Radio Grows Up

How the novelty item of 1920 became the world-straddling colossus of 1940

IN 1921 Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who was charged with what meager regulation of the airwaves there was, called radio “an instrument of beauty and learning.” Waldemar Kaempffert, who, as editor of Scientific American , had followed the beginnings of the technology, in 1922 imagined “a radio mother … crooning songs and telling bedtime stories” while “some future Einstein” could elaborate his theories “to a whole world with an ear cocked to catch … his voice as it wells out of the Read more »

A Short History Of Heart Surgery

“A wound in the heart is mortal,” Hippocrates said two thousand years ago. Until very recently he was right.

IN MAY OF 1975, when I was fortyseven, I developed angina (heart pain due to an insufficient supply of blood to the heart muscle), and about two months later, after a stress test, a coronary angiogram, and various blood tests, I underwent an operation. The operation was a coronary artery bypass in which veins from my leg were used to bypass the obstructed arteries of my heart.Read more »

Scientists At War

THE BIRTH OF THE RAND CORPORATION During World War II, America discovered that scientists were needed to win it—and to win any future war. That’s why RAND came into being, the first think tank and the model for all the rest.

ALONG THE jagged coastline of Southern California, past the hills and forests of Malibu, five miles down from the Santa Monica Mountains, just short of Muscle Beach and the town of Venice, there sits some of the most quaintly decrepit oceanside property in America. The Santa Monica beach hardly looks different from the way it did a few years after World War II: the same huge arch along the entryway, the same calliope with the lighthouse-shaped apartment on top, the same small seafood diner. Read more »

City Lights

The decline and fall of the lamppost

I DON’T THINK of myself as having a “thing” about lampposts, but when I walk Manhattan’s streets at night— streets naked to the greenish glare of 1,000-watt lights vaulting three stories high—I realize how much I miss those graceful, human-scale streetlamps of my youth. Read more »

What Went Wrong With Disney’s Worlds Fair

With Epcot, Walt Disney turned his formidable skills to building a city where man and technology could live together in perfect harmony. The result is part prophecy, part world’s fair. Here, America’s leading authority on technological history examines this urban experiment in the light of past world’s fairs, and tells why it fails where they succeeded—and why that matters.

MOST OF THE world must know by now that Epcot is a place built in north-central Florida by the followers of Walt Disney to explain how science and technology fit into the human scheme of things. When the editors of AMERICAN HERITAGE invited me to take a look at it, I gratefully accepted for several reasons. Read more »

Christopher Latham Sholes: The Seventy-sixth Inventor Of The Typewriter

Charles Weller was at his post in the Western Union office in Milwaukee one day in 1867 when his friend Christopher Sholes came in. With the long, tragic face of an El Greco martyr, Sholes looked to be nothing less exalted than a poet, but in fact he was collector of customs for the city. He liked to invent things on the side, and that was why he had come to see Weller: he wanted a piece of carbon paper for an experiment. “What kind of experiment?” Weller asked, handing over the paper.Read more »

II. Bats Away!

It is early 1945. An American bomber crew is anxiously nearing the now familiar islands of the Japanese Empire. Flak begins to burst around the plane as the target comes into view. The bombardier releases the payload, and the crew watches as thousands of incendiary bats plummet toward the paper cities of Japan. Read more »

The FDR Tapes

Secret recordings made in the Oval Office of the President in the autumn of 1940

INTRODUCTION BY ARTHUR SCHLESINGER, JR. Read more »

A Demonstration At Shippingport

Coming on Line

From the beginning it was clear—in this case the beginning was December 2, 1942, the day the first man-made nuclear reactor was nudged to criticality in a squash court beneath the west stands of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field and incidentally the first day of wartime gasoline rationing—that the fissioning atom radiated heat energy and that such energy might, in the fullness of time, be applied to make electricity for power. Fifteen years would pass before nuclear electricity was generated in any quantity in the United States.Read more »

The Conundrum Of Corn

It’s our most important, profitable, and adaptable crop—the true American staple. But where did it come from?

In 1748 an inquisitive Swede named Peter Kalm, a protégé of the great botanist Linnaeus, came to America to find plants that could be useful in his country. He went around asking questions of everybody about everything. He asked Benjamin Franklin about hardy trees and was told that English walnuts did not survive Philadelphia’s winters. He asked John Bartram, the most knowing botanist in the colonies, about timber and was told that American oaks were not as tough as European.Read more »