Brits at their Best.com: British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors

THE INGENIOUS TIMELINE

19TH CENTURY

1855-1899

Calgary skyscrapers soar into the sky

Skyscrapers, bridges, airplanes, and cars owe their existence to the steel technology developed by Brits.
Andrew Carnegie, who was born in Dunfermline, exploits the tecnology to make a fortune in the U.S., and uses his money to establish hundreds of community libraries all over Britain and America.

Photo: Calgary skyscrapers by RCH1@istockphoto.com

1850s BRITS MASS-PRODUCE STEEL CHEAPLY

Henry Bessemer is another amazing, self-educated inventor. When he is young, Henry Bessemer learns metallurgy in his father's type foundry, and invents a typesetting machine.

In the early 1850s he experiments with producing steel. Steel is an admirable material that is extremely durable, but it required time-consuming craft to turn iron into steel by hardening it with a small amount of carbon. William Kelly of the United States had already injected blasts of air into molten iron to remove impurities, and inject a hardening alloy. Working independently, Bessemer patents the same process, known as the Bessemer converter.

Brit Robert Forester Mushet perfects the alloy; a Swede and another Brit, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas, perfect Bessemer's converter; and Andrew Carnegie mass-produces steel. He becomes vastly wealthy, and operates under the principle, 'The man who dies rich dies disgraced'. Contrary to the myth of the robber baron, he created what people needed and gave most of his fortune away.

St Pancras with train

Rejuvenated St Pancras is a five-in-one station with the Eurostar, high- speed domestic services to Kent (from 2009), Midland mainline, Thameslink and six London Underground lines at Kings Cross St Pancras. Barlow would be pleased.

Image: BBC

1857 - 1890s WILLIAM BARLOW INVENTS THE BARLOW RAIL, DESIGNS ST PANCRAS, ESTABLISHES CONSTRUCTION STRESSES

After leaving school at 16, William Barlow studies civil engineering with his father for a year, is an engineering pupil at a dockyard for three years, then heads to Turkey where his contributions to lighthouses on the Bosphorus are well received.

Back in Britain he churns out patents - the wrought-iron saddleback rail (patent 12438, 1849), which becomes known as the Barlow rail and is widely used, particularly on the Great Western Railway; continuous girders, the principle that allows the Forth railway bridge to withstand wind pressure; ‘the existence, practically, of the line of equal horizontal thrust in arches, and the mode of determining it by geometrical construction’, a theory of considerable practical use.

A great guy for experimenting, Barlow tests steel to determine its stresses, and advocates its use on railways. “As consultant to the Midland Railway Company he was responsible for the southern section of its extension from Bedford to London (1862–9). This work included the 240 ft span of St Pancras Station roof, the largest in the world at the time of its construction, and a structure that was pioneering in its abandonment of crescent trusses or other external bracing as a means of stiffening the arch ribs” (DNB).

He helps Joseph Paxton with his Great Exhibition calculations; deduces from the spontaneous deflections of the needles of telegraph instruments that there are electric currents on earth; and in the 1870s records the human voice graphically. He dies early in the 20th century, of exhaustion.

ii_gray's_anatomy_book.jpg

A recent edition of Gray's Anatomy

1858 GRAY AND CARTER PUBLISH GRAY'S ANATOMY

Generations of doctors worldwide have pored over copies of Gray's Anatomy. The 2008 39th edition runs to 1,600 pages, offers 2,260 illustrations, weighs about 11 lb, is available online and remains the definitive anatomical reference work.

The book was born when Henry Gray and Henry Vandyke Carter, both surgeons at St George's Hospital in London, "began collaborating to produce a practical anatomy textbook for their students in 1855". They performed dissections together for 18 months, Gray writing the text and Carter making the precise and exquisite illustrations.

Carter sailed for India and a career in tropical medicine. The book became a runaway success. Gray died not long afterwards of smallpox. Carter had the satisfaction of establishing hospitals in India and identifying relapsing fever. He was also instrumental in establishing, in 1884, a course for women doctors at Grant Medical College.

