Thursday, November 06, 2003


A reader writes:

"I have two incidents from my recent graduate education that I thought might interest you.

Several years ago I left an industry job to return to the University to pursue a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. For several reasons including class scheduling conflicts and personal interest I took a minor in STS (Science Technology and Society), basically a liberal arts view of science and technology. I was a bit surprised to find this area of study to be a bit of a fact free zone but there were some tidbits offered as facts.

I was told it was the invention of the steam engine that made it possible for England to ship its convicts to Australia and for England and the other colonial powers to establish empires. I had just read "The Hostile Shore" and knew transportation happen entirely in the age of sail. My elementary school history lessons are enough to know the Spanish, English, Portuguese and Dutch colonial empires were all established at least two hundred years before trans-oceanic steam ships appeared.

I was told here in America the very promising steam engine power automobile was defeated by an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease. In an effort to contain this disease, public watering trough were destroyed removing the water source needed by the owners of steam powered automobiles, most of which did not have condensers and therefore required several liters of water per mile to operate.

No word on why steam engines in steam ships which by definition do not lack for water for cooling fell into disfavor at about the same time."


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