Today, young America reads -- and comes of age. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
Here are issues of a
magazine called The Museum of Foreign
Literature, Science, and Art. They're from
1839 and 40. The magazine came out as four
hard-bound books each year. It was published in
Philadelphia. But the contents are all reprints
from English and European magazines. This is early
America running to keep up with its cultural roots.
The writing is dense -- small type and no pictures.
We see chapters of the original Nicholas Nickleby,
issued in serial form. We read accounts of travel
to Asia and Canada.
These were my great-grandfather's magazines. One of
his 17 children has doodled on the end papers. He's
practiced long division. He's sketched and written
notes. I suspect the boy also read about travel. He
ran off to sea when he was only 14.
The magazine's claim to an interest in science is
thin. Maybe the travelogues fall under the rubric
Here's a review of a new book on diet. The book's
primary advice is that, if you eat less, you'll
stay healthier. Maybe that's less naive than it
An item written in London catches my eye. It's
about "A Ride on [a] Steam-Coach." The author rises
at four in the morning to ride this embryonic
automobile. The adventure has to be undertaken
before there's traffic on the road.
This English steam car, built only two decades
after Napoleon, is bulky and overpowered. Fifty
horsepower is far more than it needs. The author
wonders why the builder didn't at least apply some
paint to make it look pretty.
The car ran up Shooter's Hill without trouble.
Shooter's Hill was still a standard challenge to
cars in 1900. The machine was doing well. Then,
suddenly, it stopped on Maize Hill.
"What's wrong?" cries the driver. "The clutch is
broken," says his helper. "What's it made of?"
"It's made of cast iron." "CAST IRON!" says the
driver, dripping contempt. "Go back and have them
make one of wrought iron." For now, he can't shift
gears. He has to back the vehicle home.
Later, at breakfast, the driver explains that they
were all quite safe riding next to the steam
boiler. The water boils in tubes, not in an open
chamber. If one tube broke, it wouldn't cause a
So we read and we learned. My grand-uncle Edward
went off to sea. We thought about adventure. We
thought about machines. We were poised to come of
age. Soon, America defined high technology -- then
high literature. Soon, we could leave magazines
like this -- to gather dust.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds