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50, 100 & 150 Years Ago: Engineering Brings Water to Los Angeles, 1913

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American
Water for Los Angeles



SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN SUPPLEMENT, VOL. LXXVI, NO. 1980; DECEMBER 13, 1913

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December 1963

Quasars Found
“Early this year astronomers discovered that five celestial objects, previously regarded as being faint and somewhat unusual stars in our galaxy, are perhaps the most bizarre and puzzling objects ever observed through a telescope. Not faint stars at all, they are extremely powerful sources of radio noise and, according to new estimates of their light output, are perhaps the brightest objects in the universe. The dramatic recognition of these unusual objects was the result of a fruitful collaboration between radio and optical astronomers. The former provided precise positions of five radio sources, which were then identified with starlike objects on photographic plates made at the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories. In recognition of their small size, and for lack of a better name, they are called quasi-stellar radio sources.”


December 1913

Piltdown Hoax in the U.S.
“If the very widespread publicity on the part of the press is a fairly accurate measure of general interest in a subject, then the prominence and space accorded to recent interviews with me on the theme of prehistoric man indicate something more than mere curiosity on the part of the public. It has also been very interesting to me to observe that nearly all of the papers in different parts of the country that have mentioned the subject have given special prominence to the statement of the great age of man on the earth. That is really one of the vital aspects of the whole problem of man's origin. Recent discoveries have made it quite plain that the human race has been in existence for a much longer time than has generally been supposed by the majority of scientific men. —Dr. J. Leon Williams”

Piltdown Man was supposedly an early human fossil found in England in 1912. The find was definitively proved a hoax in 1953. Dr. Williams, a prosthodontist by trade, was an enthusiastic, but gullible, amateur anthropologist. As early as November 1913, a letter in Nature (now a sister publication of Scientific American), by a skeptical David Waterston of King's College London, correctly identified the skull as modern human and the jaw as being from an ape.

Water for a City
“The new Los Angeles Aqueduct is designed to bring 265 million gallons of water daily over a distance of 234 miles from the Sierras to Los Angeles. This new aqueduct was dedicated and opened to use on November 5th, and on our front page of this week's issue we present a view taken at the moment when the gates were opened to start the flow of water down the cascade formed below the exit of the tunnel through the Santa Susana Range, 25 miles northwest of the city of Los Angeles. This cascade fulfills a double function—it was designed partly on esthetic grounds, but also for the purpose of assisting in the purification of the water by aeration.”


December 1863

The First Recording Device
“Some months ago, M. Scott [Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville], well known among the savants of Paris, exhibited experiments of a very interesting character, in the art of fixing [that is, capturing] sounds. The same species of natural means so successfully employed in photography with reference to form, namely, the aerial undulations [sound waves] of which sounds consist, are, by the construction of the phonograph, made ingeniously to subserve the same intricate purposes in view. Yet a serious difficulty seems to obstruct a re-translation of this somewhat indefinite language into the regular and fixed signs for the verbal sounds which produced it.”

This device, now called the “phonautograph,” could only register sounds, not play them back.

Medical Advice
“The latest remedy for sea-sickness is ice. We imagine a better one is not to go to sea.”

 

This article was originally published with the title "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago."

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