Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/669

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
653
ELECTROMANIA.

London and Birmingham Railway Station, displaying a first-class passenger with a box-seat on the roof of the carriage, and followed by an account of the trip to Boxmoor, the first installment of the London and Northwestern Railway. It tells us that, "the time of starting having arrived, the doors of the carriages are closed, and, by the assistance of the conductors, the train is moved on a short distance toward the first bridge, where it is met by an engine, which conducts it up the inclined plane as far as Chalk Farm. Between the canal and this spot stands the station-house for the engines; here, also, are fixed the engines which are to be employed in drawing the carriages up the inclined plane from Euston quare, by a rope upward of a mile in length, the cost of which was upward of £400." After describing the next change of engines, in the same matter-of-course way as the changing of stage-coach horses, the narrative proceeds to say that "entering the tunnel from broad daylight to perfect darkness has an exceedingly novel effect."

I make these parallel quotations for the benefit of those who imagine that electricity is making such vastly greater strides than other sources of power. I well remember making this journey to Boxmoor, and four or five years later traveling on a circular electro-magnetic railway. Comparing that electric railway with those now exhibiting, and comparing the Boxmoor trip with the present work of the London and Northwestern Railway, I have no hesitation in affirming that the rate of progress in electro-locomotion during the last forty years has been far smaller than that of steam.

The leading fallacy which is urging the electro-maniacs of the present time to their ruinous investments is the idea that electro-motors are novelties, and that electric-lighting is in its infancy; while gas-lighting is regarded as an old or mature middle-aged business, and therefore we are to expect a marvelous growth of the infant and no further progress of the adult. These excited speculators do not appear to be aware of the fact that electric-lighting is older than gas-lighting; that Sir Humphry Davy exhibited the electric light in Albemarle Street, while London was still dimly lighted by oil-lamps, and long before gas-lighting was attempted anywhere. The lamp used by Sir Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution, at the beginning of the present century, was an arrangement of two carbon pencils, between which was formed the "electric arc" by the intensely vivid incandescence and combustion of the particles of carbon passing between the solid carbon electrodes. The light exhibited by Davy was incomparably more brilliant than anything that has been lately shown either in London, or Paris, or at Sydenham. His arc was four inches in length, the carbon pencils were four inches apart, and a broad, dazzling arch of light bridged the whole space between. The modern arc-lights are but pygmies, mere specs, compared with this, a leap of one eighth or one quarter inch constituting their maximum achievement.