Accidental Inventions – Penicillin

The invention of penicillin is, quite possibly, the most famous accidental invention of all time. It has been a story told and learned by schoolchildren for generations although, just in case you missed it, we shall repeat it here.

Alexander Fleming (1881–1955) was a British botanist, pharmacologist and biologist who worked at a London shipping office for four years until an inheritance from an uncle enabled him to enrol, in 1903, at the St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in Paddington. At the age of twenty-one Fleming had no particular interest in science or medicine although his elder brother was already a physician and strongly urged his younger sibling to use the money wisely and study for a professional career. Fleming earned his degree in 1906 and graduated with distinction.

During medical school Fleming had been a leading member of the shooting team of St Mary’s and the club captain, eager to keep him on the team, recommended him to the research department at St Mary’s. There, he became the assistant to Sir Almroth Wright, a pioneer in the field of immunology and vaccine research. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Fleming joined the Army and served as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corp. During this time the world read stories of soldiers from all sides becoming victims of the new automatic machine guns, explosive artillery fire and mustard gas.

But the young field doctor began to notice something far more dangerous than modern weapons of war. Fleming realized that most fatalities were caused by infection from minor wounds that were being treated in field hospitals all along the western front. At that time the primary prescription for open wounds was a liberal supply of cheap antiseptic and it became obvious to Fleming that this was possibly more dangerous than applying no treatment at all. He was unwilling to accept the inefficiency of modern medicine and vowed to dedicate his career to identifying, understanding and fighting infections. He was particularly motivated to find a safer treatment to what he considered to be ‘deadly’ antiseptic. After the war he returned to St Mary’s Hospital and, with Sir Almroth Wright’s encouragement, he studied antiseptics and their unintended effects, making a major discovery in 1923 when he identified the enzyme lysozyme in human mucus. Fleming observed how this naturally occurring agent protected the human immune system from certain bacteria.

By 1928 Alexander Fleming was leading a research team in a study of common bacteria that was spreading disease through urban areas. As Professor of Bacteriology at University of London, Fleming could have been expected to set an example but, in fact, it was his untidiness that would change the world of medicine, modernize the human effort against disease and save millions of lives. In August that year, the Professor went on holiday with his family and, before he left, stacked all his equipment, including Petri dishes, into a corner of his untidy laboratory. On 3 September, Fleming famously returned from his holiday and, as he was setting out his equipment, noticed he had failed to clean them properly before he left. As a result of this he observed that one of his samples was contaminated with a fungus and that the bacteria immediately around it had been destroyed. He was about to throw it away when he showed it to his former assistant, Merlin Price, who reminded him, ‘this is how you discovered lysozyme’. Over the following weeks Fleming began to experiment with the mould and discovered he could easily produce a substance that naturally killed any number of harmful bacteria, many of which caused disease. Fleming later recalled: ‘When I woke up just after dawn on 28 September, 1928, I certainly did not plan to revolutionise all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But, I suppose, that’s exactly what I did do.’

Fleming identified his discovery as part of the penicillium genus and, after many months of calling it mould juice, released a paper describing ‘penicillin’ on 7 March 1929. Two other scientists, a Nazi refugee called Ernst Chain (1906–79) and Australian Howard Florey (1898–1968), developed Fleming’s penicillin further so that it could be produced as a drug, which was immediately effective, although supplies remained limited and expensive. They would have to wait until 1940 and the start of the Second World War before American drugs companies began to mass-produce penicillin. Alexander Fleming became internationally famous for his accidental discovery, was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1943, knighted for his services to medicine in 1944 and, in 1945, shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine with Florey and Chain. The laboratory where he made his life-changing discovery is preserved as the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London.

There is a great story of the connection between Alexander Fleming and Britain’s gritty wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, which, for the record, I don’t believe is true. But it is still a good story and goes something like this.

