Glimpses of of Men in the Public Eye (May, 1929)
Glimpses of of Men in the Public Eye
WHEN, a little more than ten years ago, Edward R. Armstrong first propounded his idea of building a series of great floating airdromes and anchoring them at intervals across the Atlantic to provide way stations for a regular flying service between America and Europe, the public regarded it as a fantastic dream. Aviation experts took the idea more seriously. Armstrong’s words, as consulting engineer in charge of mechanical and chemical experimental development for the Du Pont company, carried authority. Still, realization of the project was considered a thing of the dim future.
Now Armstrong’s conception is about to become a reality. A syndicate of New York financiers has backed the plan with millions. And shortly we may see winged liners flying from New York on a thirty-six-hour schedule across the Atlantic, pausing at 400-mile intervals on huge floating airports for fuel and weather reports.
Actual construction of the first Armstrong seadrome is to be started in August. It will be built along lines described previously in Popular Science Monthly inside the Delaware Capes near Cape May. The job should be finished by June or July of next year. The plan is to anchor it at a point midway between New York and Bermuda. But the complete project calls for seven more such ocean airports—a string of eight artificial islands stretching across the sea from our Atlantic coast to the Azores!
Armstrong’s career has been a curious crazy quilt of vocations. At one time, he was featured as the strong man in a circus! And this despite the fact that Nature, apparently, had meant him to be a physical weakling. When he came into the world at Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada, in 1877, he weighed exactly three pounds! The puny baby grew into an undersized and sickly boy. But when he was about eleven, a chance remark by his mother that he would never be as strong as his father determined him to improve his physique. The result was a triumph of will power. When he was nineteen, he was famous for his prodigious feats of strength and his lectures on health.
After about a year of weight-lifting, cable-breaking, and health missionary work, he decided to go in for wrestling.
At twenty, he was in a fair way to become the wrestling champion of the world, but his prowess somehow didn’t satisfy him. In Cleveland, Ohio, at the time, he picked up the threads of a rather desultory education and took an engineering course, after which he joined a railroad surveying crew.
His climb in the engineering world was a steady one. Once, however, he turned away from the profession for a brief, strange interval. Attending a circus with some friends, he jokingly remarked that he could easily duplicate all of the tricks performed by the star strong man and teach him a few new ones besides. This he did after the show. The strong man being about to quit his job, Armstrong took his place and for two months traveled with the “big top.”
Five years of surveying work in the Texas oil fields followed. About that time the Wright I brothers developed their first plane and Armstrong took a keen interest in aviation. He experimented in building seaplanes, but abandoned this work when he found they were not practicable for long sustained flight. At the beginning of the World War, Armstrong joined the Du Pont company.
A Great Engineer and Adventurer.
THE American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers recently bestowed upon John Hays Hammond the William Lawrence Saunders medal, the highest award within its power to confer. The award came as one of the crowning glories of a distinguished career as an engineer.
Hammond’s genius has carried him to California, Mexico, Russia, China, Japan, and Siberia to open mines, build railroads, clear jungles, bridge rivers, level mountains, and construct highways. He is now seventy-four years old. The story of his life is the stuff of which the world’s great romances are made. For he has been not only an engineer, but also an adventurer and soldier of fortune. In the stirring days that preceded the Boer War in South Africa, for example, Hammond’s activity as a leader in an attempted revolution won him imprisonment in an African cell and a sentence of death!
At that time, at the age of forty, he was in the employ of Cecil Rhodes, the “empire builder,” in charge of the great gold mines at Johannesburg, and of the development of mineral deposits in Rhodesia. There had been a long series of injustices to the “uitlanders,” or foreigners, who, though bringing brains and capital to the country, were denied a voice in the government. The Johannesburg mining community deemed the overthrow of “Oom” Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal Republic, the only means of relief. A crisis came about 1895. Plans were laid for a revolt, in which Hammond became one of the leaders.
Arms were smuggled in, but delay in their arrival brought on the famous Jameson Raid which resulted in Hammond’s arrest and sentence to be hanged for high treason. A storm of protest arose throughout the world. After months of negotiation, Hammond was finally released on the payment of $125,000.
