Power, Speed, and Form

Power, Speed, and Form: Engineers and the Making of the Twentieth Century

DAVID P. BILLINGTON
DAVID P. BILLINGTON
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fgzd1
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  • Book Info
    Power, Speed, and Form
    Book Description:

    Power, Speed, and Form is the first accessible account of the engineering behind eight breakthrough innovations that transformed American life from 1876 to 1939--the telephone, electric power, oil refining, the automobile, the airplane, radio, the long-span steel bridge, and building with reinforced concrete. Beginning with Thomas Edison's system to generate and distribute electric power, the authors explain the Bell telephone, the oil refining processes of William Burton and Eugene Houdry, Henry Ford's Model T car and the response by General Motors, the Wright brothers' airplane, radio innovations from Marconi to Armstrong, Othmar Ammann's George Washington Bridge, the reinforced concrete structures of John Eastwood and Anton Tedesko, and in the 1930s, the Chrysler Airflow car and the Douglas DC-3 airplane.

    These innovations used simple numerical ideas, which the Billingtons integrate with short narrative accounts of each breakthrough--a unique and effective way to introduce engineering and how engineers think. The book shows how the best engineering exemplifies efficiency, economy and, where possible, elegance. With Power, Speed, and Form, educators, first-year engineering students, liberal arts students, and general readers now have, for the first time in one volume, an accessible and readable history of engineering achievements that were vital to America's development and that are still the foundations of modern life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4912-3
    Subjects: Technology, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Sidebars
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxviii)
  7. CHAPTER ONE The World’s Fairs of 1876 and 1939
    (pp. 1-12)

    On a much-anticipated trip in 1939, a family of four drove from the Philadelphia suburbs up U.S. Route 1 into New Jersey and then turned east through the dark overpasses of Weehawken. Suddenly the road began a sweeping circle to the right, and over the left parapet, lit by the afternoon summer sun, appeared the skyline of Manhattan with the towers of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings and Rockefeller Center. Soon the car descended into the three-year-old Lincoln Tunnel before emerging in New York City itself. The senior author (age twelve) and his brother (age ten) had their first...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Edison, Westinghouse, And Electric Power
    (pp. 13-34)

    Electric power is indispensable to modern life. Telephones, lights, elevators, and computers depend on electricity, as do the ignition systems of cars and airplanes; without it, society would not have advanced beyond the nineteenth century. Thomas Edison is best known for having invented a new kind of light bulb, but his bulb was not an isolated invention. It was part of a network that Edison engineered to produce and distribute electric power from central generating stations. Following the success of his first power and light network, Edison created generating plants and distribution lines to bring electricity to homes and workplaces...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Bell and the Telephone
    (pp. 35-56)

    As Edison was beginning his work at Menlo Park, the telephone made its first public appearance at the Philadelphia Centennial Fair on June 25, 1876. Its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, envisioned a network of telephones that would enable any person to reach any other person in the world instantly. Bell’s ambition has yet to be fully realized but in the twentieth century the telephone became indispensable to daily life in the United States. Before the phone, voice communication was limited to distances measured in feet. Telegraph messages traveled longer distances but had to be encoded and decoded by operators at...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Burton, Houdry, and the Refining of Oil
    (pp. 57-78)

    The 1870s and 1880s saw the rise of two great chemical process industries in America: the steel industry led by Andrew Carnegie and petroleum refining under John D. Rockefeller. The two industries followed very different paths. After his retirement in 1901, Carnegie sold his company to the banker J. P. Morgan, who merged it with some rivals to form the United States Steel Corporation, bringing 60 percent of the nation’s steel-making capacity under the control of one firm. But U.S. Steel faced no serious competitive or regulatory challenges. No other material threatened to take away its market; and the federal...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Ford, Sloan, and the Automobile
    (pp. 79-102)

    The automobile is the preeminent machine of the modern world. In 1900 there were 8,000 registered automobiles in the United States; by 1939 there were 26 million.¹ The car gave Americans a personal mobility and freedom unknown in the nineteenth century, and by 1939 auto manufacturing had become America’s leading industry. But in 1900 the future of the car was hardly clear. The market for automobiles then was small and exclusive, and cars powered by steam and electricity vied with those powered by gasoline. The car began to reach a mass market after Henry Ford’s introduction of the gasoline-powered Model...

  12. CHAPTER SIX The Wright Brothers and the Airplane
    (pp. 103-128)

    Successful powered flight began when the Wright brothers flew an airplane on the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. By the 1930s passenger air travel was still a luxury, but advances in aircraft speed, size, and power were preparing the way for more people to fly, and today millions do. The Wright Flyer, the first powered heavier-than-air craft to fly a pilot in sustained level flight, was the crucial breakthrough that made later aviation possible. Earlier attempts to fly had treated the problem as one of simply getting off the ground.¹ Would-be aviators before the...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Radio: From Hertz to Armstrong
    (pp. 129-154)

    Just as the airplane released transport from the confines of rail and road, the innovation of radio freed communication from wire networks. When it emerged at the turn of the century, radio was used to provide a new form of telegraphy. Radio engineers soon began to use it for broadcasting, making communication possible from one point to millions. By the 1920s radio stations began to serve a popular audience for news, music, sports, and other forms of entertainment. Radio technology did not advance smoothly, though, and pride and profit turned some of the leading engineers and entrepreneurs of radio against...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Ammann and the George Washington Bridge
    (pp. 155-175)

    A more closely interconnected civilization emerged from the new networks, processes, and machines that spread in the early twentieth century. New bridge structures supplied a different form of connection no less vital. By 1939 the bridges of New York, Philadelphia, Washington, St. Louis, and San Francisco were essential to the everyday life of those cities and their surrounding areas. The need for new and larger bridges was a natural outgrowth of the demand for more and better roads in the 1910s and 1920s. The availability of inexpensive steel in the late nineteenth century gave civil engineers a new material with...

  15. CHAPTER NINE Eastwood, Tedesko, and Reinforced Concrete
    (pp. 176-198)

    Along with the George Washington Bridge in New York and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the most famous American public work of the 1930s was Hoover Dam, on the border between Nevada and Arizona.¹ Made of a new material, modern concrete, the dam was the largest concrete structure in the world when it was finished in 1936. But Hoover Dam was not an example of efficient design. Built when materials and labor were cheap, the dam used far more concrete than it needed to be safe, and its massive look did not take advantage of concrete’s potential for...

  16. CHAPTER TEN Streamlining: Chrysler and Douglas
    (pp. 199-219)

    New form and lightness came not only to structures but also to machines. As automobiles and aircraft increased in speed, they encountered more-severe resistance from the air, or drag. In the 1930s engineers turned their attention to aerodynamic efficiency and began to streamline the shapes of new cars and airplanes. Two machines of the 1930s pioneered streamlined form in the United States: the Chrysler Airflow car and the Douglas DC-3 airplane. The 1934 Airflow proved a commercial failure, in part because its efficient form did not result in an aesthetically pleasing look. It was only half the metaphor of recovery...

  17. Appendix The Edison Dynamo and the Parallel Circuit
    (pp. 220-222)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 223-256)
  19. Index
    (pp. 257-270)