Hugh Fleming (1816–88) was a poor Scottish croft farmer, working the land to provide his young family with food and clothing in the first instance, but dreaming of providing them with a better future and a better life than he himself had endured. One morning the farmer heard cries for help coming from a nearby field and he dropped his tools and ran in the direction of the voice. There, waist deep in a murky Scottish bog, was a terrified boy trapped and sinking into the ground. Regardless of his own safety Fleming went straight in and pulled the boy from danger, saving him from certain death.

The following day a grand carriage drew up at the modest croft cottage and a noble lord stepped out to greet the farmer. He introduced himself as the father of the boy Fleming had saved and insisted he wanted to reward the farmer to show his sincere gratitude. But Fleming refused, declaring he had only done what anyone else would have done in the same circumstances. At that point the farmer’s own son joined his father. ‘Is this your boy?’ asked the nobleman, and Fleming proudly agreed that it was. ‘In which case I will make you a promise,’ said the lord. ‘I will take the boy and pay for the best education money can buy. If he is anything like his father he will grow into a man we will both be proud of.’

Seeing a chance for his son to escape a life of poverty, the farmer agreed and the boy then benefited from the finest education, eventually graduating from St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London. He was later knighted for his contribution to medicine and became known as Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin. Some years later the nobleman’s own son became seriously ill with pneumonia and it was the crofter’s son’s penicillin that saved his life, truly repaying Lord Randolph Churchill’s benevolence. His son, the boy dragged from the bog and whose life was saved for a second time by the Fleming family, was Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister.

It is a common enough tale and has been circulating for many years. Unfortunately it seems it is untrue, with Fleming himself, quoted in the book Penicillin Man – Alexander Fleming and the Antibiotic Revolution, dismissing the story as ‘a wonderful fable’. It is known that Churchill consulted with Sir Alexander Fleming on 27 June 1946 about a staphylococcal infection, which had apparently resisted treatment by penicillin. However, there is no record of a young Churchill nearly drowning in Scotland or of Lord Randolph Churchill paying for Fleming’s education.

Extract from  They Laughed at Galileo  (May 7th, 2015)  US Here  &  UK Here

Albert Jack books available for download here


Suppressed Inventions: True or Urban Legend?

The Rifle Beam

The Rifle Beam has been presented as the most effective cure for all cancers. That’s right, the cure for cancer has already been discovered. However, many believe the American Medical Association has deliberately discredited the invention and ordered a cover up. After all, there are already enough people in the world already. Why start saving more lives?

The Light Bulb

The original incandescent light bulb was invented by British chemist Sir Humphry Davy (1778–1829) in 1805 although it would be another seventy-five years before Thomas Edison found a way for them to be used commercially. Then, in 1924, the leading light-bulb manufacturers formed the International Phoebus Cartel with the aim of standardizing light-bulb fittings. However, many believed that the cartel was actually formed to suppress the invention of the life-long light bulb. It was a new design that would never need to be replaced. In fact, the cartel went one step further and all agreed to actually limit the life expectancy of a light bulb, which would increase the demand for replacements. Some men of science claim that the patent for the lifetime light bulb, along with its technical information, is ‘buried somewhere in a drawer’ at the head office of one of the major light-bulb manufacturers.

It should be pointed out that there is no actual evidence for this although it is known that the average lifespan of a light bulb, in the Western world, is around 2,000 hours, whilst those in the former communist countries, who were not part of the cartel, has around double that life expectancy. Modern Chinese bulbs are estimated to last up to three times as long. Now, despite there being no evidence to support such claims, it is known that German watchmaker Dieter Binninger (1938–1991) invented a light bulb that was estimated to last 150,000 hours of continual use, or eighteen years. However, soon after finding a manufacturer who agreed to actually produce them, Binninger mysteriously died in an aircraft accident in 1991 and his invention quietly disappeared from focus. Murder in the light-bulb business, or conspiracy theory?

Cold Fusion

Cold fusion is a stable form of nuclear energy that has been safely produced at room temperature. It could be further developed in a way that would eventually provide free energy for the entire world population. It was dismissed by authorities and funding for further tests was cancelled.

The Chronovisor

This was developed with claims that it made users able to see both backwards and forwards in time. It was dismissed as a fake and disappeared although some believe it is alive and well and being further developed in the Vatican.

