Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/April 1897/Experiments on the Physiology of Alcohol II


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By C. F. HODGE, Ph. D.,



IT may be well to call to mind the title of this paper, which is experiments upon the physiological influence of alcohol. We purpose to adhere closely to "experiments" and to "physiology." Dogs could be killed in a few minutes, or a few days or months, by sufficiently large doses of alcohol. While such experiments might have some interest to toxicology or pathology, they could not have much for physiology, because in such violent procedures the abnormal must greatly overshadow the normal functions of the animal.

April 27, 1805, I obtained two pairs of cocker-spaniel puppies: the males, brothers from the same litter; the females, sisters from a not-closely related litter.[1] All four happened to have been born February 22, 1895. They were as nearly alike as it was possible to get them. The males are black, the females red.

It will save time and confusion if we christen them at this point, and use their respective names in our subsequent descriptions. The sisters were named "Topsy" and "Tipsy," the males "Nig" and "Bum." The names are sufficiently suggestive to

Bum. Tipsy. Nig. Topsy.
Fig. 6.—November 27, 1895.

enable the reader to carry easily in mind which ones are given the alcohol and which are normal.

April 29th, they weighed as follows:

Tipsy 2,102 grammes. Bum 2,179 grammes.
Topsy 2,150 " Nig 1,556 "

For about two weeks the four were studied with reference to deciding which pair to treat with alcohol. Of the sisters, Tipsy was considerably the more active and playful; of the brothers, Nig was the livelier. Bum, at the time, is noted as being a little "shy and quiet." Otherwise he appeared considerably superior in health, vigor, and "points." Nig's already deficient growth—since dwarfing is one of the important points about which the experiment turns—finally decided the matter, viz., to give the alcohol to Tipsy and Bum.

The administration of alcohol was begun May 12th, six cubic centimetres of chemically pure alcohol, diluted to forty per cent with water and mixed with their breakfast, being given to Tipsy and Bum. No appreciable effect was produced. Accordingly, the

Fig. 7.—Growth of the Dogs.

dose was increased daily until May 24th, when they received twenty-five cubic centimetres apiece. This caused rather pronounced intoxication, but nothing approaching stupor. Both dogs appeared next morning as bright and playful as ever.

My intention at this time was to run the experiment along the line of light daily intoxication, but, with Dr. Billings's concurrence, what seemed to be a better physiological limit was adopted.[2] It was decided to give as large doses as possible, short of producing noticeable symptoms of intoxication. Accordingly, the amount was reduced to fifteen cubic centimetres, which was increased to twenty cubic centimetres by June 10th, and thereafter, as the dogs grew, up to thirty-five cubic centimetres apiece by the following January. As seen from the chart, Fig. 7, they have practically attained their growth at this time. During the following year it was possible to increase the dose only five cubic centimetres—to the amount given at present. February 21, 1897, Bum's weight was 9,950 and Tipsy's 10,060 grammes. It thus appears that the physiological limit for a non-intoxicant dose of alcohol in the case of our dogs is about four cubic centimetres per kilogramme.

It is readily seen that this amount is equivalent for a man weighing seventy kilogrammes to two hundred and eighty cubic centimetres daily and taken at a single dose. This is ten ounces, whereas the physiological limit for man is usually stated as two ounces. This, of course, refers to absolute alcohol, and corresponds to nearly three times the amount of moderately strong whisky. It may be contended that this is too much or too little, but it still seems to me that no better rule could have been followed

Bum. Tipsy. Nig.
Fig. 8.—April, 1896.

in the matter. While it may not be the golden physiological mean, it would seem to be safely within the physiological extreme, as the perfect general health of the dogs has shown.

As to details of feeding, each dog receives, in a separate dish equal quantities of solid food and milk at six o'clock in the evening. The alcohol is thoroughly mixed with this meal. In the morning, each is given half a Spratt biscuit. This forms the

Bum. Nig.
Fig. 9.—October, 1896.

staple diet, but is generously fortified with good meat, both raw and cooked, and plenty of good gnawing bones.

A large, sunny yard, kept clean; a good, dry kennel, and good kennel hygiene, including frequent disinfection; clean, cool water, three times a day in hot weather; dry beds with plenty of clean straw and sawdust; careful and regular attention to parasites, both internal and external—all these things have conspired to render the experiment thus far physiologically ideal.

