XVIII. PROGRESS IN SCIENCE AND INVENTION.
[The Patent Office.]
The progress in practical science and invention, in this country and the civilized world, has been so amazingly rapid during the present century, that the merest hint of a few of the most important elements of that progress can alone be given. The fertility of the human intellect, in devising quicker and more exact methods of doing those things which contribute to the wealth and the pleasure of man, has accomplished results so vast and so varied since the Declaration of Independence, that the mind cannot survey the smallest portion of this field without bewilderment and wonder. If we should visit the Patent Office at Washington, and give ourselves up to a scrutiny of its records, its tabulated results, and its long rows of cases of models, we should in time gain some idea of the extent to which American minds have carried the effort of invention.
[Discoveries in the Exact Sciences.]
Yet the Patent Office, while it exhibits the results of American invention, fails to show anything like the total amount of useful discovery which has been achieved on this continent since the foundation of the government. There are those who discover and invent, and who do not patent. There are discoveries which cannot be circumscribed by the filling-out of blank forms, and an official restriction on their use. This is emphatically the case with discoveries in the exact sciences, which, while they have added immeasurably to the knowledge of mankind, have also attained results the most useful and practical.
Illustrations of this truth may be found in the progress made by such sciences as astronomy and meteorology. No one can doubt the value of the result which accrues to human lore from a more accurate knowledge of astronomy, of the mutual influences of the solar system, and the physical character of its members. Nor can we deny that the rapid strides which have been made within thirty years in the science of meteorology are of the most immediate benefit to the material interests of men. The simple statement that the predictions of "Old Probabilities" as to the weather prove, in a large majority of instances, to be justified by the event, - founded as they are, not upon mere guesswork, but upon ascertained meteorological laws and a proved uniformity in the direction of storms, - is enough to show the importance of the recent discoveries in this field. One has only to reflect upon the changes in the course of little and of great events wrought by the weather, to be convinced of their large and permanent value.
[Improvements in Machines and Methods.]
We can look in no direction, however, without at once in some degree appreciating, and being astonished at, the metamorphosis which has been effected by the activity of scientific invention and discovery of the most palpably practical kind. No practical profession, trade, or industry can be named in which the improvements in machinery and methods have not been such, within the century, as to alter most of its conditions, and very greatly to multiply its efficiency and productiveness. These improvements have descended, too, from general systems to the minutest details. Cloth fabrics are not only manufactured on a very different scale and extent, but every little appliance of the machinery has been made better, and does its appointed work faster and with greater precision.
[Steam and Electricity.]
If one were asked what two inventions made within the century have wrought the greatest changes, the reply would be prompt that they are locomotion by steam and communication by electricity. The steam-engine and the steamship have made it possible to travel around the world, if not in the eighty days required of Jules Verne's hero, at least in a hundred; while the telegraph enables us to talk with our friends at the antipodes - if such we have - within a week. What share America has had in achieving these mighty agencies is signified by the names of Fulton and Morse. Nor have other means of locomotion and communication been neglected. The horse-car has to a large extent taken the place of the omnibus and of the lumbering stage-coach; while vertical travelling, by means of the elevator, has become easy and luxurious in our day. In the making of carriages of every kind, the progress becomes very apparent when we compare the light and elegant vehicles which fill our fashionable avenues on a pleasant day, with the coaches in which Washington and Lafayette deigned to ride on state occasions.
In the great industries, invention has supplied the means of changing the rude ore or the raw material into every manifold form of use and ornament, in an increased production which would have filled the men of '76 with amazement. Machinery has come to do a vast amount of work which manual labor used to do; yet, by a happy compensation in the economic condition of things, human labor, far from being left in the lurch by mechanical introduction and ever increasing efficiency, is in greater demand than before. In the melting and puddling of iron, in its casting, forging, and rolling, and especially in its turning and planing, the inventions have been, perhaps, more striking than in any other operations upon metals; and the importance of the improvements thus effected in the manufacture of iron may be appreciated when we consider to how many more precious uses iron is put than any other metal. The advances made in the working of wood, and in that noble engineering science which employs itself in the construction of canals, dikes, and bridges, are not less notable.
[Machines and Weapons.]