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See Inside August 2011

100 Years Ago: Opium Toll

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American



SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, VOL. CV, NO. 7; AUGUST 12, 1911

August 1961

Polymers and Manufacturing
“Seven years have now passed since our laboratory in the Politecnico di Milano discovered ‘stereospecific’ catalytic processes for creating ‘stereoregular’ polymers from simple asymmetric hydrocarbon molecules such as those of propylene. The new stereoregular poly­prop­y­lene polymers produced by our methods, and by similar methods successfully developed by others, have been in large-scale production in the U.S. since early this year, following the completion last year of three major plants. Only last year our laboratory was successful in carrying stereospecific polymerization methods another step forward, suggesting that still-new varieties of stereoregular polymers may achieve practical importance before too many years have passed. —Giulio Natta”

Natta shared in the 1963 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. These molecules are used as catalysts in the large-scale commercial production of plastics and rubbers.

August 1911

A Million Great Ideas
“Unmarked by any pomp or ceremony and with a lack of ostentation that seemed totally inappropriate to the importance of the occasion, the one millionth patent was issued on Tuesday, August 8th, 1911. The wheel of chance which decided the recipient of the epoch-making patent—awarded to the patent which happened to be on the top of the pile when the numbering machine passed 999,999—decided in favor of Frank H. Halton, of Cleveland, Ohio, who had applied for exclusive rights to manufacture and sell an improvement on inflated automobile tires. It was fitting that this patent, itself a monument to progress, should have been awarded to an improvement on the automobile.”

Water and Power
“The Roosevelt Dam in southern Arizona, recently completed, contains over 350,000 cubic yards of masonry, and forms the largest artificial reservoir now in existence; the construction of this reservoir required the expenditure of nearly $300,000 in wagon roads alone, to make the region accessible and to replace public roads submerged by the artificial lake.”

Opium Toll
“Some unexpected results are found from the movement against the production of opium in China. In the Yunnan, one of the provinces where opium was produced in large quantities, it appears that the poppy is no longer cultivated, owing to the recent measures. However, this has had a disastrous effect on the honey culture of the region. As the bees find no more flowers, the production of honey is stopped. The new crops which replace the poppy, such as wheat or peas, are not such as will give as good a honey yield. On another side of the question, it appears that the opium habits of the population are not suppressed by the present legislation, as some supposed would be the case, but are again on the rise.”

August 1861

Drinking Lead
“There is no subject of more importance, especially in cities possessing the inestimable blessing of waterworks, than the corrosion of lead in water pipes. All the salts of lead are extremely poisonous, and, like all the metallic poisons, they accumulate in the system. We have long regarded the fact of the salts of lead being insoluble in water as entirely inconclusive in regard to the safety of employing lead pipes for the conveyance of water. When water is driven with great velocity, under a high head [pressure] through a pipe, the feathery particles of the mineral are then washed off and mingled with the water passing as certainly into the system as if they were dissolved.”

Civil War at Sea
“The schooner S. J. Waring, which had been captured by the privateer Jeff. Davis, arrived in this port on Sunday, July 21st, having been retaken by the black steward, with the assistance of one of the seamen. When the S. J. Waring was taken, her captain and mate were taken off, but the colored steward, two of the seamen and a passenger were left on board. The steward having discovered, by a conversation which he heard, that it was the intention of the prize master Capt. Amiel to sell him into slavery as soon as the schooner arrived in Charleston, determined to make a desperate attempt to retake the vessel. The steward’s name is William Tillman.”

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