January 21, 2017
History of American Technology & Culture--Spring 2013
Prof. McClurken's HIST 325
Enter your questions and comments below on Nye, 29-132, 138-142, 182-184, 287-291, 304-307, 314-317, 322-338
I think what we are seeing here is a very respectable rejection of electric technology because farmers felt their jobs would disappear. People were very reluctant to “upgrade” because they were afraid that it would change their way of life. Looking back today, its kinda common sense that everyone should use power. It was just slightly rejected. Electricity allowed Americans to become a little more lazy…
I never knew that there was so much resistance to electricity or that it took so long to be widely embraced. However, once it did catch on it completely changed almost every aspect of american life. It allowed for the massive mechanization of farms and industry that I was expecting, but also for things that I had until now taken for granted that, such as hot water and easy transportation. I personally was rather surprised that farmers were so slow to embrace and stubbornly resistant to electricity and mechanization.
It is interesting to see how people can be so stubborn when it comes to change. I know farmers who completely rely on the mechanization of farming, due in no small part to electricity. However, there are always a few holdouts. Apple farming is one of the few areas left where full mechanization has not taken over. Every fall an orchard near my house hires help to pick apples by hand and sort them all by hand. In addition, some of their crops can be picked by the public for direct purchase. Its just amazing how apples have held out when potatoes, corn, almonds, etc. have all had their harvest processes mechanized.
What I found intriguing about the readings is the rate and amount of inventions that were produced after the initial discovery of electricity and the invention of the light bulb. Inventions from leisure and pleasure to inventions for science and industry were all a result of electricity. Never did inventions spring up so fast; they were taking every day items that were not electric before and converting them and then plugging them in! Electricity made life so much easier at a relatively alarming rate. The impact on society could be felt from daily travel to the amusement park and finally the household. Many say today we are in the age of technology, but I say we think to highly of ourselves. The age of technology easily started with the invention of harnessing electricity. Though it may seem like it took forever for it to catch on, electricity, compared to the rest of history, took society by storm. Humans were then able to invent things that were never possible before. The most fascinating thing about electricity is its use as a commodity. Electricity went from a luxury to a necessity and finally back to a luxury. Not only did electricity make our lives simpler, it made it more fun! How far back we would be if we never harnessed the use of electricity? I think the answer to that questions show how much of an impact electricity made on all of our lives.
What if electricity had come to the rural areas first? This reading helps me to understand the role of electricity and how people can be wary of it, something I take so for granted. it also shows the evolution of cities and the tools that electricity enabled them to make. Tools like streetcars, lamps, and the start of companies embracing electricity all stem from cities embracing electricity. Gibran pointed out in his second paragraph something that I completely misunderstood. The way that politics played a huge role in who got electricity first(Rural vs Cities) and the way that business adopted electricity .
I think it is understandable that electricity didn’t catch on right away because of how different it was. It is hard for us to understand because electricity is everywhere now. The most interesting thing i found about the reading was the enormous impacts it had on society. It made everything faster and easier from the electric railcars to cleaning the house to the fact that plays could now be put on at night and could have huge advertising billboards. On page 50 it says that the first large electric sign was put up and was fifty feet high and eighty feet wide. All together i think electricity is the most impactful advancement in technology ever.
I found it interesting how quickly the use of electricity surpassed necessity and became a huge part of entertainment. It became an important part of World Fairs and advertising and displays. It was a new way to impress and entice customers with the latest technology.
Nye also mentions something that went along with previous readings – that the use of electricity equated with superiority. There was this idea that light correlated with superior races and a culture while darkness was a characteristic of the primitive. It’s interesting to see that with a new form of technology comes again this renewed sense of superiority and I’m curious to see if this continues with new inventions and technological advancements.
I found it incredibly interesting to see how, while it didn’t immediately catch on, electricity completely changed all aspects of American life. From trolleys to street cars and amusement parks, many of the technologies we know and take for granted today were novelties and in many cases created simply because they could be with the use of electricity. I also found it interesting to see the conflict between private electric companies and those like the TVA and the REA which really shaped the bringing of electricity to rural areas.
I found it fascinating that electricity didn’t catch on automatically. Important to this arguement was the governemnt (non rurals) were saying that electicity would demoralized the country side. It was insteresting to see that morality was used to argure against electiricity, in that, by obtaining electricity one would be disrupting the “natural motion” of farming.
