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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.
  • The Zeppelin Earns a Fearsome Reputation, 1915

    German civilian Zeppelin “Viktoria Luise.” After war broke out it became the military “LZ-11.” Image: Scientific American Supplement, March 27, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: March 27, 1915 Airships with rigid frames were developed by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin of Germany starting in the late 19th century. He had envisaged them being used in a viable business for mail delivery, fee-paying travellers and sight-seers—and also for military use. After the [...]

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    Naval Attack on the Dardanelles: Prelude to a Disaster, 1915

    French battleship “Bouvet.” The ship attacked Turkish forts in the Dardanelles and was sunk by a mine on March 18, with a disastrous loss of life. Image: Scientific American, March 20, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: March 20, 1915 The report published in this issue from a century ago delivers a robustly optimistic outlook on the Allied attack on Turkish territory at the entrance to the waterway between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean: “If the great Mahan were living to-day [...]

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    Magnets of Mercy Treat War Injuries, 1915

    Demonstrating how a powerful electromagnet could extract steel shell splinters from wounded men. Image: Scientific American, March 6, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: March 13, 1915 In a war that was defined by the mass production of war supplies, the great manufacturing center of Pittsburgh, Pa., was already an important source of matériel for all the armies involved: “Pittsburgh’s great industrial plants are furnishing practically all the barbed [...]

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    The Big Guns, 1915

    A 42-centimeter German shell that failed to explode, displayed as a trophy by the French. Image: Scientific American, July 17, 1915

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: March 6, 1915 World War I was an artillery war. Even as new technology—tanks, airplanes, submarines and poison gas—changed the nature of fighting, it was the power of mass manufacturing that had the most profound effect on the conduct of war. The size and number [...]

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    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 at Sea and on Land, 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 Defends Belgium, 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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