The dogs were weighed, always before their breakfast, at first daily; later, every week. Their respective lines in Fig. 7 tell the story of their growth at a glance. Until nine months of age. Bum remains heavier than Nig. Topsy is evidently destined to be a much smaller dog than her sister. February 31, 1807, they weighed as follows:

Nig 10,520 grammes. Topsy II 10,630 grammes.
Bum 9,950 " Tipsy 10,060 "

Both the alcoholics are thus seen to be a little lighter than their controls, 5·4 per cert. This does give a small margin in favor of the normal animals, but it is doubtful whether four puppies would be found to grow under normal conditions more uniformly and come out more evenly at the end of two years. It would certainly be straining a point to claim any "stunting" effect of alcohol administered as above described.

For the general setting of the experiment, it only remains for me to add that, barring the accidental death of Topsy, and a trifling exception in Bum's case, the health of all the dogs has been perfect from the beginning of the experiment up to the present. Tipsy and Bum have not always eaten all that was offered them, possibly because so much quieter than the normals, but practically none of the dogs has "missed a meal."

Again, by a substantial favor on the part of Mr. Browning, I was able to obtain Topsy II, also Tipsy's sister, from the same litter. While Topsy II has thus had a somewhat different life for a time, in form and weight she makes a much more comparable match for Tipsy—so that, hard as it seemed at the time, "Little" Topsy's death has undoubtedly resulted in a fairer setting for the experiment.

So much, then, for the side of purely physical growth, and there is in it little consolation for those who are wont to recite the "stunting" and the disease-inducing effects of alcoholic indulgence. But we are engaged in a search for truth, and not for consolation.

Still another line of physical evidence remains to be examined, which bears closely upon the deepest psychic functions of animal life.

What is the sexual and reproductive history of our animals?

Sexual periods are indicated upon the chart, and stars occurring in Topsy's and Tipsy's curves of growth signify whelping, the number of stars corresponding with the number of whelps. From the chart we may read that Tipsy failed to conceive at the first season, while Topsy conceived normally. Mr. Browning has investigated the matter for me both in his own and other kennels, and is able to state that failure under these conditions is rare, probably not occurring

Fig. 10.—Tipsy, October, 1896.

in ten per cent of the cases. Controlled as the experiment is, this may indicate a tendency in alcoholic animals toward sterility. But, reading further along in the chart, we are forced to yield all benefits of this doubt when we find Tipsy bringing into the world no less than seven puppies. Since completing this draft of the chart, Topsy II has whelped for the first time, October 27th, giving birth to five, and Tipsy has whelped a second time, giving birth again to seven.

Comparing the puppies of the first litters, Tipsy's weighed together 1,470 grammes, averaging 210, and Topsy's 1,080, averaging 216 grammes. Topsy also had the smallest puppy born—120 grammes—Tipsy's smallest weighing 190. Tipsy has also the honor of owning the largest puppy born, 265 grammes, Topsy's largest weighing 260. The last one of Tipsy's whelps was born dead; all of Topsy's were born live.

Both Demme[3] for man, by comparing normal with alcoholic families among the Swiss, and Mairet and Combemale[4] in experimentsFig. 11.—Topsy, October, 1896.upon dogs, have attempted to prove that deformity, degeneration, involving especially the brain, and a number of abnormities of a nervous character may be caused by chronic alcoholism of the parents. We have also Morel's[5] account, so often quoted, of degeneration in an alcoholic family to idiocy and extinction in the fourth generation.

With these things in mind, it is of interest to note that two of Tipsy's puppies were hare-lipped on both sides, a serious deformity of the face. All of Topsy's puppies were normally developed. This might be interpreted as confirmation of the above authors. However, practically all the value of such complicated experiments depends on repetition and upon adequate controls. The smallest puppy of Topsy II presented the same abnormity in exaggerated degree.

From the first litters each mother has thus to her credit four healthy living puppies, and Tipsy's are in no wise inferior. In Tipsy's second litter, February 1, 1897, three were deformed, two were born dead, and the remaining two proved to be nonviable. This may indicate a progressive deterioration, but any interpretation of it had better be delayed until more evidence is obtained. It is sufficient to indicate that results are likely to increase in definiteness as the experiment proceeds.

