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100 Years Ago: Edison's Battery

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American



SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, VOL. CIV, NO. 2; JANUARY 14, 1911

January 1961

Mechanism of Immunity
“Although the practical problems of immunization have been solved, immunology remains an important branch of medicine. The immunologist of today, however, is not so much interested in finding out how to immunize people more effectively against diphtheria or poliomyelitis as he is concerned with understanding what happens when people become immune. He asks more sophisticated questions than in the past. For example: Why can a surgeon successfully graft skin or other tissue from one part of the body to another but not from one individual to another, except in the case of grafts between identical twins? Any modern formulation of immunological theory must supply at least provisional answers to these and other equally complex questions. —Sir Macfarlane Burnet”

Burnet won a Nobel Prize in 1960 for his work in immunology.

January 1911

Edison’s Battery
“Stored electricity finds its greatest usefulness in propelling cars and road vehicles, and it has been for this application, primarily, that the Edison storage ­battery has been developed. Mr. Edison saw that there are two viewpoints: that of the electrical man with his instruments, his rules of efficient operation and reasonable life of the battery, his absolute knowledge that the same care should be given a vehicle battery that is given a valued horse or even a railroad locomotive; and that of the automobile driver, who simply ­wishes to go somewhere with his car, and who, when he arrives somewhere, wishes to go back. And in the long-promised storage battery the high­­ly practical nature of Edison’s work is once more exemplified in that he has held uncompromisingly to the automobilist’s point of view.”

This article is available in full here (PDF).

The Brilliant Curie
“We cannot help feeling that in this advanced age, in such a center of enlightenment as Paris, and where a scientist of such brilliant performance as Madame Curie is concerned, this discussion as to whether she is eligible for admission to the French Academy of Sciences is altogether deplorable. When science comes to the matter of bestowing its rewards, it should be blind to the mere accident of sex; and one does not have to be an enthusiast on the subject of the extension of the rights and privileges of her sex, to feel that here is a woman who, by her brilliant achievement, has won the right to take her place with her compeers in the Academy."

After much political maneuvering, the Académie denied Curie a seat.

January 1861

The Risks of Secession
“One inventor hesitates to apply for a patent until our political difficulties are settled; because, should the Southern states secede from the Northern and mid­dle states, his rights would not be respected in but about half the States, and thus his patent would be worth only half price. Now, all these troubles which haunt the mind of inventors are imaginary, so far as securing their patents or protecting them is concerned. It is the manufacturing and mechanical States of the North which have ever been the great patrons of the patentee, and while we do not apprehend any permanent division of the union of States, and interests between the North and South, even should an event so deplorable to all sections occur, we see no reason why patent property should be materially depreciated.”

Soap and Civilization
“According to Liebig, the quantity of soap consumed by a nation would be no inaccurate measure whereby to estimate its wealth and civilization. Political economists, indeed, will not give it this rank; but whether we regard it as joke or earnest, it is not the less true, that, of two countries, with an equal amount of population, we may declare with positive certainty, that the wealthiest and most highly civilized is that which consumes the greatest weight of soap. This consumption does not subserve sensual gratifi­cation, nor depend upon fashion, but upon the feeling of the beauty, comfort, and welfare, attendant upon cleanliness.”

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

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