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“The future is electric”…

One of the many Fritchle electric cars manufactured in the early 20th century

And also a thing of the past…

For a brief period in the early 20th century in the United States, the electric car was high society’s hottest commodity, sought after by socialites and businessmen alike…

During the early years of the “Automotive Age,”—from about 1896 to 1930—as many as 1,800 different car manufacturers functioned in the U.S. While innovators in Europe had been working on battery-powered vehicles since the 1830s, the first successful electric car in the U.S. made its debut in 1890 thanks to a chemist from Iowa. His six-passenger was basically an electrified wagon that hit a top speed of 14 mph.

By 1900, electric cars were so popular that New York City had a fleet of electric taxis, and electric cars accounted for a third of all vehicles on the road. People liked them because in many ways early electric cars outperformed their gas competitors. Electric cars didn’t have the smell, noise, or vibration found in steam or gasoline cars. They were easier to operate, lacked a manual crank to start, and didn’t require the same difficult-to-change gear system as gas cars.

Electric cars became extremely popular in cities, especially with upper-class women who disliked the noisy and smelly attributes of gasoline-powered cars. A New York Times article from 1911 reported, “The designers of electric passenger car-carrying vehicles have made great advances in the past few years, and these machines have retained all their early popularity and are steadily growing in favor with both men and women.”…

Like today, one of the challenges for early electric car owners was where to charge them. But by 1910 owners could install their own charging stations on their property, and an increasing number of car-repair shops popped up that allowed electric cars to charge overnight.

One of the most eccentric and interesting manufacturers of early electric cars was Oliver P. Fritchle, a chemist and electrical engineer who began as an auto repairman until he realized he could build a better electric car himself. Fritchle sold his first vehicle in 1906 and set up a production plant in Denver, Colorado, in 1908.

Fritchle made one of the best car batteries in the business, which he claimed could travel 100 miles on a single charge

An advertisement for a Fritchle electric car. Via American-Automobiles.com

What’s old is new again: “Before Tesla: Why everyone wanted an electric car in 1905,” from Megan Barber (@megcbarber) in @Curbed.

J. P. Morgan

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As we recharge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955 that the U.S. Federal government standardized the size of license plates throughout the U.S. Originally, owners had been responsible for their own tags; then individual states had designed– and dimensioned– license plates, resulting in wide variations.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 5, 2021 at 1:00 am

“The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, ‘You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done”*…

Inventions so fundamentally important that we take them for granted…

You might find it impossible to imagine a world without your smartphone, or have trouble remembering a time when Wi-Fi wasn’t everywhere, but many of today’s most relied-upon technologies would not have been possible—or even dreamed of—if it weren’t for the game-changing inventions that came before them. And while it’s easy to take many of the marvels of design and engineering we interact with on a daily basis for granted—think toilets, seat belts, and suspension bridges—it’s just as easy to overlook how a handful of more surprising inventions, like the Super Soaker or the pizza saver, have affected the world around us…

For example…

Duct tape was the brainchild of Vesta Stoudt, an Illinois mom whose two sons were in the Navy. Stoudt worked at Green River Ordnance Plant packing and inspecting boxes of ammunition. The boxes were sealed with paper tape, dipped in wax, and had a tab to open them. Stoudt noticed that the boxes had a flaw: The tape was flimsy and tabs often tore off, which meant that soldiers couldn’t quickly open the boxes when they were under fire. Why not create a cloth-based waterproof tape to seal the boxes? She asked her supervisors, but they weren’t supportive, so she escalated the matter … straight to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “I suggested we use a strong cloth tape to close seams, and make tab of same,” she wrote. “It worked fine, I showed it to different government inspectors they said it was all right, but I could never get them to change tape.”

The president sent her letter to the War Production Board, her idea was approved, and the rest is history. Duct tape has been a quick fix for everyone from your average joe to physicists (who use it on their particle accelerators) to astronauts (duct tape helped them make repairs on the moon). When the three crewmembers of Apollo 13 were forced to transfer to the lunar module, duct tape helped them survive—according to Northrop Grumman, the vessel was designed to hold two people for 36 hours, but after the accident, had to hold three for over 86 hours. They used the adhesive (along with cardboard, plastic bags, and space suit components) to adapt their square carbon dioxide filters to the module’s round holes. Jerry Woodfill, a NASA engineer who assisted the team from the ground, later told Universe Today, “Of course … the solution to every conceivable knotty problem has got to be duct tape! And so it was.”

Blood banks, barcodes and beyond: “The Stories Behind 20 Inventions That Changed the World.”

* George Carlin

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As we exalt ingenuity, we might spare a thought for one of the protagonists in the story above, Nils Bohlin; he died on this date in 2002 (though some sources suggest that he passed on September 21 of that year). An engineer who had worked on avaition ejection seats (and restraints) before joining Volvo, he developed and patented the three-point lap and shoulder seatbelt– considered one of the most important innovations in automobile safety. Volvo introduced the seatbelts in 1959– then made the design freely available to other car manufacturers to save more lives.

