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SCIENCE UP TO DATE, Issue 15674, 12 December 1914
SCIENCE UP TO DATE
• THE DYNAMITE KING; . alereETnodel. ’em. [By James Collier.] ■ (Special Rights Secured by the 1 Star.’) Professor E. B. Taylor has described the effects of var in consolidating a loosely-formed society. A barbaric tribe prepares to invade an enemy's country or defend its own. Provisions tfnd property aro brought into the common stock ; distant clans unite against tho common enemy; and their various chicitaios servo RJtd-sr the order? of a common leader. Gut of these chance confederations arise jsatiOns. Out of this growth of peoples tho higher civilisation of mankind arose, ‘the political order emerged out of tho military order. Ir.du.-ciy and wealth, literature and science, as in Egypt and Babylonia, came out of their military systems. The framework "[ Government waa thus built up. While the theory cannot he considered free from exaggerations, and the converse view might- be as ibly maintained, a number of irrefutable instances can be adduced f-om history to show that the inventions of war have given birth to still grander inventions in peace. In these eulmnns the story has Men told how Sir Henry Ih'-vemer experimented in the French cannon foundry at Knells in making guns -strong enough to leeist a revolving misfile, and was thus led to invent steel by processes tu.it cost little more than cast iron. Ay have now another story to tel! of a. tumikir kind - how Alfred Nobel, in endeavoring to provide gnus with explosives of new power, gained command of proecsies ilsal proved still more potent in peaie. Even if it be the case that war begin?_ an invention, peace perfects it ami u.-.'s it to an extent unknown in war. During tho American CSvil War of 1861-65. it if stated, more explosives, chiefly gunpowder, were used bv civil, railway,- mining, and quarrying engineers than on the battlefield. Far more was this the case after Nobel substituted nitre-glycerine i-vr gunpowder. The new explosive is still terribly dangerous, as tho r.ot-iufrcqv.i’nt and disastrous explosions at the Nobel dynamite worka-in the south-we.--t of scot land show, i but .it is far 1- ?? drugeious chan any oth* r ■explosive of nearly equal power. EOC-K-BLASTINCr. origin of Tock-bliuting is comparaThose great road makers whole roads long survived knew nothing of it. iluy of making canals or cutwhere the soil w.i? soft, and task was one of difficulty and make a. cutting three miles long deep enough to diani Lake buoinu? 30.000 men 11 years. Then followed stretch of l-l-iuitv.-s centuries. GunBowder was known in bulb the sixteenth Rind tho seventeenth cciituriOi-, and yet it F took 150 rear? (1535-1685) to tunnel a gallery five * miles long through the Kurtz Mountains. In the latter century blading bv gunpowder wns known, but it ''-as not till the middle of the eiNn.-.-nth century that it was generally applied, bven then it was bat sparingly v.cd. Tho whole | amount of tho blasting done in England in 100 years did rot exceed that of a large railway tutting at the pvc-eeiit timm Goal mining and public works weie aided by blasting by means of gunpowder, but it was not till railways were made, when easy era client? were in demand, that rockblasting was raised to an art. Not- till snoi-lier step bad o.ou taken, and gunpowder replaced by dynamite, was tho art completely icvolut.oniocd. Iheti followed the gigantic project? of our time and the prodigious development of the mining industries of the woild since 1870. NITRO-OLY CF.RTNE. Dynamite was the result of an evolu- j Horn Nitre-glycerine, its ancestor, had been discovered by Sobrero in 184 1. Mixing glvcerino with nitric a-nd sulphuric acids, 'Sobrero found himself in possession of a poisonous liquid that was very sensitive to shocks and very clangorous to handle. Nobel aimed at removing its drawbacks. First, he mixed tho liquid with gunpowder. He next added fluids that, mado it non-explosive. lie thus rendered it capable of being transported, because the added fluids were removed before it waa used. Other expedients increased its usability. All did not completely avail, however, and accidents were so frequent that tne use of the blasting oil was prohibited in several countries, England included. A ship was blown up on the high seas. The future existence of the explosive was threatened. Now Nobel plaved his grand coup. Ho invented a ‘modification of nitroglycerine —such that it was exempt from the casualties that nullified its