Steam Power/People Power

We often forget how invention works.  More than once two people have invented the same thing at the same time.  Then again, some times inventions happen before the world is ready for them.

The submarine was one such invention.  The Hunley was invented during the Civil War and belonged to the Confederate States of America.  It was basically a tin can that moved through the water using people power.  It had a submersion time of about 20 minutes.  Men inside the submarine worked a crank that turned the propeller.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a huge success.  It did sink a very important ship and won a small victory for the Confederate States of America, but that small win came at a huge cost… The Hunley killed 3 crews.

The first two times it sank and took it’s crew with it, the CSA was able to salvage the Hunley.  The third time, they couldn’t, they didn’t even know why it hadn’t come back up and weren’t even real sure where the submarine sank.  It was eventually found nearly 140 years later.

Technology hadn’t advanced enough for a successful submarine.  The turn screw system was easy enough, but there was no way to keep fresh or at least recycled oxygen into it.  Just like there wasn’t tempered glass able to withstand the pressures of being under water for long periods of time.

It was during the course of the Civil War that a dentist named Dr. R. Finley Hunt invented a steam powered airplane.  Invented in the sense that he wrote out blue prints for it.  He personally didn’t have the money to build it and he petitioned the CSA to pay for it, however by then, the CSA had sorta resigned themselves to losing the Civil War.

However, the steam powered airplane has been built in modern day and the realization is that adding a steam engine to a plane, isn’t exactly practical.  It has to be scaled up in order to lift the weight of the steam engine, which means the weight of the engine then forces it to have to be scaled up some more.  And the cycle continues.

One has to wonder though, if the CSA had funded it, about the what ifs of it.  It is possible that if it had been built, the bugs could have been worked out of it and become a real force in the Civil War… Maybe… Maybe… It’s also possible that like the submarine, it would have been a machine out of its time.

Like the Hunley, it is very possible that it would have been a dismal failure because we just didn’t have the technology for it in the 1860s.  It would be nearly forty years before the airplane, not steam powered, would become a real thing.


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