At the suggestion of Dr. Billings, a confirmatory experiment was undertaken in which, instead of chemically pure alcohol, the ordinary beverages—whisky, wine, and beer—were administered. The experiment was begun with three female puppies from the same litter, half sisters to Tipsy and Topsy, obtained from Mr. Browning. These were named Frisky (whisky), Winnie (wine), and Berry (beer). It was first attempted to get them to take their respective drinks as beverages, to develop in them a liking similar to that sometimes found in man, so that it might not be necessary to give the liquors with their food. About two weeks were lost in this attempt during the first part of April. They practically refused to take enough to make the experiment worth trying. Accordingly, the doses were given, as with the others, mixed with their food at night.

The amount necessary to give in order to make the experiment at all comparable with the others, as to amount of alcohol, was such as to make their meals very wet and bulky. Curves of their growths are included with that of the others in Fig. 7. They are seen to grow well from April to June, Berry falling considerably behind. They then came down with eczema, Berry having it worst, Winnie somewhat lighter. Frisky not quite so bad as either. I do not feel warranted in attributing this to either the liquors employed or to kennel management, for no trace of the disease had made its appearance before or with any of the other dogs. It certainly could not be considered an alcohol effect, for the largest dose of beer, 125 grammes, that Berry could take contained no more than 5·5 grammes of alcohol (the beer contained

Tipsy. Topsy II.
Fig. 12.—October, 1896.

4·3 per cent). I am strongly inclined to think that both the eczema and the scrawny growth of all three puppies is to be attributed mainly to their sloppy food i. e., a water effect. A number of books on the care of dogs caution strongly against making the food of puppies "sloppy," danger of causing eczema being one of the chief grounds. On the whole. Frisky and Winnie are seen to have grown a trifle faster than Tipsy, which would indicate the absence of deleterious ingredients in the wine and

Frisky. Winnie. Berry.
Fig. 13.—October, 1896.

whisky. They were bright, promising puppies to begin with, but they have grown into a sorry-looking lot, as is witnessed by Fig. 13.

After all, the only true physiological expression of the value of an animal's or a man's life is the total amount of energy developed and utilized during its continuance; and while, in order to attain to a proper relation to the energy material around it, it becomes necessary for the animal to develop a certain mechanism of this or that size and form, and with such and such parts, still as little energy as possible is wasted in forming the machine. An animal dead, in the chemical composition of its body, contains but a small fraction of the energy which it is able to utilize during its lifetime, and even the greater part of this is contained in the food from which its body was formed. This fraction, possibly one one-thousandth, whatever it may be, would give us the first adequate expression ever obtained of the relative values of human anatomy to human physiology, of the physical body and the life work.

Thus, in our purely physical and anatomical analysis of the experiment so far, we have studied only this small fraction of the whole life story even of a dog. In going on to the side of function, the psychic-volitional side of life, we are at once met by the difficulty of lacking terms and measures with which to express in verbal descriptions but a small fraction of the truth.

This has been my reason for supplementing descriptions with as many photographs as possible. And if the reader will study closely the expression of each face through the whole series, especially if he be somewhat familiar with dogs' faces, he will get the best idea that I am able to give by any expression within my power of the difference between the alcoholic and normal dogs in just this important respect, the vigor, the "life," the "go" that is in them. Look at the faces in Figs. 6, 8, and 14, and in all the rest, and come to any conclusion you can or wish. It will not be possible for me to say anything which shall change it.

It was not until alcohol had been given for nearly two months, early in July, that it became quite noticeable that Tipsy and Bum were a little quieter than the others. This became gradually more marked. By September they were rather often caught napping in the shade, while Topsy and Nig were playing actively. They had developed also a cringing, trembling timidity, for which

Bum. Tipsy. Nig. Topsy II.
Fig. 14.—October, 1896.

nothing either in my treatment of them or in their relations to the other dogs could possibly account. Whipping was most carefully avoided from the first, a spat from the open hand being my limit of severity. If a switch was used, it was to strike the ground or the fence and not the dog. Practically they have received nothing but assuring caresses at my hand, and still this unaccountable fear, this cringing and trembling like a Chinese culprit before his executioner. (See Figs. 15, 16, and 17.[6])

Some may contend that the dogs were not comparable in the first place. This, of course, is possible, but I do not feel that in this respect the experiment could have been improved upon. The

Fig. 15.—Bum, November, 1895.

presumption is, in fact, very strong against any such interpretation of the facts.