utility. Towards the end of 1865 he invented a compound that he called dynamite. It- was made bv mixing the nitre glycerine oil with a porous absorbent, thus making a paste of it. This met all the objections, and removed all tho obstacles. A shock or a blow had no effect on dynamite. It burnt when it was ignited, and it could properly be exploded only by means of a powerful detonator, attached to the end of a fuse and inserted in the dynamite. Every precaution against accident or disaster seemed to be taken. The new explosive was thrice as potent as gunpowder, and far more reliable. BLASTING GLYCERINE. There was still room for improvement and scope for perfecting the invention. The inert matter that formed the absorbent made up 25 per cent, of the dynamite, and, being non-explosive, was so much dead-weight. For it Nobel sought an active substitute. Ho was in search of a substance that would dissolve in nitroglycerine and thus form a homogeneous paste. An accident disclosed the material that he required. One day' when he was experimenting in this direction Nobel happened to cut his finger. He sent out for some collodion in order to form an artificial skin while tho wound was healing. Using a frw drops, he poured tho remainder into some nitro-glyrerine. He thus discovered blasting gelatine, and he patented it in December. 1375. So long a time (since 1866) had his Invention already consumed. GELATINE EXPLOSIVES. Collodion, which thus led to the discovery of a new explosive, is manufactured by dissolving cun-cotton in a, mixture of ether and alcohol. Nobel’s advance consisted in mixing the viscous substance thus obtained with the nitro-gly-cerine so as to form a jelly. After more experiments the jelly was dispensed with, and blasting gelatine was made, as it still is, .>7 warming the nitre-glycerine and adding 8 per cent, of gun-cotton. Thus a new explosive waa manufactured, half as strong again as dvnamitc. But it waa found too violent to bo applicable to other substances than the hardest rock. By adding saltpetre and wood-meal Nobel moderated its action, and the now explosives, .gelatine dynamite and gelignite, were brought into existence. They have proved all-important, nay, all-essiontial. The St. Ootbaril railway in iiiu Swiss Alps could not have been tunnelled by less potent explosives. The use of them is constantly increasing, and in some countries no others aro employed. SMOKELESS GUNPOWDER. To Nobel we also owe the invention of smokeless powder. Still working with nitro-glycerine, he discovered that he coaid incorporate, by means of heated rollers, a large proportion of gun-cotton (used in the manufacture of blasting gelatine) with nitro-glycerine. Now let the nitrated cotton be increased from 8 to 50 per cent., and. as Nobel found, a powder suitable for firearms could be obtained:. A smokeless powder was grown indispensable. Quick-firing guns made it necessary to have such powder. On the ■way to it Nobel perfected methods for regulating the pressure in guns and their recoil. About the beginning of 1888 Nobel invented his smokeless powder. It was based on a discovery, ■i He discovered that the two most shatter? ing explosives, nitro-glycerine and gun'cotton, if mingled in nearly equal proportfmi, farmed a slow-burning Dodder that
yielded pressures beyond the resistance of any weapons yet made. A British explosives committee found that, it insoluble guncotton were used, a. now powder could bo obtained bv working at lower temperatures. than when ether explosive • were manufactured. Thus cordite was invented, and, as will be remembered, an alleged (and unfounded) deficiency of this povyder in the British arsenals was made the gravamen of a motion in the House of Commons by Joseph Chamberlain that .cost the Rosebery Ministry of 1895 its existence. It was Nobel’s last invention, and, as wo have just seen, it was only half his. HIS LIFE. A brief biographical sketch will throw welcome light on the history of the great dvnamiter. Alfred Bernard Nobel (originally Latinised as Nobilius) was born at Stockholm oh October 21, 18,55. The founder of the fami’y, Nobel's greatgrandfather, was a drawing master at Upsala, but the real maker of it, who endowed it with genius and launched it on the career that was to make it distinguished, was Emmanuel Nobel, our Nobel’s lather. Ho was the first member of it to experiment with explosives, and so dangerous did they prove that he was virtually scared out of Stockholm by his terrified neighbors. That was in 1857, and the same vear