When Street Lights Came to London, Disaster Ensued.

By Lorraine Boissoneault smithsonian.com
The 20-foot monstrosity rose up in the middle of the road, between Bridge Street and Great George Street in London, two arms stretching up during the day, a gas lamp glowing like a gaping maw at night.
Built by engineers, designed by a railway manager, and approved by Parliament, the strange contraption had a purpose as serious as its appearance was strange: to protect pedestrians from carriage traffic and keep the streets outside the House of Parliament from filling with congestion.
On December 9, 1868, London became the first city to have a traffic light.
The structure would hardly be recognizable today. Compared to the modern lights seen at every corner, this lamp was an architectural spectacle.
“Gothic paneling at the base supported a hollow cast-iron pillar, painted green and relieved with gilding, which then evolved into a thick metal coil, encompassed at the top by acanthus leaves which appeared to be growing out of an octagonal box containing the lamps, itself finished off by a pineapple finial,” writes James Winter in London’s Teeming Streets, 1830-1914.

Despite its gaudy design, the lamp was a marvel. Newspapers crowed its success.
Engineers predicted the arrival of these technological wonders on every street, with an accompanying police officer to operate them. But within a month all excitement had abated; the design proved to have a fatal flaw.* * *London of the 19th century was a dangerous place for commuters.
The medieval city had been constructed along routes following the Thames River, and the Industrial Revolution brought more workers and horse carts than had ever before plied the narrow roads.
When a hackney coach broke down and caused a traffic jam in the major thoroughfare known as the Strand in 1803, two men and a woman were trapped between coal wagons and crushed to death.
In 1811, London Bridge hosted 90,000 pedestrians, 5,500 vehicles and 764 horse riders in a single day.
And the flood of people only continued to grow.
By 1850, about 27,000 commuters entered the city daily from outside towns, and they represented only a tenth of the total number of workers, most of whom came by foot or omnibus (a large wagon pulled by horses).
Now read on via Source: When the Street Light First Came to London, Disaster Ensued | History | Smithsonian

Ottmar Mergenthaler’s Linotype, Part Two.


Mergenthaler next realized—somewhat to the dismay of his backers—that single brass matrices would produce superior results, and began work on a new machine.
It was tested in the summer of 1885, and was a complete success. A new company called The Mergenthaler Printing Company was organized, and with strong financial backing, it was decided to build twelve of the new machines.
The first machine completed was sent to the New York Tribune, where it was used to set part of the newspaper of July 3, 1886.


Mergenthaler demonstrates the “blower” Linotype for Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune in July, 1886. Drawing by J. Coggleshall Wilson.
Before the last of the twelve machines had been completed, Mergenthaler had added nine patented improvements.
Business control of the venture passed into the hands of a group of newspaper owners, who, seeing big profits in the offing, ordered that 100 more machines be built at all speed.
Mergenthaler, who saw the possibility of further important improvements, pleaded for time but was overruled.
He proceeded with the work, struggling with the problem of producing brass matrices on a commercial scale by means of steel punches, which were all engraved by hand.
This was a bottleneck, and he began work on a punch engraving machine. He had not yet finished this work when the Benton pantograph machine was completed, and Mergenthaler stopped work on his own.
Trouble between the backers (headed by Whitelaw Reid of the Tribune) and Mergenthaler had been brewing for some time; now there came a split.
After many bitter letters, he resigned in 1888 and although the syndicate continued to manufacture the Linotype machine, his own company in Baltimore, Ottmar Mergenthaler & Co., continued to make parts and to build the blower machines for the syndicate.
Mergenthaler contracted tuberculosis in 1894 and began a desperate struggle against the disease.
In 1897 he fled to the benign climate of New Mexico, but, sensing he had little time left to tell his story, he and his children’s tutor, Otto Schoenrich, began his biography.
The book, though called a “biography,” might better be considered an autobiography.
It was published anonymously in Baltimore in 1899, a few weeks before Mergenthaler’s death at the early age of 45.
It is a slim book full of bitterness at his betrayal by the syndicate, and quiet pride at his accomplishment.
In 1911, when the original Linotype patents expired, the Intertype machine appeared on the market. It was essentially the same as the Linotype, but with some changes and improvements. Both machines used the same matrices.
Source: Ottmar Merganthaler and the Linotype – Letterpress Commons

Ottmar Mergenthaler’s Linotype, Part One.

