Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/February 1890/Popular Miscellany

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Flour-making in the Northwest.—Mr. Charles A. Pillsbury, of Minneapolis, states that the manufacture of flour is to-day probably the largest industry in the United States, not excepting that of iron. About 85,000,000 barrels of flour, of an average value of about $400,000,000, are made in this country yearly. About ten per cent of this product is manufactured in Minneapolis. As much as 1,000 car-loads of wheat are often received at Minneapolis in a single day, or enough to load a train six miles long. To say that flour made from Minnesota and Dakota wheat is the best in the world is only saying what is recognized by the trade the world over, in the prices which it brings as compared with other flours. Wheat grown in this latitude has so large a proportion of gluten and phosphates that it is gradually but surely crowding more starchy flours to the wall. When Mr. Pillsbury began milling twenty years ago, he secretly brought flour from St. Louis to use in his own family. Minneapolis flour sold very much below that made in other sections of this country, and stood at the foot of the list in market quotations. Now it stands at the top of the list. A Board of Trade report, of the city of Minneapolis, for 1866, stated that the production of flour in the city during that year was 172,000 barrels; now it is forty times as much. Only eleven years ago the amount of flour made in Minneapolis and exported from this country was 109,183 barrels; now it is over 3,000,000, or thirty times as much. It is the improvement which has been made in milling in this section which has accomplished these results. It has also made the rapid settlement of the Northwest possible, as wheat is by all odds the chief crop of that region. On the other hand, the rapid increase of the farming population in the tributary country has made possible the rapid increase of mills in Minneapolis. Another thing that has contributed largely to this result is cheap transportation to the East. A few years ago the millers were paying one dollar and a half a barrel to get their flour carried to the seaboard; now the rate is only fifty-five cents. Mr. Pillsbury deems it quite possible that the flour industry of the Northwest is even yet in its infancy, as probably not more than ten per cent of the available land tributary to Minneapolis has been placed under cultivation.

Aboriginal Mounds in Manitoba.—The Winnipeg mound region, as described in the American Association, by Prof. George Byles, of Manitoba College, includes a district some four hundred miles long from east to west, and running from the international boundary north to at least latitude 50°. The author had seen some sixty mounds and had opened ten, working usually in connection with the Manitoba Historical Society. Numerous skeletons have been exhumed. Unmanufactured articles found included large quantities of charcoal—red and yellow ochre and birch bark charred. Manufactured articles: Stone implements, scrapers, gouges, chisels, axes, malls, conjurers' tubes, and a set of gaming stones. Bones: Breast ornaments of various kinds, whistles, beads, etc. Shells: Columella of conch from trophies, tropical natica and marginetta shells made into beads, wampum, and breast ornaments. Horn: Fish-spear, pottery, numerous marked fragments, various copper implements, and near one skeleton two lumps of arsenical pyrites, no doubt used as sacred objects. All mounds were circular, and all on prominent headlands. The majority contained skeletons, probably of Mandans of the Missouri, who fifty years ago were almost exterminated by small-pox. Certain mounds, from the state of the bones and certain topographical and geological considerations, are likely to date from the beginning of their central parts four hundred years back.

Tapestries.—The word tapestry has primary reference to carpets. As now used, we learn from a lecture by Mr. Alan S. Cole upon the subject, it may be read in two senses: one in which it refers to hangings generally; and the other in which it implies a special method of producing a textile fabric. In making carpet by hand, as in ordinary weaving, a stretched warp is necessary; but the warp-threads play no visible part in the face of the carpet. They are covered with weft-threads. Instead of a shuttle with a weft, as in weaving, various sets of thread are used, which are looped, knotted, and intertwined upon the warp-threads. In making carpets with a pile, the ends of the threads which have been knotted upon the warp are cut. From above these knotted threads, and across and in between the warp-threads, a stout thread is thrown. This is pressed down with a comb, so as to compact the whole fabric. A fresh series of knottings is then made, and the previous operations are repeated. In another closely allied process for making carpets and hangings, a stout cord is thrown across and in between the warp-threads; no scissors are used to cut the ends of knotted warp-threads, and no pile is produced. This process requires the variously colored wefts to be intertwisted between groups of the warp-threads; and in this respect it is almost identical with that particular process which is known as tapestry-making; but tapestries are finished for display on one side only. They are made upon vertical threads, when they are high-warp or haute lisse, or upon horizontal threads, when they are low-warp or basse lisse, tapestries. But the results of both methods are virtually identical, so that it is almost impossible to detect any peculiarity which shall distinguish one from the other. The earlier hangings appear to have been of lighter material than that of the special fabric; and they were ornamented by weaving, embroidery, or painting. The special process was applied in early times to making small ornamental trimmings for costume. Its application to works on a much larger scale appears to date from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, although it had probably been already employed in old Asiatic civilizations for carpets. The number of colors of the earlier tapestries was restricted, but, after the tapestry-making craft was established, a more generous scheme of colors was employed. This has developed in such a way that it is a boast now at the Gobelins factory that they have upward of fourteen thousand four hundred tons of colors in dyes for threads.