Wardenclyffe Tower

Wardenclyffe Tower, situated in Shoreham, New York, was the centre for experiments with wireless electricity conducted by Nikola Tesla (1856–1943). Many believed Tesla was clearly on to something, but his funding was withdrawn after investors realized it could not be metered and realized free electricity would lead to zero profits.

The Cloudbuster

The rain-making ‘cloudbuster’ was invented by Dr Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957) and, apparently, successfully tested in 1953. Reich was a controversial scientist who was later arrested and all of his scientific notes were destroyed.

The Anti-Gravity Device

Thomas Townsend Brown (1905–85) developed an anti-gravity device by using discs that harnessed electrogravitic propulsion. Apparently the effects were so successful that the development was immediately classified as top secret by the US government. Nothing was ever heard of it again.

The EV1

Released in 1996, the EV1 was the first electric car to be successfully mass produced. General Motors destroyed the prototypes and discontinued all other research after pressure from the oil companies.

The Water Fuel Cell

The water fuel cell designed to replace petrol was invented by Stan Meyer (1940–98) but his claims were declared fraudulent by an Ohio court in 1996. Some claim the technology has been suppressed, after all, who would want free energy from a naturally unlimited resource? (the sea) But, inventor Meyer would not give in easily and there are certainly suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.

The Implosion Generator

This also would have supposedly provided free energy for everybody had Austrian inventor Viktor Schauberger (1885–1958) not been silenced and discredited by his business partners.

Project XA

In the late twentieth century Project XA supposedly invented safer cigarettes that had harmful carcinogens removed. The powerful tobacco giants resented the implication that their product was unsafe and the XA experiment was abandoned.

Extracts from They Laughed at Galileo  (May 7th, 2015)  US Here  &  UK Here

Albert Jack books available for download here


By The Time You Read This You Will Be Dead

On 29th April 2015 that internationally recognized, and acclaimed, organisation of geologists, spiritualists, fortune tellers and wise men, Ditrianum Media, announced that the end of the world will take place at 4pm (San Francisco time) on 28th May 2015. And as that’s less than 24 hours from now you had better start packing for heaven.

This is the latest in a long and tiring line of similar predictions but as it would interfere with my plans for the weekend I thought I had better investigate. According to my research, which is something I don’t often bother with, there is going to be, and I quote somebody who knows far more about everything than I do called Frank, from Holland, ‘a series of very critical planetary alignments whereby Venus and Mercury are really being charged up on the North-America/Pacific side.’

I kid you not.

Ditrianum Media, who I have never heard of either, may not be behind this wise and badly written prediction but they did publish the video made by Frank in Holland to their youtube channel that details all sorts of compelling and convincing evidence to prove that we are all doomed by tea time.

I, along with nearly a million other idiots, have sat through this documentary, by convincing myself it was necessary, and found that whilst Frank is not a dooms-day thinker (his words) he can see a ‘very important combination of planetary alignments coming up that will be most critical for the earth anyway because it will disrupt the earth/moon equilibrium and…..’

Do you see the sacrifices I have to make for you? I cannot tell you what Frank thinks this will all mean because at that point I pulled my head off and threw it into the swimming pool. Then I put it back on and watched a follow up video made by that other expert, MrsCindymp who has a you tube channel dedicated to the….  well, let her explain it herself.

In the video, that I also got halfway through and is as badly narrated as the above is written, she quotes a park ranger who was described as both a devout christian and home schooled. By that I read no more of a narrow minded combination than you could be unfortunate enough to meet. And stupid. Anyway, he is reported to have explained the San Antonio fault lines to a group of school children, on a field trip, and confirming the end of the world on May 28th. No doubt scaring the crap out of them in the process.

The ranger told them that a group of geologists had told him that ‘when there is an earthquake and all that, a shifting occurs and all that energy has to travel through the land and that’s what causes all that rolling and shaking.’ Unfortunately, in America, making such observations whilst wearing an I Love Jesus t-shirt leads people to consider him a wise man worth listening to and not the child abusing sociopath he must be.