11Although Ottmar Mergenthaler was born in Hatchel, Germany in 1854 and received his early training as a watchmaker in Württemberg, his creative career started and flourished after he arrived in Washington, D.C. in 1872 at the age of eighteen.
His first job could not have been more serendipitous: he started work in the scientific instrument shop of August Hahl, his step-cousin and the son of his former master in Germany. Much of the shop’s work was the making of working models of new inventions, which were then required by the U.S. Patent Office.
For the next four years, Mergenthaler’s skill and ingenuity were applied to this work, and his special talents were soon recognized.
When Hahl transferred his business to Baltimore in 1876, Mergenthaler accompanied him. One of his first projects there was to correct the defects of a machine intended to produce printing by a combination of typewriting and lithography.
The idea for the invention came from James O. Clephane of Washington. Although the machine never yielded satisfactory results, it set Mergenthaler on the path to revolutionizing the casting of type.
Clephane then suggested a machine that could punch indented characters into papier-maché, producing type through a stereotype casting. Mergenthaler, after a short examination of the idea, doubted its practicality, but on Clephane’s urging continued.
Mergenthaler completed the machine in late 1878, but in spite of much effort Mergenthaler’s misgivings proved correct. Clephane and his associates worked without Mergenthaler until they abandoned the project in 1884.
After abandoning the Clephane project, Mergenthaler proceeded on his own, and began by rethinking the entire concept. Here we can see the value of the outsider’s objective thinking; if Mergenthaler had training in printing it is quite likely he might have attempted another incremental improvement, instead of the revolutionary invention he produced.
At the time of his work, in the 1880s, there were scores of typesetting machines being invented and many were in daily use in this country and in Europe.


Mergenthaler’s concept was to produce a machine that did not merely set previously cast type, as the other machines did, but to combine the casting of type with the composition of text in a single operation.
With the backing of Clephane and L. G. Hine, a Washington lawyer, Mergenthaler produced a small experimental machine and then, in the fall of 1883, a full-sized machine. This machine continued the use of papier-mâché matrices, but soon a new idea came into Mergenthalier’s mind: “Why have a separate matrix at all; why can I not stamp matrices into my type bars and cast metal into them in the same machine?”
By July, 1884 two new machines on this principle were completed. In his own words, “Smoothly and silently the matrices slid into their places, were clamped and aligned, the pump discharged its contents, a finished Linotype, shining like silver, dropped from the machine and the matrices returned to their normal positions.”
This was the first test of the direct casting band machine of 1884. His backers formed The National Typographic Company, and work proceeded. A band machine with automatic wedges for line justification was completed in February, 1885, and was seen and complimented by President Chester Arthur.
In a speech at the time, Mergenthaler said “I am convinced, gentlemen, that unless some method of printing can be devised which requires no type at all, the method embodied in our invention will be the one used in the future; not alone because it is cheaper, but mainly because it is destined to secure superior quality.”
Source: Ottmar Merganthaler and the Linotype – Letterpress Commons

‘Those Horribly Annoying Parking meters.’

A parking meter designed in 1940, USA.
A parking meter is a device used to collect money in exchange for the right to park a vehicle in a particular place for a set time.
A US patent was filed by Roger W. Babson, on 30 August, 1928. The meter was intended to operate on power from the battery of the parking ehicle and required a connection from the vehicle to the meter.
Holger George Thuesen and Gerald A. Hale designed the first working parking meter, the Black Maria, in 1935.
The world’s first installed parking meter was in Oklahoma City on 16 July, 1935.
Industrial production started in 1936 and expanded until the mid-1980s.