Our Arid Regions and the Rainfall.—The soils of the arid regions of the United States, according to the paper read by Prof. J. R. Dodge at the meeting of the American Association, are generally fertile to excess. The only amelioration they require is that which is secured by the application of water. That may be obtained from natural precipitation; by irrigation from supplies at present available or from storage reservoirs and catch-basins to be erected to hold the surplus of rains; by pumping from the underground channels of streams; or by means of artesian wells. After all available water has been obtained by these means and expedients, there is still a large part of the superficial area that must remain unirrigated. Some say that this part constitutes four fifths or five sixths of the whole, but those who have an intimate knowledge of the practical work of irrigation insist that it is not more than one tenth or one eighth of the area. Still, the remainder is not quite a desert. There are what are called agricultural rain-belts which, with from fifteen to eighteen inches of water, sometimes twenty inches per annum, are found to produce good crops of corn up to an elevation of three thousand or four thousand feet, and wheat, oats, potatoes, alfalfa, and many grasses up to six thousand or seven thousand feet, by adaptation of methods of cultivation to suit the best utilization of available moisture. The question of increasing rainfall gains an affirmative answer from practical cultivators, while the records of the rain-gauge fail to make such a response. There is an increase, if not in actual rain, certainly in available moisture; for the water which formerly flowed away with as much facility as from the back of a duck, is nearly all retained by cultivated lands. If the irrigation is general and continued for years, there is a change of climate, with more moisture in the atmosphere, dews at night frequent where they were formerly unknown, and general enhancement of the agricultural value of the air.

The Beauty of Childhood.—A recent discovery of classical sculptures has recalled attention to the fact that the ancients had, so far as appears from their works, no appreciation of the beauty of childhood. In the present instance, in which the figures relate to death scenes and include family pictures, while the mature characters are represented with the best skill which the artist could command, the children—at the age fullest of beauty for a modern eye—are executed with archaic clumsiness. Miss Harrison has pointed out, in her lectures on Greek sculpture, that representations of infancy are characteristic of the decaying art of Alexandria; the best period of art affords no specimen of such a choice of subject. "The artists whose work has afforded models for all time have not left a single specimen of that beauty which modern eyes most admire, the beauty of childhood." And in Grecian and Roman literature there is none of that happy picturing, that dwelling with delight upon the beauties of childhood that seem to have entered into the very essence of modern natures. To the Romans, "infancy was only a journey toward manhood; the sooner it was over the better." In the reference to childhood which is most truly affecting of all in ancient literature, the fright of the child in Homer's "Parting of Hector and Andromache," the interest, "if we analyze it, belongs rather to an impartial delineation of human life as it is, than to any sympathy with the helplessness and dependence of its earliest stage." While modern art does not show an equal lack of the taste for childhood, it "is comparatively feeble at all times in comparison with the feeling of our own day." This feeling is reflected in its intensity first in the poems of Wordsworth and the pictures of Sir Joshua Reynolds. "This sympathy with childhood," says the writer in the "Spectator" whose essay we have summarized, "which gives its coloring to modern literature and art, is to be traced back to utterances which have influenced more than the literature and art of modern Europe. ’Except ye become as little children, ye can not enter into the kingdom of heaven,' was a saying new to the world. The fresh aspect under which all weakness, all dependence, appeared in the light of that teaching, was evidently bewildering to its hearers." It took centuries for the Christian world to take in the full meaning of that utterance, which has not been realized as a fact of ordinary life till nearly our own time. But now, "for a year or two in this pilgrimage of ours, the most commonplace, the most tiresome of us is invested with this wonderful capacity [of persuasion and conciliation]; every human being has once upon a time hushed enmities and bridged estrangement."

