Fleet Fire: Thomas Edison and the Pioneers of the Electric Revolution

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"In this history of the electric revolution, L. J. Davis recounts how, over the course of a century and a half, the force was harnessed, by means of a series of brilliant experiments and ingenious devices, and transformed from a mystery into a mighty and ubiquitous resource." Marshalling humorous anecdotes and little-known facts, the author debunks the myths and introduces us to the men behind both the stunning successes and the forgotten failures. Among them are Benjamin Franklin, whose kite first ignited the spark of curiosity; Alessandro ...
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Fleet Fire: Thomas Edison and the Pioneers of the Electric Revolution

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Overview

"In this history of the electric revolution, L. J. Davis recounts how, over the course of a century and a half, the force was harnessed, by means of a series of brilliant experiments and ingenious devices, and transformed from a mystery into a mighty and ubiquitous resource." Marshalling humorous anecdotes and little-known facts, the author debunks the myths and introduces us to the men behind both the stunning successes and the forgotten failures. Among them are Benjamin Franklin, whose kite first ignited the spark of curiosity; Alessandro Volta, who invented the storage battery; Joseph Henry, who gave us the electromagnet; Thomas Davenport, the electric motor; Samuel Morse, the electromagnetic telegraph; Cyrus Field, the transatlantic cable; Thomas Edison, the phonograph and electric light; and Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi, who raced frantically against each other to create the radio. Though in retrospect these devices may seem simple, they revolutionized the way we work and, more important, changed the way we view the world by redefining our concept of time and place.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ben Franklin abandoned his research in the 1750s when he could find no practical uses for electricity. Yet Davis places him first in the succession of American entrepreneurial inventors who created the electric revolution. Skipping ahead to the mid-19th century, Davis follows the adventures of the blacksmith Thomas Davenport and his electric motor, the painter Samuel Morse and his inspiration for the electromagnetic telegraph, and the businessman Cyrus Field and the transatlantic cable. He devotes a third of the book to Thomas Edison and his rivals, who together made electricity a household technology in the 1880s. According to Davis, the revolution's first surge ended around 1900 as Guglielmo Marconi perfected wireless (i.e., radio) telegraphy and Reginald Aubrey Fessenden made the first voice broadcast. By juxtaposing the famous with the obscure, Davis shows that success depended upon an aptitude for business as well as mechanical genius. The winners in this story care less about understanding scientific principles than about figuring out how to make their inventions pay. A contributor to Harper's and other magazines, Davis (The Billionaire Shell Game) emphasizes the most astonishing anecdotes and eccentric characters, showing little regard for their historical significance. His best narratives, judging from the footnotes, derive from dated biographies; and he frequently interrupts himself with declamations about the lone inventor and the pace of progress. Patchy and distorted as it is, however, this account colorfully portrays the chaotic nature of the electric revolution and the men who made it happen. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Question: Why did Ben Franklin fly a kite? Answer: Because he was ticked off at the scientific establishment. So writes seasoned offbeat-tales-from-history writer Davis (The Billionaire Shell Game, 1998, etc.) in this anecdotally rich, eminently entertaining tale of how fluorescent bulbs, boom boxes, and other fruits of electricity came into being. Davis brings a light touch to the story without dumbing it down. He notes, for instance, that Franklin was indeed more than a little annoyed that the learned societies of London had failed for years to respond to his voluminous theories on electricity (lightning and electricity, he observed, were likely one and the same thing, for the observable qualities of each were alike in such matters as "rending bodies it passes through" and "destroying animals"), so much so that he determined to do something truly memorable to demonstrate that he knew whereof he spoke. Franklin was one of many experimenters and natural philosophers at work divining the mysteries of electricity during the appropriately named Enlightenment, and Davis pays homage to them and their successors, from Humphry Davy, "the prototype of the new nineteenth century’s emblematic figure, the lone inventor," to Thomas Alva Edison, who, in Davis’s account, emerges as something just this side of loony. "In addition to the Old Man," he writes, Edison’s underlings "also called him the Beast," and for good reason: he was addicted to chewing tobacco and pie, reckoning that Americans were superior to the English and the rest of the world for their devotion to the latter; he was suspicious of Jews and fond of "coon jokes"; he lost huge fortunes creating weird contraptions; and he believed thatautomobiles and home radios were passing fancies. Still, Davis notes, Edison was a master of vertical integration, and his development of not just parts of the grid but the entire system made the "Electric Revolution" a part of everyday life. A pleasure for students of technological history—and for readers with a fondness for bizarre personality types.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559706551
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/12/2003
  • Pages: 358
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: What Was Known 1
1 Franklin, the Adroit Old Adventurer 7
2 Erasmus Darwin, Humphry Davy, and the Science of Their Times 26
3 The Blacksmith of Brandon 41
4 Samuel Morse and the Invisible World 62
5 A Railroad to the Moon 115
6 Merlin 165
7 Light 199
8 The Manufacturer and the Magus 239
9 Marconi and the Letter S 279
10 Vox Humana 304
Conclusion 318
Endnotes 329
Bibliography 332
Index 343
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    Swanpelt

    Can this be the med. cat den?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2012

    Flareclaws

    Im already dead.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2012

    Rosepath

    *the beutiful starry she cat dances through the clearing with unimaginable grace*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2004

    Laces together biographies well

    Fantastic. At first the book just sat on my coffee table for weeks, but then, as I read a little here and there, I began to delve into it more deeply. The book gives insight into the sometimes odd (Tesla) or unlikely (Morse) characters responsible for trailblazing electric discoveries and technology. Why do we never hear about an electric revolution anyway when it was equally important to the industrial revolution? We see that these early inventors, notably Edison, were often deeply flawed -- both in business abilities and in ethics. As a former devotee of Ayn Rand's mythic lone inventor, we see more clearly the nature of genius and the role of groups of people in various capacities in advancing an idea.

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