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HOME > Short Stories > Misinforming a Nation > IX INVENTIONS, PHOTOGRAPHY, ?STHETICS
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 In the matter of American inventions the Encyclop?dia Britannica would appear to have said as little as possible, and to have minimized our importance in that field as much as it dared. And yet American inventors, to quote H. Addington Bruce, “have not simply astonished mankind; they have enhanced the prestige, power, and prosperity of their country.” The Britannica’s editors apparently do not agree with this; and when we think of the wonderful romance of American inventions, and the possibilities in the subject for full and interesting writing, and then read the brief, and not infrequently disdainful, accounts that are presented, we are conscious at once not only of an inadequacy in the matter of facts, but of a niggardliness of spirit. Let us regard the Encyclop?dia’s treatment of steam navigation. Under Steamboat we read: “The first practical steamboat was the tug ‘Charlotte Dundas,’ built by William Symington (Scotch), and tried in the Forth and Clyde Canal[161] in 1802.... The trial was successful, but steam towing was abandoned for fear of injuring the banks of the canal. Ten years later Henry Bell built the ‘Comet,’ with side-paddle wheels, which ran as a passenger steamer on the Clyde; but an earlier inventor to follow up Symington’s success was the American, Robert Fulton....”
This practically sums up the history of that notable achievement. Note the method of presentation, with the mention of Fulton as a kind of afterthought. While the data may technically come within the truth, the impression given is a false one, or at least a British one. Even English authorities admit that Fulton established definitely the value of the steamboat as a medium for passenger and freight traffic; but here the credit, through implication, is given to Symington and Bell. And yet, if Symington is to be given so much credit for pioneer work, why are not William Henry, of Pennsylvania, John Stevens, of New Jersey, Nathan Read, of Massachusetts, and John Fitch, of Connecticut, mentioned also? Surely each of these other Americans was important in the development of the idea of steam as motive power in water.
Eli Whitney receives a biography of only two-thirds of a column; Morse, less than a column; and Elias Howe, only a little over half a column.[162] Even Thomas Edison receives only thirty-three lines of biography—a mere statement of facts. Such a biography is an obvious injustice; and the American buyers of the Encyclop?dia Britannica have just cause for complaining against such inadequacy. Edison admittedly is a towering figure in modern science, and an encyclop?dia the size of the Britannica should have a full and interesting account of his life, especially since obscure English scientists are accorded far more liberal biographies.
Alexander Graham Bell, however, receives the scantiest biography of all. It runs to just fifteen lines! And the name of Daniel Drawbaugh is not mentioned. He and Bell filed their papers for a telephone on the same day; and it was only after eight years’ litigation that the Supreme Court decided in Bell’s favor—four judges favoring him and three favoring Drawbaugh. No reference is made of this interesting fact. Would the omission have occurred had Drawbaugh been an Englishman instead of a Pennsylvanian, or had not Bell been a native Scotchman?
The name of Charles Tellier, the Frenchman, does not appear in the Britannica. Not even under Refrigerating and Ice Making is he mentioned. And yet back in 1868 he began experiments which culminated in the refrigerating[163] plant as used on ocean vessels to-day. Tellier, more than any other man, can be called the inventor of cold storage, one of the most important of modern discoveries, for it has revolutionized the food question and had far-reaching effects on commerce. Again we are prompted to ask if his name would have been omitted from the Britannica had he been an Englishman.
Another unaccountable omission occurs in the case of Rudolph Diesel. Diesel, the inventor of the Diesel engine, is comparable only to Watts in the development of power; but he is not considered of sufficient importance by the editors of the Encyclop?dia Britannica to be given a biography. And under Oil Engine we read: “Mr. Diesel has produced a very interesting engine which departs considerably from other types.” Then follows a brief technical description of it. This is the entire consideration given to Diesel, with his “interesting” engine, despite the fact that the British Government sent to Germany for him in order to investigate his invention!
Few names in the history of modern invention stand as high as Wilbur and Orville Wright. To them can be attributed the birth of the airplane. In 1908, to use the words of an eminent authority, “the Wrights brought out their biplanes and practically taught the world to fly.” The story[164] of how these two brothers developed aviation is, according to the same critic, “one of the most inspiring chronicles of the age.” The Britannica’s editors, if we are to judge their viewpoint by the treatment accorded the Wright brothers in this encyclop?dia, held no such opinion. Not only is neither of these men given a biography, but under Flight and Flying—the only place in the whole twenty-nine volumes where their names appear—they are accorded much less consideration than they deserve. Sir Hiram S. Maxim’s flying adventures receive more space.
A subject which unfortunately is too little known in this country and yet one in the development of which America has played a very important part, is pictorial photography. A double interest therefore attaches to the manner in which this subject is treated in the Britannica. Since the writer of the article was thoroughly familiar with the true conditions, an adequate record might have been looked for. But no such record was forthcoming. In the discussion of photography in this Encyclop?dia the same bias is displayed as in other departments—the same petty insularity, the same discrimination against America, the same suppression of vital truth, and the same exaggerated glorification of England. In this instance,[165] however, there is documentary proof showing deliberate misrepresentation, and therefore we need not attribute the shortcomings to chauvinistic stupidity, as we have so charitably done in similar causes.
In the article on Pictorial Photography in this aggressibly British reference work we find the following: “It is interesting to note that as a distinct movement pictorial photography is essentially of British origin, and this is shown by the manner in which organized photographic bodies in Vienna, Brussels, Paris, St. Petersburg, Florence, and other European cities, as well as in Philadelphia, Chicago, etc., following the example of London, held exhibitions on exactly similar lines to those of the London Photographic Salon, and invited known British exhibitors to contribute.” Then it is noted that the interchange of works between British and foreign exhibitors led, in the year 1900, “to a very remarkable cult calling itself ‘The New American School,’ which had a powerful influence on contemporaries in Great Britain.”
The foregoing brief and inadequate statements contain all the credit that is given America in this field. New York, where much of the foremost and important work was done, is not mentioned; and the name of Alfred Stieglitz, who is[166] undeniably the towering figure in American photography as well as one of the foremost figures in the world’s photography, is omitted entirely. Furthermore, slight indication is given of the “powerful influence” which America has had; and the significant part she has played in photography, together with the names of the American leaders, is completely ignored, although there is quite a lengthy discussion concerning English photographic history, including credit to those who participated in it.
For instance, the American, Steichen, a world figure in photography and, of a type, perhaps the greatest who ever lived, is not mentioned. Nor are Gertrude K?sebier and Frank Eugene, both of whom especially the former, has had an enormous international influence in pictorial photography. And although there is a history of the formation of the “Linked Ring” in London, no credit is given to Stieglitz whose work, during twenty-five years in Germany and............
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