Happy Birthday Frankenstein

Frankenstein200 Years ago Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley created the story “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus” on a rainy afternoon in Geneva. Mary and her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, were staying with their friend Lord Byron when he proposed they each write a ghost story. The first edition of the novel was published anonymously in London in 1818, when Mary was only 20 years old.

The basis of the story echoes Mary’s travels through Europe. Journeying down the River Rhine the Shelley’s stopped at Gernsheim, just 17 km from Frankenstein Castle. Two centuries earlier an alchemist engaged in experiments. Later, they traveled to Geneva—where much of the story takes place. During her travels her companions discussed galvanism and other medical advances of the day. Eventually, Mary dreamt about a scientist who created life using galvanism–the basis for her novel.

Although serving as the basis for the Western horror story and the inspiration for numerous movies in the 20th century, the book Frankenstein is much more than pop fiction. The story explores philosophical themes and challenges Romantic ideals about the beauty and goodness of nature.

The complete story can be found here.

James Watt: Improving Steam Power

From Wikipedia:

James Watt was a Scottish inventor, mechanical engineer, and chemist whose Watt steam engine, an improvement of the Newcomen steam engine, was fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.

While working as an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow, Watt became interested in the technology of steam engines. He realized that contemporary engine designs wasted a great deal of energy by repeatedly cooling and reheating the cylinder. Watt introduced a design enhancement, the separate condenser, which avoided this waste of energy and radically improved the power, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of steam engines. Eventually he adapted his engine to produce rotary motion, greatly broadening its use beyond pumping water.
Watt attempted to commercialize his invention, but experienced great financial difficulties until he entered a partnership with Matthew Boulton in 1775. The new firm of Boulton and Watt was eventually highly successful and Watt became a wealthy man. In his retirement, Watt continued to develop new inventions though none was as significant as his steam engine work. He died in 1819 at the age of 83.

Read more from the BBC Historical Figures.

James Watt is the reason the industrial Revolution started in Britian

The Power of Steam

History of the Steam EngineSteampunk is driven by a fascination with the height of the industrial revolution, when steam engines were the major driving force behind technological advances. But when did steam power first come about and how does it work?

Basically, a steam engine is an engine which uses steam to provide the force behind mechanical movement. When water is heated to the boiling point, it expands into steam. This expansion process creates energy which can be targetted into pistons, forcing the pistons to move. The expanded water (steam) is then siphoned off, cooled and returned to the boiler. As the steam is released from the piston, the piston contracts and prepares for another blast of steam.

The modern internal combustion (car) engine works in a similar way except–rather than external heating of the water to steam and funneling the pressure of the steam into a piston, the modern internal combustion engine fills the compressed piston with a flammable liquid. When the liquid (petrol or gasoline) is ignited, the resulting expansion of the liquid to gaseous state, forces the piston to move. The gas is then released as exhaust and the piston returns to a compressed state. There is a lot more to a car engine than this, but that’s the basics. The fuel for a car engine is burnt or expended to make the piston move, whereas the steam from a steam engine is converted back to water and can be used again.

From Wikipedia:
Steam engines are external combustion engines, where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. Non-combustion heat sources such as solar power, nuclear power or geothermal energy may be used. The ideal thermodynamic cycle used to analyze this process is called the Rankine cycle. In the cycle, water is heated and transforms into steam within a boiler operating at a high pressure. When expanded through pistons or turbines, mechanical work is done. The reduced-pressure steam is then condensed and pumped back into the boiler.

In general usage, the term steam engine can refer to either the integrated steam plants (including boilers etc.) such as railway steam locomotives and portable engines, or may refer to the piston or turbine machinery alone, as in the beam engine and stationary steam engine. Specialized devices such as steam hammers and steam pile drivers are dependent on the steam pressure supplied from a separate boiler.

