Category Archives: A new idea

The first man to fly up, then fly down – and live.

It was on Sunday 22nd October 1797 that André-Jacques Garnerin carried out the first known parachute descent with a silk parachute at Parc Monceau, Paris.  Before he began his ascent the parachute resembled a closed umbrella with a pole running down its centre with a rope running through a tube in the pole that connected it to the balloon.  He rode in a basket attached to the bottom of the parachute.

At a height of around 3,000 feet (1,000 m), he cut the rope that connected his parachute to the balloon. The balloon continued its flight skyward while Garnerin, with his basket and parachute, went in the opposite direction!   As it fell the basket swung violently.  Then it landed – bumping and scraping as it did.  Then the basket stopped and out climbed Andre-Jacques Garnerin – the first man to descend safely and climb out uninjured!

This was just a beginning and Garnerin went on to stage regular tests and demonstrations at Parc Monceau in Paris. In 1798 he announced that his next flight would include a woman as a passenger. Although the public and press were in favour, he was forced to appear in front of officials of the Central Bureau of Police to justify his project.  They were concerned about the effect that reduced air pressure might have on the organs of the delicate female body and loss of consciousness, plus the moral implications of flying in such close proximity.

However – after further consultation with both the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of the Police – the injunction was overturned on the grounds that “there was no more scandal in seeing two people of different sexes ascend in a balloon than it is to see them jump into a carriage.” They also agreed that the decision of the woman showed proof of her confidence in the experiment and a degree of personal intrepidity.

We’ll come back to the result of that next year!

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A new train arrives 3 minutes early!

Monday 4th October 1976 saw a new high-speed train go into service for the first time. Powered by two diesel engines the trains were capable to a top speed of 140mph which, at that time, made it the fasted diesel powered train in the world.  It is recorded that, on this first journey it arrived 3 minutes early at Bristol!

So what was involved in creating this new wonder?  Well British Railways was creating and introducing the Inter-City 125 trains so as to provide a regular high speed service between Cardiff, Bristol and London.  This was the first traveler but British Rail planed to extend the HST service to other major cities over the following two/three years.  Powered by two diesel motors the Inter-City 125 had already recorded a top speed of over 140mph in trial runs, making it the fastest diesel-powered train in the world.

It was recognised that most other countries had developed electrically powered high-speed trains but the cost of electrification on Britain’s network was considered, at the time, to be prohibitive.  The diesel-powered 125 was a new product from existing technology and was a reasonable stopgap.  The absence of an official ceremony by British Rail to mark this initial occasion meant that few passengers on the trip were aware they were making history on the morning when the 08.05 train left Paddington on time and headed west.

However, it dose appear that most of the travellers did appreciate some improvement in comfort – the carriages featured aircraft-like seating, with sliding electric doors at each end.  Not only was this comfort welcome – hot food could be promptly served from an on-board kitchen with the aid of a state-of-the-art microwave oven!

 

The BBC Radio Times is 94 years old today

It was on Friday 28th September 1923 that the Radio Times, price 2d, was first published.

It had all begun in that spring when John Reith, the BBC’s first Director General, had received an ultimatum from the Newspaper Publishers Association that warned and then threatened him that ‘unless the Corporation paid a significant fee, none of its NPA members would carry radio programme listings.’ The threat was soon withdrawn but it was there long enough for Reith to think through an idea for the corporation to publish its own listings magazine. He came to a joint agreement with George Newnes Ltd., and the first edition of ‘The Radio Times’ – the official organ of the BBC – appeared on the news-stands on this day.

‘The Fete at Blackpool – a great Electric Light Demonstration’

It was on Thursday 18th September 1879 that the Manchester Courier reported that:

‘In the history of Blackpool there has not been such an excitement as there was seen on Thursday in every ramification of its thoroughfares. It is growing late in the autumn, but this favourite seaside resort was full to overflowing. Trains arriving from all quarters, not only from all parts of Lancashire but from the north, south, east and west of broad England, poured their copious freights into the town. The esplanade was populated by a mob of fashionable people with a considerable mixture of people who have no pretention to fashion at all. The piers throughout presented an appearance that might be compared without much exaggeration to a couple of bee-swarmings. Flags are flying from every coign of vantage; brass bands are blaring in the streets. On this Thursday night the illumination of the town of Blackpool by the electric light was inaugurated on a scale of splendour, and with the result of a success which cannot fail to influence the future of this famous bathing place. The essential fact to be stated in the foreground of our description is that it has been determined that Blackpool shall be lighted in future with the electric light, and on Thursday night the multitudes of visitors drawn thither by the announcement of the fact had an opportunity of judging the effect of this improvement.’

I think it is something that might catch on.

Arresting the first drunk driver and the result

It was on Friday 10th September 1897 that a London cabdriver named George Smith drove his taxi into a building and became the first person in Britain to be arrested for drunk driving. He pleaded guilty and was fined 25 shillings. The checking police officers said they ‘knew that Smith was drunk because he acted drunk’ – he had driven that cab into a wall, after all and ‘because he said he was!’

What they lacked, though, was a scientific way to prove someone was too intoxicated to drive, even if he or she wouldn’t admit it.  It wasn’t long before blood tests were introduced – but those were messy and needed to be performed by a doctor.  Then there were urine tests – but those were even messier, not to mention unreliable and expensive.

It was in 1931 that Rolla Neil Harger, a toxicologist at Indiana University in the USA, came up with a solution – a breathalyzer device he called the ‘Drunkometer’. It was simple – all the suspected drinker had to do was blow into a balloon!  The tester would then attached the balloon to a tube filled with a purple fluid – a mix of Potassium Permanganate and Sulphuric Acid – and release the air into the tube.  Any alcohol on a person’s breath would change the colour of the fluid from purple to yellow – and the quicker the change, the drunker the person!

In 1938 Rolla Harger was one of the five people chosen to be on the subcommittee of the National Safety Council that drafted the model legislation that set the blood alcohol content for driving under the influence.  He was awarded the patent in 1936.