Naturally the park ranger and the geologists who are referenced remain un-named by mrscindymp, as with all good conspiracy theorists, so that we cannot all hunt them down and throw them in jail where they belong. MrsCindymp also went on to warn everybody that last week she saw ‘like a screen saver on her TV that simply said ‘it’s time’ which she found interesting but that she didn’t take, like, signs like that oh whats the word, like literally or something like that but it caused me to pray.’ She then calmly announced that ‘whilst the Lord didn’t tell me anything he did remind me to keep preparing and to, you know, and that it’s coming.’

And this is what religion does for the world. It scares the children into behaving nicely. Well, that and deprive you the ability to construct a sentence properly, obviously. Does anybody know anything else organised religion, or as I like to call it, childish Stone-Age superstitions, does for humanity?

Why is it death they crave? They cannot seem to wait for Armageddon, the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world. Us atheists are even warned by these people not to fly in planes because if the pilot is a Christian he will be taken with the Lord and the rest of us will crash to the ground in a fiery explosion. They believe this and, they insist, so should I. What a way to live a life. No wonder none of them ever achieve anything meaningful.

In summery it seems, according to Frank, that by this afternoon there is going to be a massive earthquake and  San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego will all be in the sea, causing a Tsunami that will flatten Japan bringing about the end of the world for everyone. Apart from the end of the world part I don’t really see anything wrong with that. Will the rest of us be any the poorer without the three most fake cities in the world and Japan?

I think it is time now to make my own confident prediction and that is the plant alignments (or whatever is was as I forget now and can’t be bothered to scroll back) will unfortunately make no difference to the West Coast of America and Japan, Jesus will not be taking pilots out of their cockpits, there will be no fiery infernos, Frank, Mrscindymp, the park ranger and the Angel of Apocalypse will not be in jail where they should be and you will still be alive when you read this. That’s my prediction.

Beware False Prophets will be released if I ever get round to writing the rest of it.

Albert Jack books available for download here


Shrapnel: Maximum Damage

Shrapnel is a fascinating word that sounds as though it must have been around forever – one of those words in English clearly reflecting its Scandinavian roots. Sadly, this impression is completely wrong, for the word itself is far more recent in origin.

It has evolved in meaning too. The modern dictionary definition of ‘shrapnel’ is ‘fragments of an exploding bomb’, whereas originally, during the First World War, it meant the whole explosive device, not just parts of it. ‘Shrapnel-shells’ were designed as anti-personnel artillery, packed with bullets that would discharge close to the target with the obvious intention of killing or maiming as many of the enemy as possible. Shrapnel-shells were far more effective for the purpose than a conventional bomb, but they became obsolete at the end of the war when they were replaced with high-explosive shells, which did much the same job but whose deadly fragments were still known as ‘shrapnel’.

The original First World War weapon was named after Major General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842), a British Army officer and inventor who served in the Royal Artillery during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15). He devised a hollow cannonball filled with grapeshot, which was attached to a rocket and designed to burst in midair, creating multiple casualties. Shrapnel’s idea was not to kill enemy soldiers but to maim them, since a dead man needs no immediate attention whereas a wounded one requires the attention of at least two others, if only to remove him from the battlefield. Such was the success of his invention that Henry Shrapnel was awarded over £1,000 in 1814, a considerable sum of money in those days, and in 1827 was promoted to the post of Colonel Commandant of the Royal Artillery.

The first verse of the American national anthem proudly describes the Americans resisting an onslaught of shrapnel by the British Army during the pivotal Battle of Baltimore in 1812: ‘And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, / Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.’

Branded – The People Behind the World’s Biggest Brands

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The Diesel Engine

Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913) was born in Paris, the son of a German bookbinder. At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (1870) the family were forced to leave their home, along with most other German natives in France, and fled to London instead of returning east. However, they did send twelve-year-old Rudolf back to their home town of Augsburg to live with his aunt and uncle, the mathematics professor Christoph Barnickel. After graduating the top of his class Rudolf enrolled in the Royal Bavarian Polytechnic of Munich, against the wishes of his parents who wanted him to return to London and find a job to help support the family.