Using boiling water to produce mechanical motion goes back over 2000 years, but early devices were not practical. The Spanish inventor Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont obtained the first patent for a steam engine in 1606. In 1698 Thomas Savery patented a steam pump that used steam in direct contact with the water being pumped. Savery’s steam pump used condensing steam to create a vacuum and draw water into a chamber, and then applied pressurized steam to further pump the water. Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric engine was the first commercial true steam engine using a piston, and was used in 1712 for pumping in a mine.

In 1781 James Watt patented a steam engine that produced continuous rotary motion.[3] Watt’s ten-horsepower engines enabled a wide range of manufacturing machinery to be powered. The engines could be sited anywhere that water and coal or wood fuel could be obtained. By 1883, engines that could provide 10,000 hp had become feasible. The stationary steam engine was a key component of the Industrial Revolution, allowing factories to locate where water power was unavailable. The atmospheric engines of Newcomen and Watt were large compared to the amount of power they produced, but high pressure steam engines were light enough to be applied to vehicles such as traction engines and the railway locomotives.

Reciprocating piston type steam engines remained the dominant source of power until the early 20th century, when advances in the design of electric motors and internal combustion engines gradually resulted in the replacement of reciprocating (piston) steam engines in commercial usage, and the ascendancy of steam turbines in power generation. Considering that the great majority of worldwide electric generation is produced by turbine type steam engines, the “steam age” is continuing with energy levels far beyond those of the turn of the 19th century.

History of Galvanism

Luigi_Galvani“Galvanism” is defined as the effect of the application of direct electric current to the body causing muscle contraction.  Scientist Luigi Galvani, was dissected frog in his laboratory while an electrical storm raged outside. When he touched the muscles of the frog with his brass scissors the muscles twitched. His notes postulate the lightning in the air exerted some influence over the frog’s nerves and muscles.

Later that year, during another frog dissecting experiment, his lab assistant touched the lumbar nerve with a scalpel causing the frog’s legs to twitch. There was no electrical storm, but there was an electrostatic generator on in the laboratory. Galvani started to experiment with the relationship between electricity and dead frogs’ leg movement. He postulated electrical energy was intrinsic to biological movement. The metal of the scissors and scalpel served as conductors providing a terminal for the static discharge, causing the muscles to move. Galvani felt electricity was the “vital force” of life.

In 1791 he published De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius, proclaiming to the world electricity was the force of life.

Victorian Fiction – Golf in the Year 2000

Victorian Science FictionGolf in the Year 2000, or, What We Are Coming To is an 1892 novel by J. McCullough. It is a specimen of science fiction of the Victorian era, and an example of time travel in fiction. It tells the story of Alexander J. Gibson, who falls into a deep sleep in 1892 and awakens in 2000.


The plot follows Gibson as he is introduced to the wonders of the dawning 21st century by his host, the current owner of the house where Gibson lay sleeping for 108 years. Like Gibson, the host is a passionate golf player. Much of the story revolves around the two men’s visits to the golf course, where Gibson learns first-hand the radical changes that technology has made to the game. There are golf clubs that automatically keep their user’s score, driverless golf caddies or carts, and special jackets, which everyone must wear, that yell “Fore!” whenever the player begins his swing.

Golf n the Year 2000Modern readers are fascinated by the many startlingly accurate “predictions” contained in Golf in the Year 2000. These include bullet trains, digital watches, and television (although those specific terms are not used). It correctly predicts the conversion of the British pound to decimal coins. It notably fails to anticipate modern air travel, instead postulating that undersea trains will cut trans-Atlantic travel time to a few hours. Similarly, Gibson’s jest about travel to the moon is answered with an explanation that this is still a few generations off. It anticipates a form of chemical warfare, but suggests a very different impact.

One of the novel’s “predictions” is the liberation of women. In the book, women have achieved substantial equality with men, but with some remaining and new differences. Gibson learns that the women of 2000 dress like men, hold key positions in business (bank clerks are exclusively female) and government (but not yet prime minister, due to petty rivalries), and in fact do almost all of the work… while the men play golf full-time. In the view of the fictional narrator, this is a true utopia, though he does not find 21st century females to his liking.

