At the recent Indianapolis Hamfest, I picked up a copy of Alice Clink Schumacher's biography of Hiram Percy Maxim. While he's mostly remembered as one of the most prominent early amateur radio enthusiasts and a founder of the American Radio Relay League and the International Amateur Radio Union, and to firearms enthusiasts as the inventor of the silencer, his professional career began in the early automobile industry. The gun silencer came about as a result of his successful efforts to quiet the internal combustion engine.
Maxim's earliest work pre-dates the "brass lamp" era and continued well past it. The first commercial motorized road vehicles were used by industry -- and by the very wealthy. The early auto companies were often set up by businessmen who had already made a lot of money in other fields. Passenger cars were very much a toy for the rich in their first decade or more. Heavier vehicles were bought by industry and governments. Nobody else could afford one.
Barring any last-minute changes, Blue Origin, the spaceflight company set up by Jeff Bezos, will have their first crewed launch tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. EDT. Passenger spacecraft are very much a toy for the rich; larger, more capable vehicles are sold (or their services leased) to governments and industry.
I wonder, when William Kissam Vanderbilt II (with help from a few of his wealthy and powerful friends) built the exclusive, private Long Island Motor Parkway in 1908, did critics gripe that he and his rich friends were going to use their motorcars to flee the city on that limited-access ribbon of smooth concrete and leave the poor trapped in urban squalor? Of course, it didn't work out that way; in 1938, LIMP was handed over to the city, an out-dated white elephant that had never made a cent, while Robert Moses snaked modern multilane public highways through Greater New York. By then, a poor man in a beat-up Ford flivver enjoyed speed and freedom Vanderbilt had only dreamt of.
Space travel has yet to produce a Henry Ford (or even an Elwood P. Haynes). Maybe we'll get Frank J. Sprague or George Pullman instead. What we're not going to get is plutocrats ruling from orbit. Like their predecessors at the controls or in the passenger seat of a 19th-Century automobile, the crazy rich (and their employees) will serve as self-funded beta testers until the new wears off and the risks shrink.
Then it'll be our turn.
BUILDING A 1:1 BALUN
1 year ago