This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
The Faure accumulator is but a very weak affair compared with this, Sir William Thomson notwithstanding. To render the date of the above fully appreciable, I may note that three months later the magazine from which it is quoted was illustrated with a picture of the London and Birmingham Railway Station displaying a first-class passenger with a box seat on the roof of the carriage, and followed by an account of the trip to Boxmoor, the first installment of the London and North-Western Railway. It tells us that, "the time of starting having arrived, the doors of the carriages are closed, and, by the assistance of the conductors, the train is moved on a short distance toward the first bridge, where it is met by an engine, which conducts it up the inclined plane as far as Chalk Farm. Between the canal and this spot stands the station-house for the engines; here, also, are fixed the engines which are to be employed in drawing the carriages up the inclined plane from Euston Square, by a rope upwards of a mile in length, the cost of which was upwards of £400." After describing the next change of engines, in the same matter of course way as the changing of stage-coach horses, the narrative proceeds to say that "entering the tunnel from broad daylight to perfect darkness has an exceedingly novel effect."
I make these parallel quotations for the benefit of those who imagine that electricity is making such vastly greater strides than other sources of power. I well remember making this journey to Boxmoor, and four or five years later traveling on a circular electro-magnetic railway. Comparing that electric railway with those now exhibiting, and comparing the Boxmoor trip with the present work of the London and North-Western Railway, I have no hesitation in affirming that the rate of progress in electro-locomotion during the last forty years has been far smaller than that of steam.
The leading fallacy which is urging the electro-maniacs of the present time to their ruinous investments is the idea that electro-motors are novelties, and that electric-lighting is in its infancy; while gas-lighting is regarded as an old, or mature middle-aged business, and therefore we are to expect a marvelous growth of the infant and no further progress of the adult.
These excited speculators do not appear to be aware of the fact that electric-lighting is older than gas-lighting; that Sir Humphry Davy exhibited the electric light in Albemarle Street, while London was still dimly lighted by oil-lamps, and long before gas-lighting was attempted anywhere. The lamp used by Sir Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution, at the beginning of the present century, was an arrangement of two carbon pencils, between which was formed the "electric arc" by the intensely-vivid incandescence and combustion of the particles of carbon passing between the solid carbon electrodes. The light exhibited by Davy was incomparably more brilliant than anything that has been lately shown either in London, or Paris, or at Sydenham. His arc was four inches in length, the carbon pencils were four inches apart, and a broad, dazzling arch of light bridged the whole space between. The modern arc lights are but pygmies, mere specks, compared with this; a leap of 1/3 or 1/4 inch constituting their maximum achievement.
Comparing the actual progress of gas and electric lighting, the gas has achieved by far the greater strides; and this is the case even when we compare very recent progress.
The improvements connected with gas-making have been steadily progressive; scarcely a year has passed from the date of Murdoch's efforts to the present time, without some or many decided steps having been made. The progress of electric-lighting has been a series of spasmodic leaps, backward as well as forward.
As an example of stepping backward, I may refer to what the newspapers have described as the "discoveries" of Mr. Edison, or the use of an incandescent wire, or stick, or sheet of platinum, or platino-iridium; or a thread of carbon, of which the "Swan" and other modern lights are rival modifications.
As far back as 1846 I was engaged in making apparatus and experiments for the purpose of turning to practical account "King's patent electric light," the actual inventor of which was a young American, named Starr, who died in 1847, when about 25 years of age, a victim of overwork and disappointment in his efforts to perfect this invention and a magneto-electric machine, intended to supply the power in accordance with some of the "latest improvements" of 1881 and 1882.
I had a share in this venture, and was very enthusiastic until after I had become practically acquainted with the subject. We had no difficulty in obtaining a splendid and perfectly steady light, better than any that are shown at the Crystal Palace.
We used platinum, and alloys of platinum and iridium, abandoned them as Edison did more than thirty years later, and then tried a multitude of forms of carbon, including that which constitutes the last "discovery" of Mr. Edison, viz., burnt cane. Starr tried this on theoretical grounds, because cane being coated with silica, he predicted that by charring it we should obtain a more compact stick or thread, as the fusion of the silica would hold the carbon particles together. He finally abandoned this and all the rest in favor of the hard deposit of carbon which lines the inside of gas-retorts, some specimens of which we found to be so hard that we required a lapidary's wheel to cut them into the thin sticks.
Our final wick was a piece of this of square section, and about 1/8 of an inch across each way. It was mounted between two forceps--one holding each end, and thus leaving a clear half-inch between. The forceps were soldered to platinum wires, one of which passed upward through the top of the barometer tube, expanded into a lamp glass at its upper part. This wire was sealed to the glass as it passed through. The lower wire passed down the middle of the tube.
The tube was filled with mercury and inverted over a cup of mercury. Being 30 inches long up to the bottom of the expanded portion, or lamp globe, the mercury fell below this and left a Torricellian vacuum there. One pole of the battery, or dynamo-machine, was connected with the mercury in the cup, and the other with the upper wire. The stick of carbon glowed brilliantly, and with perfect steadiness.
I subsequently exhibited this apparatus in the Town-hall of Birmingham, and many times at the Midland Institute. The only scientific difficulty connected with this arrangement was that due to a slight volatilization of the carbon, and its deposition as a brown film upon the lamp glass; but this difficulty is not insuperable.--Knowledge.