Popular Science Monthly/Volume 69/September 1906/The Progress of Science



The retiring commissioner of education has been so completely identified with the Bureau of Education that it is difficult to imagine the institution without the man. Dr. Eliot, at Harvard, and Dr. Harris, at Washington, have been our two great educational leaders, and when we turn to other lines of service—to the church, to medicine, to law, to journalism, to business, to politics—it is doubtful whether we can find elsewhere two men equally great. This is not a time to attempt an analysis of the work and limitations of a complex personality. It is better to quote the appreciation of a personal friend, Dr. Canfield: "He is indeed whole in himself, a common good—a man of amplest influence yet clearest of ambitious crime, our greatest yet with least pretense; rich in a saving common sense, and, as the greatest only are, in his simplicity sublime. His is the good gray head which all men know, and his the voice from which their omens all men draw. In the great battle of the public schools for sound and effective citizenship he is a tower of strength which stands foursquare to all the winds that blow."

The commissionership of education has been filled by the appointment of Dr. Elmer E. Brown, professor of education in the University of California. We may again quote, this time from the editorial pages of the Outlook: "He has shown himself to be safe and sane, philosophic in temper, practical in choice of ends and means, with unusual administrative ability, ready to take the initiative, not carried away by undue enthusiasm for novelties, yet always alert for all that marks true advancement, energetic and active and industrious, an able writer and speaker, and of a personality which makes him very acceptable in the educational world. In many ways and because of many characteristics and qualities he promises to be a worthy successor of one of the most widely revered educators this country has ever had the good fortune to enlist in its service."

No one can fill the vacancy left by Dr. Harris, but the new commissioner has a great opportunity for useful service. It is safe to say that there is no other country where public education is such an important factor in national life and at the same time no other country in which it is so completely neglected by the national government. This paradox is of course due to the fact that public education is left to state and local authorities, as was doubtless intended by the federal constitution. But wisely or otherwise, the national government has continually extended its functions. If it can examine banks, it can examine schools; if it can cooperate with states in their geological surveys, it can cooperate with them in their educational systems. As a matter of fact the constitution gives the congress power to 'provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. Under the changed conditions of modern civilization, education, science, health and well-being are far more important for the common defense and general welfare of the nation than are the army and the navy.

But apart from cooperation with the states, such as now in fact exists in the case of the Department of Agriculture and the land grant colleges of agriculture and the mechanic arts, there is ample room to strengthen the Bureau of Education. After a secretary of

commissioner of education, 1889-1906

commerce and labor has been added to the cabinet, it would be only decent to provide for a secretary of education. There is probably no other nation without a department of education. The salary of the commissioner of education is $3,500, and the powers of his office are very limited. The bureau has charge of education in Alaska and prepares an annual report containing statistics and papers on education; but this is all. It may be wise to let the work of the government for education, science and art be distributed among different departments on the financial side. But there should be cooperation and a great extension of what is now being done. The Bureau of Education is the natural center, and we may look to a great enlargement of its powers and influence in the near future.


Dimitri Mendeléeff, the greatest of Russian chemists, was born in Siberia seventy-two years ago. From 1856 till 1859 he was an instructor "at the University of St. Petersburg. After two years of study at Heidelberg, he returned to Russia in 1861. Two years later he was made professor of chemistry at the Technological Institute in St. Petersburg and was transferred to the university in 1866.

From the beginning Mendeléeff has been interested in theoretical problems. His first paper was on isomorphism. For years he worked on the relations between specific volumes and other properties. While others, notably Kopp, have worked along similar lines without making any great generalization in consequence, it must be admitted that Mendeléeff's great discovery of the periodic law seems a natural development from the earlier work.

In 1869 Mendeléeff announced that if the elements be arranged in the order cf their atomic weights, it will be found that similar variations in their chemical properties repeat themselves periodically, and that the order of the faculty of the elements to combine with other elements also corresponds with the order of their atomic weights.

Like many another important generalization, the real significance of this one is not self-evident. Before the periodic law was formulated, the atomic weights of the elements were purely empirical numbers, and it was not always easy to tell what multiple of a given value should be taken as the true atomic weight. This was changed by Mendeléeff's discovery. The periodic law made it possible to determine the atomic weights of yttrium, indium and beryllium, for instance. Mendeléeff went further than this. He pointed out that there were gaps in the table; that these must correspond to unknown elements; and that the properties of these unknown elements could be predicted from those of the known elements surrounding the gaps in the table. C allium, scandium and germanium have since been discovered and have the properties assigned to them in advance by Mendeléeff.

A more striking, though less dramatic, proof of the soundness of Mendeléeff's generalization is to be found in the fact that the inert gases of the atmosphere, argon, helium, neon, etc., find places in the classification, though the possibility of there being such substances was not suspected in 1869. It is not too much to say that the periodic law of Mendeléeff is recognized to-day as the only basis for the classification of the elements. Only two contradictions have been found in nearly forty years. The atomic weights of the elements, iodine and tellurium, should be transposed to make these substances fit into the table, and there is no place for most of the so-called rare elements. The first difficulty will disappear if any one can show that either tellurium or iodine contains an unknown impurity. It must be admitted that the chances of this are not good at present.

We can avoid the difficulty as to the rare earths by considering a group of

them as equivalent to one element. Doing this puts the rare earth elements on a somewhat different footing from the other elements. While this is justified to a certain extent by the chemical properties, it can not, in the nature of things, be a final solution. If we are not to throw over the periodic law, we must either split other so-called elements into groups of elements or we must show that certain groups of elements alone are possible. To succeed in the first would be to revolutionize chemistry. To succeed in the second would be to explain the reason for the periodic law—which would also revolutionize chemistry. Whatever the outcome, Mendeléeff's law will be for many years one of the dominant factors in chemical progress.


