The Great Blizzard of 1888

The weight of the snow snapped telegraph and telephone wires in New York City, hindering communications

The weight of the snow snapped telegraph and telephone wires in New York City, hindering communications

As the east coast of the US prepares for a significant snowstorm–Snowmaggedon, Snowpocalypse, etc.–here’s an article about the grandfather of all US blizzards, the Great Blizzard of 1888.  The article focuses on the storm’s effect on New York City, which was horrendous in today’s terms, but the storm also affected the entire northeast of the US.  Remember this was in the days of no weather forecasts–so the storm arrived without notice–and no snow plows–so its effects lingered for weeks after the storm cleared.

Coincidentally, two months before this blizzard, there was another Blizzard of 1888 that affected the center portion of the US.  This storm is also sometimes called the Schoolhouse Blizzard or the Children’s Blizzard because it came on so quickly and unexpectedly that many children were trapped in their schoolhouses until they could be eventually rescued.


Goldsworthy Gurney–Gentleman Scientist

Goldsworthy_Gurney_-_PD-OLDSir Goldsworthy Gurney is a prime example of that most Victorian of species: the gentleman scientist.  A man of independent means who did not actually need to work to earn his living, and who possessed a scientific mind could make a fair contribution to inventing the 19th century. Such a man was Gurney.

He invented the limelight–a lamp which glowed when heated with an oxygen/hydrogen flame and used to enduring fame in lighting actors on stage.

In the 1820s he invented a steam carriage and proved that it could travel long distances even over the rough roads of the day.

In 1856, he patented an improved heater, called the Gurney Stove, some of which are still in use to this day!

Here’s a link to an article on the BBC website about this interesting and not-very-well-known man.

The last Victorian has died at the age of 114

It’s amazing that some people live so long that they almost seem like time travellers!

London By Gaslight

RPY_ETHEL_LANG_TAM_01.jpgAstounding as it sounds it is true.

She was born in the late reign of Queen Victoria and has lived through six monarchs, 22 prime ministers and two world wars and has seen the invention of the radio, the car, the aeroplane, the television, the computer and the internet.

Mrs Lang was one of six girls and left school at 13 to work in a shirt factory. She met and married her husband, William, in 1922, and they had a daughter together, Margaret. Mr Lang died in 1988. The couple’s daughter Margaret Walker said one of her aunts lived to the age of 104…clearly a long lived family. ‘She was a lovely mother, I’ve had her a very long time. I’ve been a very lucky person,’ said her daughter.

Mrs Lang died in her nursing home in Barnsley on Thursday and is survived by a 91-year-old daughter.

Our condolences go out to the Lang family…

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John Tyndall—The Man who Discovered the Answer to “Why is the Sky Blue?”

John_Tyndall_1I am often amazed by Victorian scientists and engineers who seem to have had infinite curiosity, wide-ranging interests, and, somehow, the time to make pioneering contributions in a number of disparate fields. Francis Galton, Michael Faraday, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel are all examples of these larger-than-life characters. So is John Tyndall.

“Who?” you say. If you ever took an introductory chemistry class, you might remember the “Tyndall Effect” describing how light is scattered in a colloid or another solution containing small particles. It may seem like a pretty narrow and arcane scientific achievement, but as I will describe, light scattering is pretty important, and besides, it was only one of many achievements from this most Victorian of scientists.

John Tyndall was born in Ireland of an English family in 1820. He attended the local schools, learning amongst other things, drafting. This knowledge came into good stead when he was hired by the Irish Ordnance Survey. As the British railways were being built in the 1840s, there was a great demand for surveyors, prompting Tyndall to work for several years in Britain in railway construction planning.

After railway work slackened and intellectual pursuits called him, he left Britain for Germany to further his education in science. At the time, British universities focused on classics and mathematics, and not practical science, whereas Germany schools were known to be more advanced in the practical sciences.

Tyndall landed at the University of Marburg, where he studied under, amongst other people, Robert Bunsen, of Bunsen Burner fame. During his time in Germany, he became adept at experimental and laboratory procedures in a number of different scientific disciplines. Continue reading