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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.
  • 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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    Aerial Spy, 100 Years before Drones

    pigeon with a camera

    Reported in Scientific American This Week in World War I: October 10, 1914 Drones are at the forefront of warfare in the 21st century. These unarmed and unpiloted aircraft, big and small, circle far above the battlefield, collecting images and reporting back to headquarters, electronically. In 1914, early on in the new Great War, one [...]

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    The Dash of Cavalry in the Great War

    WWI Cavalry

    Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: October 3, 1914 The opening weeks of the First World War saw sweeping movements of vast armies. Generals seeking quick tactical victories hoped to outflank or “pierce” or “break through” the enemy’s line, and then exploit this success by sending cavalry charging through the breach [...]

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    Antwerp, 1914: New Technology, Civilian Targets

    Antwerp bombing

    Reported in Scientific American—This Week in World War I: September 19, 1914 The Belgian field army retreated into the fortified city of Antwerp only 16 days after the Germans had invaded. During the German assault on the city, they dropped several bombs from a Zeppelin. Aiming was really nonexistent and the results were useless from [...]

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    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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