ON April 2, 1840, eighteen American savants met in Philadelphia and organized themselves into “ The American Society of Geologists.” Within two years the association extended its field of activity, and added “ and Naturalists ” to its title. Still later other sciences were given hearing, and at a notable meeting held in Boston in 1847 it was decided to remodel the organization on the lines of a British association that had been a power in shaping intellectual progress for a quarter-century. In accordance with this action, the leading scientific men of the country met in Philadelphia, September 20, 1848, and instituted “ The American Association for the Advancement of Science.” Such was the origin of the leading American scientific society, a distinctively American body, meant to increase and to diffuse exact knowledge among the people ; and its semi-centenary anniversary, celebrated by the meeting in Boston, is a Jubilee of American Science.
Scientific progress, especially in a land of free institutions, is so closely interwoven with industrial and social progress that the advance of one cannot be traced without constant reference to the other. Indeed, the statement of our national progress during the past half-century is little more than a summary of results and practical applications of scientific research. Fifty years ago our population was hardly more than twenty millions, now it is seventy millions; then our wealth was less than seven billion dollars, now it is eighty billions. At the beginning of the year 1848 there were fifty-two hundred and five miles of railway in the United States, now there are two hundred thousand, — far more than any other country has, more than all Europe ; nearly as many miles, indeed, as all the rest of the world put together. Some of those who attended the first meeting of the Association made their journey, or part of it, by stagecoach or in the saddle. They met many a boy riding to the neighborhood mill with a bag of corn as grist and saddle, and the itinerant doctor or minister on horseback, with his wife on a pillion behind ; they passed by farmers swinging the back-breaking cradle or wielding the tedious hoe, while lusty horses grew fat in idleness; they caught glimpses of housewives spinning and dyeing and weaving with infinite pains the fabrics required to clothe their families ; they followed trails so rough that the transportation of produce to market multiplied its cost, and carrying back family supplies was a burden : everywhere they saw hard human toil, enlivened only by the cheer of political freedom, and they did not even dream of devices whereby nature should be made to furnish the means for her own subjugation. Most of the mails were carried slowly by coaches and postboys ; the telegraph was little more than a toy; the telephone, the trolley-car, and the typewriter had not begun to shorten time and lengthen life ; and steel was regularly imported from Sheffield, and iron from Norway. The slow and uncertain commerce of interior navigation was the pride of publicists, and Chicago boasted a population of twenty-five thousand; a shallow wave of settlement was flowing over the vast interior to break against the bluffs of the Missouri, though the pioneers still feared to pitch tents on the broad prairielands, and chose rather the rugged and rocky woodlands skirting the waterways as sites for homesteads ; the fertile subhumid plains, with ten million buffalo feeding on their nutritious grasses, were still mapped as “ the great American desert; ” the Rocky Mountain region beyond was a mystical land, yielding the wildest and weirdest of travelers’ tales ; California was an Ultima Thule more remote in thought and interest than are Hawaii or even the Philippines to-day.
Then, as now, the nation was in the throes of growing-pains, acuter than now, because territorial expansion was more rapid: Texas had recently given its empire, — an empire of barren breadths and bloody bandits, according to the critics, — and Florida had lately come to us from Spain ; Iowa and Wisconsin had entered the family of states, and Oregon had become a troublesome territory ; and the treaty of GuadalupeHidalgo had just been approved, bringing California and New Mexico (with most of what is now Arizona) into our possession, — adding the care of hopeless deserts and the control of treacherous tribes and an alien population to the duties of an overworked legislative and administrative government, and preparing the way for the witticism, “ Mexico will be forgiven all if she will only take back her lands.” In truth, there was danger, painfully manifest thirteen years later, of disruption through overgrowth of the local interests and provincialisms always straining our theoretic union, — a danger happily removed forever a quarter-century later by the railway and the telegraph, which gave a stronger unity than political faith or governmental doctrine.
The progress of the nation during the half-century is beyond parallel. By normal growth and peaceful absorption without foreign conquest the population has trebled, and the national wealth has increased tenfold. The subjugation of natural forces has proceeded at a higher rate, and the extension of knowledge and the diffusion of intelligence have gone forward more rapidly still. This advance, so great as to be grasped by few minds, is the marvel of human history. The world has moved forward as it never did before. Yet fully half of the progress of the world, during the last fifty years, has been wrought through the unprecedented energy of American enterprise and genius, guided by American science.