I can conceive of no other interpretation than the evident one, viz., that we have to do here with one of the physiological causes or conditions of fear. There may, of course, be many others. Magnan[7] obtained precisely similar results with his alcoholic dog, much more extreme, because he gave much larger doses. The literature of human insanity makes fear a characteristic psychosis in alcoholic insanity,[8] and delirium tremens is probably the most terrible fear psychosis known. Even with the amounts of alcohol given. Bum has shown several mild paroxysms of fear, with some evidence also of hallucinations.

I am unable, therefore, to escape the conviction that our experiment has a meaning as deep as the psychology of fear itself. As to how deep that is, we may hope to learn something in studies that are now being prosecuted.[9]

As to temper and disposition, neither the breed nor the individual dogs can leave anything to be desired. Aside from their timidity, I can not recall that either Bum or Tipsy were ever even "impolite" toward me. They have never shown the least

Fig. 16. Tipsy, November, 1895.

bit of resentment or snappishness. Not so much can be said for either of the Topsys or for Nig. But they are much more cheerful. The tone of sadness, the same as is noted in Magnan's dog. so well shown in many of the pictures, is characteristic for Tipsy and Bum. It can be lightened up at times so as hardly to be recognized, but still it is the prevailing tone.

Neither of the pair, however, even yet lacks spirit, when it comes to maintaining their rights in the kennel; and for months after their characteristic timidity was noticed both Tipsy and Bum were larger and stronger than their mates, and held the balance of power.

Jealousy, amounting almost to frenzy, has been a striking feature in both the Topsys. They both showed great distress, especially when I petted Tipsy. Nig has something of the same kind strongly developed, but is too noble to show any spite toward the other dog. However, if he is around and I stoop to pat Bum on the head. Nig generally manages to get his head there in time to catch the pat. So I am obliged to use both hands, and Bum has never given evidence of the least jealousy even

Fig. 17.—Daily Activity.

under Nig's provoking interference. Nor has Tipsy ever evinced a trace of the emotion.

The development of intelligence is a wide field in which it will be possible to touch but a few points.

At first I had intended to test this by ability to learn tricks. The idea was abandoned for two reasons. First, it would absorb too much of my time; and, second, after reading Mr. Russell's[10] paper on child study, I decided that it was just the thing not to do. By that method we might have learned trick psychology when the thing of real value for us is the spontaneous, uninterfered-with psychic growth of a dog.

Some few things had to be taught, such as coming at call and whistle and individual names, and retrieving was taught for a special purpose to be mentioned later. In addition to this, the trick specialties began to crop out during the first summer. Tipsy, always the lithest and quickest, became expert in jumping and catching on the fly. Bum, all of his own accord, took to sitting up and "begging." Little Topsy would sit up and "speak." Nig did not develop any specialty, and never really discovered his mission in life until he was taught to "fetch." As to the learning itself. Bum and Tipsy were about as quick and much more docile than Topsy and Nig.

It was stated above that during the second month after administration of alcohol spontaneous activity of both Tipsy and Bum became noticeably impaired. This gradually and steadily increased until, last spring, it seemed to me from daily observation that the alcoholics were not much more than half as active as the normals. How to secure an objective expression of this fact presented some difficulties at first. To put them in large recording cages, such as we use in the laboratory to study the daily activity of rats and mice, would clearly be an imposition on a dog's good nature, and would possibly suppress his activity in proportion to his intelligence. To watch four dogs during the twenty-four hours would require four observers, and their presence would be a disturbing factor.

Pedometers were thought of, but none could be found suitably constructed for use with the dogs. Finally, Waterbury watches were obtained and, by removing the hair springs, weighting the balance wheels unequally, and by proper adjustment of buffing pins so that the balance wheel could move just far enough to release the escapement, a watch resulted which ran only when shaken. After a month of preliminary trials an adjustment was attained so delicate that the watch could hardly be jarred so slightly as not to release the escapement one tooth, and the two could be shaken, violently or gently, and in any position for an hour at a time (fastened firmly together) without showing a variation of more than two seconds on reading the hands.[11]

The watches are now placed in stout leather pockets in specially constructed collars and the dogs allowed to wear them. The results are graphically expressed in Fig. 17. The watches were read every evening at exactly six o'clock, and the reading plotted so that the angles in the lines for each dog correspond to the number of minutes the dog has ticked his watch during the twenty-four hours. The chart explains itself. Bum is seen to develop seventy-one per cent of Nig's activity, and Tipsy only fifty-seven per cent of Topsy's.