lie accepted a position at St. Reterslmrg as a manufacturer of mines and torpedoes to tho Russian Government. His sun Alfred he took with him. Alfred, however, had other views, and ho spent four years, from 1350-54, in learning the art of shipbuilding under Ericsson in the United States, the inventor of the " .Monitor." In almost those very year, his father, applying Schoenbeiu’s invention of guncotton, made in 1845, was laying floating mines near Cronstadt. To i hem ha believed it was owing that the fleet with which Sir Charles Napier sailed so proudly from the Thames at the opening of the Crimean War got no further than the mouth of the Neva. Yet, for some reason, tho Russian Government \y,re apparently dissatisfied with Emmanuel Nobel, and he returned to Stockholm in iSS9. His son was now his father's right. h::n:i.yuid the two together worked at the manufacture of explosives, especially nitroglycerine. At Stockholm that dangerous substance was produced for the first time on a commercial scale. To enable this to be done Alfred made a financial tour through Europe, but it was at Paris that he got most capital. In 1864 the factory v.a, blown into the air, but the accident rather attracted attention to tho new industry, and another factory' was built near Hamburg in 1866. In 1871 Alfred Nobel (run; hum! all rights in the patent to the British Dynamite Company, which has a factory at Ardroisan, in .Scotland, Others are fit Bilbao, in Spain, and in Italy and Switzerland. HIS CHARACTER. Though of Blight bodily make, he was endowed with great determination. As a worker among ami the inventor of the most potent explosives yet known to man, he needed all the force of character ho had received from Nature. Though sensitive in the highest degree, and shrinking from tho contact of nitre-glycerine, he experimented among his explosives with hia own bauds. His courage was almost incredible. He would tut out of a large cask yvith a knife a refractory mass of dynamite. He hud equal moral courage. His factory exploded, but the disaster did not deter him. His younger brother died, and his father was struck with pa.rlysis, but his perseverajieo remained undaunted.. Bill, his hard and perilous life told on him, and he <licd of heart disease at the comparatively early age of 63. Originally generous and expansive, he became in his later years uuspiciou', unresponsive, and morose. Tin: NOBEL PRIZES. Nobel acquired vast wealth by hi? eminently useful inventions, if they were no ho among the most destructive agencies ‘ !mt mankind has devised. Ho died pos•ysySing £2,600,000, and of this, having no inual d-rt-ceiid.nus. he bequeathed onch.i f to his collateral relatives. The rest bo devoted to public (imposes. A counliym.ui oi his, another industrial magnate. L-.our.rd Hvass, met him in Paris in 1894, two years before Nobel's death, and found that he was then carrying about with him the unsigned draft of his last will and testament. According to it the income derived from the second of tho two millions was divided into five portions, each of which wa.- to be awarded by a Swedish coninn.-.d-M' to the author of the most important discovery in physics, chomictry, or physiology, the highest poetical work, and the most remarkable contribution to the cause of international peace. In pursuance of tins reading of tbo will, the great R-mv.n Historian Mommsen, the great Julian poet Carducci, and Sir Ernest nutherb id (<>! New Zealand) were each awarded some 1115,000 for their past achievement.-.. But. according to Mr Hvasa. this was not at all the design of the testator. His object was. in his own words, " to lighten the life of dreamers.” His aim was to cru- ui.ige tho accomplishment of new and beneficent work. He did not simply intend to betitow an honor on men of world-wide cclohritv who may have richly deserved it. His design was to afford economic encouragement and support to men who weir in real need of it. Awards granted to Mommsen at 82 and Carducci at 70 were misapplied. Tho prizes should bo bestowed on thoee from whom much might be exi>ected. Nobel’s grand purpose was to assist lofty but sensitive spirits, who arc often dragged down by hostile circumstance. Such "men were Keats and Paul Joseph Proudhon. Such were a crowd of inventors, researchers, discoverers, They aro hard to find and difficult to discriminate, but tho thing could he done, and it is urgent that it should bo done.
SCIENCE UP TO DATE, Issue 15674, 12 December 1914
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