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100 Years Ago: Cancer's Roots

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American



Scientific American

JULY 1961

Forecasting Revolution
“The behavior of the atmosphere is so complex that it was not to be expected that a few months of satellite observation would suddenly clarify weather processes or lead to an immediate improvement in forecasts. Nevertheless, meteorologists who have been following the data received from Tiros I and Tiros II are convinced that weather satellites will have a revolutionary impact on their science. Because of this conviction, an enlarged series of weather satellites is being planned by the U.S. Weather Bureau in co-operation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

JULY 1911

Cancer’s Roots
“It is now scarcely ten years since the experimental investigation of the cancer problem was first entered upon, and therefore we are today only on the threshold of a true and definite knowledge regarding cancer. Modern experimental investigation has not as yet shown the cause of cancer. It has, however, definitely shown that the problem of cancer is intimately related to the problem of cell growth, and it is along this line that future work must be directed. As to whether the primary cause of cancer be a micro-organism or whether we must look to some change in the nature or function of the cell itself for the explanation of the origin of cancer, we are not in a position to state.”

Swift Incompletion
“Upon the departure of the huge ‘Olympic’ on her first eastern trip from New York on June 28th, Aviator Tom Sopwith attempted to drop a message on board the steamer when she was passing through the Narrows. He flew down to within 200 feet of her before dropping the package. This missed the deck by a few feet and was lost in the bay. Nevertheless, the possibilities of the aeroplane for delivering mail were demonstrated in a practical way.”

Soylent Tabby?
“Snails are now being sold in Paris, the only genuine part of which are the shells. It is said that the imitation of the real article is so close that many epicures have a high opinion of the sham product. Snail-shells, it seems, are bought from the dustmen and rag-pickers, and after being cleaned are filled with ‘lights’ or cats’ meat, the soft flesh being cut into corkscrew form, so as to fit the shell, by a skillfully designed machine. The receptacle is then sealed with liquid fat, and the escargot is ready for the consumer. The secret came out during a lawsuit brought by a man employed at the snail-factory to recover damages for a finger mutilated by one of the machines.”

Our Merchant Marine
“The Panama Canal is nearing completion. As it appears now, all the countries that control a merchant marine will be in a position at once to make use of this new maritime route. Our country, however, has taken no steps to the same end, but on the contrary our strength is dissipated in discussions about ways and means by which the merchant marine might be restored. It looks to me that this delay may have serious consequences. We not only lose the immediate opportunity and profit; but routes once established and connections made by foreign trade are not easily dislodged. We should be prepared at the inception to take full advantage of this route, established by our enterprise and with our money.”

JULY 1861

Malaria and War
“It is difficult for us to realize the fact, but we all know that any soldier is in five times more danger of dying from malarious disease than of being killed in battle. What malaria is nobody knows. It may consist of organisms, either animal or vegetable, too minute for even the microscope to detect; or it may be some condition of the atmosphere in relation to electricity, or temperature, or moisture; or it may be a gas evolved in the decay of vegetable matter. The last is the most common hypothesis, but it is by no means proved, and it has some stubborn facts against it. There is no doubt, however, that malaria is some mysterious poison in the atmosphere, and that it is confined strictly to certain localities. All experience has confirmed the observation of the natives of Peru, that Peruvian bark has a powerful influence in counteracting the poison in malaria. We advise all of our soldiers to consult the surgeons of their several regiments in regard to the wisdom of this course, and to follow it resolutely.”

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

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