August 8th--This Day in Engineering History - An Engineer's Aspect


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Friday, August 7, 2009

August 8th--This Day in Engineering History

1876 – Thomas Edison receives a patent for his mimeograph.

Image: "Thomas Alva Edison, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing front". Photographic print, circa 1922. Source: Wikipedia. (This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division under the digital ID cph.3c05139.)

"Thomas Edison received US patent 180,857 for "Autographic Printing" on August 8, 1876. The patent covered the electric pen, used for making the stencil, and the flatbed duplicating press. In 1880 Edison obtained a further patent, US 224,665: "Method of Preparing Autographic Stencils for Printing", which covered the making of stencils using a file plate, a grooved metal plate on which the stencil was placed which perforated the stencil when written on with a blunt metal stylus (Wikipedia)."

Image: "Edison’s 1876 patent describes a simple hand press consisting of a flat bed with a hinged frame to which the stencil was attached." Source: The Annotated Today in Alternate History.

1905 - John G. Myers Department Store Collapses in Albany, New York.

Image: Thirteen people died in the collapse at five-story John G. Myers Co. Department Store on North Pearl Street in 1905. (Albany Institute of History and Art). Source:

According to The Trenton Times, Trenton, NJ, 9 Aug 1905:
"The middle section of the big department store of the John G. Myers company, in North Pearl street, collapsed early Tuesday, carrying down with it over 100 persons.
Caught in a chaos of brick, plaster and wooden beams, between 20 and 30 men, women and children met death.

The cause of the disaster seems to have been the giving away of a brick pier on which rested an iron column supporting one of the centre walls of the building, the collapse being due to an excavation made beneath a pier for a foundation for which new work forming part of extensive improvements was to rest. When the pier and column gave way the wall fell, and with it the floors and roof of the whole central portion of the building back of the elevator."
Upon further scrutiny, it was found that soils played a large role in the disaster: "Lateral clay squeeze during the 1905 extension of the cellar for the Meyers (sic.) Department Store in Albany, New York, caused partial wall collapse when only 1.5 m (5 ft) of the old wall footing was exposed (Construction Failure, Feld and Carper, page 83)."

Image: "The Washington Post", Wednesday, August 9, 1905. Source: Newspaper Archive.

1908 – Wilbur Wright's first flight at a racecourse at Le Mans, France.

Image: "Wilbur Wright seated in his Wright Type A at the Hunaudieres race course near Le Mans, France, August, 1908." Source:

On August 8, 1908, "Wilbur Wright made his first flight in public at the Hunaudieres race course, five miles south of Le Mans, France. Over the next several weeks he made headlines around the world with one stunning flight after another—demonstrating once and for all that the Wrights’ claim to priority in the invention of the airplane was true (there had been skeptics), and that their airplanes were capable of tight turns and a degree of control impossible with other machines (Smithsonian Air & Space)."

1910 – The US Army installs the first tricycle landing gear on the Army's Wright Flyer.
Benny Foulois had flown in the second seat of the Flyer and had only 54 minutes of actual training from Wilbur Wright. The Army decided to move the program to winter quarters in Texas, where the weather would be easier on both the machine and the men. In December 1909, Foulois was told to take the airplane and plenty of spare parts to Ft. Sam Houston at San Antonio and “teach yourself to fly.”

"Foulois asked for money to put wheels on S.C. No. 1 and was told not to “fool around” with the airplane. Undeterred, Foulois and his mechanics bolted three wheels from a farm cultivator onto the airplane in August 1910. The wheels worked well and were the first tricycle landing gear for an Army flying machine ("
Movie: NOVA / Wright Brothers' Flying Machine

Description: " - Orville and Wilbur Wright were remarkable inventors, mechanics, risk-takers, and visionaries. They designed and built their own wings, steering devices, engines, and wind tunnel. But just how did they construct such an impressive flying machine?"

1911 – The millionth patent is filed in the United States Patent Office by Francis Holton for a tubeless vehicle tire.

"The United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO or USPTO) is an agency in the United States Department of Commerce that issues patents to inventors and businesses for their inventions, and trademark registration for product and intellectual property identification (Wikipedia)."

1921 - Lackawanna County, PA Houses Damaged by Mine Cave Ins.

Image: The Cave-In at Mayfield, Pennsylvania. Source:

"Five properties situated in the lower district of Lackawanna county were badly damaged by mine caves yesterday One of the caves occurred in Old Forge causing heavy loss to four dwellings. Another cave damaged a house in Taylor The occupants of all five dwellings escaped without injury.
The Old Forge cave was said to have been caused by workings of the Pennsylvania Coal Company. It extended along Sibley avenue for a distance of 150 feet affecting the homes of John Percuson, Michael Otinsky, Frank Schosky and Mrs. Mary Pusa.

A property owned by the John Connolly Estate situated on Taylor street. Taylor, was damaged as the result of a cave that caused the building to tip forward for several feet. The Taylor cave occurred over the mine workings of the Glen Alden Coal Company. (Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA 9 Aug 1921)"
1929 – The German airship Graf Zeppelin begins a round-the-world flight.

Image: People watching the landing of Zeppelin LZ 127, 1930. Source: Wikipedia.

"LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin (Deutsche Luftschiff Zeppelin #127; Registration: D-LZ 127) was a large German passenger carrying rigid airship which operated commercially from 1928 to 1937. It was named after the German pioneer of airships, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who held the rank of Graf or Count in the German nobility. During its operating life the great airship made 590 flights covering more than a million miles (Wikipedia)."

