Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/44

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34
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
PROGRESS AND TENDENCY OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.[1]
By ROBERT H. THURSTON, LL. D., Dr. Eng'g,
DIRECTOR OF SIBLEY COLLEGE, CORNELL UNIVERSITY.

THE progress and tendency of mechanical engineering in the nineteenth century comprehends the progress and the tendency of almost all that has distinguished the nineteenth century from all the centuries of time, historic and prehistoric, that have preceded.

The progress of the human race includes advancement in all the languages, all the literatures, all the arts and all the sciences of all times. But the progress of past time in language is the evolution of the employment of the tongue in the conveyance of ideas, and it is the idea that is important, rather than the language. Progress in literature is the perfection of our methods of permanent preservation of ideas, and, again, it is the ideas, not the systems of preservation, that count. Progress in the sciences, in a proper acceptation of the term, is the progress of the race in knowledge of the laws of nature and the phenomena of nature, the progress of reduction of such exact knowledge to system, the construction of a code of natural law in all departments of science. Progress in the arts is advancement in the utilization of Nature's laws in the construction of a system of application of the materials and forces of nature to the enrichment and elevation of human life from its crudest and simplest forms to the highest and noblest phases of civilization. Progress in mechanical engineering is the evolution of the methods and machinery of production, transportation and utilization of the material forms of wealth. In all other directions, the progress of the world has been more or less steady, continuous and evolutionary from the beginning of the life of the race; in the sciences and the arts, it has been an evolution mainly of the later times, though having an origin prehistoric.

Progress in mechanical engineering, the production of permanent wealth in most part, could only come after language should have supplied a satisfactory vehicle for ideas; it could only begin after literature should be competent to furnish a means of storage of ideas and of knowledge in safe and accessible treasuries; it could only progress rapidly after science had accumulated sufficient store of knowledge of facts, of phenomena and of natural law to permit complete reliance upon

  1. An address delivered before the Washington Academy of Sciences, Columbian University, February 19, 1901.