After a few years in England, Hammond returned to the United States in 1900, and during the ensuing ten years devoted himself to the development of some of the largest mining properties in this country and in Mexico. He also lectured at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins Universities. In 1911, President Taft appointed him special ambassador to the coronation of King George of England. The following year he again went to Europe as president of the Panama-Pacific Exposition Committee. From 1914 until 1915 he was chairman of the World Court Congress, and he served in the same capacity with the United States Coal Commission from 1922 to 1923. He now lives in Washington, D. C.
Magician of Chemistry.
NOT long ago a client of Arthur D. Little, chemical engineer of Boston, was discussing the uselessness of a certain raw material.
“It’s a waste of time to bother with that stuff,” he said; “you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” “Oh, can’t I?” was the reply of Little. Today a red and blue purse, for which the artificial silk was obtained by Dr. Little and his associates from the gelatin and tissues contained in a female pig’s ear, is the star exhibit in the museum connected with the concern.
In a sense, that little purse is the symbol of Arthur D. Little’s genius of accomplishing the “impossible”‘ through industrial research. Among his recent amazing developments are processes for the manufacture of vegetable glue from starch, the recovery of turpentine and resin from yellow pine stumps, and the extraction of zinc from complex ores.
Dr. Little has worked out more processes of paper manufacture than any other chemist in the world. Only lately he developed a practical method for making newsprint paper from Southern woods. When operated on a large scale, it promises an enormous reduction in the cost of newsprint.
He is the inventor of processes for the manufacture of chrome-tanned leather and artificial silk, and has directed the production of a long line of alcohols and special products from petroleum.
Dr. Little is now sixty-five years old. His interest in chemistry began more than half a century ago, when he was a public school boy in Portland, Me. One day a boy seated back of him in the classroom nudged him and whispered : “Arthur, have you a dime?”
Little inspected his pockets and discovered just ten cents.
“Lend it to me,” the boy whispered again, “and after school I’ll show you some chemical experiments!”
Young Little made the investment. With the dime, the boys bought a piece of glass tubing and five cents’ worth of sulphuric acid. For the first time, Little saw sulphuric acid reacting upon zinc and producing hydrogen—but he heard it, too! The generator had been improperly set up and exploded, but without damage.
That evening he informed his parents he was going to be a chemist. They sent him through preparatory schools, and later enrolled him in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His first job after leaving college was that of part chemist and part clerk with a paper mill near Providence, R. I., at two dollars a day! Six weeks later he was superintendent of the mill, which was the first in this country to make sulphite wood pulp, and when he quit, his salary was $2,200 a year. But he wanted to be his own boss; so, with another chemist, he started a consulting chemists’ laboratory in Boston.
The Little laboratory was on the sixth floor of a dingy building in a little side street and its equipment was scant. (Continued on page 130) In those days, the fee for a sanitary analysis of water was five dollars and the top price for analyzing a sample of sugar seventy-five cents. At the end of the first year, the partners divided $600!
But they refused to quit. Their enthusiasm was justified, for a few years later the firm began to prosper. Then Little’s partner was killed in a laboratory explosion. He carried on the business with another associate, who withdrew in 1909.
Since then, the firm has been known as Arthur D. Little, Inc. Today it occupies a palatial three-story structure. Not the least interesting feature of the establishment is a series of part-size plants, including a pulp and paper mill and an oil refinery. Industrialists in all parts of the world are among the clients of the laboratory.
Little has served both as president of the American Chemical Society and of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Recently, he was elected president of the Society of Chemical Industry of Great Britain. He holds the honorary degree of Doctor of Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh.
Father of the Skyscraper.
NEARLY half a century ago L. S. Buffington, a young Minneapolis architect, patented the idea of the skyscraper, or “cloud-scraper,” as he then called it. The other day, in his eighty-first year, he received his first royalty on the skyscraper patent, and that despite the fact that the patent had run out!
