Sibley College Lectures. By The Cornell University Non-Resident Lecturers In Mechanical Engineering. By Chas. T. Porter.

Introduction

On appearing for the first time before this Association, which, as I am informed, comprises the faculty and the entire body of students of the Sibley College of Mechanical Engineering and the Mechanic Arts, a reminiscence of the founder of this College suggests itself to me, in the relation of which I beg first to be indulged.

In the years 1847-8-9 I lived in Rochester, N.Y., and formed a slight acquaintance with Mr. Sibley, whose home was then, as it has ever since been, in that city. Nearly twelve years afterward, in the summer of 1861, which will be remembered as the first year of our civil war, I met Mr. Sibley again. We happened to occupy a seat together in a car from New York to Albany. He recollected me, and we had a conversation which made a lasting impression on my memory. I said we had a conversation. That reminds me of a story told by my dear friend, of precious memory, Alexander L. Holley. One summer Mr. Holley accompanied a party of artists on an excursion to Mt. Katahdin, which, as you know, rises in almost solitary grandeur amid the forests and lakes of Maine. He wrote, in his inimitably happy style, an account of this excursion, which appeared some time after in Scribner's Monthly, elegantly illustrated with views of the scenery. Among other things, Mr. Holley related how he and Mr. Church painted the sketches for a grand picture of Mt. Katahdin. "That is," he explained, "Mr. Church painted, and I held the umbrella."

This describes the conversation which Mr. Sibley and I had. Mr. Sibley talked, and I listened. He was a good talker, and I flatter myself that I rather excel as a listener. On that occasion I did my best, for I knew whom I was listening to. I was listening to the man who combined bold and comprehensive grasp of thought, unerring foresight and sagacity, and energy of action and power of accomplishment, in a degree not surpassed, if it was equaled, among men.

Some years before, Mr. Sibley had created the Western Union Telegraph Company. At that time telegraphy was in a very depressed state. The country was to a considerable extent occupied by local lines, chartered under various State laws, and operated without concert. Four rival companies, organized under the Morse, the Bain, the House, and the Hughes patents, competed for the business. Telegraph stock was nearly valueless. Hiram Sibley, a man of the people, a resident of an inland city, of only moderate fortune, alone grasped the situation. He saw that the nature of the business, and the demands of the country, alike required that a single organization, in which all interests should be combined, should cover the entire land with its network, by means of which every center and every outlying point, distant as well as near, could communicate with each other directly, and that such an organization must be financially successful. He saw all this vividly, and realized it with the most intense earnestness of conviction. With Mr. Sibley, to be convinced was to act; and so he set about the task of carrying this vast scheme into execution. The result is well known.

By his immense energy, the magnetic power with which he infused his own convictions into other minds, the direct, practical way in which he set about the work, and his indomitable perseverance, Mr. Sibley attained at last a phenomenal success.

But he was not then telling me anything about this. He was telling me of the construction of the telegraph line to the Pacific Coast. Here again Mr. Sibley had seen that which was hidden from others. This case differed from the former one in two important respects. Then Mr. Sibley had been dependent on the aid and co-operation of many persons; and this he had been able to secure. Now, he could not obtain help from a human being; but he had become able to act independently of any assistance.

He had made a careful study of the subject, in his thoroughly practical way, and had become convinced that such a line was feasible, and would be remunerative. At his instance a convention of telegraph men met in the city of New York, to consider the project. The feeling in this convention was extremely unfavorable to it. A committee reported against it unanimously, on three grounds--the country was destitute of timber, the line would be destroyed by the Indians, and if constructed and maintained, it would not pay expenses. Mr. Sibley found himself alone. An earnest appeal which he made from the report of the committee was received with derisive laughter. The idea of running a telegraph line through what was then a wilderness, roamed over for between one and two thousand miles of its breadth by bands of savages, who of course would destroy the line as soon as it was put up, and where repairs would be difficult and useless, even if the other objections to it were out of the way, struck the members of the convention as so exquisitely ludicrous that it seemed as if they would never be done laughing about it. If Mr. Sibley had advocated a line to the moon, they would hardly have seen in it greater evidence of lunacy.

When he could be heard, he rose again and said: "Gentlemen, you may laugh, but if I was not so old, I would build the line myself." Upon this, of course, they laughed louder than ever. As they laughed, he grew mad, and shouted: "Gentlemen, I will bar the years, and do it." And he did it. Without help from any one, for every man who claimed a right to express an opinion upon it scouted the project as chimerical, and no capitalist would put a dollar in it, Hiram Sibley built the line of telegraph to San Francisco, risking in it all he had in the world. He set about the work with his customary energy, all obstacles vanished, and the line was completed in an incredibly short time. And from the day it was opened, it has proved probably the most profitable line of telegraph that has ever been constructed. There was the practicability, and there was the demand and the business to be done, and yet no living man could see it, or could be made to see it, except Hiram Sibley. "And to-day," he said, with honest pride, "to-day in New York, men to whom I went almost on my knees for help in building this line, and who would not give me a dollar, have solicited me to be allowed to buy stock in it at the rate of five dollars for one."

"But how about the Indians?" I asked. "Why," he replied, "we never had any trouble from the Indians. I knew we wouldn't have. Men who supposed I was such a fool as to go about this undertaking before that was all settled didn't know me. No Indian ever harmed that line. The Indians are the best friends we have got. You see, we taught the Indians the Great Spirit was in that line; and what was more, we proved it to them. It was, by all odds, the greatest medicine they ever saw. They fairly worshiped it. No Indian ever dared to do it harm."

"But," he added, "there was one thing I didn't count on. The border ruffians in Missouri are as bad as anybody ever feared the Indians might be. They have given us so much trouble that we are now building a line around that State, through Iowa and Nebraska. We are obliged to do it."

This opened another phase of the subject. The telegraph line to the Pacific had a value beyond that which could be expressed in money. It was perhaps the strongest of all the ties which bound California so securely to the Union, in the dark days of its struggle for existence. The secession element in Missouri recognized the importance of the line in this respect, and were persistent in their efforts to destroy it. We have seen by what means their purpose was thwarted.

I have always felt that, among the countless evidences of the ordering of Providence by which the war for the preservation of the Union was signalized, not the least striking was the raising up of this remarkable man, to accomplish alone, and in the very nick of time, a work which at once became of such national importance.

This is the man who has crowned his useful career, and shown again his eminently practical character and wise foresight, by the endowment of this College, which cannot fail to be a perennial source of benefit to the country whose interests he has done so much to promote, and which his remarkable sagacity and energy contributed so much to preserve.

We have an excellent rule, followed by all successful designers of machinery, which is, to make provision for the extreme case, for the most severe test to which, under normal conditions, and so far as practicable under abnormal conditions also, the machinery can be subjected. Then, of course, any demands upon it which are less than the extreme demand are not likely to give trouble. I shall apply this principle in addressing you to-day. In what I have to say, I shall speak directly to the youngest and least advanced minds among my auditors. If I am successful in making an exposition of my subject which shall be plain to them, then it is evident that I need not concern myself about being understood by the higher class men and the professors.

The subject to which your attention is now invited is The Principles And Methods Of Balancing Forces Developed In Moving Bodies

This is a subject with which every one who expects to be concerned with machinery, either as designer or constructor, ought to be familiar. The principles which underlie it are very simple, but in order to be of use, these need to be thoroughly understood. If they have once been mastered, made familiar, incorporated into your intellectual being, so as to be readily and naturally applied to every case as it arises, then you occupy a high vantage ground. In this particular, at least, you will not go about your work uncertainly, trying first this method and then that one, or leaving errors to be disclosed when too late to remedy them. On the contrary, you will make, first your calculations and then your plans, with the certainty that the result will be precisely what you intend.

Moreover, when you read discussions on any branch of this subject, you will not receive these into unprepared minds, just as apt to admit error as truth, and possessing no test by which to distinguish the one from the other; but you will be able to form intelligent judgments with respect to them. You will discover at once whether or not the writers are anchored to the sure holding ground of sound principles.

It is to be observed that I do not speak of balancing bodies, but of balancing forces. Forces are the realities with which, as mechanical engineers, you will have directly to deal, all through your lives. The present discussion is limited also to those forces which are developed in moving bodies, or by the motion of bodies. This limitation excludes the force of gravity, which acts on all bodies alike, whether at rest or in motion. It is, indeed, often desirable to neutralize the effect of gravity on machinery. The methods of doing this are, however, obvious, and I shall not further refer to them.

Two very different forces, or manifestations of force, are developed by the motion of bodies. These are