Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/556

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE RELATIONS OF ABSTRACT RESEARCH TO PRACTICAL INVENTION.[1]
By F. W. CLARKE.

A HUNDRED years ago. just after the first American patent was issued, two other events, fitly to be mentioned here, became a part of history. In 1791 Galvani published his famous book on animal electricity; and at about the same time the Royal Society gave its highest honor, the award of the Copley Medal, to Volta. Between these events and the passage of our first patent law no connection was then apparent, nor for many years afterward did any relation become obvious. The patent system dealt with affairs of practical utility, while Galvani and Volta were mere visionaries, prying into matters of only speculative interest, and of no real value or importance to anybody. Indeed, Galvani was ridiculed throughout Europe as "the frogs' dancing-master," so remote from all material considerations, so useless to all outward seeming, were his investigations.

In spite of ridicule and indifference, however, the unpractical researches went on, from step to step, from discovery to discovery, until at last they ripened into invention. Galvani and Volta had worthy successors—Oersted, Ampere, Ohm, Faraday, Henry, and others—all devoted to knowledge for its own sake, and caring little for any reward other than the consciousness of achievement. The voltaic pile, the galvanic battery, and the electro-magnet were added to the resources of science; facts, principles, and laws came into recognition; and suddenly a relation of the work done to the work the great world was doing became manifest. Nearly half a century was passed in these preliminaries, and then came the inventions of electro-metallurgy, of the telegraph, and of all the hurrying swarm of wonders that mark this "age of electricity." Suddenly the Patent Office became a center of interest in what at the date of its foundation had been apparently remote from its purposes; and to-day, grown from the germs of a century ago, we see one of the chief objects of its activity. All now know the merit of Galvani's work, and yet its lesson of history is far too seldom realized. Every true investigator in the domain of pure science is met with monotonously recurrent questions as to the practical purport of his studies; and rarely can he find an answer expressible in terms of commerce. If utility is not immediately in sight, he is pitied as a dreamer, or blamed as a spend-thrift of time; for the questioning man of affairs can recognize only affairs, and to him speculations not convertible into coin of


  1. An address delivered at the Patent Centennial in Washington, April 9, 1891.