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Engines of Our Ingenuity

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Pittsburg in 1816 Digital History ID 4476
A historical snapshot of Pittsburgh in the year 1816 offers an unexpected window into early American history. The War of 1812 had just ended. We'd survived our first forty years of independence, and we'd just begun seeing ourselves as a strong, solvent country. Pittsburgh was a singular town. It lay across the great natural barrier of the Allegheny Mountains, far from population centers on the Atlantic coast.
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Maria Mitchell Digital History ID 4487
Nobel prizes weren't given until 1901. Throughout the 1800s royal medals were the medium of scientific recognition. Americans were latecomers to big-time science. Yet we had our first royal prize in astronomy by 1850. It was the Danish Royal Medal, and the winner was Maria Mitchell. She won it for discovering a new comet in 1847, when she was only 28.
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The Erie Canal Digital History ID 4505
A storm rises over central New York, and a ferryman, trudging beside his mule, hauling a barge through the Erie canal, sings: Oh the Er-i-e is a-rising, And the liquor is getting low, And I scarcely think, We'll get a drink, Till we get to Buffalo. The Erie canal is deeply grooved in our national awareness. It was a marvel -- a real marvel. Four of the Great Lakes lie above Niagara Falls -- Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie -- and they form a huge inland waterway with access to thousands of miles of shoreline: a waterway that touches Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, as well as New York. For our new country to be whole, East Coast commerce had to gain access to this waterway.
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Wooden Clocks Digital History ID 4479
Imagine early 19th-century life in the American Midwest. Imagine the primitive rural land that gave us Abe Lincoln. The survival technologies in that harsh land were very like the ones that people used in medieval Europe. The last great technology to appear in medieval Europe was the mechanical clock. The mechanical clock likewise entered the American Midwest as soon as basic survival was secure. Abe Lincoln's boyhood home in Kentucky certainly had no clock on its mantel. But you can bet that his teenage home in Indiana did.
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African Steel Making Digital History ID 4481
Modern steel-making began in 1847. William Kelly of Eddyville, Kentucky, found he could make superior structural iron if he blew air through molten pig iron. Oxygen from the air burned harmful elements out of the iron and formed a very strong carbon steel. The process gave what we call converter steel. Nine years later the Englishman Henry Bessemer reinvented Kelly's method. Today we talk about the Bessemer process for making carbon steel.
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