The Giffard Dirigible, flying from Paris to Trappes, 1852.
In France, an engineer named Henri Giffard (1825-82) was leading the way in les ballons dirigeable, French for directable balloons, and from which English adapted the word dirigible.
In 1852, Giffard’s airship made the first recorded successful powered and steerable flight.
The intrepid inventor flew his machine from the Paris Hippodrome to Trappes, a distance of 17 miles (27 km), in roughly 3 hours. The craft proved manoeuvrable, making many navigational turns and performing circles, but the engine wasn’t powerful enough to fly against the wind and failed to make a return journey.
The balloon was 144 feet long (44 m), hydrogen filled, and highly flammable, so the engine exhaust was diverted downwards by a long pipe.
The engine produced 3 hp, drove a propeller, and top speed of the dirigible was 6 mph (9 km).
A stapler is a very satisfying object, securely attaching paper with a pleasing crunch.
Small wonder that it is so often a child’s favourite stationery item. The emergence of the stapler reflects a rise in the use of paper within offices during the 19th century.
Previously, sheets of paper had been held together by pins or string or, in the case of legal documents, red tape. It is often reported that in the 18th century France’s King Louis XVI used the very first, suitably ornate stapler, but there is no evidence to support this.
Not everyone liked the idea of a metal fixing. In the early 1900s, several devices were invented which punched through and then wove the papers together in one action, but the idea never really took off.
The notion of creating a more secure fastening, however, was given a boost when Philadelphian Henry Heyl patented a stapling device in 1877 which could attach and fasten papers in one action.
Heyls’ invention was closely followed in 1879 by fellow American George McGill’s commercially available stapler, which drove a 12 millimetre length of wire through papers and then folded its ends when the top of the machine was thumped down with a single-stroke, rather like a test-your-strength game at a fairground.
This was simplicity itself; the key to any good stapler is the ability for one hand to hold the papers while the other operates the stapler.
It was first displayed in Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and is a heavy object that looks a little like a Singer sewing machine.
This eventually led to smaller and lighter staplers, and magazines that held up to 200 staples were commonplace by the 1920s.
Not everyone liked the idea of a metal fixing, however.
In the early 1900s, several devices were invented which punched through and then wove papers together in one action, but the idea never really took off.
By the time Cornelis Drebbel built an oven with a simple thermostat, one of the first manmade feedback mechanisms in history, in the 1620s, he was regarded in Europe as a magisterial, if not mad, inventor.
He had already enchanted royalty and common people alike with elaborate clocks, projected-light spectaculars, fireworks displays, and a submarine.
One modern scholar says Shakespeare used Drebbel as a model for Prospero, his noble sorcerer, who rules the mysterious island in The Tempest. Drebbel (1572-1634) was born in Alkmaar, Holland. His inventions were so unusual, folklore gave Drebbel a reputation of being a sorcerer.
The comparison fits. Like the Bard’s wise duke, Drebbel was a Renaissance man whose inventions seemed to bend nature to his design.
Drebbel appeared to have such an uncanny mastery over the elements that some suspected him of sorcery.
Constantijn Huygens, diplomat and friend of Galileo and Descartes, warned his son Christiaan to steer clear of the charismatic man “whose magic might come from the Devil.”
What’s remarkable about Drebbel today, other than the fact the bewitching Dutch genius is so little known, is how much he has to teach us about the birth and progress of science.
He built his oven at a time when a “vital” worldview, in which inanimate objects contain living energy, forged a prelude to the mechanical age.
“Drebbel’s circulating oven,” as historians of science now call it, included an early thermometer with a heat scale.
It regulated itself with a feedback-control device that is a progenitor of the ubiquitous systems that regulate the air we breathe in homes, offices, trains, planes, and automobiles.
His oven is one of the earliest devices that gave human control away to a machine and thus can be seen as a forerunner of the smart machine, the self-deciding automaton, the thinking robot.
Niels Bohr was one of the finest scientific minds the world has ever known, even from a young age he showed his aptitude for science by routinely correcting any wrong information he’d find in his textbooks.
But he was also a world-class smart-ass, as we’re about to explain.
When questioned about what he’d do if his teachers or peers ever quizzed him on the wrong information he’d found in the textbooks, Bohr rather awesomely responded that he’d just school them on how things (meaning the universe and possibly his balls) really worked.
However, an even cooler story is the the time he reportedly trolled his university on his final paper for no other reason than screw you, I’m Niels Bohr.
However, like all the best stories, we’re not sure if it’s true, but we’ll tell the story first and let you decide for yourself.
The story goes that while studying in university, Bohr was asked a reasonably simple question, “How would you measure the height of a building using only a barometer?”.
Bohr reportedly answered with something along the lines of “I’d knock on the door and ask how tall the building was in return for a shiny new barometer” how outstretched Bohr’s middle finger was during this answer, along with the exact wording varies from source to source but what happened next is fairly well established.
Bohr received a flat zero for his answer, which he contested on the grounds that he was technically correct (the best kind of correct), his university, in light of his previous flawless record of punching physics in the dick gave him a chance to improve his grade in a verbal exam asking the same question.
The story then goes that during the course of the verbal exam Bohr gave several correct answers for how one would use a barometer to measure the height of a building, stunning the collection of professors present.
A bigger factor behind the decline in sales of microwaves is likely that Americans just aren’t using them as much anymore.
A shift in eating habits—which favors freshness and quality over speed and convenience—has left a growing number of microwaves dormant on kitchen counters.
“Microwaves have sort of had their day,” says John Owen, a senior industry analyst at Mintel.
The microwave, like many ingenious inventions before it, was birthed by mistake.
Before microwave radiation melted cheese, it served as the magic behind radars, which sent microwave signals out to objects to gauge their distance.
But in 1945, Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, the maker of the first microwave, noticed something peculiar while experimenting with the technology. The high-powered radar turned a chocolate bar in Spencer’s pocket into goo.
He then deliberately experimented with—you guessed it—popcorn. And it worked. Next, he tried an egg, which promptly exploded (onto a nearby coworker, as the story goes.)
“The microwave energy is like rubbing your hands together, only it rubs the molecules of food together as they are vibrating three thousand million times a second,” Norman Krim, a former vice president at Raytheon explained in a documentary about the device.
Shortly after Spencer’s discovery, Raytheon invested heavily in developing the first commercial microwave.
It was called the Radarange, and it was ridiculously powerful. It could, according to its manual, fry an egg in only 12 seconds.
But it was also the size of a refrigerator, stood almost six feet tall, weighed over 700 pounds (320 kilograms), and cost $3,000.
Raytheon’s first microwave, the Radarange, was a verifiable giant by modern microwave standards (see above).
Given its hefty size (and price), the world’s first microwave was almost exclusively used on ships and trains, and at restaurants, where food needed to be prepared efficiently for many people.
A separate slightly-less-bulky and cheaper version was developed in 1955 for the home.
But it was still too big, and at $1,300, too expensive for mass use.