It is to a great degree through special research that knowledge advances ; yet it is by no means to be forgotten that the specialty is but a column in the fane of science, and that arcades and keystones and swelling dome hold higher places. Worthy has been the work of specialists in the extension of knowledge, during the half-century ; but nobler still have been the tasks of the fewer searchers who have been able to span two or more specialties, and to simplify knowledge by coordination. The solidarity of science is well illustrated by the work of the physicist Bunsen and the chemist Kirchoff, both of Germany, who in 1859 combined their specialties (as few great men are able to do) and blent ideas in the invention of the spectroscope, which has revolutionized several sciences. By aid of this device, later chemists and physicists have discovered new facts and made some of the most important generalizations of the time; by its daily aid, the metallurgist applies the Bessemer process, which has revolutionized the steel production of the world ; aided by a derivative device (the bolometer), Langley has been able to measure and weigh the light and combustion rate of the firefly lamp, and thus to gain a new point of view in physiology. Still greater has been the service of the spectroscope to the astronomer ; for it has brought, as it were, to the test-tube and crucible, our sun and other suns, and the luminous planets and comets, so that their substance may be analyzed hardly less definitely than the rocks beneath our feet; it even enables the astronomer to read from the shifting lines of the spectrum the relative motions of stars long thought to be fixed. This application of the spectroscope marks the most noteworthy advance in astronomy not only of the half-century that is now closing, but of all time. No key ever unlocked sublimer revelations or more inspiring vistas than this instrument which opened the door of the New Astronomy.
A few of the principal advances in science, made in the last fifty years, may be noted.
Europe and America have contributed to astronomy, during the half-century, in fairly equal measure. The spectroscope was the gift of the older country, and some of its most brilliant products were brought forth by Huggins and other transatlantic students; yet spectroscopy was revolutionized by the American physicist Rowland, with his exquisitely delicate diffraction gratings and his marvelous mechanism for producing them. So, too, the photometric work of the Pickerings in Harvard Observatory, with its adjunct in Peru, and the star catalogues of the lamented Gould and his successors in Cordova, are unexcelled, while the best inventory of modern star science, The New Astronomy, is the work of the American astronomer Langley. Some part of the success of cisatlantic astronomers must be ascribed to the mechanical ingenuity which seems to spring up spontaneously with intellectual freedom, and which enabled the Alvan Clarks, father and son, to produce the finest telescopic lenses the world has seen, with no less excellent fittings. Yet there has been no lack of patient waiting and minute scrutiny of the stolid mid - European type, as shown by the half-century’s discoveries of asteroids and planetary satellites and comets, of which America has done the greater part. The prophecy of American prestige in astronomy came in I860, when Newcomb reduced the orbits of the asteroids to a simple system; and it is just now fulfilled beyond all early anticipation in a recomputation of the elements of the solar system by the same indefatigable delver among definite quantities. This work alone marks an epoch; the sun and moon and planets have been weighed as exactly as sugar and tea at the grocer’s, and their paths measured as precisely as silks and woolens at the draper’s. Most of the ships of civilized nations set their courses by nautical almanacs computed on the Newcombian basis; and the name of Newcomb is more widely known than the name of any other astronomer, and has brought tribute to America from every civilized country. Characteristically American is the recent work of Chandler, who, first following and then outstripping the brilliant Euler, has reconciled the discrepancies in latitude-records of European and American observatories, and discovered a new law of planetary motion, expressed in periodic wandering of the terrestrial poles. Equally characteristic is the work of Young on the sun, Newton on meteoroids, Barnard on comets, and a dozen others in as many special lines, including the suggestive results of Percival Lowell in his observatories on both American continents.
The genius of American astronomers has brought appreciation from laymen as well as investigators, and their labors have been rewarded by increased facilities ; America is better endowed today with observatories and apparatus than any other country, — nearly as well as all the rest of the world. Most of our rapidly growing universities have their own observatories. A dozen years ago the installation of Lick Observatory was an event in the scientific world, and attracted such public attention as to leave little for the two observatories installed within the year, — Flower Observatory in Pennsylvania, and Yerkes Observatory, an adjunct of the University of Chicago. Fifty years ago astronomy was a sober and sluggish science, far removed from practical every-day interests, cultivated respectably in Europe and beginning to attract serious attention in this country. To-day its data are doubled and its activity is tripled; it touches industry and the public welfare at many points, and advances more rapidly than ever before ; and a full share of this progress is due to American genius and industry.
Half a century ago, Dr. Joule, of England, was engaged in a series of physical experiments, beginning with solids and ending with liquids, which indicated that while force may be controlled, it cannot be created or destroyed. Faraday, Helmholtz, and Grove repeated and extended the experiments, and through the combined efforts of the four masters in physical science the law of the conservation of energy was developed, and a new era in the history of science was opened. Half a century earlier, chemistry had established the indestructibility of matter, and incidentally proved that the material world is a world of law, and not of chance. The complementary demonstration of the indestructibility of force completed the groundwork for rational thought, and a phalanx of exponents and defenders of the doctrine of the uniformity of nature, marshaled under John Tyndall, was soon in the field. By timely chance they fell in with an equally vigorous phalanx headed by Huxley, who were expounding and defending the Darwinian doctrine of derivation, or the law of the uniformity of nature applied to organic species ; and the joint forces quickly consummated the most sweeping intellectual revolution in history. Unhappily, ecclesiasticism was aroused, and for a time Tyndall and Huxley were denounced as destroyers of the eternal peace of their converts ; but the balm of personal association soon smoothed the acerbities and aided in fixing the respective bounds of science and faith, and serious antagonism to applied physics came to an end. Meantime, the mechanician found himself in line with the thinker, the student turned from hereditary introspection of the supernal toward the new-found beauties of the real world, and gradually teachers came to be esteemed for what they knew rather than for what they conjured; practical men became thinkers, and thinking men became practical ; industry was regenerated, and the real glory of the Victorian era began.