A few things stood out to me during these readings.
First, I found it very interesting that electricity didn’t catch on automatically. It had so many more advantages over all of its antecedents. Clearly once the ball got rolling it wasnt going to stop.
The next thing I thought was cool was the New Deal photography. The theme was the heroic worker going back to work with new technologies. Just seemed like it would be an exciting time for a lot of Americans who had been so downtrodden by the crash
PS – no one mentions Tesla when talking about the Rural electricity, and yet he made it possible DC power could not be moved distances. The wires would get too hot. So, Tesla is the reason and Edison was a lap dog.
I found the readings begging on page 182 to be the most eye opening for two reasons. The first was the dominance of the private electric companies over the public government owned companies. Considering the time period the monopoly of the private electric company is not surprising however, I personally have never thought of electricity as being one of the big monopolies of the time. I think instead of J.P. Morgan, banking, John D. Rockefeller, oil, and Andrew Carnegie, and the steel industry. I also found it amusing that people thought, and were added in this thought by advertising, that electricity meant an end to their “toils.” Nye states that the people at first though of electricity as an “enlivening ‘juice’ that would free mankind from toil.” It’s interesting to think how much electricity did to improve quality of life at this time.
I would like to say that any book on the development of electricity that has one reference on Nikola Tesla (an obscure one on page 343) has no credibility whatsoever with me. Nikola Tesla is the reason we have the infrastructure of today’s electricity. We have AC generators, step up and step down transformers because of Tesla. Tesla was black-balled because he was altruistic and got JP Morgan to finance a radio tower that could have transmitted wireless electricity to the world for free. He had built the tower on Long Island New York and when Morgan found out its duel purpose- he had it torn down. He famously asked where would you put the meter. He made sure Tesla received no more financing. Westinghouse bought Tesla’s patents for AC and made a fortune. The Great White Way came from the 1893 Chicago exposition which Tesla had lit up brilliantly. AC power and the Tesla coil is used in every appliance and motor today. AC 60 Hz power is all Tesla. Honestly, Edison gets all this because of a lightbulb? Tesla lit up the exposition without Edison’s light bulb. That was not the tough part. Tesla’s AC could travel long distances because it could be stepped up to lower the amps and therefore keep the heat low. Elecricity doesn’t travel down a wire to your house it simply moves back and forth at 60 Hertz per second. So, time for a new book. They don’t even give Tesla credit for the the Chicago Exposition which was what made American financier’s choose AC power. Sorry to rant but Tesla is really the reason for all of it.
The history of electricity and its use is long, and varied. One of the ways that this week’s readings demonstrated this was through showing the face that there was not always the belief that electricity was universally good. The best example of this can be found on pages 287-291. The fact is that farms and farmers were the last group of Americans to fully embrace electricity. There are a multitude of reasons for this. Farms were seen as the moral center of America. There were those out there who believed that any change to this would result in moral degradation. The farmer would lose his standing. Electrification represented such a change. They were also afraid that electrification would have an adverse effect on their daily life. However, electrification represents one of the most important advances for farmers.
The readings this week covered a great deal of information. I found it quite surprising how different the city and rural life were, and yet how interconnected they all became in late 19th and 20th centuries. I was most interested in the readings on pages 304-307. It was interesting to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright beliefs; seeing as though he created the infamous falling water in PA, which is literally a house on a waterfall. I wonder though what the farmers might have done had Roosevelt not stepped in to save the day in the early to mid 1930’s?
I really liked this week’s reading. I have never given electricity more thought than my sometimes anger when the lights don’t turn on but in our world, electricity is a given. I enjoyed reading about how electricity came to be and how it evolved in different ways. My favorite reading was pages 138- 142. I had no idea that electricity did not get to places like South Africa because it would only be for gold, silver and coal. But in America, private businesses were the most important aspect for the spread of electricity and the government was merely a side factor. This is interesting and in our world, we are used to paying an electric company the monthly bill but I found myself wondering at the end of the reading what would of happened if the American government had run the spread of electricity and the private sector had never gotten involved. Would this have produced the same outcome?