The watches, of course, give us only the total quantity of spontaneous daily movement of each dog with no indication as to its quality. Something to give a qualitative expression of strength, ability, and resistance to fatigue was devised, which consisted in a series of competitive tests at retrieving a ball.

Fig. 18. Curve of Efficiency (Competitive). In a difficult competitive test calling for endurance, sustained attention, etc., the alcoholic falls much lower relatively than in ordinary daily activity, Bum attaining to only thirty-two per cent of Nig's efficiency.

The balls were thrown in rapid succession across the university gymnasium, one hundred feet, and a record was kept of the dogs that started for it and of the one that succeeded in bringing it back. One hundred balls constituted a test, and to throw them consumed about fifty minutes.

In the first series, consisting of 1,400 balls thrown on successive days, January, 1896, the normal dogs retrieved 923, the alcoholics 478. This gives the alcoholics an efficiency of only 51·9 per cent as compared with the normals. Bum's ability in this series as compared with Nig's is only thirty-two per cent.[12] (See Fig. 18.) It was also noted that Bum and Tipsy were much more easily fatigued than the normals.

A second series, of 1,000 balls, November, 1896, in which Bum and Nig were tested, gave similar results. The various elements of the experiment are plotted in Fig. 19. The heavy lines, N and B, above the zero level express the relative efficiency of Nig and Bum, and indicate the number of balls retrieved by each dog. The light lines, n and b, express the number of times each dog attempted to get the ball. Nig's line of achievement is seen to run much closer to his line of attempt than in the case of Bum. Fatigue is expressed below the zero line, and is derived from the number of times each dog lay down to rest. Nig shows fifteen per cent of Bum's fatigue. Expressed in other words, Bum lies down to rest 67 times to Nig's once.

It is clear that we must advance beyond the usual anatomical standards of comparison into the field of function, if we are to arrive at any definite settlement of physiological questions. Efficiency, ability to do work, must be the ultimate appeal. While nothing is further from my thought than to claim for the foregoing experiments sufficient comprehensiveness to even approximate to a solution of this important problem, still, as stated at the outset, their results may serve to hint at the possibilities of future work. The experiments are still in progress, their continuance being assured for one more year by the Committee of Fifty. It is to be hoped that they can be carried on much longer, to yield, at least, the complete life story of the original four dogs. The

Fig. 19.—Chart of Bail Tests.

present opportunity should also be utilized to study the next generation in a similar way, if there should appear marked signs of degeneration. Results are certain to increase in definiteness and value as the experiment is prolonged out of all proportion to additional cost.

On the side of physiological activity, while a number of other forms should be studied, and experiments need repetition to guard against individual variations, the results obtained—retardation in growth of yeast, and depression of activity in kittens and dogs—cast a suggestive light on the human experiment. The spontaneous desire and the will welling up within a vigorous organism to be and to do something worth the while seems to me the highest thing in life. Hence knowledge concerning physiological conditions which favor elaboration of this quintessence of existence possesses a human value beyond computation or expression,

Helmholtz has said, in describing his methods of work, that slight indulgence in alcoholic drinks dispelled instantly his best ideas. Prof. Gaule once told the writer, as an experiment during the strain of his "Staatsexamen," that he suddenly stopped his wine and beer, and was surprised to find how much better he could work. An eminent professor in Leipsic once said that the German students could do "twice the amount of work" ("könnten zweimal so viel leisten") if they would let their beer alone. Dr. August Smith[13] has found that moderate nonintoxicant doses of alcohol (forty to eighty cubic centimetres daily) lowered psychic ability to memorize as much as seventy per cent. Leixner[14] observes "dass der Alcohol den Menschen geistig so herunterbringt, dass er schliesslich nichts mehr kann, wie politisieren." Possibly the trouble with a good deal of our politics in this country.