At first the law of the conservation of energy was not the counterpart of the law of the conservation of matter recognized by chemists ; for the ultimate and persistent basis of matter is the atom, while the physicists held only that the sum of energy persists in the universe. Recently, Powell has revised the law in the light of generalized human experience, and suggested that motion, like matter, inheres and persists in the ultimate particle ; and thereby chemistry and physics, and the other sciences as well, are brought into harmony. This rendering of the fundamental law of physics is accepted by several savants; it is in accord with the lines of intellectual and industrial progress, and gives brilliant promise as a means of extending conquest over nature. Physical science has been the giver of many generous gifts, but the goodliest of all was the gift of right thinking, which was a by-product of the law of the conservation of energy.
The formula of physical science came to America as a mariner’s compass to a crew of maroons. Already a nation of inventors inspired by intellectual freedom, Americans were still blind leaders of the blind ; for invention is impossible without at least intuitive recognition of the uniformity of nature, while without conscious recognition of this law the inventor drifts in a sea of uncertainties, making port only by chance. The newly formulated doctrine was seized and assimilated with such avidity that within a decade it was more generally understood and adopted in this country than in all Europe. Under its stimulus invention throve and manufacturing grew apace: the crude reaper was made a self-raker, next a harvester or header, then a self-binder or field-thresher, according to local needs; the hoe gave way to the horse-cultivator, and the flail to the horse-power thresher, the neighborhood water-mill to the steam-driven roller-mill grinding for all the people of a whole state; and the farmer learned to live by the strength of his beasts and the craft of his machines merely guided by his own intelligence. The mechanic arts were regenerated ; steam was harnessed more effectively than before, and our railway-making and locomotive-building became and remain a revelation to the world; for within this year, 1898, European engineers have been compelled to swallow incredulity as to the rapidity of American bridge-building, while British promoters hastening to supply Egypt with locomotives have saved half the time required for delivery, despite the doubling of distance, by ordering from American builders. The tide of foreign importation was soon stayed, and then turned, and now American steel tools are sold in Sheffield and fine American hardware in Norway, while the products of American machines in the form of foodstuffs and fabrics are carried into every quarter of the globe. The characteristic of American inventiveness is its diffusion. Invention is as free as the franchise, and open competition gives life to genius no less than to trade. American devices (temporarily protected by patents) are so diffused that every citizen is in contact with the products of physical science and mechanical skill; everybody may have a machine-made watch better than the average handmade product of Geneva, nearly equal to the tested Swiss chronometer ; every family may have its sewing-machine and telephone ; and every man, woman, and child wears machine-made buttons, pins, hats, and textile fabrics.
A typical American device is the bicycle. Invented in France, it long remained a toy or a vain luxury. Redevised in this country, it inspired inventors and captivated manufacturers, and native genius made it a practical machine for the multitude; now its users number millions, and it is sold in every country. Typical, too, is the bicycle in its effect on national character. It first aroused invention, next stimulated commerce, and then developed individuality, judgment, and prompt decision on the part of its users more rapidly and completely than any other device ; for although association with machines of any kind (absolutely straightforward and honest as they are all) develops character, the bicycle is the easy leader of other machines in shaping the mind of its rider, and transforming itself and its rider into a single thing. Better than other results is this: that the bicycle has broken the barrier of pernicious differentiation of the sexes and rent the bonds of fashion, and is daily impressing Spartan strength and grace, and more than Spartan intelligence, on the mothers of coming generations. So, weighed by its effect on body and mind as well as on material progress, this device must be classed as one of the world’s great inventions.
With the advance of the half-century in simply applied mechanics, there have been still greater advances in the knowledge of the more obscure powers of nature, manifested in electricity and magnetism, in sun and wind and storm, even in vitality and mental action. Some of these have been made in Europe, but more in America. Fifty years ago Morse and Henry were doing the final work required to transform the electric telegraph from a physical experiment to a commercial agency, and soon nerves of steel and copper, throbbing with intelligence, were following the pioneer into the remotest recesses and pushing beneath the ocean ; Faraday, the Siemens brothers, Helmholtz, and later Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) freely gave genius and toil; then came Edison with an eruption of brilliant inventions ; and to-day time and space are as if they were not, and from sea to sea our subjects of thought are as one. It was but yesterday that half our world knew not how the other half lived; now both halves read the same items at breakfast.
Themselves harvesters after the experimentalists in physics, the early telegraphers were planters for Graham Bell, and the telephone came to carry the word of man afar, and the graphophone to perpetuate it forever, and thus to complete the annihilation of space and time as obstacles to the diffusion and unification of intelligence. Inspired by success in conveying thought, inventors sought to convey grosser powers, and dynamos were invented to furnish light better and cheaper than the world had known before; devices for warming and even for cooking, and for lowering temperature by fans and refrigerant pipes, quickly followed ; and now the lightning is harnessed in our houses as the thunder is subdued in telephone and graphophone. Meantime, motors and transmitters were perfected, and electric transportation came into successful competition with steam locomotion, while the power derived from waterfalls and central plants was made divisible, so that units of power are now sold as freely as pounds of tea or sugar were fifty years ago; and a way has been found to counteract the concentration of artisans in factories located by waterfall or engine. The conquest of nature by electric power, gained through controlling an infinitesimal part of the vibrant atomic energy of our corner of the cosmos, has come rapidly, and so steadily as almost to escape notice : yet it is a marvel beside which the magical lamp of Aladdin and all other figments of Oriental fancy are as nothing.
In 1848 a Frenchman and an Englishman made advances in the new art of photography, developed partly by Professor Draper, of New York, a few years before. In 1850 a journal of photography was established in this country, and the art became the property of the people. Its progress well illustrates the growing solidarity of nations, for contributions have been made by England, France, Germany, and other countries, as well as America, and parts of the same apparatus are often the handiwork of two or more countries. America’s contributions to the art are characteristic in that they have reduced the cost and increased the use of the apparatus so far that every village and a tenth of our families have their cameras. Recent events indicate that a new field is opening for the picture-maker, and the next half - century may see advances much greater than those of the last; for while photography has been limited to luminous rays and to portraiture of external surfaces, Roentgen has proved the possibility of using other phases of radiant energy, and of depicting internal structures as well as outer forms.
Half a century ago Joseph Henry published the plan of the Smithsonian Institution, and his first-mentioned means of increasing knowledge was a “ system of extending meteorological observations for solving the problem of American storms.” So began a line of research which has added much to science, and is daily contributing to personal comfort and material prosperity. Of old the wind blew where it listed, the rain fell on the just and the unjust alike, and men recked no more of the hurricane than of the earthquake, for both were ascribed to malevolent and unavoidable fate. The dark confession of weakness still clings to those who go down to the sea in ships, making them the most superstitious of modern folk, and it crops up uncannily in the exemption phrase of even modern transatlantic contracts, “ acts of God excepted.” Against this blighting faith in the malign Franklin set himself a century before Henry, when he led lightning from the skies on a kite-string, and invented the lightning-rod ; but the real awakening began with the Smithsonian Institution. For twenty years the work was little more than observation in Eastern cities, giving data for laws, but not the laws themselves. During the reaction from the civil war several military men turned toward nobler conquest, and observation was extended and systematized in a science so definite as to confer the gift of prevision. Up to the present generation the principal contributions to meteorology came from Europe, and such names as Buys - Ballot, Buchan, Dove, and Delaunay were better known in this country than those of our own investigators, while so late as 1875 the data for Coffin’s Winds of the Globe were submitted to the Russian Weikoff for discussion before they were issued by the Smithsonian Institution.
Now the tide has turned. Generals Hazen and Greely and the civilians Harrington and Moore have built up the largest weather bureau in the world, and with the aid of physicists like Ferrel, Abbe, and Mendenhall have shaped weather science ; while Langley has led thinkers into new paths by his studies of the internal work of the wind, and their application to problems of aerial flight. Much of the success of American air science must be ascribed to the accident of geography, which gives a broader field for the study of the atmosphere than any other nation enjoys, — more favorable, even, than the two empires of Russia. Yet geographic bigness is but one of the elements of American greatness, in this as in other departments of knowledge, such as engineering, geology, and anthropology. To-day a central office coordinates observations not only from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf, but, through international comity, from Canadian territory on the north to Mexican territory on the south. The observations yield predictions benefiting agriculture and shipping to the extent of millions annually. They yield also principles which are enlightening the world, mitigating faith in Moloch and strengthening confidence in human might, and so preparing the way for still more brilliant conquest by generations yet to come.