Indonesia's equatorial forest and misty mountain

Wallace explores the Malay Archipelago (which includes Indonesia's 13,000 islands and the 7,000 islands of the Philippines ). He travels thousands of miles, crossing equatorial forest, volcanic mountains, and the sea to study plants and animals. His quest: The key to evolution.
Photo Courtesy: eastjava »

1858 ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE DISCOVERS A KEY TO THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION

Forced to leave school at 12 due to his father's financial ruin, Alfred Russel Wallace learns map-making, geometry and trigonometry from his brother, a surveyor, attends lectures at local scientific societies, and discovers there is no place he would rather be than outdoors.

At twenty-five Wallace leaves England to launch a natural history collecting expedition in South America. He ascends the unexplored Rio Negro system alone, and is the first to map the area. He is fascinated by the idea of evolution, which has been talked about for decades, but cannot figure out how it occurs.

After several years in the wilderness, Wallace packs his huge collection of plants and animals on board a ship to England. He is crossing the Atlantic when the vessel catches fire and sinks, and his entire collection of plants and animals is lost. For ten days Wallace and his shipmates struggle to survive in two leaking lifeboats.

Undaunted, Wallace decides to carry on collecting and studying in the Malay Archipelago (Indonesia). The Royal Geographical Society pays for his transportation, and Wallace spends the next eight years capturing orangutans, avoiding capture by head-hunters, and collecting 125,660 specimens, including more than a thousand species new to science. He collects one thing more – the key to a theory of evolution.

In February of 1858, while sweating through an attack of malaria in his hammock, he recalls Malthus' Essay on Population (described here ) and suddenly realises the importance of survival of the fittest - individual organisms that are best adapted to their local surroundings have a better chance of surviving, and passing along their traits to their descendants. As soon as he is well, he dashes off an essay and sends it by ship to Charles Darwin, whom he knows is interested in the question.

1859 CHARLES DARWIN FORMULATES THEORY OF NATURAL SELECTION

Charles Darwin is the grandson of Erasmus Darwin, a physician who had theorised that species adapted to their environment. Charles pursues these ideas when he finally reaches Cambridge after a lacklustre academic career. The transformation of a slothful scholar and sportsman into a dedicated naturalist is a remarkable evolution, made possible by brilliant and supportive mentors.

Setting off on HMS Beagle on 27 December 1831, Darwin survives a series of adventures and almost constant seasickness, while travelling for five years to some of the most desolate places in the world. He makes methodical observations of fauna, flora, erupting volcanoes and rising shorelines and ships chests full of specimens back to Britain. He is well-liked for his sense of humour, his coolness in a crisis, and his skill with a gun - the sailors are desperate for fresh meat.

Back in England Darwin spends years studying and assembling scientific evidence for the idea of natural selection. His hope for success is intense so when Alfred Russel Wallace's letter from the Malay Archipelago arrives, it had the effect of a lit charge of dynamite (though this is denied by some biographers). Not wanting to lose credit for his virtually identical theory, Darwin and a mutual friend of Wallace's submit Wallace’s essay and similar writings by Darwin on the subject of natural selection to the next meeting of the Linnean Society in 1858. However, Darwin does not attend because his young son had just died from scarlet fever.

In the ensuing year, despite illness, Darwin writes a more compact and readable description of the theory of evolution, and publishes On the Origin of Species. In this book he does not claim to prove evolution, but suggests that if natural selection occurred, a number of otherwise inexplicable facts are readily explained. He draws on comparative anatomy, embryology, paleontology, and ethology (the study of behaviours) to provide evidence for his theory.

Christopher Booker points out that

Darwin did not, of course, originate the idea that life on earth had evolved. This notion went back to the ancient Greeks, and was accepted by many of Darwin’s predecessors, including his own grandfather Erasmus. The novelty of Darwin’s thesis was his claim that evolution could be explained solely by the process of natural selection, whereby an infinite series of minute variations gradually turned one form of life into another


One great stumbling block to his argument is that evolution has repeatedly taken place in leaps forward so sudden and so complex that they could not possibly have been accounted for by the gradual process he suggested - “the Cambrian explosion" of new life forms, the complexities of the eye, the post-Cretaceous explosion of mammals. Again and again some new development emerged which required a whole mass of interdependent changes to take place simultaneously, such as the transformation of reptiles into feathered, hollow-boned and warm-blooded birds.

