Lienhard 1

Lienhard is not a historian, he is an engineer who got interested in the history of technology and started a radio show called Engines of Our Ingenuity.  A historian wouldn't have written a book like this:

The result of the industrial revolution and these inventions was a new "modern" world
If we live in a postmodern world, then what is modern?
Lienhard is arguing that technological progress caused the coming of the modern era

To understand why he wrote this particular book, ask yourself the question: "Is technology progressing faster now than it did around 1900?"   If you look at the number of patents issued per year, technology is obviously progressing faster and faster. 
table of patents issued per year
1920s automobile, telephone, and kitchen
But are all these inventions changing our lives as much as peoples lives were changed by the 1920s by the telephone, the automobile, the airplane, etc.?

This book focuses on that change, trying to give you a sense of how people's lives changed with the coming of the modern world.
  • how did the people in the book experienced life differently from people in earlier times or the way we do today
  • some technological change follows a trend, but sometimes you get unexpected revolutionary change--the trend direction changes
  • how has technology changed the way we live in your grandparents lifetimes?
  • how will technology change our lives in the next 20 or 30 years?
  • we may be in another time of revolutionary change in social experience, like the one that began the modern era


Chapter 1: Heinrich Leinhard came to the United States from Switzerland in 1843 at age 21 and ended up in San Francisco.
San Francisco in
                1847--a very small town
San Francisco in 1847
What technologies were coming in in the 1840s?
  • the industrial revolution in the United States was in the takeoff phase--big textile factories were spreading in the northeast
  • steam power was just beginning to grow in importance, and the steamboat was revolutionizing river travel
  • experiments as early as 1780s both in England and American, but the need was greater in America.
  • a lot of varied speculation, including an 1785 paper by Benjamin Franklin in which he concluded that paddlewheels were inefficient and proposed jet propulsion.
  • This put John Fitch on the wrong track--his mechanic convinced him not to try water jets but he worked on crank and paddles instead of paddle wheels.  he did demonstrate a boat in 1787 and run boats on the Mississippi in a commercial operation as early as 1790, although he ultimately failed.
  • Robert Fulton trained in England and France (he had gone to London originally to study art but ended up studying civil engineering).  He built his first commercially successful steamboat for the Hudson starting operation in 1807 (with a promise of a 20 year monopoly from the NY legislature) with a 133 ft. boat called the Clermont with twin sidewheels.  He used a Watt engine and built his boats for passenger comfort and speed.
Steamboat
                Clermont
 The Clermont, from an early history of steam power by Thurston
  • He also ran boats on the Mississippi, but they didn't do very well.
  • Other engineers solved the problems of adaptation of the steam boat to western conditions .
  • The key innovation was the high-pressure steam engine invented by Oliver Evans in 1801.  Dominated western steamboats because less fouled by muddy water.
  • Gradual development of shallow hull and flat bottom, upper decks, horizontal engine (easier to connect to a stern paddlewheel.  Model
  • Extremely profitable--sometimes 100% a trip.  Henry Shreve did the best job of putting all these innovation together and also invented the snagboat . clearing snags
  • The steam boat was the first time the United States took the lead in developing a major new technology
removing snags
  • a small steam boat came to San Francisco in 1847 and no one took it seriously (listen to this story), but two years later Heinrich could travel from San Francisco to Panama and from Panama to the east coast by steam-powered packet (ocean-going boat)
  • the first sewing machine had recently been patentedNorbert Rillieux
  • Norbert Rillieux, born a free person of color in New Orleans in 1806 (his father was white, his mother a free woman of color)
    •  studied engineering in France and returned to New Orleans in 1833 bringing with him a major invention, an energy-efficient way of evaporating cane juice into sugar.  This transformed the sugar industry the way the cotton gin transformed the cotton industry
    • free blacks were 25% of the population in New Orleans in the early 19th century and had more opportunity than free blacks in other parts of the southNorbert's brother Edmond because superintendent of the New Orleans water works
    • why do you think we hear more about Eli Whitney than Norbert Rillieux?
  • The Smithsonian Institution was created--an Englishman who had never been to the United States left his money to the U.S. government to create a center for scientific research
  • Louis Agassiz, a well trained European naturalist (biologist) moved to the United States to teach at Harvard
    • he was a creative scientist but resisted some of the new ideas of science, including evolution
    • he argued that Africans were created separately from whites, were not descendents of Adam
What is the larger pattern here?
  • The industrial revolution had come to the United States
  • The US was trying to catch up with Europe
  • Americans borrowed European technology and changed it into something to fit American conditions
  • this and and greater openness to new ideas resulted in very rapid progress
  • Americans were very open to new ideas and interested in new technology because there was a shortage of labor (particularly skilled labor)
guns were being made with interchangeable parts (this is called the American System of Manufacture)
  • traditionally one craftsman made most of a gun, one by one by hand
  • Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, proposed making guns by mass production
  • machines cut out uniform parts, then the gun just has to be assembled
  • the US government supported development of this technology for faster production and interchangeable parts
  • expanded into other industries starting in the 1850s
  • made new technologies possible
  • mass production met American needs

How did the west get from cowboys and indians to modern?
  • very quickly
  • the town of Telluride tried electric power in 1891, by the early 1900s the company was supplying power to 3 states
  • consider the example of Elizabeth Fleischman: without training built her own x-ray system for medical diagnosis
  • x-rays are an example of new technology that no one expected
painting of the Columbian Exposition
The Columbian Exposition of 1893--a major worlds fair in Chicago
  • worlds fairs were a lot like Disney World and Epcot put together, but were temporary rather than permanent (if you have been to Epcot, how accurate do you think its prediction of the future is?)
  • the Columbian Exposition celebrated technologies of the time such as steam engines and telephones, but didn't pick the upcoming winners well.  Completely missed the automobile, which had been invented in 1889.
  • An 1887 prediction of the future is available on the web: Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy.


This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
HIST 122
last updated 9/16/16