Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/27

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17
THE GROWTH OF THE STEAM-ENGINE.

civilizing the world, and as Science is the great intellectual promoter of civilization, so the steam-engine is, in modern times, the most important physical agent in that great work.

It would be superfluous to attempt to enumerate the benefits which it has conferred upon the human race, for such an enumeration would include an addition to every comfort, and the creation of almost every luxury that we now enjoy.

"It has increased the sum of human happiness, not only by calling new pleasures into existence, but by so cheapening former enjoyments as to render them attainable by those who before could never have hoped to share them."[1]

2. The wonderful progress of the present century is, in a very, great degree, due to the invention and improvement of the steam-engine, and to the ingenious application of its power to kinds of work that formerly tasked the physical energies of the human race. We cannot examine the methods and processes of any branch of industry without discovering somewhere the assistance and support of this wonderful machine.

Relieving mankind from manual toil, it has left to the intellect the privilege of directing the power formerly absorbed in physical labor into other and more profitable channels. The intelligence which has thus conquered the powers of Nature now finds itself free to do brain-work; the force formerly utilized in the carrying of water and the hewing of wood is now expended in the Godlike work of thought.

What, then, can be more interesting than to trace the history of the growth of this wonderful invention, the greatest among the many great creations of one of God's most beneficent gifts to man, the power of invention.

3. While following the records and traditions of the steam-engine, I propose to call to your attention the fact that its history illustrates the very important truth that great inventions are never, and great discoveries are seldom, the work of any one mind.

Every great invention is really an aggregation of minor inventions, or the final step of a progression. It is not usually a creation, but a growth, as truly so as is the growth of the trees in the forest.

Hence the same invention is frequently brought out in several countries and by several individuals simultaneously.

Frequently, an important invention is made before the world is ready to receive it, and the unhappy inventor is taught, by his failure, that it is as unfortunate to be in advance of the age as to be behind it.

Inventions only become successful when they are not only needed, but when mankind is so far advanced in intelligence as to appreciate and to express the necessity for them, and at once to make use of them.

4. About a half-century ago, an able New England writer, in a

  1. Dr. Lardner.