Meteorology does not give control of the powers of the air and the vapors within it (pseudo-science to the contrary notwithstanding), but only enables men so to adjust themselves to these agents as to gain benefit and to avoid injury; vet conquest over the immeasurable potentialities of the atmosphere is extending in other ways. Half a century ago gases were the most elusive of substances, seldom allied in thought to liquids save in loose speculation, hardly brought from the domain of mysticism into the realm of reality. Now the continuity of the gaseous condition with liquidity and solidity has been established for the more important terrestrial substances. A dozen years ago Cailletet in France and Pictet in Switzerland liquefied various gases by high pressure and low temperature. Dewar, of England, followed in a striking series of operations, liquefying gas after gas, until within a few weeks hydrogen — most refractory of the elements and the unit of matter — has been brought into liquid form, and the American Tripler has devised means of liquefying air in large quantities at limited cost. To-day scientists find themselves on the threshold of a new prospect opened by these conquests. The possibilities of future applications cannot be presaged clearly, but there are indications that they will equal those made through the control of electricity. Liquid hydrogen is only one fourteenth the weight of water ; it boils at — 238° C.
(—396° F.), or only 35° C. above absolute zero, while liquid air is a little lighter than water, and boils (or vaporizes) at —191° C. (—312° F.). In the abstract the figures carry little meaning, but made concrete they signify that just as the astronomer finds himself approaching the limits of the material universe through the telescope and the spectroscope, and just as the morphologist is approaching actual vision of molecular constitution through the microscope, so the physicist finds himself nearing the point at which the definite constitution of matter must begin, — the real sunrise of the material universe, beyond which lies chaos only. Considered in their concrete application, the figures are still more significant. The uses of liquid air for wholesale cooling, as an adjunct in chemical and metallurgical operations, and even as a terrible instrument of war, have already been tested or suggested ; yet the stimulus of discovery has hardly begun to affect the mass of inventors.
As doctrinal prejudice melted, and as chemistry established the continuity between organic and inorganic substances, the sum of experience and weight of reason wrought a revolution in thought, and the dominion of law over living matter was soon accepted implicitly, if not explicitly. The extension of law into the realm of intellectual processes came later, and more tediously and haltingly. A noteworthy step was taken in 1859, when Joseph Le Conte illustrated certain cases of interconvertibility of physical and mental forces. His exposition was republished and widely reviewed and discussed in Europe, where it inspired experiments and the making of special apparatus, — always the strong side of transatlantic research; for the European pioneer puts stepping-stones where the American lays a bridge. Meantime, Barker, after demonstrating the interconvertibility of physical and vital forces in 1875, passed into the higher realm, and definitively extended the correlation to mental force. Other contributions followed ; and while there are still those who dread to lift the veil of mystery above a certain point, — perchance through confounding mental process and intellectual product, — the more vigorous investigators recognize the physical basis of mentation, and a science of psychology has arisen, standing to metaphysical psychology much as astrology stood to astronomy and alchemy to chemistry. It is represented fittingly in America. The consequences and applications of this advance of the halfcentury may no more be foretold than those of others newly made; yet even if it mean no more than the extension of law into a new realm, and the replacement of chaos by order in human thought, it must take an important place in the history of science.
An important advance in chemistry was forecast in 1811 by the Italian Avogadro, and soon after by the Frenchman Ampère, through the discovery that equal volumes of all substances, when in the gaseous state and under like conditions, contain the same number of molecules ; that is, that the constitution of matter is connected with its own inherent motion. The discovery was barren until fertilized by the law of the conservation of energy, and became fully fruitful only under the skillful treatment of the American Cooke, who used it as the basis of the New Chemistry about the middle of the half-century. The advance marked the extension of natural law into a field long cumbered by the mystical wreckage of alchemy, and signalized the lifting of interpretation from the plane of the material to that of the kinetic. A new chapter in the history of chemistry was opened by Kekulé, of Flanders, in 1858. This was the discovery of valence, or the law of proportion under which atoms combine to form substances, — a far-reaching, though possibly not final law governing the constitution of matter. The laws of Avogadro and Kekulé yielded a larger view of the unknown ; and by their aid Mendelejeff, of Russia, and almost at the same time (1869-70) Lothar-Meyer, of England, discovered that the known elementary substances fall naturally into groups displaying certain family resemblances, while the groups fall into series defined by properties of the atoms; and these facts were formulated in the remarkably comprehensive “ periodic law,” or law of Mendelejeff.
From the culminating point of view afforded by this law the domain of chemistry may be surveyed, as was the domain of astronomy through aid of Kepler’s law, and the endless actions and reactions involved in the making and decomposition of materials, in growth and decay, are found to be no less orderly and harmonious than the swing of satellites and planets and suns in our solar and stellar systems; chemists can now invade the unseen universe, and determine the properties of elements not yet discovered, as Adams located Neptune by formulas before it was detected by lenses. The power of prevision possessed by chemists, under the periodic law, has been established over and over again by successful predictions. Indeed, at a meeting in Toronto, last year, the president of a chemical body dared to devote his address to description of an element still unseen, and the developments of the year have justified his courage.
