The Science and Art of Electricity, 1914 [Slide Show]

Illuminating insights into electricity from a century ago from the Archive of Scientific American

By Daniel C. Schlenoff

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Wireless Telephony:

We call that "radio" today. This French system from 1914 had two megaphones for speaking, which were used alternately for brief periods to prevent overheating. Range: about 95 kilometers.....[ More ]

Power to the People:

The operator of the central switchboard at a station in 1914 generating a 100,000 horsepower current (fairly small by today’s standards).....[ More ]

X-Raying an Elephant:

Minnie, a performing elephant, accidentally swallowed “a $450 diamond ring.” She was x-rayed in seven sections, and "the valuable gem was soon recovered and the elephant was none the worse for her novel experience."....[ More ]

Electricity for Safety:

Fire alarm headquarters in Manhattan, N.Y. Two operators watched for fire alarm signals, which were sent in by telegraph.....[ More ]

X-Ray Safety:

X-rays revolutionized medicine. It was soon recognized that these rays were dangerous as well as useful. This 1914 arrangement of lead screens and lead glass from a French hospital was supposed to protect the radiologist from burns.....[ More ]

Electric Treatments:

This device used electricity to supposedly treat arteriosclerosis, rheumatism and various diseases. The jury is still out on how and when electricity can be used to treat various conditions.....[ More ]

Lightning Danger:

These natural electric discharges contain immense amounts of energy. One basic precaution from this 1914 article: when caught out in the open by a lightning storm, better to lie flat. To remain upright risks attracting a lightning bolt.....[ More ]

Charging the Entertainment:

Actors at the New York Hippodrome prepare for a stage entrance. Their garments were coated with phosphorescent paint and charged by spending 20 minutes in front of an arc lamp, wearing dark goggles to protect their eyes.....[ More ]

Special Effects:

Actor wearing a fluorescent outfit walks down the aisle in the darkened New York Hippodrome, 1914.....[ More ]


In the laboratory of Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, here shown in 1914. This Dutch scientist produced supercold temperatures (he was the first to liquefy helium) and conducted experiments to find out what happened to conductivity in materials at those temperatures, thereby discovering superconductivity.....[ More ]

Honoring Edison:

Advertisement from the Edison Lamp Works, 1914. As more homes had electricity, more people bought Edison lightbulbs and paid for generated electricity. It was a good business to be in.....[ More ]

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