Tuesday, October 15, 2013
What Did the War of 1812 Prove?: Not much, is the short answer to this question. After American armed forces battled the British (and British-Canadians - Sir Isaac Brock) for 32 months between 1812 and 1814, status quo ante bellum was the official outcome. And aside from Washington, D.C. burning to the ground and Tecumseh's Confederacy being defeated, there were no major physical/boundary changes that stemmed from the conflict. In fact, the British have mostly written off the war as a kind of annoying sideshow to the larger Napoleonic Wars happening in Europe at the time. For Americans, however, the war had enormous socioeconomic and cultural ramifications. Because much of the war was fought at sea, the British Navy had a 50-to-1 numerical (sailor) advantage over the tiny American Navy, which only formed in the late 1790s. With this vast advantage, the British were able to capture American ships, impress American sailors, and establish crippling blockades around American ports. Ultimately, it was these blockades which destroyed America's ability to conduct not only naval warfare, but also international trade. Even after the war ended, the British continued to make international trade a hassle for American merchants. Thus, by the 1820s, the U.S. had begun to double-down on two emerging industries of the early nineteenth century: homegrown slave labor (as opposed to imported) and cotton textiles (water-powered mills).
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
On DuPont and Wallace Carothers: One year after General Electric (GE), DuPont established the nation's second corporate research and development (R&D) laboratory in 1902. The main purpose behind an R&D lab was two-fold. First, to create new products for the consumer market, and second, to create new uses for existing products. As one of America's premier chemical engineering firms, some of DuPont's most notable products include gunpowder, spray paint (to be used on automobile exteriors), and freon (for the budding refrigerant industry in the early 20th century). However, it was the discovery of nylon by DuPont chemist Wallace Carothers (pictured above) in 1935 which not only made the company into a household name, but also helped position it for dominance in the new synthetic polymer industry. Other important synthetic polymers to emerge from DuPont's Experimental Station laboratory near Wilmington, Delaware, included neoprene (diving suits) and kevlar (bulletproof vests). Yet despite his brilliance as a chemist, Carothers was a deeply depressed individual. Since about 1931, when he was working on the commercial development of neoprene, Carothers kept a capsule of cyanide attached to the end of his watch chain. And in 1937, he ingested that capsule mixed with lemon juice in a Philadelphia hotel room, choosing not to leave a suicide note.