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During the first 25 years of the nineteenth century progress consisted in the achievement of the ideals that developed during the previous century through trade journals and magazines, county fairs, and several schools for training in the mechanic arts. The conception that training in agriculture and the mechanic arts should be elevated to the rank of a liberal and fashionable study had also taken shape and specific suggestions as to how this might be done had been presented to a number of State legislatures in the hope of securing public support. The young Nation had also finished its apprenticeship to foreign masters and achieved industrial independence. A national individuality was beginning to appear with well-defined attitudes and interests.
The first important new project that gave opportunity for free expression of the national temperament was the building of the railroad. In 1812 John Stevens, of Hoboken, the engineer whose son later founded Stevens Institute, had presented to the New York State commissioners complete and detailed specifications for building and operating a steam railroad from Albany to Buffalo. Stevens later demonstrated that his plan was practical by building a steam locomotive that carried six passengers around a circular experimental track at the rate of 12 miles per hour. But his suggestion was laughed out of court as visionary by such keen and progressive lawyers and diplomats as De Witt Clinton, Gouverneur Morris, and Robert Livingston. The Erie Canal was built and opened for traffic in 1825. Seven years later the steam locomotive “De Witt Clinton” made its celebrated trial trip over the new line from Albany to Schenectady.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, incorporated in 1827, began operations with horses for motive power. The line happened to pass through some property owned by Peter Cooper, then proprietor of an iron mill near Baltimore. Cooper had a vision of what might be if steam were used in place of horses. He also realized that the success of the road meant an enhanced value for his property. With characteristic American and engineering spirit, he determined to prove that locomotives could be made to do the work. His experimental model, the “Tom Thumb,” built with crude tools, with rifle barrels for fire tubes in its boiler, weighed about 1 ton and developed about 1 horsepower. On one of its early trips, while Cooper was driving it, it fell in with one of the regular trains drawn by a “splendid gray horse.” A race ensued in which Cooper slowly gained the lead until the belt on the blower broke; the steam pressure fell, and the horse won. None the less, he had demonstrated that the iron horse was practicable.
The directors of the South Carolina Railroad, then building, were debating this same problem and had made estimates on the relative cost of horses and of steam. Their chief engineer, Horatio Allen, who had visited England and studied Stephenson's engines, succeeded in convincing them that even though their own estimates were as yet inconclusive, the probability of material improvement in the horse was relatively small, while in the case of the locomotive “the end is not yet.” They unanimously elected to try steam. The building of this road was typical of all railroad building in America. It was an uncertain venture at best. In England, the railroads followed the population, and a rich traffic was waiting for them on the opening day; there the companies could afford to build straight and level tracks, regardless of expense. But in America distances were long and population scattered. Capital and confidence were scarce. Profits depended on whether or not the population would follow the road. Hence, great economy was necessary, particularly in the original costs. wo Even in the face of conditions such as these, Allen believed that it would be possible to build locomotives that could climb hills and round curves with safety. When the line cut a hill he did not tunnel through it, but ran around or over it. In other words, he coustructed the best line possible for the money available and then devised a locomotive that was powerful enough to master the grades and flexible enough to operate successfully on a rough and sinuous track. Thus the problem of the railroad in America was solved by first adapting the track to the country and then adapting the engine to the track. This solution divided the responsibility between the civil and the mechanical engineer. It has been a powerful incentive to the development of the technique of road and engine building and to the growth of the professions of civil and mechanical engineering. Many of the civil engineers who built the railroads were trained in field work on canals. Prior to 1840, Rensselaer had graduated 151 men. Of the first thousand cadets at West Point, 150 became engineers, many of whom were prominent in early railroad work. On the other hand, those who built the locomotives had no formal technical training. John Stevens and Horatio Allen were graduates of Columbia. But Peter Cooper, Phineas Davis, Ross Winans, and William Norris, who developed the motive power for the Baltimore & Ohio, and Thomas Rogers and M. W. Baldwin, heads of the locomotive works bearing their names—these men who contributed most to the development of the locomotive—were educated beyond the grammar school entirely in the school of experience. Yet so ingenious was their adaptation of means to ends that within 15 years of the first beginning they had laid the foundations of American locomotive practice. On the lines which they marked out the puffy, pokey, smoking rattletrap of 1832, whose limit was 15 tons 15 miles per hour, and whose starting “jerked the passengers from under wheir hats” has grown into the silent, swift, and powerful leviathan of to-day.
