Railroad Inventors Railroaders were practical men. But some antebellum locomotives, like this 6-2-0 built by the Camden & Amboy, were spectacular oddities as well as miserable failures. Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania No one actually "invented" the railroad, nor can any one place claim its birth. Ancient Corinthians cut grooves in stone pavement to guide wagon wheels, as did the Romans. In late-medieval Central Europe, miners crafted tramways (later, "tramroads") with crude wooden wheels rolling on equally crude wooden rails. By the 1500s, tramways were in use in Germany and Great Britain, and by the time of American independence there were hundreds of miles of fairly sophisticated tramroads and railroads operating throughout the mining districts of England and Wales, using gravity and animal power. A man by the name of Richard Trevithick built the first successful steam locomotive in 1804, operating it on the Penydarren tramroad in Wales. By 1825 and the opening of … [Read more...] about Old Railroads
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The Roman Forum as seen from the Arch of Titus. See more pictures of famous landmarks. Dave Huss/iStockphoto At the height of its power, Rome reached a population of nearly one million people -- the largest city of an empire that stretched from Scotland in the west to the Persian Gulf in the east. A city of that size required enormous planning, and Roman engineers obliged by taking into consideration a number of features that ensured the safety, productivity and well-being of its citizens. They provided systems to dispose of sewage. They built aqueducts to bring water to the city. They built roads to facilitate transportation and communication. They designed and arranged financing for baths, sports arenas and theaters. And they placed, at the heart of the city, a forum where Romans of every class and distinction could gather to socialize, worship and conduct business. Although ancient Rome finally collapsed, the principles of municipal planning that made the city so … [Read more...] about How Urban Planning Works
Firsts This week we're taking a look at first things, early things, and—for better or worse—things that are #1. The world is filled with amazing technologies, many that are so old we don’t even think of them as technologies at all. Today, we present the definitive list of every important technology ever, ranked by their importance. These aren’t all necessarily good technologies, of course. There are plenty that have made the world a more miserable place for everybody. But they’re still on the list. If you have any opinion about the fact that this list may be omitting an extremely vital technology, you would be wrong. This list is both correct and definitive and cannot be changed. And you’re wrong. 100. Cow milking machine Are you one of those chumps still milking a cow by hand? An extremely primitive automated cow milker was invented around 1860, but the contraption would see many iterations through the 1920s and ‘60s as the rise of … [Read more...] about Technology, Ranked
Mesopotamia © 2010 HowStuffWorks.com Anthropologists and archaeologists love to get together to talk about the different characteristics that make up a civilized society. While the finer points are debated, there are a number of things that most researchers agree are necessary to draw such a distinction. In the mid-1930s, an archaeologist named V. Gordon Childe wrote a book called "Man Makes Himself," which named a few components that marked civilization. Among them are sailing ships, plows, wheels and draft animals, an irrigation system, standards of measurement and writing. Most of the things that Childe and other researchers list are related in some way to the nuts and bolts of survival, or at the least, how to survive efficiently. Standards of measurement and writing both stand out as more cultural in nature. While you don't need writing to survive, it may draw the most distinct line between a civilized and an uncivilized society. In fact, some argue that writing became … [Read more...] about How did writing evolve?
This illustration of a prehistoric mastodon shows the size of the animals Founding Father Thomas Jefferson believed might still be roaming the plains in the early 1800s. Bettmann/Getty Images For the Sage of Monticello, science was a patriotic pursuit. When he wasn't drafting declarations or making land deals with Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson kept himself busy by studying the natural world. Paleontology was among his favorite subjects and during the American revolution, he used mastodon bones to defend the honor of his emerging country. Here's the story of how that came to pass. Giants in the Land of Bluegrass During the last ice age, Boone County in northern Kentucky was a swampy wetland teeming with mega-mammals. On the ground lay exposed deposits of salt — or "salt licks" — that attracted herbivores in need of sodium supplements. Predators, such as humans, grew wise to this and ambushed careless plant-eaters at the licks. The swamps were not safe loitering places. … [Read more...] about The Mastodon Boneyard That Stole Thomas Jefferson’s Heart