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Every cultural conquest, such as the use of fire, requires other cultural developments to make its use effective, and it also has unanticipated consequences in totally unforeseen areas.


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Containers were needed for better fire and food. The invention of pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils made it possible to boil, stew, bake, and fry foods as well as to broil them by direct contact with the fire. The cooking itself, and the search for materials to do it in, was perhaps the beginning of materials engineering! Furthermore, though the molding and fire hardening of clay figurines and fetishes had preceded the useful pot, it was the latter that, in the 8th millenium B.

Clay was the first inorganic material to be given completely new properties as a result of an intentional operation upon it by human beings.

Though stone, wood, hides, and bone had earlier been beautifully formed into tools and utensils, their substance had remained essentially unchanged. The ability to make a hard stone from soft and moldable clay not only unfolded into useful objects, but the realization that man could change the innermost nature of natural materials must have had a profound impact upon his view of his powers; it gave him confidence to search for new materials at an ever increasing rate.

It was in the decoration of pottery that man first experimented with the effects of fire upon a wide range of mineral substances. Glazing, the forerunner of glass, certainly came therefrom, and it is probable that experiments with mineral colors on pottery led to the discovery of the reduction of metals from their ores toward the end of the 5th millennium B. From late Paleolithic times come the great cave paintings representing hunting scenes in realistic detail, executed with such mastery that, when they were discovered by chance in the caves at Altamira, Spain in and later in Lascaux, France, many found it difficult to believe that they had been done by primitive man.

He sensed qualitative differences that depended on chemical and physical properties quite invisible to him, on which eventually could be based a metallurgical industry. Even before he learned to paint, early man had sensitively used the properties of other materials in art. He had made sculpture in ivory, stone, rock, clay, and countless more-perishable materials. Though it is often said that his ability to do this came from the increased leisure time released by the efficiency of his hunting following the development of tools and weapons, it is more likely that the exercise of his explorative tendencies, his aesthetic curiosity, was one of the factors from the very first that gave him a unique evolutionary advantage among other animals.

Interaction with materials at this level was both easy and rewarding, and it was probably a necessary preliminary to the selection of the more imaginative and adaptable biological mutants that were to follow. In culture as in biology, man possessed more than the rudiments of technology when he had discovered and prepared his materials for painting and had developed methods of working them with fingertip and brush, crayons, and spray.

He also had used specialized tools to sculpt stone and to mold clay at about the same time he learned to finish stone abrasively, and so was freed from dependence on flakeable flint since he could then adapt commoner, harder, polycrystalline rocks such as basalt and granite for his tools. As in the case of the use of fire by man, the next great innovation in another field of technology, agriculture, was accompanied by a diverse series of auxiliary changes.

Man had to develop a whole new set of tools: the hoe to till the ground, the sickle to reap the grain, some kind of flail to thresh the grain, and the quern mill to grind it.

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These tools were made of stone and wood; they were not very efficient. Nevertheless, agriculture was able to provide man with a surer source of food than could be obtained through the older technology of hunting, and it required concomitant advances in materials. Not the least important were fired ceramics which provided the pots needed for cooking, as well as larger containers for rodent-proof storage of crops.

Roller, ed. The introduction of agriculture meant that the supply of animal skins from hunting was diminished, Man had to find substitutes among vegetable fibers, things such as reeds, flax, or cotton, and to utilize the hair of the animals which he had learned to domesticate. Some of these fibers had been used before, especially in woven mats, fences, building components, and basketry, but mainly for clothing.

So textiles developed, and textiles inspired new machines: a spinning device the spindle with its inertia-driven whorl and a loom for weaving the threads into cloth. When, a few years ago, a class at the University of California was provided with a pile of flintstones and given the task of shaping simple stone implements from them, they found that even after many hours of repeated trials, they could not produce a tool that would have sufficed even for a run-of-the-mill Stone Age man. The great Neolithic technological revolution—with its development of agriculture and fairly large-scale settled communities—occurred some tens upon tens of thousands of years after man had already mastered his implements of stone and had achieved his intellectual and physical evolution.

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While the process might seem slow to us today, it was dynamic by the standards of the preceding ages. During the period from about to B. He invented the plow, the wheeled cart, the sailing ship, and writing. Communication and commerce based on specialized skills and localized raw materials both enabled and depended upon central government together with reinforcing religious, social, and scientific concepts.

The great empires in Mesopotamia and Egypt, the. Indeed, the characteristics of this early period are mainly an interplay between principles of human organization and the discovery of the properties of matter as they resided in a wide diversity of materials. Both tools and buildings were simple; mechanisms comparable in ingenuity to the materials used in the decorative arts of Sumer, Egypt, and Greece do not appear until much latter.

All, as far as we can tell, were based on experience and empiricism with little help from theory. Stone was eventually supplemented by copper, and copper led to bronze. Near the end of the period under discussion, bronze in turn was partially displaced by iron. So important is the change in materials base of a civilization that the materials themselves have given rise to the names of the ages—the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age.

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There were no sharp chronological breaking points between the three ages, nor did the switch from one material to another take place everywhere at the same time. Even, for example, in those areas where bronze tools and weapons came into use, stone tools and weapons remained on the scene for a long time. Similarly, iron did not Immediately replace bronze, and indeed, there were still some civilizations which passed directly from stone to iron and some which, from indifference or from lack of knowledge, never adopted either metal.