Iron as a Purifier of Water.—The power of iron to remove coloring matter and organic contamination from impure waters has been made capable, by recent improvements in processes, of receiving a greatly extended application. In Prof. Bischof's system, a sand filter which separates the mechanical impurities is underlaid by a mixture of gravel and iron in the proportion of three parts to one. When the water is drawn off from this filter after using, no discoloration is visible in the upper sand, nor till near the iron mixture. In this the particles of gravel and iron become thickly coated and mixed with the reddish, slimy product of the chemical action of the iron; and, still lower down, the mixture is black, and not subject to change. The slimy-coated mixture has to be removed and washed every six months. By another improvement the iron is presented in a state of constant agitation, and the slimy coating being washed away as fast as it is formed, an always clean surface is offered to the water. The working of the method is satisfactory, and may, by adding fresh iron from time to time, be made nearly continuous. The purification depends upon the chemical action of iron on organic matter in solution, and its property of coagulating very finely divided particles of matter so that they can be removed by filtration. The iron, in this process, changes the chemical nature of the organic matter and greatly reduces the albuminoid ammonia; softens the hard scales that form in boilers, and destroys or removes much of the infusorial life in the water.

A Bit of Triassic History.—Mr. W. M. Davis's study of the "Topographic Development of the Triassic Formation of the Connecticut Valley" shows that the country from northwest to southeast suffered from repeated faultings after the trap sheets had taken their places, as extensive surface-flows, in the stratified series, the trend of the faults being to the southwest. The initial constructional regions are represented by the faulted blocks of southern Idaho. A mountainous variety of form prevailed—which may provisionally be called the Jurassic stage of the evolution of the district; but in time—during the Cretaceous—the faulted ridges were reduced to a low, base-leveled plain, in which the present valleys were worn after its elevation. The Connecticut River was originally consequent on the monoclinal faulting; and, while it has entered on a second cycle of life as a result of the elevation of the lowland that was produced in its first cycle, it still persists in the course it first took.

Uranium.—It is now a hundred years since Klaproth (in 1789) discovered the metal which be named after the planet Uranus, then recently discovered by Herschel. Uranic oxide, which is yellow, is used to produce a beautiful golden color, and, with other minerals, opalescent tints in glass and porcelain. The pentoxide is black, and is used in the production of costly black porcelain and the dark tints in majolica-ware. The chloride of uranium is coming into use as a substitute for the chloride of gold in photography. It is anticipated that two extensive fields for the employment of the metal will soon be opened. One is as a substitute for gold in electro-plated ware, for with platinum and copper it forms two beautiful yellow alloys. Its platinum alloy has a special value from its power of resistance to the action of acids. The other use will be found in electric installations, and depends on its high electrical resistance. Uranium has hitherto been found only in pockets or patches in Bohemia, Saxony, and Cornwall, but in the centennial year of its discovery a lode of the metal which promises a large supply was found in the latter region.

A Chemist's Services to Mankind.—In a recent address on the life-work of Pasteur, Sir Henry E. Roscoe emphasized the benefits to humanity which have resulted from the researches of the great French chemist. "The first and obvious endeavor of every cultivator of science," he said, "ought to be to render service of this kind. For, although it is foolish and shortsighted to decry the pursuit of any form of scientific study because it may be as yet far removed from practical application to the wants of man, and although such studies may be of great value as an incentive to intellectual activity, yet the statement is so evident as to almost amount to a truism, that discoveries which give us the power of rescuing a population from starvation, or which tend to diminish the ills that flesh, whether of man or beast, is heir to, must deservedly attract more attention and create a more general interest than others having so far no direct bearing on the welfare of the race." Pasteur's series of valuable labors, including the discovery of the causes and remedies for the sicknesses which wine and beer undergo, the cure of the silk-worm disease, the existence of which in one year cost France more than one hundred millions of francs, the extermination of fowl-cholera, and of the fatal disease known as anthrax in cattle and wool-sorters' disease in man, culminates in his discovery of a successful treatment for rabies. Prof. Roscoe gives an idea of the wide demand for the treatment of Pasteur's laboratory in these words: "There I saw the French peasant and the Russian moujik (suffering from the terrible bites of rabid wolves), the swarthy Arab, the English policeman, with women too and children of every age, in all perhaps a hundred patients. All were there undergoing the careful and kindly treatment which was to insure them against a horrible death. Such a sight will not be easily forgotten. By degrees this wonderful cure for so deadly a disease attracted the attention of men of science throughout the civilized world. The French nation raised a monument to the discoverer better than any statue, in the shape of the 'Pasteur Institute'—an institution devoted to carrying out in practice this anti-rabic treatment, with laboratories and every other convenience for extending by research our knowledge of the preventive treatment of infectious disease." The contrast between the spirit of science and the spirit of war is well expressed in Pasteur's own words at the opening of this institute: "Two adverse laws seem to me now in contest. One law of blood and death, opening out each day new modes of destruction, forces nations to be always ready for the battle-field. The other, a law of peace, of work, of safety, whose only study is to deliver man from the calamities which beset him."

