Science & technology notes, 1865

The Youth’s Companion went to great lengths to inform its readers on almost every aspect of life, though nonfiction pieces tended to be brief paragraphs, unlike the multi-column pieces of fiction. Scattered through the 1865 issues, readers would have found descriptions of how things were made, information on natural history, and descriptions of technology and its effects—intended and otherwise.
“The Age of a Turtle” (from The Youth’s Companion, February 23, 1865; p. 32)

[Transcriber: Box turtles generally can live 20-40 years in the wild, though some species can live much longer.]

A correspondent gives us a bit of history about the age of a “box turtle” (land tortoise) which he found in West Hartford, Conn., in 1844. It was marked R. M., 1797. Mr. Ransom Merrill saw and recognized his marking. It was again marked E. H., 1844. In 1864 it was found again, and again marked E. H., 1864. At each of these periods the size and appearance were similar, except that the first marking, engraved upon the lower shell, was a good deal worn. Its local attachments were evidenced by its being found each time within a radius of one-fourth of a mile.

“The Telegraph Foretells the Weather” (from The Youth’s Companion, March 9, 1865; p. 40)

Currents other than those proceeding from the batteries are constantly passing over telegraph wires. They are called “earth currents,” and whenever these currents are more irregular than usual, bad weather invariably follows, the degree of the irregularity bearing an exact relation to that of the storminess of the weather which they precede.

“Rules to Observe When You Take a Gun in Your Hand” (reprinted from Chambers’s Journal; from The Youth’s Companion, March 23, 1865; p. 48)

Whenever you take a gun in your hand, inquire if it is loaded. Should there be no person to answer you, if the gun is a muzzle-loader, place the butt on the ground, outside the left foot, having previously fixed the hammer at half-cock, and holding the muzzle in a forward direction, clear of your person, draw the ramrod and insert it gently into the barrel. If there is a charge in, you will feel the “thud” of the ramrod upon it, whilst the rod’s upper end will project about three fingers’ breadth above the muzzle of the gun. Should the piece not be loaded the ramrod will sink right down, and the broad metal end will soon announce the empty barrel by the tap against the breech-plug. Never handle a loaded gun except for the purpose of discharging it; and never at any time—either in jest or earnest—point a gun at any living thing you don’t deliberately intend to kill.—Chambers’s Journal.

“A Horse-car Incident” (from The Youth’s Companion, April 13, 1865; p. 60)

[Transcriber: The “horse-car” is also known as the horse-drawn trolley; horse-drawn transportation on tracks began in the eastern part of the U. S. in the 1830s. This probably apocryphal story is a good reminder that new technologies often are more easily used than understood!]

“I want you to leave me at Mr. Mudge’s house,” said a woman, the other day, to a conductor on one of the city horse-cars.

“Can’t do it, ma’am,” replied the conductor, civilly.

“Can’t? Why not, pray?”

“Because this is the end of the track, ma’am.”

“Well, what if it is? I was to go to Mr. Mudge’s; and I think it is very strange that you won’t carry me there.”

She was quite indignant when she found that she must leave the car or be carried back to the city again.

“How Lead Pencils Are Made” (from The Youth’s Companion, April 13, 1865; p. 60)

Black lead, or plumbago, is cut into thin plates with a saw, and again into strips as wide as the plate is thick. These strips are then laid in a groove in a piece of cedar, upon which is glued another and thinner piece. The whole is afterward rounded with a plane adapted to that purpose. Some pencils are filled with colored chalk instead of black lead.

“Frightened Into Seeing” (from The Youth’s Companion, August 17, 1865; p. 131)

A severe shock of the nerves by changing the location of diseases, sometimes restores the organs which have been injured.

A colored girl, whose sight has long been defective, became blind about five months ago, and continued so until the terrible explosion of the magazine in Richmond, which seemed to shake creation. Recovering herself almost immediately from her fright, she exclaimed, “Mother, I can see!”

“In Water Without Wet” (from The Youth’s Companion, August 31, 1865; p. 139)

When a boy we used to be told by the old folks, on being sent of an errand in the rain, to “go between drops.” The invention announced below must be consoling to those unlucky people who annual lose a valuable umbrella. They could dispense with that costly article entirely. We hope the report of the marvellous apparatus was more than of fact than of fun in it. Certainly, to know how to stay out in a shower without getting wet is a step in science beyond “knowing enough to go in when it rains.”

The last wonderful discovery made is that by a Frenchman, that electricity applied to a certain small apparatus repels rain, and he places that electrical apparatus in his cane, which he holds above his head, when the rain pours off in all directions. The people of the town in which he lives gaze upon him, it is said, with a sort of awe as he walks in the midst of rain without being wetted!

“Swimming” (from The Youth’s Companion, September 21, 1865; p. 151)

The art should be taught to every child. Generally, boys learn it without much teaching, particularly when they live by the waterside. Girls should learn, and when they do they are always experts. It is a healthful sport—invigorating and æsthetical. It is often useful, enabling a person to save his own or a fellow-creature’s life. In cities there are safe swimming baths, where the art can be learned. But without instruction of a higher order, it can be easily learned if you will watch and imitate, as nearly as possible, the deliberate, easy movements of a frog in water. The prevailing faults with learners, especially adults, are quick, jerking movements, and a fear to settle well down in the water. A person stretched out in water, with his head leaning back and his mouth barely above the fluid,—no matter if water runs in his ears, it won’t hurt him—displaces very nearly his weight of water, thus requiring little effort to keep from sinking. By turning upon the back, with just the mouth, eyes and nose out of water, the hands lying by the side, folded across the breast, or locked behind the back, a very little pushing with the feet will enable a person to float and rest after a fatiguing swim. In striking out bring the palms of the hands together, then push them forward, open the palms downward and outward and make a long, deliberate stroke or pull, drawing up the legs at the same time so as to give a good push with the feet as soon as the hand stroke is accomplished. We prefer this alternate hand and foot motion to the simultaneous striking out of both. But remember that coolness and deliberation are essential to success, and—don’t stay in too long.

“What Cashmere Shawls are Made Of” (from The Youth’s Companion, October 5, 1865; p. 160)

The Cashmere shawl-wool consists of the fleece beneath the undercoat of the hair of the shawl-goats. The shearing is performed at the commencement of the summer, which in those Alpine regions, though short, is very hot. The hair of the goat is first cut short with a knife, the shearer beginning at the head and following the direction of the fleece towards the tail. The animal is then rubbed in a reverse direction with a sort of brush or comb, which detaches the fine wool from next the skin (the asuli,) nearly free from hair. When the animals are shorn, they relieve themselves of these winter vests of delicate down by rolling on the ground or rubbing against the rocks. Seeing that the original possessors of the asuli are nearly as wild as the winds, material for thousands of shawls must annually blow about and be utterly wasted amongst the pinnacles and crags of those desolate regions. At present, a very great quantity of the genuine asuli is lost by being mixed with the coarser hair and common wool, and thus indiscriminately manufactured into pushmeena.

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