Science and Art from 1912: A Look Back in Scientific American's Archives [Slide Show]
A century ago the forefront of the newest in science and technology melded with the ancient ideals of the pursuit of beauty
Credits: SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, VOL. CVII, NO. 10; SEPTEMBER 7, 1912
THE FLY: Hideous or glorious? Technical mastery of photography a century ago pushed the limits of what was visible to the human eye. That trend has not slowed down.
Scientific American, July 13, 1912
FROST FLOWERS: The science of photography is used to capture the fragile beauty of hoar frost. The technical payoff is the ability to study water crystals for years “after the morning sun destroyed the original crystal.”
Scientific American, January 20, 2012
PHOTOGRAPHS DO NOT LIE: This one does, of course, to give the illusion of an automobile zipping along at high speed. The “trick distortion” is reproduced exactly from a 1912 article that reveals how the camera shutter was manipulated.
Scientific American, April 6, 1912
SCULPTING WITH CAMERA: A Parisian sculptor a century ago uses four cameras to provide a guide to producing a finished sculpture. The sitter only has to appear once. We seem to have since decided that a photograph alone is quite enough to capture the essence of a subject.
Scientific American, June 1, 1912 Advertisement
CAST IN BRONZE: Crafting statues the old-fashioned way: a clay model is covered by a plaster cast; a mold is taken of the cast; mold and core are filled with molten bronze; when it cools, the mold is cut away. It was an expensive and time-consuming process.
Scientific American, August 3, 1912
MAGNETIC SCULPTURE: Mapping the magnetic field “is a very old experiment” but the new twist in 1912 is to mix water and plaster of Paris to make a permanent record. The “very instructive” results are enhanced by “the beauty of their color” as the iron rusts.
Scientific American, September 7, 1912
MECHANICAL VIOLIN PLAYER: Ingenious but more cumbersome than an iPod. A circular horsehair bow plays three single-string violins; pneumatic “fingers” programmed by a perforated paper roll form the notes on the violin necks. A mechanical piano on the bottom plays duets.
Scientific American, March 9, 1912
MUSIC FROM METAL: From an article on making large bells: “A Foundryman Who Must be a Metallurgist as well as a Musician.” Shaping the clay mold (
left), tuning the cast bell on a specially designed machine ( right). Scientific American, March 16, 1912 Advertisement
PAINTING SCENERY: Before computer graphics dominated film-making, scenery was painted by hand for plays and the new art of motion pictures. In this article, draftsmen at the Jambon-Bailly Studio in Paris mark out a design on canvas laid on the floor.
Scientific American, October 28, 1912
AESTHETIC METAL: Mechanical, functional. Yet the dynamism of this finely wrought Norwegian waterwheel could have inspired artists such as Marcel Duchamp ( “Nude Descending a Staircase,” painted 1912 ) or Giacomo Balla of the Italian Futurists ( “
Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash,” also painted 1912). Scientific American, October 5, 1912
ART AND SCIENCE OF CLOUDS: This technique is still in wide use by amateur meteorologists who do not have access to a thermal infrared camera: a mirror engraved with lines is used to estimate how much of the sky is covered with clouds. The natty straw boater is optional.
Scientific American, September 28, 1912
ART OF THE BUSHMEN: Originally an ethnographic study from southern Africa, today we can also appreciate the aesthetic and art-historical context of these indigenous paintings.
Scientific American, November 2, 1912 Advertisement
BEAUTIFUL CONCRETE: Thomas Edison decided he could bring beauty to the world—and make it more durable and cheap—if he used concrete. To the left of Edison, a very lovely wooden phonograph cabinet, to the right, a much cheaper one made of concrete.
Scientific American, January 13, 1912
ANCIENT ART: Our article from 1912 looks at the struggle to excavate Herculaneum (buried along with Pompeii by Mt. Vesuvius) in a rigorous manner. Here, an ancient bronze horse, assembled from components of up to six originals found at the theater at Herculaneum.
Scientific American, November 16, 1912
“MIGHTY BEAST”: Fossil finds, science and art of a century ago yield the likeness of a rhinoceros-like titanothere (also called brontothere) at the American Museum of Natural History, New York. The colorful description: “these mighty beasts roamed the ancient flooded plains of Western America” about two million years ago.
Scientific American, April 6, 1912
CAST FROM LIFE: Wax and plaster models of living people, such as this one from 1912, were popular among ethnologists as a way of preserving and comparing anatomical details. Today we prefer to use DNA to compare peoples.
Scientific American, March 2, 1912 Advertisement
MONUMENTAL STATUE: A colossal statue built entirely of reinforced concrete. The sculptor Lorado Zadoc Taft erected it in northern Illinois in 1911 and dedicated it to “The American Indian.” At left is the full-size clay model; at right, the finished concrete head emerges as the mold around it is cut away.
Scientific American, September 7, 1912 Advertisement