Zeppelins, The Titanic, and the Future of Education: Studies in Crap Celebrates Progress With a 1913 Scientific American


Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.

Scientific American

Date: August 23, 1913

Discovered at: Antique shop

Representative Quotes:

  • “Probably the first whole-hearted aerial attack in modern warfare will be delivered from a very large and safe dirigible, a craft that can at least boast of a practical firing platform, notwithstanding the danger of conflagration.” (page 142).
  • “Pedagogy in this alleged twentieth century is about in the same position as was astronomy in the age of Galileo.” (page 141).

For all its grand talk of battling airships, and its many photographs of resplendently whiskered men wired to apparatuses right out of a steampunk “Mouse Trap” game, this crumbling old Scientific American reveals at least two truths of American life that have only grown truer as the decades have passed: our faith in new technology and our corresponding habit of only worrying about the safety of that new technology after the inevitable disasters.

Just as newspapers of late 2001 burst with advice for preventing future attacks identical in every particular to the one we had just endured, this 1913 broadsheet concerns itself with potential Titanics. (The original sank in April, 1912.) The editors endorse two solutions. First, build larger, hulled lifeboats equipped with engines.

Second– HA! There is no second, because lifeboats = FAIL!

“A safe ship needs no lifeboat, and the long line of these craft, lining for hundreds of feet the upper deck of our great passenger steamers, is in itself a confession of failure . . . Theoretically, thoroughly subdivided and carefully navigated ships need no multiplicity of lifeboats.”

By this logic, the vulcanized “skins” a bloke might slip into for consorting with a dollymop are a confession of his shameful inability to stiff upper-lip his way through a touch of the syph.

The editors express no safety concerns about the zeppelins and air-ships that parade through the “Aeronautics” round-up, even though the dangers of such are plain to anyone who has ever witnessed parade workers trying to wrangle a helium Garfield.


Still, even in peacetime death ruled the skies. First, there’s the sad tale of the wreck of a Schutte-Lanz dirigible in Schneidermuhl, Germany. Anchored to the ground by 300 soldiers as it underwent repairs, the airship lifted to the skies on a violent gust of wind.

“The soldiers were so completely taken by surprise that all but two released their hold on the ropes. One of those fell from a height of 30 feet and was badly injured, while the other clung to the vessel until it had risen to nearly 1,000 feet when also released his hold, and dashing earthward, was immediately killed.”

The ship hovered over the town for an hour before a descent that took out trees and telegraph poles.

“A large body of peasants endeavored to arrest its flight by tying its cables to fir trees. The straining of the large bag, however, soon tore the trees up by their roots.”

Another item reports a settlement in the first-ever case of an air collision. Seems a Capt. Dickson clipped his Farman aeroplane into M. Thomas’ Antioinette in Milan in 1910. Both survived; the damages ran Dickson three grand.

Finally, C. Dienstbach’s speculative piece “Fighting in the Air” concludes that it is unlikely that future wars will see “aeroplane pitted against aeroplane.” His evidence: HG Wells’ novel When the Sleeper Wakes, which suggests that men lack the mettle dogfighting would demand. Zipping along at “express train speed” so far above the ground would dull a pilot’s inclination to take on the even greater danger of combat:

“A man without skates on smooth ice, or without shoes on the top of a narrow steeple, is not aggressively inclined; the military aviator is in no more favorable position.”

Of course, Dienstbach didn’t believe man should abandon his dream of bringing carnage to the on the scale of what he’d already brought to the seas: “The fact that Zeppelins have been armed with machine guns shows whither the tendency lies.”

Yes, that way everybody dies!

Sadly, this issue contained no photos of dirigibles. To make up for this oversight, here’s an early peek at the innovation that would ruin driving.

Shocking Detail:
The article “Teaching From the Child’s Point of View” covers “a new science” created by Professor Ernst Meumann. Hailing from Germany, “the land of pedagogy.” Professor Meumann advocated applying scientific classification to the different types of children a teacher meets in the classroom rather than focusing on the children themselves.

“Meumann claims that what we want now from a science of education is to know not so much the minute differences between individual normal pupils as what is true generally . . . he found special types of learners in each branch of work, and a knowledge of such types is more important for class teaching than that of minute differences. When means have been devised to determine these individual differences and certain uniformities we shall be able to classify, grade and promote pupils scientifically, and not divide them according to ages or sizes or school marks.”

How to identify the different types of students?


Also, school should be a race.

Honestly, his big idea is to divide the points that students might achieve on their assignments by the time it took them to finish. At last, our children will be equipped for the factory and its time-study men! Besides, as any dollymop will tell you, a job done quickly is a job done well.

New patents!

Has the definition of “recreation” changed? Also, this is a testament to American ingenuity. Instead of going through the motions of
getting a zeppelin airborne, S.J. Hibon saved a shit-ton of time and started with the explosions.

Then there’s this, a suffragist alternative to the chastity belt.

Finally, for the ladies:

[The Crap Archivist lives in Kansas City, where he originates his on-line Studies for the Voice‘s sister paper, The Pitch.]