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Anecdotes from the Archive

Anecdotes from the Archive

Intriguing finds from Scientific American's past
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    Dan Schlenoff Dan Schlenoff edits the “50, 100 & 150 Years Ago” column for Scientific American. He is a keen student of the role of science in history.
  • Ramming a Submarine, 1914

    “Ramming a Submarine,” says the caption for this image on the cover of the issue. It illustrates the British HMS Badger ramming the German U-19. Image: Scientific American, December 19, 1914

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: December 19, 1914 Scientific American in 1914 sometimes used large, single-theme images for the issue cover. Some of these images have no information with them at all. This cover has only a short caption: “Ramming a Submarine,” but no story inside. The image apparently illustrates [...]

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    Lawrence in Arabia: from Archaeologist to Spy, 1914

    Hittite soldiers from the 9th century B.C., on a freize excavated at Carchemish (Karkemish) a site that is now on the border between Turkey and Syria. Among the archaeologists working at the site in 1914 was T. E. Lawrence, known later in life as “Lawrence of Arabia.”

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: December 12, 1914 Here’s a short, cryptic note from our December 12, 1914, issue, about scientific work being carried out in the Middle East: “Survey of Southern Palestine.—A considerable amount of surveying and exploration has recently been done along the southern frontier of Palestine under [...]

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    Battleships and Diplomacy, 1914

    SMS Goeben, a German battle-cruiser transferred in 1914 to the navy of the Ottoman Empire under diplomatically dubious circumstances and renamed the Yavûz Sultân Selîm. The ship here flies the Ottoman flag.

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: December 5, 1914 Two ships from the German navy had an outsize part in the history of the First World War: the Goeben and Breslau. Our coverage in the December 5, 1914, issue gives a description of them—size and guns and whatnot—and hints at their [...]

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    Battleship Disaster Coverup, 1914

    HMS Audacious as she looked in her prime, commissioned in August 1913: a powerful modern battleship of 23,000 tons, armed with a main battery of ten 13.5-inch guns.

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: November 28, 1914 On this date 100 years ago Scientific American reported on the sinking of HMS Audacious, one of the British Royal Navy’s most modern “dreadnoughts”—the largest and most powerful battleships in existance in 1914. Only one man died, but the loss of the [...]

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    Care of the Wounded, 1914

    Dogs for medical use: “Major Richardson of the British army and two of the famous hounds that he has trained for Red Cross work on the battlefield.” Image: Scientific American, November 21, 1914

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: November 21, 1914 From the Scientific American Supplement issue of November 21, 1914, we note, “The first object of an army in war is to disperse or destroy the enemy, but a correlative duty is the care of its own men when wounded or otherwise [...]

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    The Ferocity of Artillery, 1914

    French fort at Maubeuge: rotating turret hit with a large-caliber German shell. The armored cupola, containing two guns, was apparently split and the top blown off. The two soldiers standing on the shattered cupola are German.  Image: Scientific American, November 14, 1914

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: November 14, 1914 The tactical use of artillery had been evolving in the years before the Great War: In South Africa in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 the British developed the concept of the “creeping barrage,” where a curtain of shellfire proceeded just in front [...]

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    The Surprisingly Lethal Submarine, 1914

    The cruiser HMS Hogue is struck by a torpedo, detonating the stores of ammunition aboard. Perhaps the image is overly dramatic, but it is a testament to the changed perception of the power of the submarine. Image: Scientific American, November 7, 1914

    Reported in Scientific American this week in World War I, November 7, 1914 Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the man who built up the Imperial Navy of Germany, had dismissed submarines as a waste of money back in 1901. By the time the Great War broke out the British had at least three times as many [...]

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    Military Strategy, 1914: Avoid a Knockout Blow

    Crystal Palace: This large exhibition space was taken over by the British Government to house recruits for a rapidly expanding Royal Navy in 1914. The men slept in traditional British naval hammocks. Image: Scientific American, October 31, 1914

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: October 31, 1914 The articles by “The Military Correspondent of the Scientific American” were probably written by an American army officer. He shows a remarkably good grasp of the wider strategies being pursued at the time by the Allies and the Central Powers. His articles [...]

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    Letters from the Firing Line, 1914

    “Bivouac on the allied line.” French infantry sleeping in a comfortable haystack on some field in France; their rifles, packs and other accouterments carefully stacked at the ready in the hay.

    Reported in Scientific American This Week in World War I: October 24, 1914 This article, “Letters from the Firing Line,” is bylined “By an Officer in the French Army—Special War Correspondent of the Scientific American.” The short biography describes an “artist as well as an officer.” The drawings here (see illustrations) may have been the [...]

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    Censorship and Armored Cars, Circa 1914


    This Week in World War I: October 17, 1914 The cover wrap of the issue has a painting of an armored car, charging into—surely not running away from!—some battle, gun blazing. There’s a boisterous quality to the image: it looks like some fictional illustration from the “Boy’s Own Guide…” to derring-do in the Great War. [...]

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