Although the main principles of American locomotive practice were determined by 1846, three important mechanical inventions since then have added much to the comfort and safety of travel. These are the Pullman car (1864); the Westinghouse air brake (1869); and the Hall automatic block signals (1871). Since these were all the work of men who had no formal technical schooling, it is clear that transportation by machines—the engineering achievement that lies at the basis of our whole industrial fabric—was accomplished before engineering schools had really begun to train men for the work. The difficulties that the early builders of railroads had to overcome were not limited to the scaling of mountains and the building of tracks and locomotives. They have had to educate the educators. Thus, in 1829 the guardians of education in the persons of the school board at Lancaster, Ohio, seriously considered the propriety of using the schoolhouse for the discussion of such a question as whether the railroad was practical or not. They said: You are welcome to use the schoolhouse to debate all proper questions in, but such things as railroads are impossibilities and rank infidelity. There is nothing in the Word of God about them. If God had designed that His intelligent creatures should travel at the frightful speed of fifteen miles an hour, by steam, He would have clearly foretold it through His holy prophets. It is a device of Satan to lead immortal souls down to Hell. Simultaneously with the building of the railroads, there was developing in Virginia another application of the forces of nature to the convenience of man at the hands of Cyrus Hall McCormick. The son of a farmer, with only a few years of elementary schooling, he devised and constructed in 1831 a machine that by 1860 was saving the country $55,000,000 per year. So important was this invention that the French Government decorated him as an officer of the Legion of Honor for “having done more for the cause of agriculture than any other living man.” Greater speed in harvesting made possible larger farms than could be had in the East. This made necessary the extension of the railroads and resulted in the opening of the West. The railroads were still further developed to ship the farmer's products East again. Thus the railroads followed the reaper. Together they have been the chief factors in the industrial upbuilding of the Nation. But the making of locomotives and of harvesting machinery has always been almost entirely in the hands of men who have not graduated at engineering schools. The railroad and the reaper were, however, not the only expressions of the engineering spirit in the country. Before the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, more than 100,000 patents had been issued, and the exhibition itself bore witness to their variety and their labor
saving utility. Among the most important may be mentioned the telegraph, by Joseph Henry and S. F. B. Morse (1842); the sewing machine, by Elias Howe (1846); the rotary printing press, by R. M. Hoe (1846); structural iron beams, by Peter Cooper (1854); the typewriter, by Charles Thurber (1843); vulcanized rubber, by Charles Goodyear (1844); passenger elevator, by E. G. Otis (1852); and the Corliss engine (1850).
These and many other less striking innovations changed the entire nature of American domestic and industrial life in the 50 years from 1820 to 1870. The revolution wrought in domestic life has been frequently described and need not here be mentioned. For this discussion the important changes were those wrought in the distribution of the workers among the various “gainful occupations of benefit to themselves and to the commonwealth.” These changes are shown in the following table:
Number of workers per 1,000. Rate of change per 1,000 per year. w Manufac- Professional Manufac- |Professional Agricul- |tures, trade, and Agricul- |tures, trade, and ture. and trans- personal ture. and trans- personal portation. service. portation. service. 830 170 -----------: I ::: ------- — 2.75 +1.00 |............ 775 190 35 476 314 3. -": #; +: 329 482 189 -
The above figures show clearly the acceleration which the railroads and the reaper produced in the industrial reorganization of the country. In the 20 years prior to 1840 the drift away from agriculture into other pursuits had been taking place at the rate of 2.75 per 1,000 per year. But in the next 30 years this drift was nearly four times as great. More than half of those who sought other occupations than agriculture during this period are classified in 1870 in the personal service group—domestic servants, hotel keepers, waiters, laundresses, nurses, barbers, bootblacks, and the like—a striking proof of the changes produced by machinery in the habits of domestic life. The majority of the other half entered the rapidly developing fields of manufacture, trade, and transportation.
Since 1870 the proportion of the workers engaged in the personal service group has remained constant, and the drift from agriculture to commerce and manufactures has continued at a constant average yearly rate. In other words, the general outlines of the industrial reorganization were determined before 1870. Since then the material progress of the Nation has consisted in the gradual perfection, sublimation, intensification, and expansion of the tendencies there expressed.