Instead, Rudolf studied under the German engineer Carl von Linde, the pioneer of refrigeration, although he failed to graduate after falling ill with typhoid and missing his examination. But he persevered, using his time to study practical engineering, and finally graduated in 1880 at the age of twenty-two before joining von Linde, who was by then himself in Paris building a refrigeration and ice plant. Within one year Diesel was offered the position of managing director and one of his first decisions was to develop a more efficient engine and power supply than present-day steam engines industry relied upon.

The main problem with steam engines was that their loss of heat and energy meant they only provided about 10 per cent of the power of which they were capable. He set about creating a new engine that would transfer as much of an engine’s energy as possible into useful work and so he started experimenting with current engines in an effort to discover a way to modify them. Von Linde supported his research and the company filed many patents during the course of Diesel’s work. However, early attempts proved to be disastrous, and almost fatal, as one of his test engines exploded and almost killed him. After many months in hospital, Rudolf Diesel returned to his work with a new idea. He had remembered from his younger days how his bicycle pump heated up at the valve when compressed air, from the piston mechanism, was forced into the tyre.

By 1891 von Linde had lost patience with his protégé and the two men parted company. Diesel was forced to find new funding to continue his work and between 1893 and 1897 Heinrich von Buz, an engineer from the Diesel family’s home town of Augsburg, provided the facilities. Finally, in 1895, Rudolf Diesel was granted a patent in Germany and the United States for his compression-ignition piston engine that worked, largely, along the lines of a bicycle pump where a piston would force air to become hot enough to ignite fuel, which would propel the piston back down to repeat the cycle.

It was a huge advancement on the steam engines that had been used for the previous 200 years. More importantly, he was just in time to influence the growing car and forthcoming aviation industries. Neither of which would have been possible without Diesel’s perseverance and bravery, not to mention his bicycle pump. And he knew it too, writing to his wife: ‘I am now so far ahead of everything that has been achieved that, in the manufacture of engines on our little planet, I now lead the field on both sides of the ocean.’

With his patents secured, the thirty-seven-year-old inventor became a very wealthy man as his engines were soon being built all over the industrial world. But his wealth was to be short lived as expensive legal battles in defending his patent, poor investments and his family’s lavish lifestyle all began to take their toll. The money was running out quickly and, when he became aware of it, Diesel arranged a series of crisis meetings at both his manufacturing headquarters in London and with his financiers.

On the evening of 29 September 1913, Diesel was on his way to London on board the mail steamer SS Dresden when he retired to his cabin, after dining, at 10 p.m., asking to be called at 6.15 a.m. The following morning crew members reported to the captain that there was no sign of the famous inventor. His cabin was empty, his bed had not been slept in and his nightshirt was neatly laid upon it. His pocket watch was on the bedside, his hat and overcoat neatly stored. Rudolf Diesel was never seen again. A Dutch steamer retrieved a corpse from the North Sea ten days later but it was too badly decomposed to identify.

The crew removed all personal belongings and buried the body at sea. A few days later Rudolf’s son, Eugen, identified the items as belonging to his father. Suicide emerged as the most likely explanation, especially as the only entry he made in his diary for that day was a black cross. He had also given his wife a bag with instructions not to open it until the following week. Inside were a number of bank statements, all with balances of virtually zero, and 200,000 German marks in cash. However, murder was never ruled out as his business and military interests may have provided a motive.

A mysterious end for a man whose engines were, by that time, powering manufacturing plants, locomotive engines, cars, lorries, airships, aeroplanes, submarines and ships. Today, a century later, Rudolf Diesel’s engine remains one of the most important sources of power on the planet.

Branded – The People Behind the World’s Biggest Brands

Albert Jack books available for download here

Ancient Inventions We Still Use Everyday

Scissors were first invented around 1500 BC and early examples have been discovered in ancient Egyptian ruins. To begin with they were forged out of a single piece of metal with a pair of blades attached to a U-shaped, spring-like handle. It would be another 1,600 years before the Romans developed a more practical design by using two cross-blades that were attached in the centre by a screw or rivet, in exactly the same way as they are still produced. They were successfully used by tailors and barbers although, despite the Romans introducing their technology throughout Europe until the sixth-century AD, they did not come in to common use for a thousand years when they were finally produced by European countries during the sixteenth century.