As even Darwin himself acknowledged, these jumps in the story might have seemed to render his thesis 'absurd’. He might therefore have recognised that some other critically important but unknown factor seemed to be at work, an 'organising power’ which had allowed these otherwise inexplicable leaps to take place.

Initially Darwin's work receives torrential criticism from those who believe his theory casts doubt on a Creator. Nothing, however, in Darwin's theory is necessarily at odds with a Creator who chose natural selection as a tool that would help species to respond to and adapt to change.

1862-63 GEORGE BENTHAM MAKES AN EXHAUSTIVE STUDY OF SEED PLANTS, AND WITH JOSEPH HOOKER FOUNDS MODERN VASCULAR PLANT TAXONOMY

When his uncle, British utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, leaves him his wealth, George Bentham can devote all his time to botanical research. He is fascinated by plants, and collects more than 100,000 specimens, which he donates to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. William Hooker, the Gardens' director, invites Bentham to continue his researches at Kew.

With so many specimens, the question of taxonomy quite naturally arises. Taxonomy (from the Greek word taxis meaning arrangement and nomos meaning law) is the science of classification, which establishes a conceptual framework for discussion, analysis, or information retrieval. (Carl Linnaeus devised a taxonomy for biology. Web portal designs use taxonomies to describe categories of Web site topics.) The maddening problem for Bentham is that there is no adequate taxonomy for thousands of plants.

Bentham tackles this challenge with Hooker's son, Joseph, and spends 27 years in the Psyche-like task of researching, examining, and dividing species into orders or families. Their work lays the foundation for the modern system of vascular plant taxonomy (vascular plants use vascular tissue to transport fluids, minerals and foods). Bentham also catalogues 7,000 Australian species and writes the Handbook of British Flora.

London subway streaming past underground platform

Brits built the world's first subway, the Underground or "Tube", and continue to improve it.

Photo: Georgethefourth@istockphoto.com

1863 BRITS BUILD WORLD'S FIRST SUBWAY

Brits build and open the Metropolitan, the world’s first underground railway line. The very first line runs from Paddington to Farringdon. The Tube's influence on subways worldwide has been immense. Other cities borrowed British engineering, and even the name, metro, from the Metropolitan. 

1864 JAMES CROLL, SELF-TAUGHT, PROPOSES THEORY THAT EXPLAINS CLIMATE CHANGE

According to Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything, James Croll leaves school at thirteen, and takes a position as a custodian at Anderson's, now the University of Glasgow. Eager to learn, James persuades his brother to do most of his work, and spends his time teaching himself physics, mechanics, and astronomy. Twenty-five years later he sends a number of papers to science editors, who recognise their quality, and publish them. Since his return address is the university, they assume he is a professor, and are quite surprised to discover he is a janitor. Croll's work is so impressive they make him a fellow of the Royal Society and give him a job with the Geological Survey.

Croll is the first to suggest that changes in the shape of the Earth's orbit from elliptical to nearly circular to elliptical again might explain the onset and retreat of ice ages. His theory receives support in the 1970s when rhythmic shifts in the Earth's angle of orientation to the Sun and changes in orbit are recognised as creating cool summers, which in turn have been identified as key triggers of ice ages.

Prism with spectrum of light

Maxwell realises that visible light is only a small part of the entire spectrum of electromagnetic radiationthat includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays. His luminous insight is that "light is. . .an electromagnetic disturbance in the form of waves".

Photo: hades-1@istockphoto.com

1864-1890s JAMES CLERK MAXWELL'S THEORIES EXPLAIN THE ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELD AND LAY THE FOUNDATION FOR MODERN COMMUNICATIONS, INCLUDING SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS, RADIO, RADAR, AND CELL PHONES

Einstein described Maxwell's theories as "the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton."