In 1974, Bohlin was awarded The Ralph Isbrandt Automotive Safety Engineering Award, and in 1989 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Safety and Health. He received a gold medal from Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in 1995 and in 1999, was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. He retired from Volvo as Senior Engineer in 1985 and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Bohlin, demonstrating his invention

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“Teach Your Children”*…

Values around the world, graphed…

What’s more important for a child to be encouraged to learn: imagination, hard work or both?

And what do you value the most: family, work, friends, leisure, religion or politics?

These are questions asked by the World Values Survey, “a large non-commercial, cross-national, longitudinal investigation of human beliefs and values.” The comparative social survey polled 1,000-3,000 people in countries around the globe to get a consensus on where they stood on varying principles and ideals.

Anders Sundell, a political scientist at University of Gothenburg, scoured through the data and put the results on a line graph, with each country represented by a dot.

Many Nordic countries said they wanted to encourage children to learn imagination the most, with Sweden being the country to list hard work as the least important attribute. Guatemala and South Korea were the countries that overwhelmingly valued both imagination and hard work. Zimbabwe was the country that listed imagination as the least important quality.

Sundell also mapped the countries around the globe that valued family, work, friends, religion, leisure and politics the highest, e.g.:

Dive more deeply into the data at “The Countries That Value Family, Work, Friends, Leisure, Religion And Politics The Most, Visualized.”

Crosby, Stills & Nash (written by Graham Nash)

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As we compare cultures, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that Henry Hale Bliss, a 69-year-old local real estate dealer, was alighting from a south bound 8th Avenue trolley car when an electric-powered taxicab (Automobile No. 43) struck him. Bliss hit the pavement, crushing his head and chest. He was taken by ambulance to Roosevelt Hospital; but upon arrival the house surgeon, Dr. Marny, said his injuries were too severe to survive, and Bliss died from his sustained injuries the next morning… becoming the first recorded instance of a person being killed in a motor vehicle collision in the U. S.

Bliss in 1873 [source]

“Demographics are destiny”*…

And demographics can help us shape our destiny…

The research seemed straightforward: Analyze 2020 death records in Minnesota and, among other things, quantify which deaths were attributable to Covid-19 in various slices of the population — young and old, black and white, people living in advantaged versus disadvantaged neighborhoods.

But when University of Minnesota demographer Elizabeth Wrigley-Field began to dig in, the numbers revealed complex trends.

The records showed that last year more Minnesotans — especially non-whites — died at home than in a typical year, having avoided hospitals because of the pandemic. Such deaths were almost never reported as Covid-related, even though many probably were. The analysis suggested that Covid deaths in minority groups were going underreported.

It’s the sort of intriguing finding that is likely to percolate to the surface more frequently as researchers study Covid-19 from a population — or demographic — perspective.

Soon after the pandemic hit, demographers leaped into action. Today, there are studies afoot to examine a broad swath of inquiry: from questions about life expectancy to whether school closures really averted infections to how a single Covid death affects surviving family members’ physical and mental health. Even the relationship between exercise habits and social-distancing trends in US counties is under scrutiny…

A sample of the findings that could– and surely should– shape the future of public health: “Demographers tackle Covid-19,” from Eryn Brown (@TheErynBrown).

[Via David Kotok]

* Arthur Kemp, Peter Peterson, Bill Campbell, and many others

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As we count on counting, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 that the U.K. recorded its first automotive fatality. While on a terrace in the grounds of Crystal Palace, London, Mrs. Bridget Driscoll was knocked down by a car owned by the Anglo-French Motor Car (Roger-Benz) Company that was giving demonstration rides to the public, driven by employee Arthur Edsell. It was said that he was talking to the young lady passenger beside him. He had had been driving for only 3 weeks, and had tampered with a belt to cause the car to travel faster than the 4 mph to which it was meant to be limited. After a six-hour inquest, the jury’s verdict was “Accidental Death,” and no prosecution resulted against the driver or the company. The first car-driver crash fatality in Britain occurred in 1898.

Mrs. Driscoll, circled

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 17, 2021 at 1:00 am

“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started”*…

For the last six years I’ve kept a spreadsheet listing every parking spot I’ve used at the local supermarket in a bid to park in them all. This week I completed my Magnum Opus!..

A marvelous tale from Gareth Wild (@GarethWild): One man’s quest to park in every space in a Saintsbury parking lot in Bromley (UK).

* T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets “Little Gidding” pt. 5 (1942)

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As we turn in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948, at the Amsterdam Auto Show, that the original Land Rover (the Series 1) was introduced. Inspired by the Jeep, its progeny pioneered the luxury SUV category.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 30, 2021 at 1:01 am

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