Ohio History Journal






President of Western Reserve University


I recall that many years ago a teacher informed a class of which

I was a member that history was the record of the answers to the

questions "Who?" "What?" "Where?" and "When?" Since that

time I have learned that history also embraces the answers to the

questions of "How?" and "Why?" Further, it has been those parts

of history which deal with the latter two questions which have

interested me most and which have added most to my education.

The facts on who did what, when and where, have always been

interesting, but have been simply information, whereas the ideas

of how and why have seemed to me to be in the realm of wisdom,

for they bring understanding of the past, clarity in the present, and

some foreshadowing of the future. Thus it is that I have been most

interested in the great forces, the compelling ideas, the contending

pressures, which have shaped the course of human events and made

history itself. Since I was trained as a scientist, it is natural that

I have been most interested to observe how science has shaped

human affairs, and in what ways history has been controlled and

directed by that single force.

Most of us would agree that science is a great force in the world

today, and does shape history itself. We would further agree that

this has been the case for nearly a century. There is no need to

document this statement in any detail. We are all familiar with

the dramatic change in our region and in our country from an

agricultural economy to the highest degree of industrialization in

the world. We know that science has been applied to the industrial

process and hence is substantially responsible for the revolution

which is so obvious that we are frequently not conscious of it. Every-

one is also aware of the rapid change of our culture and society


* This is the text of an address delivered at the sixty-seventh annual meeting of

the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, held at Columbus, April 4, 1952.


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228     Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly


from that of a rural people to a nearly complete urbanization.

Again we must attribute this to the impact of science.

Even the international field presents us with problems which

we can attribute to science. The tensions between peoples and

nations appear to be based on jealousy over the possession of

natural resources or the standard of living which can be developed

and maintained. Natural resources would be meaningless if science

had not found a way to make them useful to men. The standard

of living is directly related to scientific knowledge and particularly

its use.

The problem of war and peace is just one other evidence of the

impact of science upon history. Nowhere are some of the results

of science more dramatically displayed than in the waging of war.

It has truthfully been said that our present peace depends largely

on whether one nation or another has the most advanced scientific

knowledge about the nature of physical matter. All this is true

and accepted, yet the remarkable fact is, as far as I can observe,

that science as such has never and does not now make any direct

impact upon history. Rather its tremendous effects are achieved by

indirection, and always with the participation of individuals other

than the scientist himself. Thus it is that the obvious and dramatic

effect of scientific discovery is seen at a time different from its own

occurrence, and frequently in a totally different geographic and

cultural setting. This seems almost a contradiction of terms, for

history teaches us, at least superficially, that the forces which mold

human events are generally directly associated both in time and

in place with the events that they cause.

May I illustrate this basic point with a reference to the atomic

bomb. The basic scientific study which led to the discovery of

nuclear fission, and the eventual successful manufacture of the

atomic bomb, was done by Lord Rutherford at Cambridge, England,

in 1918. Later work by two German investigators in 1939 pro-

duced nuclear fission. However, the great impact upon the course

of the history of the world took place in Japan in 1945. The names

we associate with atomic energy and the bomb are Oppenheimer,

Conant, Compton--not Rutherford; and the places, Chicago, New

The Impact of Science Upon the History of Ohio 229

The Impact of Science Upon the History of Ohio  229


Mexico, Oak Ridge, or Hanford, Washington. History will pay

little attention to Cambridge and the year 1918, but it will pay

great attention to 1945 and Hiroshima. One might generalize by

saying that the impact of science upon history is slight in any

direct sense, and that the impact of scientists upon the course of

events almost negligible, but that the impact of the technologist

who applies the knowledge of the scientist is direct and over-


In thinking about the history of Ohio, one is struck by the fact

that the technologist and his application of science has been the

great means of shaping our history as a state. Our state has pro-

duced many individuals of inventive genius and of great develop-

mental skill, but very few persons who have made important

contributions to fundamental science. Thus the impact of science

upon the history of Ohio has been a record of invention and ap-

plication. I should like to document this statement by reminding

you of the lives and contributions of four native Ohioans and one

native son of my former state, Vermont.

Ohio's first, and probably greatest, inventor-son was Thomas

Edison, born February 11, 1847, at Milan. Though he left this state

at an early date, his inventive genius and his skill in organization

were responsible for a great change in the way of life in this, his

native state. Edison is remembered for his important improvements

in the telegraph, for his development of the phonograph, for his

contributions to the early motion pictures. More important than

this was his work on the generation and distribution of electric

power, and, particularly, his contribution of the incandescent lamp.

Since the electric age has been called the second phase of the

American industrial revolution, these had a direct and powerful

effect upon Ohio and its development. But much more important

than any one of his inventions was the contribution which Edison

made by demonstrating how to organize inventive skills and

technological know-how in order to master specific problems and

to move in an orderly and directed way to a specific objective.

His was the first industrial research laboratory, and the wide range

of its work is the perfect example of how science can be bent to

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230     Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly


the needs of industry and society. