In which we discuss developments in various technological fields, and where the Gilded Age was in terms of electricity, chemistry, biology, medicine, and so forth, giving some grounding to the Weird Science of our product line.
By 1880, considerable advances had been made in electricity. Michael Faraday discovered magnetic field generation in 1831. The first industrial dynamo, the Woolrich Generator, went online in 1844, used by Elkingtons for commercial electroplating. That same year, Samuel Morse invented the electric telegraph, creating the Victorian Internet. Frederick Holmes tested another industrial generator, using an alternator design, in 1857, powering the arc light for a lighthouse. In 1871, the Souter Point lighthouse went online with a Holmes generator driving a light visible from 20 miles out to sea. Victoria Station converted to electric lighting in 1875. Buckingham Palace was wired for electric lighting in 1883 in our world, but in 1878 in the game world, following the Five Year Rule (any technological development may be advanced up to five years without requiring explanation; any advance beyond five years requires timeline modification to justify it). In the current game year, 1880, Werner von Siemens‘ electric lifts are beginning to replace hydraulic lifts, much to the dismay of the high-pressure water companies. Electric lights have replaced gaslights in many of the more posh establishments, such as the London Opera and Delmonico’s in New York.
While we’re on the subject of electricity, let’s talk about technologies powered by it and that directly resulted from work in the field. Telephony is generally recognized to begin with Alexander Bell’s patent in 1876, after his experimental prototypes were developed into something that could be mass produced. Since we’re primarily concerned with the British Empire at the moment, Bell’s demonstration of telephony to Queen Victoria in January of 1878 is a critical point. Commercial telephone service begins in London in 1879. Buckingham Palace installs its first switchboard. Queen Victoria allows a telephone in her office, but refuses to allow the device into her living quarters. Military telephone connections are built in the Gruv, notably from Fort Alice to Camp Burlington and Fort Wellington. Large businesses and wealthy homes put in telephones, but the common people are satisfied with Post Office telegraphy, and the telephone stays an instrument of the rich and powerful because of lack of popular interest for several years.
Telegraphy became a government monopoly in the Empire in 1868, when the Royal Post Office took over the networks and began the effort of unifying them. We’ve already dedicated a good deal of verbage in the 1879 London Sourcebook to this, so we shan’t belabor it here. We should mention the first transatlantic cable, laid in 1858, the second effort in 1865, Wheatstone’s automatic sender and repeater being introduced in 1867, the London to Bombay line going live in 1868, duplex transmission being developed by Joseph Stearns in 1872, and quadriplex lines by Edison in 1874. The state of the art is thus very far advanced by 1880.
Experiments with radio transmission have begun, with peculiar results. Hertz’s efforts with the dipole antenna in 1876 led to the founding of the Ordnung Galvanisches in 1877. David Edward Hughes, Edouar Branly, and others construct receivers, and transmitters, and find signals already in the atmosphere…
The modern Periodic Table of Elements was first published in 1869 by Dmitri Mendeleev, building atop the Law of Octaves (later known as the law of Periodicity) put forth in 1866 by John Newlands, who in turn built atop the atomic theory proposed by John Dalton at the turn of the century. By that point, 63 elements had been identified. Robert Bunsen didn’t stop with creating the lab burner that bears his name. He joined forces with Gustav Kirchhoff and invented the spectroscope, which led to the identification of many of the missing elements in Mendeleev’s table. With all of this foundational work being done, small wonder the later part of the century brought developments at a rate that could only be described as, ahem, explosive.
Alexander Parkes demonstrated parkesine in 1856, the substance becoming known as celluloid by 1870. Stories of its temperamental nature are littered throughout our sourcebooks. Unfortunately, Leo Baekeland wouldn’t invent bakelite until 1907, and we’re not going to pull it forward over a quarter of a century. Besides, plastics that explode unpredictably make the game a little more amusing. Albert Nobel patented dynamite in 1867 and gelignite in 1876. He later gets into a legal scuffle with Abel and Dewar over their patent for cordite, a bit too close to his own ballistite, but that doesn’t happen for a few years yet. Less physical and more economic in its explosiveness, William Henry Perkin discovered mauve, the first aniline dye, in 1856. Derived from coal tar, aniline dyes revolutionized the textile industry, still dependent on organic dyestuffs in use for thousands of years. The synthetic dye industry expanded rapidly in England, but more so in Germany, and by 1880, BASF had become an industrial juggernaut. Their backing of Adolf von Baeyer’s work bought them synthetic indigo, and the ruin of indigo farmers all across India, who had been supplying the world for generations.
Biology and Medicine
In brighter news, aniline dyes led to Friedrich Miescher‘s discovery of nuclein in 1869, later to be known as nucleic acid. Walther Flemming developed chromatin staining, which made chromosomes within the cell visible, and led to the discovery of mitosis. Paul Ehrlich and Carl Weigert developed staining techniques using methyl green and methyl violet that differentiated the nucleus from the cytoplasm, and that stained bacteria but not healthy tissue, leading to laboratory diagnosis of tuberculosis and cholera developed by Robert Koch. Later work with dyes developed into what we know call chemotherapy, and a laser technique for attacking cancer using a dye that stains the carcinogenic cells but not the healthy ones, making them targets for the beam.
Because of Prince Albert’s survival after the coach crash in Coburg, and his subsequent bout of cholera, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, and the efforts of Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, women entered the field of medicine as nurses in greater numbers, and as physicians not for the first time in Europe but in great enough numbers that Dr. Anderson ceased to be a novelty. It’s worth noting that the Ecole de Médicine de Pondichéry opened in 1823, accepting women as well as men as students, but Britain has always been stodgy. Queen Victoria herself commanding the creation of the Anderson School of Medicine for Women helped tremendously in opening up the field. By 1880, women had become well represented in medicine, as chemists (what the Union and Confederacy call pharmacists), nurses, doctors, and research scientists.
The miasma theory of disease was discredited in 1854 by Dr. John Snow, in the aftermath of the Broad Street cholera outbreak, but has hung about in more conservative (read: backward) quarters. The miasma masks worn by British soldiers facing off against Samsut undead shock troops may or may not protect them from disease, but they do at least keep the pong down. Similar thought goes into public sanitation efforts all across Europe, as London, Paris, Berlin, and other major cities put in municipal sewers, get rid of cesspools, and generally tidy up, resulting in a cleaner environment and a drop in infectious disease across social classes and income levels (which are generally the same thing, really). Louis Pasteur put the last nail in the coffin in 1862, when his demonstrations of germ theory led to the sanitation procedure that bears his name.
Two huge advances occurred in 1875, creating entirely new classes of medications and establishing new economic powers in pharmaceutical manufacturing. In the first, the German company Bayer, founded in 1863, succeeded in synthesizing acetylsalicylic acid. Within two years, Bayer Aspirin was a household name around the world and well into the Gruv, and the company was on its way to becoming the juggernaut we know today. In the second, John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, in an attempt to create optically pure air, delved into germ theory, learned some interesting things about bacterial spores, corresponded with Louis Pasteur, went down a bit of a rabbit hole with some Arabic manuscripts from the Toledo Library, and stumbled on the mechanism of action of the penicillium mold. On Pasteur’s advice, he patented his discovery, but instead of following Perkin’s example and setting up a factory on his own, licensed it out to Henry Wellcome and Silas Burroughs, who had been discussing setting up a drug manufacturing facility in Wandsworth, to take advantage of a new pill-making machine Burroughs had acquired from Wyeth in the Union. (The only major pharmaceutical manufacturer in Britain at the time, Beecham Ltd, was a patent medicine company with no interest in research. That would change, but not for many years.) Penicillin hasn’t quite driven Burroughs-Wellcome to the size of Bayer yet, but it’s just a matter of time. Their researchers have been sending back reports from the Gruv, where the Saurids have done considerable research in antibiotics, resulting in a slew of new patents for the company on Earth.
Some other items it’s worth mentioning:
- The British military adopted the Martini-Henry breech-loading rifle as their standard infantry weapon in 1870. Paper cartridges and load-and-fire by ranks drills vanished.
- The Prussians developed oxy-acetylene welding in 1872, making use of acetylene, a coal byproduct used extensively as a precursor for industrial chemicals, and Priestley’s phlogisticated air (or Lavoisier’s oxygen, depending on whether you’re British or French), in a complicated brass contraption that requires considerable training to use safely. Do it wrong and you leave a very large crater.
- The same year, Siemens and Halske introduced the loudhailer. By the end of the year, the device is standard equipment on Prussian warships. Not to be outdone, Britain introduces a portable battery-powered version and calls it the megaphone.
- James Clark Maxwell published the four equations that bear his name in 1873, creating the Second Great Unification of physics. Oliver Heaviside replaced electromagnetic potential fields in the equations with force fields, reducing the complexity to four differential equations that we know as Maxwell’s Laws.
- Typewriters became standard office equipment in 1875, with the introduction of the Hansen tall model, which required no electricity. Queen Victoria added a typist to her staff a year later, and the era of handwritten government documents came to an end.
- Captain Edward Wilson Very, USN, invented the flare pistol that bears his name in 1877.
- The same year, Siemens patented the electric trolley, revolutionizing public transit.
- In 1878, the Tay Bridge collapsed, resulting in a moratorium on the use of cast iron in bridgework in the British Empire. Any bridge put up after 1878 by British engineers uses steel as its primary material.
- Otto Mergenthaler invented the Linotype in New York City in 1879. With manual typesetting limits no longer a restriction, daily newspapers expanded beyond eight pages. Within a year, Analytical Engines were doing the compositing, with algorithms producing suggested layouts and feeding directly to the Linotype. The best of the proprietary cardware was developed at the Tribune. It allowed a layout artist to composite on preprinted forms, punch a few cards describing placement of items on the page, and have the Engine churn out the plates ready for press. The Tribune became the first UK daily paper to advance to twelve pages, and the first globally to introduce the Tuesday-Thursday supplement.
We’ll be covering other technological advances in the appropriate sourcebooks. For now, this should give you plenty to think about.