The agricultural appropriation bill for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1907, as finally passed by the recent session of congress, carries an appropriation of $9,932,940. Of this amount the sums appropriated for what may be termed work in applied science are distributed as follows: The Bureau of Animal Industry receives $4,029,400, but of this amount $3,000,000 are to be devoted to the meat inspection, the discussion of which has occupied so much of the time of congress and of the public press during the past few weeks; Weather Bureau, $1,439,240; Bureau of Plant Industry, $1,024,740; Forest Service, $1,017,500; Agricultural Experiment Stations, including the Department Office of Experiment Stations, $974,860; Bureau of Entomology, $262,100; Division of Publications, $248,520; Bureau of Soils, $221,460; Bureau of Statistics, $210,560; Bureau of Chemistry, $174,180; Office of Public Roads, $70,000; Bureau of Biological Survey, $52,000; Library, $25,880. Large as is the annual appropriation for the Department of Agriculture, it is only one six-hundredth of the value of the agricultural products of the country, and there is every reason to suppose that it is a good investment. The figures of our agricultural wealth as given in the last report of the Secretary of Agriculture are so vast as to be difficult to grasp. Thus the corn crop alone is valued at $1,210,000,000. Hay, cotton, wheat, butter and milk and poultry and eggs each produced products worth over $500,000,000. Farm products of the value of $827,000,000 were exported. Thanks to such exports the balance of trade in favor of this country in the course of the past sixteen years amounts to over $5,000,000,000. The farms of the United States are said to have increased in value to the amount of $0,131,000,000 in the course of the past five years.

The Secretary of Agriculture awards mainly to the department credit for the great advances in the prosperity of the, farmer in recent years. In concluding his report he says: "The gratifying evidences of well-being in our farming community, the extraordinary progress l made in the past few years, and the rapidly enlarging recognition of the true position of the farming industry in the economic life of this country are mainly the result of this continued and combined effort on the part of these agencies to add to the sum of the farmer's knowledge, and must be regarded as the triumph of intelligence in the application of scientific knowledge to the tillage of the soil. This is so obviously true that it would seem superfluous to urge the generous maintenance of the department in its grand work. Great as has been the work undertaken and accomplished, gratifying as have been the results, as shown in the first few pages of this report, be it remembered that we are still at the threshold of agricultural development, and that the educational work which has led to such grand results has only been extended as yet to a portion of our agricultural population. There if not an intelligent, patriotic citizen in the Union who will not say with his whole heart, 'Let the good work go on.'"


Mr. Alfred Beit, who accumulated a vast fortune in South Africa and died on July 10, has by his will given large sums for public purposes. The most notable bequest is $0,000,000 to his partners to constitute a fund, the income of which is to be devoted to the construction, equipment or furtherance of any such methods of communication or transportation in Rhodesia, Portuguese Southeast Africa or the German possessions, and any parts of Africa that may be traversed by the Cape-to-Cairo Railway. The trustees are to have absolute discretion, and if two thirds decide that the fund is no longer required for furthering the work of communication or transportation, they can apply the proceeds to educational, charitable or other public purposes in Rhodesia.

One million dollars is left to the University of Johannesburg to build and equip buildings on the land previously given by Mr. Beit; one million dollars for educational or charitable purposes in Rhodesia and other territories within the field of the British South Africa Company; $125,000 to the Rhodes University, Grahamstown, Cape Colony; $100,000 for educational or charitable purposes in the Transvaal, and $75,000 for similar purposes in Kimberley and in Cape Colony. To the College of Technology, London University, the sum of $250,000 and 1,000 shares in the DeBeers Company are bequeathed, and to the research fund of London University $125,000. Two hundred thousand dollars is to be distributed equally in London and Hamburg for educational or charitable purposes. To King's Hospital and Guy's Hospital, London, the sum of $100,000 each is given. Mr. Beit's property near Hamburg, which was his birthplace, is left to that city, and his art collections are left to the galleries in London, Berlin and Hamburg.


We regret to record the death of Dr. Samuel Lewis Penfield, professor of mineralogy at the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, and of Dr. Paul Drude, professor of physics in the University of Berlin.

Sir David Gill, H. M. astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope, has been elected to succeed Dr. E. Ray Lankester, director of the British Museum of Natural History, as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The association will meet next year at Leicester, beginning on July 31. The meeting the following year will be in Dublin, and in 1009 the association will for the third time visit Canada and meet in Winnipeg.

A knighthood has been conferred on Dr. W. H. Perkin, F.R.S., the jubilee of whose discovery of the aniline dye mauve has recently been celebrated.—Professor Seubert, hitherto the German member of the international committee on atomic weights, has resigned, and Professor Ostwald has been appointed his successor. The committee now consists of F. W. Clarke, United States, chairman; T. E. Thorpe, Great Britain; H. Moissan, France, and W. Ostwald, Germany.—Mrs. W. P. Fleming, curator of astronomical photographs in the Harvard College Observatory, has been elected an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society. Mrs. Fleming has also been appointed honorary fellow in the department of astronomy in Wellesley College.

The General Education Board, endowed by Mr. John D. Rockefeller with $10,000,000, has made appropriations to nine institutions on condition that three times the sum be appropriated from other sources. The appropriations, which amount to $312,500, are as follows: Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Ia., $50,000; Washburn College, Topeka, Kan., $25,000; Tulane University, New Orleans, $75,000; Wofford College, Spartanburg, S. C, $25,000; Furman University, Greenville, S. C., $25,000; Wake Forest College, Wake Forest, N. C, $37,500; Howard College, Birmingham, Ala., $25,000; Southwestern University, Jackson, Tenn., $25,000, and Mississippi College. Clinton, Miss., $25,000.