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See Inside Scientific American Volume 306, Issue 3

100 Years Ago: Lighter Than Air

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American



Scientific American, Vol. cvi, No. 12; March 23, 1912

March 1962

Red Shift
"A recent paper by French astronomers has apparently laid to rest a skeleton that has been rattling in the closet of physics for more than 40 years. In a measurement of unprecedented accuracy they found a gravitational red shift in light from the sun almost exactly equal to that predicted by the general theory of relativity. The prediction is a consequence of Albert Einstein's principle of equivalence, which states that the effects of accelerated motion are indistinguishable from those of a gravitational field."

March 1912

Lighter Than Air
"Mr. Joseph Brucker's attempt to cross the Atlantic in a dirigible, from the Verde Islands to Barbados, is especially characterized by its business-like methods. Their airship Suchard has now been reconstructed three times to keep abreast of the most recent advances and experiences in dirigible navigation. From the outset they trusted only to a perfected and well-tested type and so built their ship after the Parseval model."

Brucker never followed through on his attempt. For a look into our archives at the technology of lighter-than-air flight in 1912, see the slideshow at www.ScientificAmerican.com/mar2012/dirigibles

Relativity Pondered
"To some people it seems that modern scientific concepts border very closely upon, if they do not actually invade, the realm of metaphysics. We have said that the mass of an electron increases with its velocity. It increases in such a way that at the velocity of light the mass becomes infinite. In other words, motion at a speed greater than that of light is impossible in nature. Before this result was fully established [by James Clerk Maxwell and others] an eminent German scientist [Arnold Sommerfeld] worked out the dynamics of systems moving at a speed greater than that of light [hypothetical particles later called tachyons]. We have here a result, a paradox, which many people find difficult to accept and to which objections at once present themselves. It is by pondering over these objections that scientific men [Albert Einstein and others] have been led to enunciate the 'Principle of Relativity.' This great principle is the most fundamental doctrine of modern physics. It asserts that mass, length, and time are all relative.-John W. N. Sullivan"

Radio Communication
"Within a few years practically every vessel of our navy, including colliers, tugs and the boats of the Revenue Cutter Service [later called the Coast Guard], has been equipped with wireless apparatus. A very important part of their work became the control of the revenue cutters [patrol boats] while on duty at sea. The ship Gresham has a record of over three score lives saved, and more than forty vessels towed from dangerous positions when out of control."

March 1862

Ironclads-The First Duel
"While the iron-plated Merrimac [CSS Virginia] was carrying destruction among the old wooden vessels of our navy, and spreading consternation throughout the land, the little Monitor with her two guns arrived upon the scene of conflict, and soon changed disaster and defeat into the most triumphant victory. For several hours she sailed around the Merrimac, sending her shot into any selected part of her antagonist with perfect precision, sustaining an unprecedented cannonade with absolute impunity, and finally succeeded in driving her formidable foe disabled away from the field of battle. It was stipulated in the contract for the Monitor that she should be tried under the guns of the enemy before being accepted by the Department of the Navy, but it could not have been anticipated that she would be subjected to so severe a trial as that which she has endured. This trial puts the final seal to the fate of all wooden ships of war."

Horrid Writing
"Has not the curse of steel pens swept over the land until decent handwriting is almost unknown? Do not ninety-nine persons in a hundred use steel pens, and has more than one out of the ninety-nine the effrontery to say he can write with them? Lord Palmerston was quite right-the hand-writing of this generation is abominable; and as new improvements in steel pens go on, that of the next will be worse."

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

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