Maxwell seems to have had a serenely productive life, though he experienced tragedy early. His mother died when he was eight. He grew up in Edinburgh and the country near Dumfries with his father. Regarded as a misfit when he went to school, shy and introspective, he published his first scientific paper at the age of fourteen, and went on to study mathematics at Cambridge, where he began to develop his great theory.

In 1864, when he was thirty-three, Maxwell described Electromagnetic Field Theory, creating a linked set of differential equations that became known as 'Maxwell's wonderful equations'. His Treatise on electrostatics, electricity in motion, magnetism, and electromagnetism, which presented the general equations of the electromagnetic field, the electromagnetic theory of light, and the dynamical basis of his field theory, laid the foundation for modern communications, including satellite communications, radio, and cell phones, and radar.

When he was thirty-five, Maxwell proposed the Maxwell-Boltzmann kinetic theory of gases, and retired to his estate. He enjoyed country life. In 1871 he reluctantly agreed to become the first Cavendish Professor of Physics, and to organize Cavendish Laboratory, which would later become famous for research in physics.

He was a devout Christian, and took special pleasure in explaining Saturn’s rings - a century before the Voyager proved him right.

1865 EDWARD TYLOR DEVELOPS FOUNDING INSIGHT OF KINSHIP STUDY - MARRIAGE CAN CREATE PEACE

Forced to leave business because he has consumption, Edward Tylor travels to Mexico and becomes enthralled by anthropology. He publishes Researches into the Early History of Mankind, and cites exogamy, or “marrying out,” as the key to human social progress. Tylor writes, “Again and again in the world’s history, savage tribes must have had plainly before their minds the simple practical alternative between marrying-out and being killed out.” Intermarriage becomes a path to peace. (Women related to one clan as sisters and to another clan as wives tend to discourage feuds.)

“Cross cousin marriage” – a man in a patrilineal, clan-based society who marries his mother’s brother’s daughter is marrying someone from a different clan. This is exogamy or “marrying out.” But if a man in a society made up of patrilineal clans marries his father’s brother’s daughter, he marries the descendant of his own birth clan. This is parallel-cousin marriage. It creates cultural cohesion at the price of cultural stasis and violence. It is still practiced in the Middle East. In Europe, the Roman Empire prohibited the marriage of cousins, and the Church followed suit, absolutely banning the marriage of cousins in the 8th century, and thereby reducing intense and violent family struggles, forced marriages, and nepotism.

1866 ANGLO-AMERICAN COMPANY LAYS FIRST TRANSLATLANTIC TELEGRAPH CABLE

The technical difficulties seem insuperable, but with the help of William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) the telegraph cable is laid on the floor of the Atlantic. Within twenty years, 97,568 miles of cable link the peoples of Britain, Canada, Africa, and Australia.

1867 JOSEPH LISTER AND WILLIAM CHEYNE INTRODUCE ANTISEPTIC PRINCIPLES TO SURGERY

Joseph Lister's medical specialty is wounds. He studies the coagulation of blood in injuries, and realises there is a very high incidence of infection. Desperate to save his patients, he sprays dilute carbolic acid on surgical instruments, wounds, and surgical dressings to reduce germs. His efforts work. Deaths from infected wounds plunge. Lister describes the antiseptic principle in the practice of surgery, inaugurating procedures such as the sterilisation of surgerical instruments, that will save millions of lives. Listerine, an antiseptic mouthwash, is named after him.

Helping Lister to revolutionise surgery is William Cheyne, one of Britain's foremost surgeons. In 1885 he defines four operational techniques to avoid infection: The surgeon thoroughly washing his hands; sterilising instruments, disinfecting the site of the operation; and reducing the number of germs in the environment.

Bottlenose dolphin leaping in air over beautiful green sea

Bottle-nosed dolphins were known even by the Ancient Greeks, but much else about the sea was not known until HMS Challenger explores all the world's oceans, charts all the great basins and currents, and discovers 4,717 new marine species.