One of the results of these epochmaking discoveries was increased confidence on the part of the organic chemists, who, beginning with Wöhler and Berzelius, were cautiously creating by laboratory synthesis compounds previously held to transcend simple nature. Within the half-century the laws of the inorganic world have been extended, first to organic compounds, then to organic processes, and finally to the essentially vital processes exhibited by both plants and animals; to-day the chemist and physicist stand on common ground to sustain and explain physiology, and even the modern psychology which finds the source of mentation in cerebral decomposition and recomposition.
During recent decades the applications of chemistry have multiplied and extended in various directions. The new alloys required for novel physical and industrial devices have been produced ; high explosives innumerable have been compounded ; and the chemist has coöperated with the physicist in liquefying gases, and with the astronomer in analyzing suns and comets and the rings of Saturn. Meantime, chemistry has been brought into touch with daily life as an adjunct to medicine, and as a means of testing foods and drugs in public sanitation. Perhaps the most brilliant applications of chemistry sprang from researches concerning the hydrocarbons preserved in the rocks of the earth as records of vitality during ages past; and the coal-tar products have been made to yield dyes rivaling the rainbow in brilliancy and range of color, perfumes stronger than musk and sweeter than attar of roses, flavors more sapid than sugar and spice, and a plenteous series of unguents and medicaments, — indeed, every material requisite for life and luxury except food.
The contributions of chemistry to knowledge and welfare during the halfcentury have been many, yet relatively fewer and poorer than the rich returns from other sciences; and it is a conspicuous fact that few American names are connected with the greater advances in the science. While America’s additions to astronomy, physics, geology, and anthropology have been of the first magnitude, modern chemistry remains a monument to European genius almost alone. In connection with this fact — perhaps in explanation of it — it is to be noted that there are no great chemical laboratories in this country, no institutions comparable with the astronomical observatories and geological surveys and natural history museums which have given prestige to American science.
Half a century ago geology was on the plane to which it had been raised by Lyell’s law of uniformism, — a law which contributed much to the cult proclaimed by Tyndall and Huxley; and this plane was effectively expanded by the efforts of several American geologists. With singular perspicacity and pertinacity, Hall and his associates developed an American scheme of rock classification (the New York system), which was expounded and crystallized by Dana, and has since served as the model for the continent; and in an address delivered in 1857, though not printed for a generation, Hall foreshadowed the laws of mountain-making and other distinctive principles of modern geology. Thus, within the first decade of the half-century the earth science of America had come to stand well abreast of that of Europe. Checked by the social shock of the early sixties, research rested ; but toward the end of the decade it began anew, and as exploration pushed into the Cordilleran region, where the Stone Book lies open, it sprang forward with unprecedented vigor. Hayden, King, and Powell in the territories, and Whitney in California, were the principal pioneers in the field, while Powell, Gilbert, and Dutton led in lifting the science to the third plane in its development ; for, through recognition of the “ baselevel of erosion,” they laid the foundation for the New Geology, which reads earth history from the forms of hill and vale as well as from the formations and fossils of past ages. Within a dozen years the principles have been applied and extended in the coast plains of the southeastern states, where they have made both land forms and unconformities eloquent records of continent growth ; while Davis, of Harvard, has successfully employed the same principles in reading from topographic maps the later chapters of earth history.
Meantime, the glacial theory, imported by Agassiz from Switzerland, rooted kindly in American soil, and soon bore fruit; Chamberlin, Shaler, Salisbury, and a score of others have scanned our incomparable drift plains and drumlins, moraines and kames, sand plains and paha, and have solved the riddle of the loess; and during the last quartercentury the records of the ice ages have been more thoroughly scrutinized and more fully interpreted in America than in all the rest of the world. Meantime, too, geology ramified in other directions, and its applications multiplied ; the second half of the nineteenth century is distinguished by activity in investigation of rocks and resources in every country, but especially in America, with its federal survey and score of state surveys, maintained at a cost of more than a million dollars annually, and enriching the nation at an indefinitely larger rate. It is fair to remember that the success of the science on this continent is largely due to the great continental expanse and the wide distribution of resources in the rocks ; that the plateau region and the cañon country of the southwest furnish the best known record of geologic process ; that the Appalachian region affords the world’s finest example of a distinctive type of structure; that the glaciated plains of the northern United States are among the widest in the world, by far the widest of those equally accessible; also, that our coal and iron, gold and silver, oil and gas, and numberless other valuable minerals tempt curiosity and cupidity, as well as serious inquiry from sea to sea. While the opportunities are unsurpassed, there has been no dearth of genius to seize them ; and while America may still take lessons from Europe in mineralogy and perhaps in petrography, the relation is reversed in other departments and in the principles of the science, and leading European geologists take frequent field lessons on this side the Atlantic.