Source: Wikipedia

Victorian View of the Future: A Prophetic Romance

Victorian Science Fictionis an 1896 utopian novel written by John McCoy, and published pseudonymously as the work of “The Lord Commissioner,” the narrator of the tale. The book is one element in the major wave of utopian and dystopian literature that characterized the final decades of the nineteenth century.

The story is written in a form resembling an epistolary novel: it consists of a series of reports from a Martian government official, the Lord Commissioner. He has been sent to Earth by the “Chancellor Commander” of Mars, the head of that planet’s unified government, to report on terrestrial conditions. (The Martians are more advanced than humans, and have explored the solar system.) The time of the story is not specified, though details in the text suggest the late twentieth century, about a hundred years after the book’s publication.

A Prophetic RomanceThe Lord Commissioner travels to Earth by spaceship; he endures hallucinations due to the interplanetary “atmosphere.” He lands at “Midland,” the capital of the United States, and meets the president, who happens to be a woman. American society has been reformulated after a revolution around the turn of the twentieth century, when irate citizens blew up the Capitol and its congressmen. Laws must be approved by popular referenda before they take effect. The United States has expanded to include Canada and Central America. The salaries of business executives are limited. Gender equality has been achieved.

Technology has made major advances, including aircraft and electric cars; there is even a “lovemeter” that detects emotions. Vegetarianism is dominant, and alcohol abuse is a thing of the past. The Bible has been edited, with the bloody parts removed. Divorces are uncommon, and hard to obtain.

The Lord Commissioner falls in love with an Earth woman named Loleta, a friend of the president; he decides to remain on Earth with her.

Quest for History – Galvanization

Galvanization of the human body

Quest for History - GalvanizationFrom the Atlantic Medical and Surgical Journal of 1886 (p89-95)

Electricity as a Stimulant in Cardiac and Respiratory Failure.
A Jacobi, M.D, President presiding of the February 19, 1885 meeting

Dr. Gaspar Griswold read a paper on the above subject, beginning with the statement that electricity had ben conspicuous in the treatment of sudden prostration, attended with respiratory and cardiac failure, especially in chloroform inhalation and opium-poisoning. The object of the paper was to discuss how far the usual methods of applying electricity in such cases of collapse were in accord with what was known concerning the physiology of the heart. The term electricity was used in a general sense, including galvanism and faradism.

Morphine in poisonous doses paralyzes the pneumogastrics, and stimulation of them by electricity would not slow or depress the action of the heart.

In opium-poissoning, when the action of the heart was rapid and feel, there was less danger than in health of cardiac paralysis from stimulation of the pneumogastrics. When morphine was injected into the veins the heart was easily depressed by electricity applied to the pneumogastrics, and it would not, therefore, be safe to faradize or galvanize the phrenics in the condition, because of the certainty, almost, of stimulating at the same time the pneumogastrics.

A general conclusion reached by the author of the paper was that, under no circumstances, should an electrical current, sufficiently strong to produce contractions of the muscles in any part of the body, be applied over the phrenic or pneumogastric in the neck.

Dr. A. D. Rockwell, in general, quite agreed with the statements made by Dr Griswold, in his valuable contribution to the literature of this subject. The fact that, in the normal condition, and by purely external methods of application, the respiration was affected, rather than the heart’s action, was very readily demonstrated. In connections with this subject, he might have referred to the statements made long ago by Arloing and Tripier, that the right pneumogastric has a more powerful influence over the heart, while the left more powerfully affect respiration. However that may be, it was certain that galvanization affect the two pneumogastric nerves unequally, and in a way to confirm, to some extent, that assertion.

It had been found that, if the heart be stopped by galvanization of the exposed left pneumorgastric, the movements could be restored by some slight mechanical excitation, while, if the same result occurred through galvanization of the right pneumogastric, it seemed impossible to again exited the pulsations. These, certainly, seemed to be the effects of sedation rather than of stimulation, but that the effects that followed were powerfully stimulant and tonic could not be doubted.

