Our President at His Best!
Observations By A Citizen
The Biggest Change in Human History
One of the popular beliefs today is that we live in an era of unprecedented change. I contend that view is hogwash, and is supported only by a faulty education.
So, what do I think is really the “big deal” in the change of human condition; what technology meets that high goal? We could mention fire and the wheel, and I won’t argue with that, merely focusing on technology in recorded history.
In 1787, an American named John Fitch finally succeeded, after years of financial struggling, in launching his boat, the “Perseverance,” into the Delaware River in Philadelphia. So what? The “Perseverance” was the first boat in the world to operate successfully powered by a steam engine. There had been a steam engine a few years earlier, but it was huge and only practical for pumping water out of a mine. After that important prelude, Fitch’s steam-driven boat was nevertheless the critical revolution in human technology.
With a boiler to heat the steam by burning wood or coal, the steam, under high pressure, was piped to a cylinder through a valve. The steam pushed the piston within the cylinder, connected to a shaft and driving a wheel. At the end of each pulse, the steam was released, the wheel’s inertia pushed the piston back up the cylinder, the valve opened again, pushing the piston – and on it chugged. The wheel was linked to a set of oars that cycled along each side of the “Perseverance,” and propelled it up and down the river as it would have been with a row of oarsmen.
Why is this a big deal? Because, for the entirety of thousands of years of human existence, the only way humans could travel was our legs carrying us, or a horse - land travel was by muscle. Far later, wind was adopted for sea-going vessels, and that was, indeed, important. But the wind was not available in the direction or at the time when humans needed it.
Invention of the wheel made pulling a vehicle easier than dragging it, but there was no way to make the wheel propel the vehicle. So, for 2,000 years, the only advance in land vehicles had been from plodding wagons to elegant, light, carriages.
Invention of the steam engine, and putting it into a vehicle, changed humanity’s relationship with his world. Now, at our wish, a fuel could be ignited to create energy that propelled us across sea and land when we wanted, where we wanted. Everything since Fitch was technological evolution, from putting engines on land vehicles, to inventing engines that used the heat from liquid fuel for internal combustion power.
It was a whole new way to look at how we could accomplish everything we do.
There is another way the “Perseverance” was significant, though. In that summer of 1787, a half mile away in the Pennsylvania State House, a group of men was meeting to figure out a better plan for governing the United States. On August 22, 1787, they went down to the river to watch John Fitch make his first demonstration of the “Perseverance”
What did they think of it? I don’t have any direct quotes, but 4 years earlier, while he was our representative in Paris, Benjamin Franklin watched the first flight of man – the newly invented hot air balloon by Montgolfier. When asked by a companion, “but of what possible use is it?”, Franklin responded: “Of what possible use is a new born baby?”
Four weeks after observing the “Perseverance,” our founders emerged from what we now call “Independence Hall” to submit their new plan, a “Constitution for the United States,” to the People. It was the greatest change ever in how people were to be governed, and it was created with knowledge that it would govern our nation in a rapidly changing world. They did know…