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Locomotive to Aeromotive

Locomotive to Aeromotive: Octave Chanute and the Transportation Revolution

Foreword by Tom D. Crouch
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Locomotive to Aeromotive
    Book Description:

    French-born and self-trained civil engineer Octave Chanute designed America's two largest stockyards, created innovative and influential structures such as the Kansas City Bridge over the previously "unbridgeable" Missouri River, and was a passionate aviation pioneer whose collaborative approach to aeronautical engineering problems encouraged other experimenters, including the Wright brothers. Drawing on rich archival material and exclusive family sources, Locomotive to Aeromotive is the first detailed examination of Chanute's life and his immeasurable contributions to engineering and transportation, from the ground transportation revolution of the mid-nineteenth century to the early days of aviation._x000B__x000B_Aviation researcher and historian Simine Short brings to light in colorful detail many previously overlooked facets of Chanute's professional and personal life. In the late nineteenth century, few considered engineering as a profession on par with law or medicine, but Chanute devoted much time and energy to the newly established professional societies that were created to set standards and serve the needs of civil engineers. Though best known for his aviation work, he became a key figure in the opening of the American continent by laying railroad tracks and building bridges, experiences that later gave him the engineering knowledge to build the first stable aircraft structure. Chanute also introduced a procedure to treat wooden railroad ties with an antiseptic that increased the woods lifespan in the tracks. Establishing the first commercial plants, he convinced railroad men that it was commercially feasible to make money by spending money on treating ties to conserve natural resources. He next introduced the date nail to help track the age and longevity of railroad ties. _x000B__x000B_A versatile engineer, Chanute was known as a kind and generous colleague during his career. Using correspondence and other materials not previously available to scholars and biographers, Short covers Chanute's formative years in antebellum America as well as his experiences traveling from New Orleans to New York, his apprenticeship on the Hudson River Railroad, and his early engineering successes. His multiple contributions to railway expansion, bridge building, and wood preservation established his reputation as one of the nation's most successful and distinguished civil engineers. Instead of retiring, he utilized his experiences and knowledge as a bridge builder in the development of motorless flight. Through the reflections of other engineers, scientists, and pioneers in various fields who knew him, Short characterizes Chanute as a man who believed in fostering and supporting people who were willing to learn. This well-researched biography cements Chanute's place as a preeminent engineer and mentor in the history of transportation in the United States and the development of the airplane.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09332-6
    Subjects: Technology, Transportation Studies, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD: Octave Chanute and “The Course of Human Progress”
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Tom D. Crouch

    OCTAVE CHANUTE DIED in his home at 1138 Dearborn Avenue on the morning of Wednesday, November 23, 1910. The family immediately wired the news to Wilbur Wright, who boarded a train in Dayton, Ohio, in order to reach Chicago in time for the funeral, scheduled to take place at 4 P.M. on Friday, November 25. It is safe to assume that he spent much of that trip considering his complex relationship with Chanute, which had begun with a single letter more than ten years before.

    “For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. CHAPTER 1 The Formative Years
    (pp. 1-10)

    MISSISSIPPI DELTA. December 1838—After more than two months of monotony at sea, theHavre Paquetapproached the wide Mississippi River delta. At the river entrance, Captain Robert H. McKown took on a local pilot to guide the sailing vessel, towed by a steamboat tug, over the final 120 miles to New Orleans.

    The New York and Havre packets made regularly scheduled North Atlantic crossings three times each month; the average travel time between the French port Le Havre and New York was forty-four days, with fourteen additional days to New Orleans.¹ Even though screw-driven steamers were already cruising between...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The University of Experience
    (pp. 11-43)

    APART FROM THE EAST COAST, North America was thinly populated in the early nineteenth century, with few roads and little communication existing between the populace in the East and settlers living west of the Allegheny Mountains. To open up the inaccessible, or what some easterners called “worthless,” wilderness required an effective transportation system. The railroad promised to provide that, but first, miles of iron needed to be laid cheaply and rapidly over a rough and seemingly impenetrable landscape.

    The sixteen-year-old Octave Chanut had read that engineers working for the expanding railroads needed to possess universal knowledge. To become a civil...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Opening the West
    (pp. 44-76)

    THE ENGLISH PHILOSOPHER Lord Francis Bacon wrote, “There be three things which make a nation great and prosperous; a fertile soil, busy workshops and easy conveyance of men and things from one place to another.”¹ After successfully completing several hundred miles of railroads in Illinois, Octave Chanute began to realize his role as one to provide conveyance of men and things.

    The settlement of the West made the need for railroads apparent, but building tracks required substantial funding. Congress granted public land for the aid of railroads, but railroad companies also looked for financial help from local communities, financiers, and...

  9. CHAPTER 4 At the Top
    (pp. 77-108)

    IN THE POST–CIVIL WAR YEARS, land grant railways were frequently not as profitable as their promoters had hoped. “We have built a good many more miles of railroad than the country will support for some years and many weak concerns must go to the well. In fact, I look for a magnificent smash at no distant day, when the investing public will awake from its folly, and the years 1869, 1870 & 1871 will be remembered as the English remember 1844–1850, the time of the Railway Mania,”¹ Chanute wrote to a director of the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Self Realization
    (pp. 109-137)

    AS AN IMPATIENT TEENAGER, the eighteen-year-old Octave had written to his father: “Although I hope to became wealthy in a certain—or rather an uncertain—number of years, I do not think that making money should be the only goal a person should have. Money is only precious because of the pleasures it can get for us. Why should we give up those pleasures for 20 or 30 years in order to buy them at great cost later, when we cannot enjoy them any more? Consequently, I believe that the only way to achieve happiness is to save all one...

  11. CHAPTER 6 A New Industry
    (pp. 138-181)

    GROWING UP, Chanute’s father Joseph stressed that energy and perseverance were necessary to achieve success. After becoming part of the workforce and watching his coworkers, the budding young engineer wondered why some of his acquaintances had worked hard throughout their lives without becoming wealthy. There must be something else he did not know, and the eighteen-yearold Octave theorized to his father: “I can see only one reason—it is how clever or cunning the person is. Moreover, circumstances are all important; they elevate men of little wealth and hold back many of talent.” In due time Octave learned that a...

  12. CHAPTER 7 From the Locomotive to the Aeromotive
    (pp. 182-238)

    STILL YEARNING FOR CHALLENGES, excitement, and new discoveries in the engineering field, the fifty-one-year-old Chanute left the Erie in 1883, to embark on a self-directed career as a civil engineer. Three years later, he explained:

    The busy men who are developing this country need to keep up with new discoveries and progress even before they are reduced to practical account, and to look into the future as well as in the past; they especially need that personal contact, which nothing can replace, with men of science, to learn of what is being done and hoped for, and to make known...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Encouraging Progress in Flying Machines
    (pp. 239-286)

    BY THE EARLY DAYS of the twentieth century, the ancient taboo of flight had slowly emerged as a thoroughly modern inquiry of science. Although doubters still existed and the press still glorified experiments gone awry, most engineers fully anticipated the arrival of a powered flying machine.

    To realize his personal goal of witnessing sustained mechanical flight, Octave Chanute freely shared what he had learned; for him, technical information was a public commodity and he impressed on his correspondents the need to share what they had discovered so that future investigators could avail themselves of the known and take problems to...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 287-324)
    (pp. 325-328)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 329-341)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 342-343)