Edison’s Conquest of Mars

Victorian Science FictionEdison’s Conquest of Mars is an 1898 science fiction novel by American astronomer and writer Garrett P. Serviss. It was written as a sequel to Fighters from Mars, an unauthorized and heavily altered version of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. It has a place in the history of science fiction for its early employment of themes and motifs that later became staples of the genre.

Edison's Conquest of MarsThe book features Thomas Edison as the primary character, though neither Edison nor H. G. Wells were involved in its creation. Set after the devastating Martian attack in the previous story, the novel depicts Edison leading a group of scientists to develop ships and weapons, including a disintegration ray, for the defence of Earth. Edison and company fight the aliens in space and on Mars, eventually causing a flood that defeats the enemy and forces an end to hostilities. Serviss wrote himself into the story as a professor whom Edison consults; also appearing are scientists such as Edward Emerson Barnard, Lord Kelvin, Wilhelm Röntgen, and Silvanus P. Thompson, and heads of state such as Queen Victoria, U.S. President William McKinley, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Emperor Mutsuhito.

Serviss’ first attempt at fiction, the book was published serially in the New York Journal. Serviss went on to write other science fiction stories, arguably making him the first American to write science fiction professionally. An early example of what would later be called space opera, Edison’s Conquest of Mars was also a particularly literal “Edisonade”. The book contains some notable “firsts” in science fiction: alien abductions, spacesuits (called “air-tight suits”: see Spacesuits in fiction), aliens building the Pyramids, space battles, oxygen pills, asteroid mining and disintegrator rays.

source: Widipedia

Corsets and Bustles from 1880-90

The Move from Over-Structured Opulence to the ‘Healthy Corset’

Corset - Red-Gold 1883By the 1880s the corset had become a very elegant and desirable object in a woman’s wardrobe and much attention paid to its design and execution. The rapid growth of the corset manufacturing industries meant that there was greater variety in materials, colour, size and fit. The most expensive might be made of satin, brightly coloured corsets also became more acceptable.

Corset makers and manufacturers prided themselves on the excellent fit that could now be had with ready-to-wear corsets. As well as being made for different bust and hip measurements they were also designed to suit a variety of body types from ‘stout’, to ‘slim’ and ‘full’ to ‘graceful’. Manufacturers also tried to boost sales by giving corsets fancy names such ‘La Fiancée’, which not surprisingly promised physical beauty and success in marital competition, and ‘Swanbill’ with a logo of a swan gliding past waterplants, probably intended to conjure up an image of demure elegance and a gently curving figure.

In the mid 1880s, after a brief respite, bustles returned and in a more exaggerated form than before. They were usually very structured and sometimes jutted out at right angles from the centre back of the body. This gave rise to the popular belief that a tea tray could be balanced on them. Steel strips were also often attached to the insides of dresses to exaggerate the backward curve of the bustle.

Bustles came in all shapes and sizes. Some were constructed almost entirely of steel, others resembled colourful cushions. These were often stuffed with horsehair, down and even straw to achieve the desired fullness. Bustles were often ridiculed in journals and the popular press. But although they could be cumbersome and uncomfortable, as with the corset and crinoline one must be careful not to focus on extremes. Most bustles in museum collections are not as enormous as all the written criticisms would have us believe. They were usually adjustable in size and women could wear different styles according to their activities and the time of day. Small ‘tournures’ fastened to the corset were recommended for walking, small ‘puffs’ were for the early afternoon to remove the flat look of the dress and larger, longer bustles were suited to the ballroom.

‘The New Phantom’ bustle, dating from about 1884, had a special feature. The steel wires are attached to a pivot so that they folded in on themselves on sitting down and sprang back when the wearer rose. A novelty bustle made to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations contained a less useful device. It was fitted with a musical box that played ‘God Save the Queen’ each time the wearer sat down.

source: Victoria and Albert Museum