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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, and also copyedits for the magazine. He is a keen student of the history of technology and the role of science in the service of humanity.
  • Needs of the New War: Fresh Aviators and Novel Tactics

    airmen training

    Reported in Scientific American: This Week in World War I: September 19, 1914 The first few weeks of the Great War in Europe had convincingly shown the value of aircraft for reconnaissance work. The technology was brand new: workable airplanes were an invention less than ten years old. Armies scrambled to set up a steady [...]

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    First Sea Battle of World War I

    HMS Laurel

    Reported in Scientific American this Week in World War I: September 12, 1914 The Battle of Heligoland Bight took place in the North Sea on August 28, 1914. Reports of the fight took a couple of weeks to make it into print. The battle was a convincing victory by the British Royal Navy against the [...]

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    This Week in World War I: September 5, 1914

    The original caption from 1914 says “Foraging squad returning to camp with a drove of steers,” and shows French soldiers gathering supplies for their brigade. The image seems authentic but is very likely a photograph taken “somewhere in France” far from the front lines. Credit: Scientific American, September 5, 1914

    Censored: How the Army Eats In this issue, a telling line reads: “The censors have not allowed the press of the world to state whether or not explosives were dropped on the fortifications of Liège.” This special “War Issue” contained much on military theory, organization and resources, but apart from a scattering of images little [...]

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    This Week in World War I: August 29, 1914


    A Monstrous Paradox In the late 19th and early 20th century before the Great War broke out, Germany (which had become unified only in 1871) could be held up as a shining example of how science and the arts (philosophy, music, painting) could help a country prosper, grow and become civilized. Early on in the [...]

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    This Week in World War I: August 22, 1914

    A week’s rations for the German army, or as near as could be calculated by the editors of Scientific American in 1914. Credit: Scientific American, August 22, 1914

    The Vast Scale of War When the Great War broke out the scale of it was unprecedented. Citizens, soldiers and governments alike tried to grasp the sheer immense numbers of combatants and materièl involved. One article that we published shortly after the war started presented an “infographic”: the volume of the amount of food eaten [...]

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    This Week in World War I: August 15, 1914

    Germany’s Opening Gambit The German attack on Belgium and France, starting on August 4, 1914, was designed to deliver a crushing blow to the French armies before the Russians and British could mobilize; after defeating the French, the Germans planned to use their extensive railway system to rush their forces to the eastern front to [...]

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    This Week in World War I: August 2 – 8, 1914

    Searchlights of the German fleet turn night into day. Scientific American, August 15, 1914

    The Outbreak of War Reported 100 years ago in Scientific American The invasion of Belgium by the German army, in a bid to outflank French forces, led to Britain declaring war on Germany this week a century ago. The outbreak of a widespread war in 1914 took many people by surprise. That reaction was evident [...]

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    1915 Warning: Beware of Used-Car Salesmen

    old car with doors open

    Suspicion of used-car dealers has a long history in the U.S. if an article in a 1915 supplement to Scientific American is any guide. The story, “Buying a Second-Hand Automobile,” by Victor W. Pagé, runs for more than 3,000 words, recalling one horror story in detail and giving loads of advice on how to avoid [...]

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    Happy 100th Birthday to the Crossword

    inboxex part of grid Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 4.11.06 PM

    On this day a hundred years ago, a journalist named Arthur Wynne published what is widely regarded as the first modern crossword puzzle. It appeared in the New York World, where it was called a “Word-Cross Puzzle.” By the 1930s most newspapers in America featured the games as well. Scientific American put a toe in [...]

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    Will the Real Christopher Columbus Please Stand Up?

    A portrait of Columbus attributed to Titian in 1893

    In 1893, Scientific American and other publications reported evidence that a true likeness, produced by none other than the Italian artist Titian, had been found

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