Hardly a serious question as to the eternal fixity of species and genera and orders had been raised in scientific minds before 1848, save by Lamarck and a few other quasi - visionaries, while conservative leaders like Agassiz in Switzerland, Cuvier in France, and Owen in England were so deeply grounded in the philosophy of fixity as only to be the more firmly set by each shock of new discovery. Just ten years later Darwin and Wallace independently announced the inconstancy of species and the derivation of organic units through successive changes ; and the idea grew, until it wrought, within a quarter-century, the most profound revolution in the history of human thought. This effect was not due alone to Darwin’s wealth of facts and uprightness of record, nor was it due in more than partial measure to Huxley’s eloquent and aggressive advocacy. The discovery of the conservation of energy by Joule and Grove, and its exposition by Tyndall, contributed much; Lyell’s doctrine of uniformism strengthened the movement in many circles ; the extension of chemistry to organic compounds was a potent factor; the enlargement of the known universe by the spectroscope had its effect; while all these combined with the habit of thought established through larger associations of thinkers with practical men and with mechanical devices, so that the formula “ the uniformity of nature ” won common assent. The wide and ready acceptance of the Darwinian doctrine was but the coordination of knowledge already gained. Yet the revolution would have been long delayed had Englishmen alone contributed to it, or even men of Continental Europe ; for, with a half dozen exceptions, the earliest and strongest apostles were Americans, with Asa Gray and Morse among the leaders. The free, vigorous, and trenchant American mind was peculiarly hospitable to the tenets of the new law ; and it was accepted here as the foundation for the cult of science years before it was similarly accepted in Great Britain. Seen in the perspective now possible, Darwin’s doctrine is but the extension into the organic realm of the laws of action and sequence which form the basis of all definite thought, and find their highest expression in that power of invention which enables man to dominate duller nature for his own behoof. Thus, the rise of the doctrine merely marked a normal and necessary stage in the development of knowledge concerning the several realms of nature.
Made definite by the recognition of action and sequence, biology has advanced apace during the last quartercentury. The causes of most ills to which flesh is heir have been traced to germs and microbes, and modes of prevention and cure have resulted ; the nature of sepsis has been found out, and antisepsis has been perfected with such rapidity that its leader (Lord Lister) has lived to see the average civilized life lengthened by months through efforts initially his own ; and both medicine and surgery have been reconstructed. Entomology has traced the laws governing insect life, suggesting methods of successfully opposing physical force to insect activity, and even of opposing insect to insect in such manner as to protect and multiply the crops on which the nations are fed. Phytology has made clear the laws of plant life, indicating ways of fertilizing and hybridizing and even reproducing useful plants, — ways more economical than those of nature ; while zoölogy is daily applied in re-creating and perpetuating needful domestic animals. The science of living things is too broad and its lines are too many for full statement in a brief summary; but its results may be summed in saying that it has taught man to control life almost at will, — annihilating it if bad, and preserving it if good, — and has enabled him to subjugate vitality to his needs even more completely than the physical forces are subjugated. As a science simply, biology abounds in problems of profound interest; as an applied science, its uses and benefactions are incalculable.
Half a century ago a shadow obscured a considerable part of the field of science, seriously obstructing its cultivation ; it was the shadow cast by man himself, then held too sacred to serve as suitable subject for scientific research. In 1863 Huxley published Man’s Place in Nature, and an anthropological society was instituted in London and began the issue of a journal; eight years later Darwin published The Descent of Man. These events marked the gradual lifting of the shadow from science, the slow extension of the law of the uniformity of nature to the human organism. Contributions came from other countries ; Herbert Spencer bent his fertile mind and facile pen to inquiry and exposition ; America awoke rapidly; and within a quarter-century anthropology was regularly classed as one of the sciences. At first man was studied simply as an animal, and men were classed in races defined by characters shared with brutes. A notable advance was forecast when students perceived that man occupies a distinct plane, in that his essential attributes are collective rather than individual ; and the American Morgan laid the foundation for objective sociology in his work on Ancient Society in 1877, while the Frenchman Comte formulated a subjective sociology, and the Briton Spencer pushed forward his imposing folios on Descriptive Sociology. Then came the creation of the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1879, and the beginning of the classification of the American aborigines by human activities rather than by animal features. So arose a New Ethnology, in which men are classified by mind rather than by body, by culture rather than by color ; and the rise marked the most notable advance in the history of anthropology. Under this classification, the peoples of the earth fall into four culture grades, which are also stages in development, namely : (1) savagery, with a social organization resting on kinship reckoned in the female line ; (2) barbarism, in which the social organization is based on kinship reckoned in the male line ; (3) civilization, in which the organization has a territorial basis ; and (4) enlightenment, in which the laws and customs are based on intellectual rights.