Photo: tutut@istockphoto.com

1872-76 ROYAL SOCIETY LAUNCHES OCEANIC EXPLORATION

The Royal Society and the British Admiralty launch HMS Challenger in a long and spectacular exploration of all the world's oceans. Pioneers of modern oceanography, Charles Wyville Thomson and John Murray lead the deep-sea expedition. They report on ocean currents and temperatures, underwater geography, deep-sea deposits, coral formations, and life forms in 50 published volumes.

After he returns, Murray founds the Scottish Marine Station, now the renowned Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory on the shores of the Firth of Lorn. There the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) continues a long tradition of scientific excellence with two research ships and a world-class research library.

1872 CHESEBROUGH INVENTS VERSATILE VASELINE

English-born American chemist Robert Augustus Chesebrough begins developing Vaseline in 1859 after he notices that oil-rig workers use the petroleum by-product that accumulates around drill rods to help heal cuts and burns. He spends almost ten years perfecting the process of producing a translucent, odourless gel from the petroleum jelly, and registers Vaseline as a trademark in 1872.

Runners use Vaseline to prevent chafing. Mothers use it for diaper-burn. It even works well sealing broken gaskets in a car. It works by creating the optimal conditions for the skin to heal itself. This, really, is half the success of medicine – creating the necessary conditions so the body, which is a great self-healer, can heal.

1875 PARLIAMENT PASSES PUBLIC HEALTH ACT TO PROTECT AGAINST DISEASE AND VERMIN

An obvious way to protect against disease and the vermin that carry it is to make sure that garbage is collected. Brits establish the Public Health Act to do just that.

Someone has to pay for the garbage removal and disposal in a sanitary fashion, and they do something rather clever about the charge. Instead of charging house owners by amount, which might inspire them to get rid of trash by fly-tipping it in the country, they make the charge part of a general tax charge that everyone pays. The result is less disease and trash-free towns and countryside.

Plimsoll line shows the level that water should reach when the ship is properly loaded.

After Plimsoll's stormy campaign, Parlaiment passes a law that prevents ships from sailing if overloaded or not seaworthy. The Plimsoll line, painted on all British ships, shows the level that water should reach when the ship is properly loaded.

Photo: © Research Machines » plc 2006

1876 PLIMSOLL ROARS IN PARLIAMENT, AND DEMANDS BILL TO PROTECT SAILORS; 'PLIMSOLL' LINE ESTABLISHED

In 1875 when his Merchant Shipping Bill was on the verge of being scuttled, Samuel Plimsoll, MP, roared into Parliament, shaking his fist at the Speaker, refusing to sit down, though the custodians of decorum were clinging to their smelling salts, and accused ship-owning MPs of deliberately sending overloaded and dilapidated 'coffin-ships' out on the high seas. Unscrupulous merchants knew that they would make money whether the goods were delivered or their ship went down, since they were handsomely insured. The only ones to suffer were the seamen, who drowned.

Samuel and his wife Eliza embarked on a crusade to change this. They organise public meetings in constitutencies around Britain, and the public and the press rallies behind them. Parliament passes Plimsoll's bill which prevents ships from heading to sea if they are unworthy or overloaded. Plimsoll's line appears on every British ship (and becomes the symbol of the metro). Rubber-soled deck shoes or sneakers with canvas tops are named plimsolls after him.

Little boy on telephone

By allowing a person to be in two places at once, telecommunication (the ancient Greek word tele means far) transcends space, and opens the world to cyberspace. Graham Bell's invention sets this world in motion, and so does the largely forgotten genius Oliver Heaviside (see below).

Photo: PhotoEuphoria@istockphoto.com

1876-1922 ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL INVENTS THE TELEPHONE, PHOTOPHONE, PHONOGRAPH, AERIAL VEHICLES, AND THE SELENIUM CELL

Curious and full of ideas, Alexander Graham Bell grows up in Edinburgh in a family whose parents are authorities on speech elocution and teaching the deaf to speak. Apart from three years in school, he is educated by his parents. By the time he is 21 he is working with them, and conducting experiments in sound, but when both his brothers die of tuberculosis, he and his family move to Canada, where his health quickly improves. The young Bell opens a school for the deaf in Boston, and continues his experiments.

