Air as Resource: Thinking about Air-Powered Transport in the Nineteenth Century

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Abstract Summary
In the nineteenth century, air started to be considered not just as an element, but as a techno-scientific resource. The laws of thermodynamics provided an instrument to exploit air power (specifically, pressured air), and scientists and engineers thought about using it, among others, for the transport of mail, goods, and persons. The product of such techno-scientific plans (some of which were realized, while others remained utopian) were pneumatic tubes, which have been and partly still are an important element in communication and transport infrastructure. The aim of my paper is to analyze the meaning attributed to air power and its infrastructure (pneumatic tubes) in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, while at the same time focusing on the production of scientific and technical knowledge on air-powered transport and its socio-political entanglements. For instance, between 1865 and 1871 the Siemens brothers corresponded with each other about the possibilities of pneumatic mail tubes and how to foster their installation: they called the new science “Pneumatik” and their correspondence is an example of knowledge circulation and techno-scientific transfer between Berlin and London. Visually, air was represented as a goddess (as was electricity), and for the new infrastructure of pneumatic mail tubes an allegedly ancient Greek tradition was invented. I would like to explore these aspects from the perspective of a cultural history of science and technology, on the basis of published and unpublished.
Abstract ID :
Submission Type
Organized Session
Abstract Topic
Chronological Classification :
19th century
Self-Designated Keywords :
Pneumatics, Cultural history of technology, Technology transfer

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