Our Backwardness in Invention W E recently reprinted from Engineering News some comments on the encouragement of invention in Europe and the discouragement of invention by the large corporations of this country. As the result of a rathler lively letter written by Mr. William Kent, of Montclair, N. J., to the Engineering News, the editor of that paper takes up the subject again. In reply to the Engineering News statemlnt tbat “We are to-day something like five years behind Germany in iron and steel metallurgy,” Mr. Kent gives a list of improvements which have been made in blast furnaces, steel works, hoisting and conveying apparatus, foundry machinery, gas-producers, rolling mills, and machine tools. The Engineering News recurs again to our backwardness in adopting the Diesel engine. “Notwitbstanding the fact that the basic patents have expired so that any concern may build it, only a single firm in the United States to-day is selling Diesel engines,” says the Engineering News, “and even this concern is not yet on a basis to push them on the market in competition with other machines. "In oil engines, the principal business in the United States has been done by a German concern manufacturing an engine invented in England. In the development of gas-producers and suction gas engines most of the work done in this country has followed after the pioneer work done on the other side; and, notwithstanding the great stimulus to the use of the gas engine afforded by our stores of cheap natural gas, the internal combustion engine for power purposes is far more largely used abroad than here." On the subject of the steel and iron industry, and the advance made by Germans, the Engineering News has this to state: “It is perfectly well known that the blast furnace gas engine . . . was fully developed and in successful commercial use in Europe about five years before it was taken up here.” Our Contemporary goes on to say that eleven years ago blast furnace gas engines were in use in ]urope, wbich was about four years before the first blast furnace gas engines were installed at the Buffalo works of the Lackawanna Steel Company, eited by 1Ir. Kent as an example of American up-to-dateness. In the electrical manufacture of steel, Engineering News points out that European inventors did the pioneer work, -and that electric smelting furnaces were in extensive commercial use in Germany before American inventors thought it worth their while to take up this new invention. "The pioneer American steam turbine inventor, Dow, lacked the commercial knowledge to make his invention a commercial success, nor was he able to secure capital to develop it. So the honors for pioneer work go to De Lava I, the Swedish engineer, and to Parsons, the Englishman, while Curtis, another Englishman, and Rateau, a Frenchman, and Zoelly, a Swiss, and Riedler and Stumpf, in Germany, are the engineers who have won distinction in the later development of the steam turbine. "As for the multi-stage centrifugal pumps and blowers, these were in extended and successful use abroad years before they were taken up in the United States. France developed the automobile .far ahead of either England or America. Telferage was originally invented by an English professor of engineering. "As for pioneer inventions in the railway field, the most important developments of the past five years in this country in locomotive design have been the Mallet locomotive (invented by the Freneh engineer, Antoine Mallet, in 1888), and the use of superheated steam, for which credit must be given to the German, Schmidt." In tbe opinion of our contemporary, “The United States no longer leads the world in the race for invention; but it is better to know the truth than to delude ourselves with false pretensions to supremacy. "And now, as to the reasons why this country no longer leads. It is not because American engineers and inventors are less ingenious or less progrlve than those of other countries, though it may weiipe that the thorough work done by the German technical schools gives them some advantage in the development of inventions requiring a high degree of scientific knowledge. "We said in our former issue, and we now repeat, that the main reason, in our opinion, is that under the present organization of American manufacturing industry, invention and innovation is discouraged rather than encouraged. And this opinion is based, not alone on knowledge of the actual experience of numerous American inventors and engineers, but on the frank statement of officers connected with some of our large industrial corporations. "We could cite the case of an American inventor who, after vainly endeavoring to secure capital for his work I his native country, went to England and won fortune, fame and honor. Another particularly pertinent example is the Gray beam mill, eited by our correspondent above as an example of American sur,remacy in pioneer inventions. "The facts are that the inventor of the Gray mill for rolling wide-flange I-beams, after developing his invention and actually demonstrating its merits, was unable to market his invention with our excellent steel magnates. They were not obliged to have his invention. They were making money by the cartload in consolidation and promotion and stock market manipulation. Why should they bother with such a trifle as an improved system of rolling beams? "Mr. Gray therefore went abroad, and the Belgium steel 'plant at Differdingen promptly took up his invention and developed a large and profitable business thereby. Returning to America after this success abroad, Mr. Gray was even then unable to secure a favorable hearing from the steel mill managers, whom Mr. Kent praises so highly. It was not till the Belgian plant had been rolling Gray beams for five years that Mr. Schwab took it up at Bethlehem. This former Steel Corporation president, engaging in a strenuous campaign of competition, may, perhaps, for this reason, have been more receptive to new ideas. At any rate, tbe success of the 'Bethlehem beams,' and the tardy imitation of these shapes by other American steel mills, justifies his venture and proved the ultra-conservatism of those managers who, years before, rejected the Gray rolling process. "We are well aware that tbe huge industrial combination has some advantages in undertaking the development of new inventions over the small concern. We are aware that some of our trusts do maintain research departments and it is currently said that one important use of these departments is to defeat the independent inventor and discourage the undertaking of original invention in the field which the trust aims to control. We are well aware, too, that there are numerous lines of labor-saving machinery which have been developed in the United