Life before television


Turn off your flat screen television and get lost in 17th, 18th and 19th century optical entertainment. Nowadays, televisions and cinemas have a remarkable image quality and size, computer games boast impressive graphics, and portable media devices make it possible to watch movies anywhere you want. But, before the birth …

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A steam powered submarine: the Ictíneo


Few Victorian inventions have the grace and charm of the Ictíneo, the series of two wooden submarines built by Narcís Monturiol i Estarrol in the second half of the nineteenth century. Unlike some of the better known early submarines from his contemporaries in Germany, France and the United States, the …

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Rings of fire: Hoffmann kilns


About a year ago we presented a medieval building technique that could save large amounts of brick and thus embodied energy in construction: timbrel vaulting. Turns out that there is also a 19th century brick and tile production technique that is surprisingly energy efficient: the Hoffmann kiln, a giant version …

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Water powered cable trains


Cable trains (or funiculars) are one of the most energy-efficient modes of transport out there. A large portion of the power required to pull up the ascending car is delivered by the counterweight of the descending car. Many historical systems used this efficiency and took it one step further with …

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The Mechanical Transmission of Power (1): Stangenkunst


Long-distance power transmission predates the invention of electricity by almost four centuries. From the 1500s onwards, engineers developed mechanical power transmission and distribution technologies, called “Stangenkunsten”, that became ever more sophisticated. Networks of pivoted, wooden field rods conveyed power from water wheels in the valleys to mining machinery up the …

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