This week’s readings brought a new perspective about electricity being more business driven than driven by the welfare of the consumer. I realized that electricity would be brought to more densely populated areas first but I did not realize that electricity was denied to places that did not seem to be profitable like in South Africa where electricity was only delivered “primarily to improve gold, coal, and diamond mining.”
The readings were very interesting, but the part that confused me was on page 289-290. The book discusses how several farmers, even towns and their newspapers, expressed how they thought farms powered by electricity would turn out to be a disaster. They predicted that it would disturb not only the animals but also the farmers to. Some people believed that the farms would “no longer sustain Jeffersonian values.” This confused me because people don’t own and operate farms because it instills good values in themselves; they do it for the money. So, any piece of technology that was developed, giving the famers an opportunity to earn more money for their minute, should be accepted immediately. I don’t get why they are so concerned with maintaining the typical farm setting when electricity offers not only more money, but also easier working conditions.
My favorite part of the reading was the part about the world’s fairs and the vivid descriptions of the electrical displays that they at the fairs. However, what was really fascinating was the impact that the trolley (electric streetcar and interurban rails) had between 1880 and 1920. Metaphorically speaking, the trolley was like a power strip that distributed energy several different areas of business and social life. Besides becoming a new type of transportation or an improvement to the horse carriages, it changed where certain classes lived, expanded the range of the rural woman, created new forms of amusement (trolley parks) provided accessibility to not only world’s fairs, but to new forms of leisure (amusement parks), gave newspapers something dramatic to write about (strikes), increased advertising and production in certain industries (steel and copper), and caused department stores to reorganize the contents and services they provided. Needless to say, I thought that was pretty amazing. Furthermore, what I found unexpected was how trolleys just collapsed after 1920 (pg. 140). It seemed to me that trolleys like other new and cool technologes throughout history were just a fad (that ran for 30 years).
I thought it was interesting that the phenomenon of electricity did not catch on immediately. Once it did though, it changes the lives of Americans greatly, in urban areas anyway. Electricity should have made the lives of rural farmers so much easier. Electricity in a way, launched leisure culture. Coney Island being an example. Part of the allure of the attractions there brought people from around the world.
I really enjoyed the first half of the reading about lighting the World’s Fairs. It was really cool to learn that some of the first uses of electric lights were at these fairs. I was also amazed at how early people began experimenting with lighting and different ways to change the lights to imitate sun rises and sets and to draw attention to certain architectural aspects of featured buildings. The part of the reading that interested me the most was the last part about the electrification of rural America. I was especially surprised to read about how much conflict there had been about bringing electricity to America’s farmers. The fact that many farms were without electricity until Roosevelt’s New Deal programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Rural Electrification Administration, shocked me. I had always thought of these programs as bringing electricity to the extremely impoverished farms and backwater towns, but it had never occured to me that many larger farms would not have had electricity at this point. The fact that some people were against bringing electricity to rural America interested me as well because although farmers were not the majority, they still played a valuable role in the success of the country and I would have thought that even people living in the big cities would have agreed that making farmers lives easier would benefit the country as a whole.
I enjoyed the contrast of views on electricity in the first half of the reading. Nye not only shows the importance of electricity and lighting but also the want for glamour and extravagance with the help of lighting in society. Cities were now being turned from drab and unexciting places and into an adventurous environment. That section in the reading reminded me of the the discussion on Tuesday about how electricity was associated with wealth. With cities appearing to be more prosperous this brought in more attention from the public. Even though this advancement was exciting the author mentioned the amount of wires that were around which reminded me of how far we’ve come today in hiding the ugly and annoying parts of certain technologies. Nye also brought the importance of lighting in many areas of life such as World War I to life of Broadway. Towards the end of the reading Nye points out how agriculture was the last major sector in America to be electrified. Even though it was the last it was stated that Theodore Roosevelt thought farming was very important, not only in the business world but also where moral standards thrived. I enjoyed the quote that Nye included by Thomas Jefferson that “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God…” Even though agriculture was not as flashy and exciting as electricity and lighting it still was a key importance in American life.
I thought it was interesting how much the electric streetcar had an impact on people’s lives. I had figured on things like greater connectivity between cities and suburbs, and the rise of easier commuting and that sort of thing, but I hadn’t ever considered things like the trolley-subsidized parks far out down the lines. It really resonated with me because of my project topic… it was just such an unexpected find in a mountain of reading
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