States, but not abroad. because of the great difference in wage scales here and there. All this has nothing to do with our contention that the United States has lost its supremacy as a field for tbe development of ,pioneer inventions, and that in the race of international competition we are falling behind because of the attitude of the trusts toward inventive progress." A New Material for Safes Which Resists the Oxy-acetylene Blow-pipe SAFE makers and safe breakers are engaged in a contest similar to that of the makers of guns an< armor plate. Safe breakers' methods have lately been much improved, especially by use of the so-called autogenous welding process which makes it possible to penetrate iron and steel plates of great thickness in a short time by means of the oxy-acetylene flaml. This advance in criminal practice has produced corresponding improvements in the construction of safes and vaults. Lately the well-known armor plate makers, the Krupps of Essen, have p ro du c ed a new material which is especially suitable for the protection of safes and vaults, as, according to a note in the journal Autogene Metalbearbeitung, it cannot be fused or penetrated by the ioxy-hydrogen, or oxy-acetylene burners now in use, or at least it offers so great a resistance to fusion that an inordinately long time and enormous quantities of gas are required. The material is a variety of cast steel which is extremely hard and resists the best boring tools, so that it affords security also against mechanical forcing, In order to 'a.ke a hole 80 millimeters (3.2 inches) in a plat0 of this material. 40 millimeters (l.o inches) thick, with the oxy-acetylene burner, from 6 to 14 hours time, from 2,750 to 4,550 gallons of oxygen and from 2,500 to 3,700 gallons of acetylene are required, according to the results of a number of experiments. The average safe breaker has not so much time or so lluch “gas at his disposal. One of the steel cyilnders in which compressed gases are transported contains about 1,400 gallons of (uncompressed) gas and weighs about 150 pounds. According to the most favorable results given above, at least four such cylinders would be required and their transportation, in addlt10n to that of the other apparatus needed, is a task to stagger the boldest safe cracker. The extraordinary hardness of the plates opposes no serious obstacle to working them in the shop, as the rivet holes required can be made directly in the casting or they can be bored in softer steel parts especially provided for that purpose. The only defect of the plates is the present impossibility of making them thinner than 1.6 inches. It appears not improbable that this difficulty will be overcome, for only a year ago it was impossible to make the plates of less thickness than 6 inches, in which condition, of course, they were practically useless for the construction of safes and treasure vaults. Heredity in Potatoes I N the first number ' of The Journal of Genetics, a new journal devoted to problems in her(dily, Dr R. N. Salaman gives some results of a prolonged study on the inheritance of certain characters in the common potato (Solanur tuberosur). Mendelian behavior was found in tbe sterility of the pollen in certain varieties, the sterility being dominant. Most of the experiments related, however, to the tuber. In regard to length, the tuber behaves, in inheritance, like tbe stem of the pea plant. The long type is dominant over the short. That is, where two varieties were crossed, one having short rounn tubers and the other long tubers, all the potatoes of the next generation were of the long type. But on breeding these hybrids by self-fertilization, the following generation gave three plants with “ long tubers to one plant with short tuber, in the typit'al Mcndelian fashion. The long tuber has more “eyes,” which th( author considers equivalent to nodes. In some potatoes the eyes lie rather deep in the tuber, while in others tbey are near the surface, or quite on the outside. When these two characters are brought together in fertilization, the deep eye character is dominant over the other. The color of the tuber depends upon the amount of the pigment “anfho<,yan” prespnt in the <:ell-sap of the supprfieial cells of the tubel', and varies from rfd to deep violet. On analysing the results of the experiments, it appears that there are three distinct factors that have to do with the color ap]Jealance of a potato. These are (1) a farior for redness, (2) one the purple or violet, and (3) a color “developer.” Without tbis third factor no color appears at all The other factors determine the character of the celor. The purple appearance depends upon the presence of all three factors; this is dominant over the red, and this in turn is dominant over the white, or absence of pigment. In the study of another species of potato (Solan1lm etuberosum) for comparison, Mr. Salaman found some curious results. In this species whiteness of tuber was dominant over pigmentation, roundness was dominant over long form, and superficial eyes dominant over deep-set. In all three respects this species is just the opposite of our garden variety. Incidentally it was observ'd that the sterile individuals in every culture were much more resistant to the potato-rot (PlIytophthora infestans) than the ones bearing fertile pollen. This is a mater of great practical importance, since it may be possible to establish a race quite immune to this disease. As the sterile individuals are dominant, this resistance would appear to be of a dif'erent type from the resistance of wheat to the wheat-rust (Pliccinia gramini8) which was found to be recessive in the Cambridge experiments. It is a simpler matter to establish a race bearing recessive characters, but it may be possible to fnd a combination of characters in a potato that will include immunity to the rot. The Cost of Substituting Steel for Wooden Cars A CCORDING to an estimate in the Railw ay Age Grzettp, the cost of substituting steel cars for the present wooden cars is estimated at about $630,000,-000. At the beginning of this year there were about 3,000 passenger cars in service in this country, built of all steel construction. The total number of passenger coaches is about 54,600 so that the number of steel cars is about 5.3 per cent of the total. Of the cars eonstrrrcted during the prelnt year, 62 per cent will be all-steel construction, so that at the end of this year fully 9.3 per cent of all passenger cars will be of steel, while 3.5 per cent have steel under-frames. The percentage of w ooden cars In servicE bas dropped in the last three years from 98.2 to 87.2 per cent.
This article was originally published with the title "Abstracts from Current Periodicals" in Scientific American 105, 14, 294 (September 1911)