Filling notebooks with his ideas for inventions, he is not particularly good with his hands, but he has a knack for finding the right partners. Thomas Watson, a young mechanic, helps him engineer an apparatus for transmitting sound electrically. They work long nights, and Bell grows exhausted, but parents of his students help him financially. In 1876 he applies for and receives the patent for the telephone, which converts wave vibrations into an electric current, and reconverts them into sound with a receiver.

The commercial possibilities are enormous, so Bell is besieged with lawsuits, but the courts uphold his patents. Bell goes on to invent the photophone (which transmits sound on a beam of light); the phonograph; sonar detection; a hydrofoil craft; and the selenium cell (a photoelectric device used to generate or control an electric current). He is still making notes for inventions right before he dies.

1877-1919 LORD RAYLEIGH DISCOVERS WAVE PROPAGATION IN FLUIDS AND ARGON

Born John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh is frail and sickly. He spends most of one year at Eton in the school sanatorium, but chalks up about seven years schooling before he enters Trinity College, Cambridge. After doing catch-up in math, he graduates as Senior Wrangler and Smith's Prizeman.

Succeeding to the barony when his father dies, Rayleigh manages his 7,000-acre estate, then heads full-time into science as Professor of Experimental Physics and Head of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge. He researches electromagnetism, optics, and sound, and makes discoveries basic to the theory of wave propagation in liquids and to the establishment of standards of resistance, current, and electromotive force.

In 1877 he publishes The Theory of Sound, the first mathematical equations to describe the sound wave. These will make possible later ultrasound developments in medicine. In 1895 Rayleigh's patient and delicate experiments allow him to isolate argon, an inert gas frequently used during the silicon crystal growing process. In 1904 he receives the Nobel Prize for Physics.  

Electric light shines out #1

Joseph Swan successfully demonstrates an incandescent bulb in 1878 (a year earlier than Edison), and in 1880,
at Newcastle, gives the first large-scale public exhibition of electric lights.

Photo: herpens@istockphoto.com

1878 JOSEPH SWAN INVENTS FIRST ELECTRIC LIGHT

Most people believe Thomas Edison invented electric light. In fact, Joseph Swan did.

In 1860 Swan came up with a bulb which used a carbon paper filament in a glass bulb, but it needed a good vacuum and an electrical source. In 1875 Swan tackled the problem again, developed the electric source, used a carbonized cellulose thread as the filament, mastered the vacuum and in 1878 switched on light and received a British patent. Edison, working in America, used Swan's bulb to produce a commercially viable light a year later. The two combined their companies, and Edison, always a PR hound, became famous.

Swan was another one of those ingenious boys who received little schooling but who learned from everything around him. He began working as an apprentice when he was fourteen.

1880 BRITS AND INDIANS DEVELOP FINGERPRINTING AS A FORENSIC TOOL      

In 1880, in the scientific journal Nature, Dr Henry Faulds published the first paper on using fingerprints to prove innocence and guilt . He had come to this idea by way of archaeology, having noticed the fingerprints left in ancient clay, and had used it to prove the innocence of a colleague who had been accused of theft.

The following month, Sir William Herschel, a British civil servant based in India, writes to Nature to say that he had been using fingerprints to identify criminals since 1860. This is true, but neither man has yet established exactly how fingerprints are to be analysed.

In 1892, Sir Francis Galton publishes a detailed statistical model of fingerprint analysis and identification and encourages its use in forensic science in his book Finger Prints. In London, the police remain quizzical. That year an Argentine police officer who has been studying Galton pattern types makes the first criminal fingerprint identification using his system.

In 1897 the world's first Fingerprint Bureau for use in criminal records opens in India. Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose, working with Sir Edward Richard Henry, develop the fingerprint classification system.

In 1901 Scotland Yard opens the United Kingdom Fingerprint Bureau and uses the Henry Classification System devised by Henry, Haque, and Bose. Fingerprints are increasingly used as a method of establishing innocence or proving guilt.