As a matter of fact, the first tools and weapons of iron were probably inferior to the contemporary bronze tools whose technology had been known for over two millennia. At first, the advantage of iron over bronze was based on economics, not superior quality. Iron was laborious to melt, but it could be made from widespread common minerals.

A monarch could arm his entire army with iron swords, instead of just a few soldiers with bronze swords when the rest would have to fight with sticks and bows and arrows. With iron came a quantitative factor that had profound social, economic, and political consequences for all aspects of culture. Native metals, like gold, silver, and copper, were hammered into decorative objects during the 8th millennium B. However, it was not until man learned to smelt.

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See also Theodore A. Again, the early advantage was only an economic one, the mineral ores of copper being vastly more abundant than is the native metal, but the way was opened for alloying and the discovery of entirely unsuspected properties. Moreover, with molten metal, casting into complicated shapes became possible,. The discovery of smelting has left no records, Given the availability of adequately high-temperatures in pottery kilns and the use of metal oxides for decoration, drops of reduced metal could well have been produced repeatedly before the significance was grasped.

But once it was, empirical experiments with manipulation of the fire and the selection of the appropriate heavy, colored minerals would have given the desired materials with reasonable efficiency. A kiln works best with a long-flame fuel such as wood; smelting is best done with charcoal and with a blast from a plowpipe or bellows, but the time when these were first used has yet to be established.

For a thousand years, these alloys were exploited, until finally they were largely replaced by bronze, an alloy made from a heavy readily identifiable, though scarce, mineral, and having somewhat superior properties to those of the copper-arsenic alloys; there was also the added advantage that those who knew how to use it lived longer!

A lively argument is currently going on among archeologists as to whether the original discovery of bronze took place in the region of Anatolia and the adjacent countries to the South and East or in Eastern Europe—or independently in both. Though the earliest stone industry and commerce had required some organized system of production, and division of labor was well advanced in connection with large irrigation and building projects, 18 the use of metals fostered a higher degree of specialization and diversity of skills; it also required communication and coordination to a degree previously unknown.

Both trade and transportation owe much of their development to the requirements of materials technology: not only ores, requiring bulk transportation over great distances from foreign lands, but also precious objects for the luxury trade, such as amber, gem stones, gold and silver jewelry, fine decorated ceramics, and eventually glass. Rotary motion had many applications that were more influential than the well-known cartwheel.

Karl A. Materials development had an impact on culture in other ways than through the improvement of artifacts. This can perhaps best be seen in the development of writing. The growth of commerce and government stimulated the need for records. The materials to produce the records undoubtedly influenced the nature of the writing itself and, if modern linguistic scholars are correct, probably some details of the language structure and hence the mode of thought.

The Sumerians in the Tigris-Euphrates valley had abundant clay to serve as their stationery, and the sharp stylus employed with it did not allow a cursive writing to develop; did this have some impact on the ways in which they thought, spoke, and acted? The Egyptions, on the other hand, could adapt the interwoven fibers of a reed growing in the Nile delta to produce a more flexible medium, papyrus, on which they could write with brushes and ink in less restricted ways.

Thus, the differences between the cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing were dependent on the differences in materials available, quite as much as were the mud-brick and stone architecture of their respective regions. At the time, the visual arts were probably more significant than writing, for relatively few people, except professional scribes, would have been influenced by the latter.

Certainly, our retrospective view of old civilizations depends on the preservation of art in material form, and the material embodiment of thought and symbol in the visual environment must have modified the experience and behavior of ancient peoples, even as it does today. The replacement of copper and bronze by iron began about B. Iron had been produced long before then, because iron ores are prevalent and easily reduced at temperatures comparable to those required for smelting copper.

However, the iron was probably not recognized as such, because at those temperatures it is not melted, but remains as a loose sponge of particles surrounded by slag and ash, being easily crumbled or pulverized and having no obvious metallic properties. If, on the other hand, the porous mass is hammered vigorously while hot, the particles weld together, the slag is forced out, and bars of wrought iron are produced.

Though metallic iron may have been previously seen as occasional lumpy by-products from lead and copper smelting in which iron oxides were used to make siliceous impurities in the iron more fusible , its intentional smelting is commonly attributed to the Hittites, an Anatolian people, about B.

The Hittite monopoly of ferrous knowledge was dispersed with the empire about B. Immense skill was needed to remove the oxygen in the ore by reaction with the charcoal fuel without allowing subsequent absorption of carbon to a point where the reduced metal became brittle. Moreover, each ore had its own problems with metalloid and rocky impurities. Certain forms of iron—those to which the name steel was once limited—can become intensely hard when heated red hot and quenched in water. This truly marvelous transmutation of properties must have been observed quite early, but its significance would have been hard to grasp and, in any case, it could not be put to use until some means of controlling the carbon content had been developed.

Since the presence of carbon as the essential prerequisite was not known until the end of the 18th century A. It is not surprising that this was rarely successful. Yet, even without hardening, iron had no difficulty in supplanting bronze for many applications. Its abundance meant that the elite could not control it. Before 1, B. From about B. Iron tools together with evolving organization arrangements greatly increased the productivity of agriculture, giving a surplus which could support large numbers of specialized craftsmen whose products, in turn, could become generally available instead of being monopolized by the wealthiest ruling circles.

Furthermore, tools formerly made of bronze or stone—such as adzes, axes, chisels, drills, hammers, gravers, saws, gauges—could be made less expensively and more satisfactorily in iron. The new tools allowed for new methods of working materials: forging in dies, the stamping and punching of coins, and, many years later, developments such as the drawing of wire and the rolling of sheet and rod.