Eye Glasses were first recorded by the Romans although the earliest designs to be discovered were found in China and only date from the thirteenth century. At the same time two Italians were working on lenses that would correct far-sighted vision. Salvino D’Armate of Pisa and Alessandro Spina of Florence were both producing early lenses that perched on the bridge of the nose. Lenses that corrected near-sightedness, or myopia, would be developed a century later during the 1400s. Two hundred years later somebody had the idea of connecting the lenses to arms that hooked behind the ears, making them far more practical for users. However, progress remained slow until the American politician and inventor Benjamin Franklin worked out a way to combine convex and concave lenses to correct both near- and far-sightedness (bifocals) in 1775, and they became the blueprint for all subsequent designs for eyeglasses. It was a 1,700-year development period for the spectacle before they finally established themselves as an indispensable part of modern life.

The Compass was first produced in the Chinese Han Dynasty at some time between the second century BC and the second century AD. The Chinese first noticed that lodestone, a naturally magnetic variety of ore, always pointed in the same direction if it was suspended in water, often on a leaf or something else light enough to float. But, it is doubtful the Chinese realized this direction was magnetic north as little was known about global navigation at the time. And their device, it seems, was never even used for navigational purposes. Instead, it was used to determine the precise direction of buildings and roads in a sort of early demonstration of feng shui.

Gunpowder was first produced in China when at least one brave soul discovered that a mixture of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), powdered charcoal and sulphur had explosive qualities. One can only imagine what ran through the mind of the man who first realized this. Hopefully it wasn’t his sandals. Initially the Chinese used their invention to make signal flares that could be seen over long distances. Later they developed the modern fireworks and, eventually, one bright spark realized they could use them to launch arrows. These fire rockets were made by filling bamboo tubes with a mixture of gunpowder and iron shards (shrapnel). An arrow was then attached, a fuse was lit and the whole rocket then fired from a bow. The invading Mongols must have had quite a shock when the first of these began landing among them as they charged the Chinese positions during the failed early Mongol invasion attempts.

Archimedes (287–212 BC)
Legend has it that the Greek mathematician and engineer, Archimedes of Syracuse, was asked by King Hiero II whether the gold he had been sold to decorate his new temple had been mixed with a cheaper metal by a dishonest gold merchant. The King had given Archimedes his crown, which he knew to be of solid gold, and commissioned him to test the two samples. This left Archimedes with a problem as he dare not chip or damage the crown in any way and melting it down was clearly out of the question. Instead, he had to come up with a way of calculating its density in order to compare it with the merchant’s sample. As he pondered the problem Archimedes took a bath and noticed how the water level rose as he sat in the water. Famously, and as every average student knows, he realized that this was a way to determine the density of the crown as it would displace a volume of water equal to the volume of the crown. This was when, as the story goes, he jumped out of the bath and ran naked down the road shouting ‘Eureka’, which is Greek for ‘I have found it’. (If you didn’t already know that then you should have been paying more attention in class.)

Indeed, he had found it: he had invented a method of measurement known as the Archimedes’s Principle, which is that any object wholly or partially submerged in fluid is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object. In other words, it is how those great big ships stay afloat. And so, using that principle, Archimedes proved the gold had been mixed with a cheaper, and less dense, silver. It isn’t known what the King did to the merchant, but we can guess he didn’t take his receipt back for a refund. What we do know is that Archimedes did design the Syracusia, King Hiero’s custom-built super-ship, the grandest of its day, and in doing so invented a method of moving water upwards in order to pump out the bilge. That screw-shaped blade, housed inside a cylinder, became known as the Archimedean Screw and literally revolutionized design and architecture from that moment onwards. After all, how do you think the Romans had all those fountains and aqueducts without a means of moving water upwards and against the pull of gravity?

