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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.
  • American Fear, 1915

    U.S. Marines at the occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, 1914. Image: Scientific American, February 27, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: February 27, 1915 The size, speed and ferocity of the Great War was unprecedented. By the time this issue was published on February 27, 1915—only seven months after the war began—the vast and well-armed military forces of Europe had lost in dead and wounded 10 [...]

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    Airborne Scouts, 1915

    Aircraft scouts: Before two-way radio was developed, it was suggested that an Edison recording machine might be useful for airplane observers. Image: Scientific American, February 20, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: February 20, 1915 The usefulness of scouting from the air had been demonstrated in the early days of the Great War. But gathering information from an airplane is one thing; it is another thing to give that information to people on the ground who could [...]

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    Air Defenses Against Zeppelins, 1915

    zeppelin

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: February 13, 1915 German Zeppelins (airships with rigid frames) bombed Liège, Belgium, on August 6, 1914, only a few days after the Great War broke out. Over the next few weeks, Zeppelins carried out raids throughout Europe on military and civilian targets. The actual damage [...]

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    Deception and Camouflage, 1915

    German commerce-raider SMS “Emden” added a fourth, dummy, funnel to look more like a British ship. The ruse worked well. Image: Scientific American, February 6, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: February 6, 1915 The archetypical historical scene from World War I involves straight-ahead charges of huge numbers of soldiers against masses of artillery and machine guns. But those fighting the war also needed to be adept at the art and craft of subtlety, feint and [...]

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    X-Rays at War, 1915

    The most modern field medicine, 1915: a van that can provide X-rays to mobile hospitals. Image: Scientific American Supplement, January 30, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 30, 1915 X-rays were used for medical operations within a couple of months after they were discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen in late 1895. Their usefulness was also quickly recognized by military surgeons: suddenly it became easy to find broken bones, bullets and chunks of [...]

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    Fortress of Water, 1915

    “Night attack by German armored motor boats in a flooded section of Flanders” in late 1914 or early 1915.  Image: Scientific American, January 23, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 23, 1915 The cover of this issue of the magazine has a boisterous scene from the opening months of the First World War, titled “Night attack by German armored motor boats in a flooded section of Flanders.” There is no story inside relating to [...]

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    Extreme Submarine, 1915

    The Simon Lake design for the ultimate sneaky submarine: crawling around on the seafloor and nudging mines out of the way. Image: Scientific American, January 16, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 16, 1915 Before the First World War, Simon Lake designed and built some innovative submarines for the U.S. Navy—and also for the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Imperial German navies. A few months after the outbreak of the war, he seems rather smugly pleased by the [...]

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    An American Pilot at War, 1915 (Part III)

    1915-01-09-Hild3-image3MB

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 9, 1915 In this issue of Scientific American from 1915, we published the last installment of a three-part account: “War Experiences of an Air Scout: A Battle in the Clouds,” by Frederick C. Hild, an “American volunteer with the French Aviation Corps.” Hild joined [...]

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    An American Pilot at War, 1915 (Part II)

    An early aerial weapon: steel darts. Hild called them steel “pencils” or “arrows” and accurately stated “after a fall of say, 6,000 feet, they will penetrate almost anything.” However, they were not accurate when dropped from 6,000 feet and only occasionally effective. Aerial darts have been used occasionally as skyborne weapons since 1914. Image: Scientific American, January 2, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 2, 1915 In this issue of Scientific American from 1915, we published the second installment of a three-part first-hand account: “War Experiences of an Air Scout: Patrol of the Sky” by Frederick C. Hild, “American volunteer with the French Aviation Corps.” We were introduced [...]

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    An American Pilot at War, 1914 (Part I)

    Frederick C. Hild, an American volunteer in the French air forces, photographed in his issue leather coat, 1914. Image: Scientific American, December 26, 1914

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: December 26, 1914 In this issue of Scientific American from 1914, we published the first installment of a three-part first-hand account: “War Experiences of an Air Scout: The Diary of an American Volunteer With the Aviation Corps of the French Army,” by Frederick C. Hild. [...]

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