The principal advance in anthropology was distinctly American ; it grew out of conditions existing alone on this continent, and could not well have originated elsewhere; indeed, it is not yet fully appreciated in any other country. Like the American geologist, the cisatlantic anthropologist found the finest field the world affords. With a population coming from every European country, with an aboriginal people of threescore tongues and a thousand tribes always on his frontier, with the denizens of the dark continent long chained to his footstool, with representatives of China and Japan and the islands of the seas constantly competing in his industries, and with a more extensive and intimate blending of bloods than any student had seen before, his opportunities for testing ethnic principles were unparalleled ; when lost in the labyrinth of meaningless distinctions of color and hair, of cranial form and capacity, of stature and length of limb, and in need of new criteria, he was inspired to note what men do rather than what they are, and soon followed the physicist and the chemist and the geologist into kinetic interpretation. Then he found a third of the thousand aboriginal tribes in the stage of maternal organization, another third in paternal organization, and the remaining third ranging through transitional conditions of such sort as to show the course of development. At the same time, he found inbred traditions of territorial organization shaping habit and thought in the million immigrants and visitors from monarchical nations ; and he alone had constantly before him the object-lesson of governmental control despite—and indeed by virtue of — intellectual and social and political freedom. Our physical progress has been great because invention is encouraged by free institutions ; our progress in geology has been rapid by reason of intellectual freedom and a vast domain; while our progress in anthropology has been marvelous because of the elevated point of view and an incomparable range of types both of blood and of activity.
The main movements made way for others, especially in connection with the aborigines ; the sources of æsthetics and ethics have been successfully sought, the early steps in the course of industrial development have been traced, the beginnings of law have been analyzed, and the course of human development has been brought to light; and it is now known that the lines of human progress in the arts and industries, in sociology, in language, and in thought are convergent, rather than divergent like the lines of development among beasts and plants, and that the unification of ideas by telegraph and telephone and press is but a ripple marking the course of the great stream of human activity. The convergent lines of progress suggest multiplicity of cradle-places for the American tribes, as recently expounded by Powell, and still more for mankind in general. Endogamy and exogamy have been defined, in the light of careful observation, as correlative regulations among given peoples rather than developmental stages ; matriarchy has been shown to be the complement of patriarchy, and not a rival of avuncular control; while the trite “ marriage -by -capture ” has been reduced to due place as an incidental development rather than a primitive condition of mating. Meantime, a sound basis has been given to American archæology, as just attested by the award of the first Loubat prize to Holmes in recognition of distinctively American work. The view afforded by the recognition of the collective character of mankind has guided inquiry concerning the individual, and now bodily structures are studied as products of mind-led activity, while the brain is studied as a mechanism more complex, but otherwise no more mysterious, than the structures of plants and animals, or devices which men have made. So in the science of man as in the other sciences the magician’s wand has been cast aside, and the veil of mystery has fallen away forever, and the early shadow is gone from the field of definite knowledge.
Such have been a few of the advances in science of the half-century; the discovery of the persistence of motion, the invention of spectroscopy, the control of electricity, the discovery of the periodic law, the recognition of evolution, and the culture classification of mankind may be considered the first half-dozen. If summed in a single term, the halfcentury’s advance in science may be expressed as recognition of the uniformity and potentiality of nature; while the applications are invention on the practical side, and kinetic interpretation (or interpretation in terms of motion and sequence) on the philosophic side. Most of the advances began in Europe, to be hastened in America, and a full half of the progress must be credited to cisatlantic genius and enterprise.
In truth, America has become a nation of science. There is no industry, from agriculture to architecture, that is not shaped by research and its results ; there is not one of our fifteen millions of families that does not enjoy the benefits of scientific advancement; there is no law in our statutes, no motive in our conduct, that has not been made juster by the straightforward and unselfish habit of thought fostered by scientific methods. A nation of free minds will not be selfish or cruel; and the sense of uniformity in nature finds expression in national character, —in commercial honesty, in personal probity, in unparalleled patriotism, as well as in the unequaled workmanship which is the simplest expression of straight thinking. Every step in our national progress has been guided by the steadfast knowledge born of assimilated experience. The trebling of population in a half-century, raising the republic from an experiment in state-making to a leading place among the nations, is the wonder of history; the thrice-trebled wealth and educational facilities gained through application of new knowledge are a marvel, before which most men stand dazzled at home, and wholly blinded abroad ; the three times thrice-trebled knowledge itself, lifting the nation high in enlightenment and making way for still more rapid progress, is a modern miracle wrought by scientific work ; but greatest of all in present potency and future promise is the elevation of moral character attained by that sense of right thinking which flows only from consciously assimilated experience, — and this is the essence of science now diffused among our people.
Since American science was young, the course of research and conclusion has been guided by an association of science-builders who have freely contributed their mental and moral riches to their younger and poorer fellows. This association has shaped the progress of American science, and its semi-centennial anniversary is America’s Jubilee of Science.
W J McGee.