In modern times the Archimedean Screw is still used for pumping liquids and shifting grain or coal dust; it is the influence for the screw propeller which, over the years, has transformed ocean-going vessels. The first steamship that used a screw propeller, launched in 1839, was called the SS Archimedes in honour of the man who made it all possible. Archimedes also invented the claw, which was a crane-like device used to drop onto an enemy ship and lift it out of the water, a forerunner of today’s modern mechanical crane. He is also credited with developing the heat ray, which was a bank of mirrors facing the sun to direct its rays onto enemy ships approaching the Syracuse harbour. They burst into flames within seconds. He also invented the block-and-tackle pulley system and the catapult, which became an effective weapon of mass destruction for many centuries.

 Albert Jack’s Other Books – US  & UK

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The Telephone Is a Meaningless Toy

During the early 1800s several attempts were made to connect the East Coast of America and the towns and cities that were establishing themselves at the western frontier as European immigrants spread out. From 1828 the great western railroads had been delivering cargo, supplies and mail but prior to then the stagecoaches were the only means of communication, and that could take months. Things changed in 1838 when Samuel Morse invented the first reliable electronic telegraph that was able to transmit messages, using a code he also invented bearing his name, over long distances that could be received almost instantly.

The telegraph was an immediate success and over the following two decades electronic wires were strung up all over the country, sometimes from wooden poles and sometimes from trees. As the trees swayed on the breeze the wires would stretch and curl, leaving them with the appearance of a grapevine, which is how the telegraph earned its affectionate nickname and became an established part of the English language.

However, by the 1860s a new generation of electrical engineers was experimenting on ways to transmit a voice along the wires and in 1876 two of them, American Elisha Gray (1835–1901) and British engineer Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922), filed patents at the US Patent Office in New York on the very same day, 14 February. Bell won the subsequent dispute because his patent had been submitted by his lawyer two hours before Gray’s had and subsequently earned his place in history. And what happened to Gray, on the other hand? Well, imagine if he later discovered that his lawyer had stopped off for a spot of lunch on his way to the Patent Office. On such a fine thread hangs the balance between immortality and indifference, fame and obscurity.

They Laughed at Galileo F

The dispute became public and was met with general indifference within the communications and telegraph industry. An internal memo at the Western Union Telegraph Company of New York, during 1876, was published that revealed, ‘This “telephone” has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.’ The President of Western Union, William Orton, was convinced that the telegraph had already become the ‘central nervous system of commerce’, and could not be replaced. The British were even less enthusiastic, which was revealed when Sir William Preece, the Chief Engineer of the Post Office, loftily announced, ‘The Americans may have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.’

In 1868 the New York Times ran a news item announcing that ‘a man has been arrested in New York for attempting to extort funds from ignorant and superstitious people by exhibiting a device which he claims can convey a human voice over any distance through metallic wires so that it can be heard by the listener at the other end. He calls this instrument a telephone. Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires.’

The Boston Globe also ran an article that included the statement, ‘Well-informed people know that it’s impossible to transmit the human voice over wires as may be done with the dots and dashes of Morse Code, and that, were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value.’

Despite this negative reaction to his invention, Bell and his team of engineers continued to work on the idea and in August 1876, for the first time in history, a voice could be heard along the wire from a distance of six miles. But the US President Rutherford B. Hayes, after being given a demonstration, noted, ‘It’s a great invention, but who would want to use it?’ Bell and his financial backers, Gardiner Greene Hubbard (who became Bell’s father-in-law the following year) and Thomas Sanders then offered the patent to Western Union for $100,000, and again William Orton responded that the telephone was ‘nothing more than a meaningless toy’.

US Jacket

Only two years went by before Orton is known to have claimed to colleagues that if he could ‘now buy the patent for $25 million I would consider it a bargain’. But, his chance had gone and the Bell Company no longer wanted to sell. By 1886 over 150,000 Americans had telephones and Bell, Hubbard and Sanders were very wealthy men. Against the considered advice of the known experts of their day, the Bell Company created an industry that is today estimated to be worth around $5 trillion per year.

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