It was a check for $2,250, one eighth of one percent of the cost of the new twenty-six-story Rand Tower in Minneapolis. It was signed by Rufus Rand, a young capitalist who is something of an inventor himself and who, in this manner, paid a belated tribute to the man who visioned our modern towering structures.
Buffington’s invention was a braced skeleton of steel with a steel shelf at each floor to hold the masonry veneer. He conceived this idea in 1880, at the age of thirty-two. But it was not until 1887 that he found time to apply for his patent, which was issued the following year.
In 1882 he drew the plans of his first “cloud-scraper”—a twenty-eight-story building. His contemporaries called him an impractical dreamer.
In the nineties the inventor formed a company to protect his patent. But tall buildings were going up in many cities, and the company started numerous suits. These dragged on for many years, until, at last, the patent had run out. Buffington spent a small fortune trying to collect royalties. BORN in Cincinnati, Ohio, Buffington started his career as a draftsman with a railroad. His leanings, however, were toward architecture, and in 1869 he went to Minneapolis, then just emerging from its frontier settlement stages. Some of the largest buildings of the early days in Minneapolis were his conceptions, including the old state capitol of Minnesota, several of the buildings on the University of Minnesota campus, and the famous West Hotel, which still stands. In not a few of these structures did his skyscraper ideas enter. In 1880, when he erected the Boston Block in Minneapolis, he used more cast iron and I-beams than was customary at the time, though it was only a seven-story building. In the West Hotel he built the stories of I-beams, with girders across the second story.
Though he has never really reaped the fruits of his invention, Buffington has remained an optimist. His advanced years and even severe eye trouble do not prevent him from spending part of each day at his drawing table. A small, wiry man with snow-white hair and beard, he sits in a room decorated with photographs of more than forty large buildings he has designed. Through the windows he proudly watches the changing skyline of his city, with the steel and masonry buildings of twenty-five, thirty, and more stories that he dreamed of and put on paper nearly fifty years ago, at last coming into being.
He Makes the Camera Lie.
afternoon a few weeks ago a man rang up Lejaren Hiller at his photographic studio in New York City and inquired: “Can you give me a photograph by noon tomorrow of a council of nations sitting in the shadow of the Pyramids with the Sphinx in the background?”
“Sure!” Hiller replied. “Do you want a lot of pomp and military regalia?”
It was an easy task for Hiller—merely a matter of sitting down to his workbench and making the Pyramids and the Sphinx in miniature out of modeling clay, selecting models to represent national leaders and military figures, calling on his property room for the necessary costumes, and then focusing his camera. Two photographs were made. One showing the group of personages was superimposed on that of the clay models; the combination was re-photographed and retouched, and by noon the next day the order was filled!
Hiller, inventor of “creative photographic illustration,” does things still more amazing. His work is a continuous contradiction of the old saw that “the camera never lies.”
He invented his process twenty-one years ago. A native of Milwaukee, Hiller made a comfortable living as a magazine illustrator. In his leisure, he experimented with photography. One day the idea occurred to him that, by combining painting and sketching with actual photography, he could get more realistic illustrations. In New York at the time, he was told by editors that the “stunt” was impracticable. One of the skeptics, a friend of Hiller’s, tossed him a story calling for an illustration of the villain standing beside a cactus, with the Rocky Mountains in the background, and demanded to know how Hiller was going to photograph this scene in the city.
Hiller took a picture of a building excavation. Then he found a villainous looking man to serve as model, dressed him in cowboy clothes, and photographed him. The picture of the excavation he turned upside down, giving a perfect effect of a cave. Thereupon he superimposed the photo of the bad man on that of the “Rockies.” The editor was delighted. Hiller’s success dates from that day.
Soon business concerns caught the idea and began to order illustrations for advertising purposes. Since then, Hiller has been busy with camera, models, brushes, paints, and modeling clay, turning out “creative photographs” for calendars, posters, booklets, and other advertising material. The subjects of his “photos” range from Commodore Peary discovering the North Pole and the pioneers of ’49 crossing the desert in covered wagons, to Santa Claus making a triumphal entry in his reindeer sled on the asphalt of Fifth Avenue.