We live in an age of progress. The additions to our knowledge made during the last fifty years seem to excel in utility and lasting benefits the knowledge acquired in centuries. Popular belief is that the possibilities of progress in all directions are unlimited. Those who should know, think that in mechanics we have nearly reached the limit which theory, well established, places before us. The steam-engine, using but one tenth of the power to be obtained from the coal, is nearer its limit than most people imagine.
The science of the future is undoubtedly in chemistry, and our great discoveries and greatest progress will be in that science. Mechanics may hereafter expect to take a secondary part. In the iron industry chemistry and mechanics have stood side by side; chemistry generally propounds the problems, pointing the way to the chemical solution, and calling upon mechanics to devise means for carrying out the undertaking.
One of the most notable features of modern industrial progress is the utilization of what has always been considered waste material. This is done by devising and constructing special machinery to meet the case. Sometimes costly experiments are necessary; but, in this age of speculation, those who gain the prizes offered in legitimate business are those who are willing to accept ventures involving large risks. There is no limit to human wants, and the industrial expansion we are engaged in will not be restricted except by the impossible.
Photography and the electric sciences are two arts of which nothing was known fifty years ago: what a gap the removal of one of these would make in our civilization to-day!
Sir Henry Bessemer's steel process has had a very marked influence on the mechanical advancement of the last half-century. Yet so closely allied are all the great steps in progress, that one can not be taken without the other, and Sir Henry was himself compelled to seek or invent numerous devices before his original steel process merited the name.
We daily complete engineering works which, in the amount of human labor they represent, far exceed the labor represented by the great Pyramid of Cheops. Undoubtedly the progress of the age, which is so largely engineering progress, does greatly increase the welfare of man. The forces of Nature now do the hard work, and the labor of the toiling millions is lightened many fold. The laboring-man now works with brain and eye, and his occupation is to direct and apply some principle of science. He now has time for improvement, comfort, and refinement; the forces of Nature having become obedient to the will of man, are made to produce for him not only plenty, but conveniences and luxuries formerly undreamed of.