But we must be careful about drawing too sweeping conclusions. A man "in the habit" may be unable to do anything without his usual stimulant. This fact must be recognized. And if, according to the theories of some, acquired characters may descend to the offspring, "inherited" habit may also require consideration. At any rate, we must cease to expect that problems which have baffled human solution for generations can be settled in a day or a year. They can be sanely solved only by the accumulation of wholly impartial evidence, sufficient in amount to determine conviction.

Truly to me

There seems to be
A kinship close
Wherever flows

Life's activity.

  1. The dogs were obtained from Mr. C. G. Browning, of Worcester, to whom I am under great obligations for assistance and advice as to kennel management. Tipsy and Topsy were bred by him. Nig and Bum he kindly obtained for me from the Swiss Mountain Kennels at Germantown, Pa., bred by Mrs. Smyth. Considerable expense was involved in getting such good stock, but a number of considerations seemed to render it advisable. In no other way could such uniformity and comparability have been attained. The heredity of mongrels could not have been traced, in case anything of interest should crop out in that important field. In this connection I wish to express my thanks to both Mrs. Smyth and Mr. Browning for valuable aid already received, and for their cordial assurances of help in future, should later developments require it. Another consideration, which weighed somewhat with me, was that in the resident part of the city I could hardly expect to have a kennel of mongrel curs tolerated for the necessary length of time. Intelligence, too, was a prime consideration. For this, as well as for good disposition, these dogs could leave nothing to be desired. In selecting this breed I feel that the choice was made more wisely or more fortunately than I knew.
  2. For the suggestion as to the proper physiological limit, I am happy to acknowledge my indebtedness to Mrs. Hodge. At the time when Tipsy and Bum were first intoxicated, the only time they have been intoxicated, Mrs. Hodge not only suggested the physiological limit, but went to considerable pains of argument to turn me from my avowed purpose of "getting the greatest physiological (?) effect in the shortest time." This has been a prime defect of similar work in the past, and whatever of value may attach to the present research I consider as mainly due to this suggestion.
  3. Demme. Ueber den Einfluss des Alcohols auf den Organismus des Kindes. Stuttgart, 1891.
  4. Mairet et Combemale. Influence degenerative de l'Alcool sur la Descendance. Compt. rend., cxi, 667, 1888.
  5. Morel. Traité des Dégénérescences de l'Espèce humaine. Paris, 1857, p. 125.
  6. For want of space we are obliged to omit the two figures with which it was intended these should be compared. They represent Nig and Topsy sidewise, standing naturally, and with no signs of fear. A word may not be amiss at just this point as to my method of obtaining the photographs. Mr. C. C. Stewart manipulated the camera, while I controlled the dogs, in procuring the negatives for Figs. (5 and 8. All the rest I took myself, most of them alone, a few with Mrs. Hodge's help. It was recognized from the first that all the dogs must be treated exactly alike, and the rule was laid down at the beginning that, no matter how badly they behaved, no spatting, not even a sharp word, should be indulged in while they were on the photographing stand. The whole procedure was given the character of a frolic, in which, when they "sat still and looked pretty," bits of meat or biscuit were given to all alike, and no punishment or reproof was administered on any account. I may have failed unconsciously, but, if I did, it was with the irrepressibles, Topsy and Nig, and not with Tipsy or Bum. Furthermore, nothing of the nature of "intoxication effect" was possible in any of the photographs. As stated above, the dogs were given their alcohol at evening, and then not in doses sufficient to produce intoxication, and the pictures were taken about noon. And, further, for several of the pictures, notably 6, 8, 14, and 15), alcohol was purposely omitted the night before.
  7. Magnan, V. On Alcoholism. London: Greenfield, 1876, p. 18 ff.
  8. Mobius, P. J. Nervenkrankheiten. Leipzig, 1893, p. 74 ff.
  9. G. Stanley Hall. Children's Fears. American Journal of Psychology, viii. No. 2.
  10. E. Harlow Russell. The Study of Children at the State Normal, Worcester, Mass., Pedagogical Seminary, ii, p. 343.
  11. For valuable assistance in accomplishing this adjustment I wish to express my thans to Mr. Albert P. Willis, Fellow in Physics, Clark University.
  12. The results from Topsy and Tipsy were not comparable, on account of Topsy's condition at the time.
  13. August Smith. Die Alcoholfrage. Tübingen, 1895.
  14. Leixner. Laien-Predigten für das deutsche Haus. Berlin, 1894.