Monday, May 09, 2016

The Handbook Encyclopaedia of Engineering

Lancia V12 Aircraft Engine showing 53 degree angle between cylinders

[Image source:]

Handbook Encyclopedia of Engineering (1928)

1,240 pages, blackbound; a book for the trade, published New York (The Industrial Press, 1928) and London (The Machinery Publishing Company, Ltd, 1929). Editor, Franklin D. Jones. Inscribed by the original owner (in black ink italic capitals of mesmerizing regularity) E. G. CAMP. MARCH  I929

Considering how central a part engineering performs in our civilization, it’s remarkable how few of its terms have entered common language. When we do use them, we’ve often misappropriated them. For instance, the “flash point” of oil is the temperature at which the volatile surface vapour will ignite, distinct from the “fire point” at which the oil itself will ignite.

Consulting this book as preparatory reading for the fine literature of its time (which perhaps was one of my secret motivations for getting it) is on the surface an unfruitful pursuit, since literary people never knowingly refer to these topics. But beneath the surface, the conditions of all their literature depends on them. And to “their”, you might as well add “my”.

Because of this utter separation between what I know about and the core interests of the encyclopedia, the most interesting reading often occurs at the frontiers. For example, jute, celluloid and cork are included only because of their occasional uses in engineering (respectively: cable filler, electrical insulation, friction clutches) but the description of their properties from these vantage-points feels enlightening. The book is also pleasingly comprehensible when outlining mathematical and chemical concepts, how chimneys work, varieties of carpentry joint (re patternmaking) and other topics that are not industrial engineering itself. On alloys, castings, gear-teeth and so on, the detail is dismaying, it condemns my ignorance:

CRANKSHAFT COLD SAW. The crankshaft cold saw cutting-off machine is arranged for carrying two saws upon a single arbor so that two cuts may be made simultaneously when sawing out the web of a crank.

Here, as mostly, we're reading about a machine that manufactures bits of another machine. Hence another of my motives, hoping to learn how a car engine works, was disappointed. Instead I've learnt how to manufacture one. Using the technology of 1928.

It’s refreshing to find that the entry on “File History” begins with the skin of the dogfish and has nothing to do with computer storage.

The first manufacturer of nuts and bolts was Micah Rugg in MarionConn. in 1818. The new industry remained very small-scale for the next 20 years. In England, the first factory was Thomas Oliver's, in Darlston, Staffs (1838).

The Enclyclopedia contains no trace of humour and the main sources of its infrequent references to humanity are notable inventions (cotton gin, telegraph, telephone; often with heroic struggles over patent) and methods for calculating wages and regulating labour. The philosophy of labour is of the time-and-motion variety, chiefly concerned with graded penalties for slackness and absenteeism. The following entry might have been more accurately titled, Non-liability etc.

LIABILITY OF EMPLOYER. The liability of an employer for injuries sustained by an employe is based upon the well established law that an employer is not liable for the payment of damages for injuries sustained by an adult employee, if it is proved to the satisfaction of the Court that the workman was injured as a result of his own negligence. Where an employer knowingly hires a minor without his parent’s consent and requires him to do dangerous work, in the performance of which the minor is injured, the employer may be liable, even though the minor’s carelessness or negligence may have contributed to a great extent to the occurrence of the accident which caused the injury; but if it is shown to the satisfaction of the Court that the minor falsely stated his age and the employer believed he was of legal age, the employer may be relieved of liability for injuries sustained unless the injury was due to the employer’s neglect.


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