Mastering Mother Nature

February 25, 2018


Perhaps the height of Victorian hubris was their belief that they were the masters of nature.  They felt their science had unlocked the secrets of nature and their technology had overcome all barriers of nature.  Given what they had accomplished in science and technology, this Victorian view was not as unreasonable as it first seems.


Consider how Victorian technology had shrunken their world with improvements in transportation.  The railroad and steamboat were perfected in the early 1800s as the era began.  By the 1870s, the safety bicycle had advanced to a form much like our modern ones with gears and brakes, further increasing personal mobility.  By the 1880s, the electric street trolley, again essentially like our modern ones, was having a similar effect on people’s mobility.  By the early 1900s, the automobile and airplane were making their first appearances, promising ever faster travel over ever greater distances.  Victorians were traveling farther in less time than at any previous period in history.  Imagine the impact of the airplane, for example.  Humans could now fly … Were they not truly the masters of nature?


Similar dramatic advances had occurred in communications during the era.  Information, like the people who carried it, traveled as fast and as far as the wind could blow you at sea or as human or animal legs could move on land as the era began.  In addition to the previously cited transportation improvements which sped information while carrying people greater distances, now information technology moved messages even more efficiently.  The telegraph (Samuel Morse, 1844) the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell, 1876) and the phonograph (Thomas Edison, 1877) had helped to do this.  The most amazing advance was the wireless telegraph (Guglielmo Marconi, late 1890s) which had an almost mystic way of invisibly communicating information.  Had not time and space been mastered?


Equally and mystically invisible was the new power source of electricity harnessed by George Westingh