December 1964
Moon Rocks “We expect that the study of lunar geology will help to answer some longstanding questions about the early evolution of the earth. The moon and the earth are essentially a two-planet system, and the two bodies are probably closely related in origin. In this connection the moon is of special interest because its surface has not been subjected to the erosion by running water that has helped to shape the earth's surface.—Eugene M. Shoemaker”

Asbestos—Is It a Problem? “Dust consisting of fine fibers of asbestos, which are insoluble and virtually indestructible, may become a public health problem in the near future. At a recent international conference on the biological effects of asbestos sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences, participants pointed out on the one hand that workers exposed to asbestos dust are prone in later life to develop lung cancer, and on the other hand that the use of this family of fibrous silicate compounds has expanded enormously during the past few decades. A laboratory curiosity 100 years ago, asbestos today is a major component of building materials.”

December 1914
Naval Blockade “Germany can support herself on her home resources for fully a year, and this capacity for self-support in the face of a universal embargo [a blockade by the British navy] has a very high military value. It is probably true that long before next August, if the war were to last as long as that, the people of Germany would be put to many shifts from their usual mode of living. They might, for instance, have to learn to eat a greater part of their annual production of some two billion bushels of potatoes which are now mostly used in the production of industrial alcohol.”

Espionage in Arabia “A considerable amount of surveying and exploration has recently been done along the southern frontier of Palestine under the auspices of the Palestine Exploration Fund by parties headed by Capt. S. F. Newcombe, Royal Engineers, and including two archaeologists from the British Museum. Five parties surveyed and mapped the whole border region except a small area around Akaba [Aqaba], where the Turkish authorities refused the necessary permission.”

The survey, ostensibly of biblical sites, was actually a clandestine military operation to map parts of the Ottoman Empire. One of the “two archaeologists” was T. E. Lawrence, later known by the sobriquet “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Motor-Driven Unicycle “The idea of a single-wheeled vehicle is by no means new. The novelty in the motor car shown [see illustration above] lies not in the fact that it is a one-wheeled vehicle, but that it is stabilized by a gyroscope. The machine has not been built, but the design has been offered by one of the readers of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN as a suggestion to some enterprising inventor.”

A slide show on the developments in motor-vehicle technology and industry from 1914 is at ScientificAmerican.com/dec2014/motor-vehicles

December 1864
Vice Abides “Dr. Alfred Taylor, commissioned by the Privy Council in England, has sent in a Report. Laudanum (tincture of opium) appears to be sold wholesale, single shops often supplying three or four hundred customers every Saturday night. Retail druggists often dispense 200 lbs. in one year, and one man complained that his wife had consumed £100 in opium since he married. We are assured by a wholesale druggist that he could and did sell it in the eastern counties to the extent of some thousands of pounds weight in a year. This gentleman, an old and keen observer, declared that the demand had sprung up shortly after the introduction of teetotalism.”

Thank the Gods “The Peking Gazette contains a report from the Chinese government on the extinction of the [Taiping] rebellion, which ends with the following words: ‘It is, therefore, most needful that thanks be offered to the gods for their assistance. Wherefore, the Board of Rites is directed to examine into the services rendered by the different gods, and to report to us.’”

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN ONLINE
Find original articles and images in the Scientific American archives at ScientificAmerican.com/magazine/sa