Parking meter in Adelaide, South Australia, probably 1980s or 1990s.
The first models were based on a coin acceptor, a dial to engage the mechanism and a visible pointer and flag to indicate expiration of paid period.
This configuration lasted for more than 40 years, with only a few changes in the exterior design, like the double-headed version and the incorporation of new materials and production techniques.
Upon insertion of coins into a currency detector slot or swiping a credit card or smartcard into a slot, and turning a handle (or pressing a key), a timer is set within the meter.
Some locations now allow payment by mobile phone (to remotely record payments for subsequent checking and enforcement).
In many cities, all parking meters are designed to use only one type of coin. Use of other coins will fail to register, and the meter may cease to function altogether. For example, in Hackensack, New Jersey all parking meters are designed for quarters only.
In 1960, New York City hired its first crew of “meter maids”; all were women. It was not until 1967 that the first man was hired.

Meter maids keeping up with technology on the Gold Coast, Queensland.
In the mid-1980s, a digital version was introduced, replacing the mechanical parts with electronic components: boards, keyboards and displays. This allowed more flexibility to the meter, as an EEPROM chip can be reconfigured more easily than corresponding mechanical components.
By the beginning of the 1990s, millions of parking meter units had been sold around the world.
Read on via Source: Parking meter | encyclopedia article by TheFreeDictionary

The first Lava Lamp appeared in 1963.

walkerIt’s hard to believe that anything as jaw-droppingly futuristic could be 55 years old, but the lava lamp (or astro lamp as it was originally known) has been around that long.
Invented by a British accountant named Edward Craven -Walker in 1963, the lava lamp quickly became an icon of 1960s psychedelia, with news of the product spread by worth-of-mouth.
The lamps work by using a light bulb to heat a bottle containing coloured oil and water (and some other minor chemicals – but those are the main two). The oil and water have similar densities but are insoluble to one another, meaning they don’t mix.
When the bottle is heated the oil absorbs the heat first, expanding in size as it does so. The expansion means that it becomes less dense and begins floating upwards.
As it floats up it cools, contracts and falls back to the bottom of the bottle, starting the chain of events all over again.
This continual slow motion process is based around very slight differences in density between the oil and water – the balance between them is like a very sensitive pair of scales, with small amounts of heat tipping the balance back and forth.
Bizarrely, the assembly line robots who help the humans have come from Detroit’s collapsed motor industry.
via Made in England for 50 years: the lava lamp celebrates its birthday – The Independent.

Putting the Fun in Funiculars.

CHONGQING, CHINA: The lift used to deliver people to and from the Chaotianmen ferry in Chongqing. The city of Chongqing is one of the fastest-growing urban centres on the planet. It is changing ferociously rapidly, its economic growth is astounding and it is attracting hordes of people looking for riches  but it is also suffering from high pollution and a huge income gap. It is by some measures already the worlds largest city, with 32 million inhabitants, although most are peasants who live within newly redrawn municipal limits. (Photo by Alessandro Rizzi/Getty Images)

Moving people and freight up and down steep terrain has always been a difficult problem, and beginning in the 1860s, the funicular railway became a solution that has been tried in hundreds of locations around the world

Circa 1890: Passengers travelling up the grand viaduct at Murren, Switzerland on a steep funicular railway. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

One part elevator, one part streetcar, these counterbalanced cable railways have been built on mountaintops for tourists, on hillsides for mines, along rivers to reach ports, and in cities for public transport.

The barrel-shaped carriages of a new funicular line are seen on the illuminated track before the opening ceremony near the Alpine resort of Stoos, Switzerland 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann – RC1DB9DBDBD0

Each unique setting provides its own set of challenges, and funicular designs are rarely standardized.
Source: That Escalated Quickly: Putting the Fun in Funiculars – The Atlantic