How Steam Blew The Rowdies Out Of The Fire Departments

The old volunteer system was colorful, but it could do more harm than good—and the efficiency of machinery finally replaced it

Progress usually has more enemies than friends at first, and such was the case with the steam engine. But long after this engine had been accepted (or tolerated) for factory use and for railroad or ship propulsion, there was resistance to steam fire engines. Here the objection was not merely on religious, safety, or esthetic grounds. The volunteer firemen and their numerous admirers could, perhaps subconsciously, see a threat to their way of life. Longer than almost anyone else, firemen resisted the Industrial Revolution.Read more »

Not The Brooklyn Bridge

It was built by Roebling, connects two cities, is a landmark of American engineering, and looks just like it but is…

IN THE SPRING of 1869 a party of engineers, politicians, and businessmen left Brooklyn and headed west in a special train. With them was John Augustus Roebling, the sixtytwo-year-old German-born engineer who had completed his plans for a massive bridge over New York’s East River. Read more »

George Washington And “the Guilty, Dangerous & Vulgar Honor”

In an age of ersatz heroes, a fresh look at the real thing

George Washington, writes Carry Wills, “succeeded so well that he almost succeeds himself out of the hero business. He made his accomplishments look, in retrospect, almost inevitable. Heroism so quietly efficient dwindles to managerial skill.” Read more »