1881 BRITS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ELECTRICITY

The world’s first public electricity supply is generated in the U.K. at Godalming, Surrey.

1887-88 JOHN DUNLOP DEVELOPS PNEUMATIC TIRES

Born on a farm in North Ayrshire, John Dunlop became a veterinary surgeon. In 1887 he develops the first practical pneumatic tyre for his son's tricycle, tests it, and patents it, only to be told Robert William Thomson had already patented the idea in 1846. But it is Dunlop's tyres, in which confined air supports the load, that put wheels on bicycles and cars.

1887 BURTON SAVES JAPANESE FROM CHOLERA

Born in Edinburgh, a childhood friend of Arthur Conan Doyle, William Kinninmond Burton is an engineer who responds to Japan's desperate call for help. At the time Japan is losing hundreds of thousands of people to cholera epidemics. Burton's challenge is to provide clean water to millions.

For 12 years Burton works night and day supervising the establishment of fresh water and sewage systems in cities across Japan. In Shimonoseki, the sand filtering system he built produces water so pure it is bottled and sold today. His picture is on the label because the Japanese remain passionately devoted to his memory. They continue to hold annual tributes to him at which bagpipes are played. Burton does not live to see his native city. He dies at 43, just as he is preparing to return to Edinburgh with his Japanese wife and daughter.

NASA photograph of the ionosphere above earth

Oliver Heaviside is a forgotten genius who receives virtually no credit for establishing the theories that are the basis of long distance telephone service, multiplexing, and electric circuits. He is credited with suggesting that the ionosphere, the E Layer seen above in a NASA photograph, exists, and will allow radio waves to follow the Earth's curvature rather than disappearing into space. Heaviside eventually receives fame by way of felines in T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and Andrew Lloyd Webber's song "Journey to the Heaviside Layer" in the musical CATS.

Photo of ionosphere, the "skin" between Earth and outer space: nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov

1893-1925 HEAVISIDE ESTABLISHES MATHEMATICS BEHIND TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Leaving school at 16 after becoming bored with geometry, Oliver Heaviside becomes a telegraph operator, but is forced to quit due to deafness. Living at home with his parents he decides to investigate electricity.

Working alone, Heaviside recasts Maxwell’s field theory. Out of the original 20 equations in 20 variables he creates 4 equations in 2 variables. (Heaviside having been forgotten, these are known as Maxwell's equations today.) The Royal Society recognises his genius in 1891, when it elects him a Fellow. Subsequently Heaviside establishes the operational calculus that is the basis for electric circuits, but Hertz gets the credit, though admitting his ideas came from Heaviside.

Heaviside figures out how to make long-distance telephone service practical, and shows how audio signals can be transmitted without distortion with or without wires, the basis of modern telecommunications. Americans pick up his theory of an induction coil to promote clear long distance signals, patent the coil, and make a fortune. Feeling increasingly ignored, Heaviside becomes a recluse.

In Electromagnetic Theory, Heaviside anticipates Einstein's special theory of relativity by positing that an electric charge would increase in mass as its velocity increases. He dies before the last volume of his book is published. It is believed that he finished it, but that it was stolen after his death.

1892-1898 JAMES DEWAR'S OXYGEN MACHINE SAVES LIVES

James Dewar invents a machine to bring liquid oxygen to the ill. He also develops structural formulas for benzene; produces hydrogen in liquid form and as a solid; and invents the double-walled vacuum flask known as the thermos.

1894-1897 BRITISH DOCS IDENTIFY MOSQUITO AS CARRIER OF MALARIA; BRITS VIRTUALLY ELIMINATE MALARIA IN COLONIES

After qualifying in medicine at Aberdeen University, Patrick Manson heads out to find a job, and spends the next twenty years on the coast of China working as a doctor for the Imperial Customs Service. He is one of the first to introduce vaccination in the Far East, and to research tropical diseases. He discovers that the mosquito is the host to a developing parasite that causes filariasis, the invasion of body tissues by a worm. Later, at the Crown Colony of Hong Kong, which in the 1870s had been transformed from a fishing village to a port for global trade, Manson establishes a medical school that will become the University of Hong Kong.