The Cotton Fiber.—Mr. Thomas Pray, Jr., in a lecture before the Franklin Institute, said that the ordinary way of judging raw cotton by feeling with the fingers was exceedingly crude, seeing that the fibers vary all the way from 1900 of an inch in thickness for the coarsest "upland," to 12000 for the best Sea Island cotton. Some few cotton-spinners have now been induced by Mr. Pray to adopt the microscope in examining cotton. The finest cotton raised in any of the fields of the world comes from the Mississippi delta. Under the microscope it is seen to be beautiful in structure, of perfect development, full of oil deposits, and having nearly four hundred spirals per inch. It makes very strong yarn, capable of coloring all the delicate shades, like pink, and bleaches in the most perfect manner. Dyers frequently find spots in cotton goods that will not take color at all, or only unevenly. Certain pieces can not be printed or colored anything but black. If fibers of such cotton are looked at under the microscope after being mordanted, some parts will be seen prepared for coloring, and others where the mordant has not taken hold. Cotton is often badly damaged by poor ginning; the fibers are torn, and millions of short pieces to every bale are broken off, which in spinning fly all over the mill and machinery, and go into the waste instead of being made into yarn. Much has been said about "parallelism" of cotton fibers in the manufactured goods, but, if a bit of one of the best grades of cotton cloth made is examined under the microscope, there is seen to be no such thing as parallelism among the fibers.

Snow-Blindness.—Snow-blindness, according to Dr. Berlin, of Nordenskiöld's Expedition to Greenland of 1883, is met with as far north as any arctic expedition has penetrated, but is unknown, except sporadically in high mountains, south of certain degrees of latitude. It follows the sinuosities of the isothermal lines. In the arctic regions it breaks out usually in the spring-time, but also occurs in summer wherever snow remains. It appears during snowstorms and fogs, as well as when the sun is shining. The prominent symptom is an intense burning pain in the eyes, beginning with a prickling sensation as if produced by a foreign body, with increased secretion of tears, photophobia, and blepharospasm. The visual power is not diminished, but the field is narrowed. Most cases will get well at the end of two or three days, if the patient guards himself against the exciting causes; or the disease may, exceptionally, become a serious matter. It is not a dazzling caused by the snow, for dazzling does not produce its effects, and it does not prevail everywhere that there are snow and sunlight; nor can it be explained by the fact of the rarefaction of the air. It is probably a result of the low temperature and the want of humidity in the air which characterize the places where it prevails. As it is the humidity of the air which principally absorbs the radiant heat, the caloric rays of the sun must, in those localities, manifest an intensity of action far above the common. Observation has shown that this is the case, for on high mountains and in the arctic regions exposure to the sun's rays produces on the bare skin an excessively painful dermatitis, which the radiant heat reflected by the snow very much aggravates. The effects of exposure to the sun appear to be most severe in spring-time. The eyes are affected simultaneously with the skin or somewhat previously. The ordinary treatment of snow-blindness consists in the use of spectacles of dark-colored glass, with opiates to relieve the pain. Blackening of the nose has been found by several travelers to be an effective remedy.

The Great Hall of the Mammoth Cave.—Some important new discoveries in the Mammoth Cave were described by the Rev. Dr. H. C. Hovey at the meeting of the American Association. They are connected with the arrangement of the cave passages in tiers and the great pits or domes. Following the guide across a treacherous chasm known as the covered pit, the author found a series of these chasms exceeding in size any that had ever been discovered before. He afterward visited the pits with a photographer, Mr. Ben Hains, and means for taking photographs. As measured from above, they varied from forty-seven to one hundred and thirty-five feet in depth. With much difficulty and risk he succeeded in reaching the bottom of Charybdis, the deepest of the pits, and there discovered, by the aid of chemical fires, that the whole series of pits, eight in all, were joined at the bottom into one magnificent hall several hundred feet long. This hall was traversed from end to end. Dr. Hovey proposes to name it Harrison's Hall, after the President of the United States.