Returning again to France some time during the years between 1854 and 1858, and under the patronage of the Emperor Napoleon III., we behold Deville at last forcing Nature to yield and give up this precious quality as a manufactured product. Rose, of Berlin, and Gerhard, in England, pressing hard upon the heels of the Frenchman, make permanent the new product in the market at thirty-two dollars per pound. The despair of three-quarters of a century of toilsome pursuit has been broken, and the future of the metal has been established.
The art of obtaining the metal since the period under consideration has progressed steadily by one process after another, constantly increasing in powers of productivity and reducing the cost. These arts are intensely interesting to the student, but must be denied more than a reference at this time. The price of the metal may be said to have come within the reach of the manufacturing arts already.
A present glance at the uses and possibilities of this wonderful metal, its application and its varying quality, may not be out of place. Its alloys are very numerous and always satisfactory; with iron, producing a comparative rust proof; with copper, the beautiful golden bronze, and so on, embracing the entire list of articles of usefulness as well as works of art, jewelry, and scientific instruments.
Its capacity to resist oxidation or rust fits it most eminently for all household and cooking utensils, while its color transforms the dark visaged, disagreeable array of pots, pans, and kitchen implements into things of comparative beauty. As a metal it surpasses copper, brass, and tin in being tasteless and odorless, besides being stronger than either.
It has, as we have seen, bulk without weight, and consequently may be available in construction of furniture and house fittings, as well in the multitudinous requirements of architecture. The building art will experience a rapid and radical change when this material enters as a component material, for there will be possibilities such as are now undreamed of in the erection of homes, public buildings, memorial structures, etc. etc., for in this metal we have the strength, durability, and the color to give all the variety that genius may dictate.
And when we take a still further survey of the vast field that is opening before us, we find in the strength without size a most desirable assistant in all the avenues of locomotion. It is the ideal metal for railway traffic, for carriages and wagons. The steamships of the ocean of equal size will double their cargo and increase the speed of the present greyhounds of the sea, making six days from shore to shore seem indeed an old time calculation and accomplishment. A thinner as well as a lighter plate; a smaller as well as a stronger engine; a larger as well as a less hazardous propeller; and a natural condition of resistance to the action of the elements; will make travel by water a forcible rival to the speed attained upon land, and bring all the distant countries in contact with our civilization, to the profit of all. This metal is destined to annihilate space even beyond the dream of philosopher or poet.
The tensile strength of this material is something equally wonderful, when wire drawn reaches as high as 128,000 pounds, and under other conditions reaches nearly if not quite 100,000 pounds to the square inch. The requirements of the British and German governments in the best wrought steel guns reach only a standard of 70,000 pounds to the square inch. Bridges may be constructed that shall be lighter than wooden ones and of greater strength than wrought steel and entirely free from corrosion. The time is not distant when the modern wonder of the Brooklyn span will seem a toy.
It may also be noted that this metal affords wide development in plumbing material, in piping, and will render possible the almost indefinite extension of the coming feature of communication and exchange--the pneumatic tube.
The resistance to corrosion evidently fits this metal for railway sleepers to take the place of the decaying wooden ties. In this metal the sleeper may be made as soft and yielding as lead, while the rail may be harder and tougher than steel, thus at once forming the necessary cushion and the avoidance of jar and noise, at the same time contributing to additional security in virtue of a stronger rail.
In conductivity this metal is only exceeded by copper, having many times that of iron. Thus in telegraphy there are renewed prospects in the supplanting of the galvanized iron wire--lightness, strength, and durability. When applied to the generation of steam, this material will enable us to carry higher pressure at a reduced cost and increased safety, as this will be accomplished by the thinner plate, the greater conductivity of heat, and the better fiber.
It is said that some of its alloys are without a rival as an anti-friction metal, and having hardness and toughness, fits it remarkably for bearings and journals. Herein a vast possibility in the mechanic art lies dormant--the size of the machine may be reduced, the speed and the power increased, realizing the conception of two things better done than one before. It is one of man's creative acts.
From other of its alloys, knives, axes, swords, and all cutting implements may receive and hold an edge not surpassed by the best tempered steel. Hulot, director in the postage stamp department, Paris, asserts that 120,000 blows will exhaust the usefulness of the cushion of the stamp machine, and this number of blows is given in a day; and that when a cushion of aluminum bronze was substituted, it was unaffected after months of use.
If we have found a metal that possesses both tensile strength and resistance to compression; malleability and ductility--the quality of hardening, softening, and toughening by tempering; adaptability to casting, rolling, or forging; susceptibility to luster and finish; of complete homogeneous character and unusually resistant to destructive agents--mankind will certainly leave the present accomplishments as belonging to an effete past, and, as it were, start anew in a career of greater prospects.