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Engineering Ancient and Modern 

7? H- ,W 



^he purpose of thin thesis is to compare some of our 
modern engineering feats with those of the ancients. Thus there 
existed in the pre-Christian era industries that sup -lied 
imitations of things too expensive for the. oommon people, such 
as metalic alloys resembling gold and silver, artificial pearls, 
and other artificial jewels made from glass. Also, that as far 
back: as 1000 B.C. the smelting, forging, and casting of metals 
was successfully practiced. The Egyptians successfully solved 
the problem of flood control in the Nile Valley, while today 
we have not done too well with our Mississippi River project. 
The Egyptian pyramid are readil^ comparable with our modern 
structures. r e also find many practical devices containing 
the so-called modern machine elements, such as wedges, levers, 
pulleys, toothed gearing, etc. The distillation of crude 
mineral oil was known as far back as 3 B.C. Machines similar to 
our chewing gum and cigarette vending machines were found in 
Egyptian temples ^or dispensing ceremonial water. Ingenious and 
modern sound inr as ^hese early devices are, they differ from 
our modern ergineering projects in that they take no account of 
power. These systems employed slave labor, and this meant untold 
suffering and labor for the slaves. Although our engineering 
achievements have been great, they are more than paralleled by 
our social advancements. 



"The Scientific Monthly", I ov ember, 1939 
"Architecture r1 hrough the A : ;es" , Talbot Hamlin 
G.P. Putnam's Sons, Mew York, N.Y. 



Recent l" T "n have indulged in much back-patting and 
self-en* gr- tulation on our modern engineering progress. Let us 
f-o back a few thousand years to see what we bave that the ancient 
peoples lacked'. In general we will find that most ai cientr ad 
a large number of product? that we think of a? modern. ?or 
example, there are now large industries making boards from 
cornstalks, artificial silk from wood, automobile steer i 
wheels from soya beans, and so on. In the pre-Christian era 
there existed industries which supplied imitations of things 
too expensive for the common people, such as metalic alloys 
resembling silver and gold, artificial pearls, and other 
jewels made from glass. 

Suppose we hastily review the knowledge of ardent 
peoples to evaluate their pos- ibilities in ergineering achieve- 
ments. Hopper and bronze were use 7 before '.vritten hi^tor 1 ', but 
about 1000 B.C. *vere replaced by iron. Homer in the Odyssey 
mentions about hardenir t ; iron uenching, and in the Iliad 
he gives a vivid picture of armor making, using fir^s, bellows, 
tongs, hammer, and anvil. Some idea of the prevalence of iron 
in 700 B.C. is given by the discovery of 176 tons of rectangular 
iron billets in the storehouses of the Assyrian king Sargon II. 

Flood control sounds like a modern problem, at 
which we have not done too well witness the 1937 Mississippi 



River flood. Herodotus, a Greek visiting Egypt in 430 B.C., 
describes e successful floor' control ard i-rigation system in 
the Mile valley which was begun in 3400 B.C. 

The Greeks T \-ere the first people to contribute 
largely to scientific and engineering theory. By POO B.C. 
plane and solid geometry was pretty well worked out, the laws 
of levers and center of gravity understood, and something was 
known of relative -?ensitv a* d hydrostatic pressure. 

At the end of the pre-Christian era, we find more 
attention paid to practical devices containing the so-called 
nor 1 em machire elements, such a? wedges, levers, pulleys, 
toother! gearing, T d etc, 

There are many more insta: ces of ancient us*= of 
ioriern discoveries ad reinventions. Tbeophratus (third 
century B.C. } describes coal aid its combustion. Dioscorder 
( first century A.D.) mentiors the distillatior of crude 
mineral oil to obtain different grades of oil. Apparently our 
modern petroleum industry had its beginning at least 1900 vears 
ago. T e think that certainly ou t ' chewing gum ard cigarette 
vending machines must be new, but TT ero describes, a device for 
dispensing water in Egyptian temples by putting money ir 



Ingenious and modern rounding as many of these 
early devices are, they differ fro a our modern engineering 
projects in that they take no account of power. The anciei ts 
employed cheap and easily available slave labor, which could 
produce about one tenth horsepower per ^ead. " T hile this system 
was all right for the ruling classes it meant untold labor and 
suffering r or the slaver. Great as have been our advances in 
science and engineering, they have been more t^a paralleled by 
our c ocial advar cement. And perhaps if the anoient engineers 
could come to li r 'e today, ■ r ould be most rurprisFd to s^e 
instead of a sweating and groaning slave, his equivalent of 
75 wattsof electricity, which car purchased at the rate of two 
fifths cents per hour.