On August 8, 1929, captained by Hugo Eckener, the airship makes its 21,500-mile circumnavigation in 21 days and 7 hours (CentennialofFlight).

1937 - Bonneville Dam on Columbia River begins producing power.

Image: "Penny Postcard, ca.1940s, "Bonneville Dam, Looking Upstream, Columbia River Between Washington and Oregon.". Photo by Frank L. Jones. Published by Wesley Andrews Co., Portland, Oregon. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka." Source: The Columbia River.

"The New Deal had a grassroots impact in Oregon. This was most dramatically confirmed when, in 1935, Congress funded construction of a project that Roosevelt had promised during his 1932 campaign swing through the state.
Bonneville Dam, one of the great engineering marvels of the early 20th century, was to span the Columbia River at the western end of the Gorge. Its massive reservoir would back up waters to The Dalles. Its locks would lift ships and barges for easy transit to the grain elevators of the western plateau. Its turbines would generate massive amounts of electricity to power industry and diversify the region's economy.
Above all, construction of the dam would provide employment for 4,000 laborers and the multiplier effect would generate thousands more jobs to feed, house, and provide services to these workers and their families. Because navigation was a critical element with the building of the locks, the Army Corps of Engineers secured project supervision. Initial estimates for the dam, lock, powerhouse, and federal townsites for management personnel ran to $81 million (Oregon Blue Book)."
1946 – First flight of the Convair B-36.

Image: A Convair B-36 Peacemaker from the US Air Force. Source: Wikipedia.
"Responding to the U.S. Army Air Forces' requirement for a strategic bomber with intercontinental range, Consolidated Vultee (later Convair) designed the B-36 during World War II. The airplane made its maiden flight in August 1946, and in June 1948 the Strategic Air Command received its first operational B-36. Some B-36s served as photographic reconnaissance aircraft, and others were adapted to launch and retrieve specially modified RF-84F/K reconnaissance planes.

Powered by six Pratt & Whitney R-4360 engines, the B-36J cruised at 230 mph, but for additional bursts of speed its four General Electric J47s increased the maximum speed to 435 mph. It carried 86,000 pounds of nuclear or conventional bombs. When production ended in August 1954, more than 380 B-36s had been built for the U.S. Air Force. In 1958-1959, the USAF replaced the B-36 with the all-jet B-52. Although never used in combat, the B-36 was a major deterrent to enemy aggression. Making the last B-36 flight ever, the aircraft on display flew to the museum from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., on April 30, 1959 (National Museum of the US Air Force)."
1989 – Space Shuttle program: STS-28 Mission – Space Shuttle Columbia takes off on a secret five-day military mission.

Image: Launch of STS-28 in August, 1989. Source: Wikipedia.
"STS-28 was the forth shuttle mission dedicated to United States Department of Defense, and first flight of Columbia since mission STS-61-C. The details of the mission are classified. The payload is widely believed to have been the first SDS-2 communications satellite. The mission was launched successfully on 8 August 1989. STS-28 lasted just over 5 days and traveled 2.1 million miles in 81 orbits of the earth. The altitude of the mission is classified, but based on the distance traveled and number of orbits, the altitude would have been between 220 km and 380 km. The shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base on runway 17.

Post-flight analysis of STS-28 discovered unusual heating of the thermal protection system (TPS) during re-entry, caused by an early transition to turbulent plasma flow around the vehicle. A detailed report identified protruding gap filler as the likely cause. This filler material is the same material which was removed during a spacewalk on the STS-114 Return to Flight mission in 2005 (Wikipedia)."
1991 – The Warsaw radio mast, at one time the tallest construction ever built, collapses.

Image: The radio mast in Konstantynów, Poland. Source: Wikipedia.

"The Warsaw radio mast was the world's tallest structure until its collapse on 8 August 1991.

The mast, which was designed by Jan Polak, was 646.38 metres (2,120.67 ft) tall. Its construction, started in July 1970, was completed on 18 May 1974, and its transmitter entered regular service on 22 July of that year. It was located in Konstantynów, Gąbin, Poland, and was used by Warsaw Radio-Television (Centrum Radiowo-Telewizyjne) for longwave radio broadcasting on a frequency of 227 kHz before 1 February 1988 and 225 kHz afterwards.

Its base, according to GoogleEarth, was 115.2 metres above sea level. Because a voltage potential of 120 kV existed between the mast and ground, it stood on a 2-metre-high insulator. It operated as a mast radiator (half wave radiator), so its height was chosen in order to function as a half-wavelength antenna at its broadcasting frequency. The signals from its 2 megawatt transmitters could be received across all of Europe, North Africa and as far away as North America.

Its weight is debated: 380 tonnes, 420 tonnes, 550 tonnes and even 660 tonnes have been cited, probably the result of inaccurate unit conversions by translators. Polish sources claim 420 tonnes.

On 8 August 1991 at 16:00 UTC a catastrophic failure, caused by an error in exchanging the guy-wires on the highest stock, led to the collapse of the mast. The mast first bent and then snapped at roughly half its height. A small mobile crane, property of Mostostal Zabrze, was destroyed in the collapse. The helix building and the transmitter building (including the transmitter devices in it) were not damaged.

An investigating committee determined that blame lay with Mostostal Zabrze, which built and maintained the mast. The construction coordinator and the chief of the Mostostal division that built the mast were accused of causing the collapse. The former was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison, the latter to two years (Wikipedia)."