from Hamburg to Kiel, would cut the distance to 121 miles.
Suggestions about cutting a canal all came to nothing on account of cost and the jealousies of local rulers. Then, in 1870, Germany became a united Empire of which Schleswig-Holstein was a part. For Germany, ambitious to become a naval power, it was essential that warships could be moved quickly and safely between the North Sea and the Baltic. To do this, a canal had to be built. It took eight years.
From the estuary of the Elbe on the North Sea to Kiel Bay on the Baltic, the canal is 53 miles long. The canal, which was widened and deepened in 1909, was invaluable to Germany in the First Great War but it was heavily bombed in the Second World War. It is now an International Waterway.
The Kiel Canal has been increasingly used by merchant ships: over 60,000 of them, totalling 30,000,000 tons, now pass along it each year.