Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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ALL of us have seen at least one or two motion pictures that were part of the recent Hollywood trend toward biographical portrayals of the struggles of great men in science and medicine. And in each of these pictures we can recall the "great men" having had to face terrific obstacles in the form of ignorance and persecution. But the Pasteurs and the Edisons weren't the only men of science who ran up against the cold wall of human stupidity. Throughout the ages ash-cans in the alleyways of progress have been innumerable.
Here are a few receptions given scientific advancement at various stages in history.
Experts in Germany proved—when railroads were new—that train speeds geared up to the excessive and terrifying rate of fifteen miles an hour would cause blood to spurt from passengers' noses; not to mention the absolute suffocation that would be the lot of those passengers aboard trains traveling through tunnels at that tremendous speed.
And speaking of railroads, an eminent minister in this country predicted that the rate of insanity throughout the nation would rise to a staggering count if railroads were allowed to run. He based his prediction on the effect the sight of speeding metal monsters would have on the populace.
And then there was a chap named Westinghouse who had an air- brake which he was trying to peddle. One of his interviews about the invention resulted in Commodore Vanderbilt's tossing him out with the remark that he "had no time for fools."
Then, around the year 1597, the poor guy who invented the weaving machine was strangled by order of the state, since it was decided that his machine would cause great harm to the populace.
But the fellow who came out with the first successful cast- iron plow in this country didn't get much better treatment. He was looked on as a loony because it was declared that cast iron would poison the land and result in a widespread growth of weeds.
Even the backers of Fulton's steamboat made poor Robert promise never to reveal who was advancing him money. They didn't want their names connected with anything so "fantastic."
But if at this point you're about to declare that there must have been someone with imagination, let us ask you: "Someone like H.G. Wells?" Here's what H.G., in spite of his reputation for foresight, had to say about submarines. We quote—"I must confess that my imagination refuses to see a submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and foundering at sea."
Along about 1906, just about the time when the Wright boys and a few others were about to give birth to beginning of modern flying, the very well-known scientist Simon Newcomb declared that proof of man's inability to fly, then or ever, was to him, "as complete as it is possible for the demonstration of any physical fact to be."
Modern employers would get a kick out of knowing that not so many years ago, a group of pseudo-physiologists protested the introduction of typing lessons by the New York Y.W.C.A. Their solemn, and somewhat medically certified assertion was that the female constitution would crumble completely under the strain of operating a typewriter.
And then, to wind up with Edison, history shows us that even after Edison's first successful experiments in electric lighting, the President of the Stevens Institute of Technology insisted that young Tom's strides were not wonderful successes, but were actually, "conspicuous failures."
All of which should prove something or other, and remind us to hold back our jibes against progress. For what may be fantastic today might very well be substantial fact tomorrow. Don't get out on a limb.