Ten years younger than Manson, Ronald Ross was born in India to British parents. He is sent to Britain when he is eight, becomes a doctor and returns to India as an Indian Medical Service Officer. Leading a peripatetic career at various stations, Ross becomes convinced that mosquitoes breed in water, a theory of some importance to him since water butts sits outside his bungalow. Ross is also fascinated by malaria, a deadly disease whose cause was not known.

Manson meanwhile is also researching malaria, a worldwide and often deadly infection with paroxysms of chills and fever, anemia, and enlargement of the spleen. An effective treatment – quinine obtained from the bark of the cinchona tree – is known, but millions of people have no access to the therapy. Since malaria's cause is unknown, no preventative treatment can be developed.

In 1894 Manson publishes his mosquito-malaria hypothesis, which suggests that the mosquito is playing host to a malarial parasite, and passing the parasite to human beings when it bites them. Alphonse Laveran discovers the parasite. That same year, Ross and Manson meet, and Manson urges him to find out whether mosquitoes carry and pass the malaria parasite. Ross returns to India determined to find the malaria carrier. He discovers the malarial parasite in the gatrointestinal tract of the Anopheles mosquito.

This is the breakthrough needed to end malaria, which kills millions, and cripples rural economies by weakening people so they cannot work. By the 1960s malaria has almost been eradicated in former British colonies with the elimination of standing water, the use of DDT to destroy mosquitoes, and the invention of chloroquine, a synthetic form of quinine.

In the 1890s Manson is finally able to go home, and establishes the London School of Tropical Medicine. In 1902, Ross receives the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work.

Frost fair on the Thames, 1683, during the Maunder Minimum
The Maunder Minimum was a period of solar inactivity that corresponds to a climatic period called the Little Ice Age between 1645 and 1715.

1893 MAUNDER ESTABLISHES THE MAUNDER MINIMUM AND SIGNIFICANCE OF SUN'S MAGNETIC ACTIVITY ON CLIMATE

Edward Maunder, a British accountant sees a sunspot "like a tack in the Sun" while he is walking home from his bank job, and decides to make counting and analyzing sunspots, rather than money, his life's work. Annie Scott Dill Russell Maunder, a mathematician who became his second wife, works with him. They establish that the number of sunspots vary over an 11-year cycle, and that their rising and falling numbers create a repeating 'butterfly' pattern when mapped over the years.

Sometimes the numbers fall, and don't recover for years.
Few sunspots indicate low magnetic activity. Less magnetic activity means that the Sun is dimmer, and puts out less radiant warmth. If the Sun goes into dim mode, as it has in the past, the Earth gets much colder.

Maunder discovered and named the long period between 1645 and 1715, when there was little sunspot activity, and Europe was in a mini Ice Age the Maunder Minimum.

1897-1900s JOSEPH THOMSON DISCOVERS THE ELECTRON

William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Charles Thomson (the marine scientist), and Joseph Thomson are not related, but their surname is having a good scientific century. Joseph Thomson experiments with cathode rays, and studies negative electrification. In the process he discovers the electron, the negatively charged subatomic particle that is responsible for the chemical properties of its atom. Thomson develops the cathode ray oscillograph, which will be used for research and television receivers.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, Thomson holds the Chair of Physics at Cavendish Laboratory. In 1906 he receives the Nobel Prize for his research into the electrical conductivity of gases. Seven of his students will subsequently receive Nobel Prizes.

1897-1900s CHARLES PARSONS INVENTS STEAM TURBINE

Meeting exacting tolerances, Charles Parsons transforms ocean-going ships by inventing and producing the steam turbine. But he has trouble getting anyone in the British Admiralty to pay attention. Parsons remarks, “If you believe in a principle, never damage it with a poor impression. You must go all the way.”

Taking his own advice, Parsons daringly breaks rank to race ahead at a great naval review, and stuns onlookers with his ship’s super-fast speed. He later builds the engines for the Mauritania, the Titanic, and H.M.S. Dreadnought.

20st Century

 

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