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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.
  • 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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    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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