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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/159

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147
INVENTIONS AT PANAMA.

provements in machines for this kind of work are made, the financial prospects of the Panama Company will not by any such instrumentality suffer.

Inventions are one of the factors of the case. If the French can prove themselves as expert in surmounting difficulties as they were twenty years ago, the confidence with which they still apply themselves to their task will possess a stouter foundation.

The Hon. John Bigelow, in his report to the New York Chamber of Commerce, after his inspection of the work in February, 1886, expresses the opinion that it is upon this factor (inventions) that De Lesseps relies in his anticipations of early success. He adds that De Lesseps's "own remarkable experience"—referring to Suez—has taught him to look with some confidence in this direction. The question of the ultimate success of the French company might possibly hinge upon such a condition.

The French Academy of Sciences, in a report on the Panama enterprise, dated August, 1880, says, "Every great undertaking, properly conducted, brings about improvements in the processes of execution."[1]

It may not be entirely safe, even in the case of an enterprise running through ten or twelve progressive years, to count on great and radical improvements in the machinery used. On the other hand, such improvements have helped to solve some of the greatest mechanical problems of the century. Such are the Mont Cenis and St. Gothard Tunnels, and the Suez Canal. Will the Panama scheme receive a corresponding help? It is not to be denied that it has already received assistance of this sort. We proprose to consider the question of inventions, as regards each of the engineering works referred to, with reference especially to what has been done and is to be done at Panama.

We will consider, first of all, the tunnels; next, the canals.

Work upon the Mont Cenis Tunnel was begun in 1857, about two years before De Lesseps commenced operations in Egypt. The working parties in the opposite headings, French and Italian, met on Christmas-day, 1870, about a year after the inauguration of the Suez Canal. The St. Gothard Tunnel was begun after the completion of the Mont Cenis, in 1872; the headings met February 29, 1880. The length of the Mont Cenis Tunnel is over seven and a half miles; that of the St. Gothard about nine and a quarter miles. These are the longest tunnels ever constructed.

The invention, by means of which the progress of the work was facilitated, consists in the use of atmospheric air as a motor. By means of water-power, air is reduced to one sixth its ordinary bulk, and the expansive force thus acquired performs the drilling. Owing to the conditions under which tunneling is done, this method is of signal advantage. Each of the Alpine tunnels was excavated through solid

  1. "Bulletin du Canal Interocéanique," August 15, 1880.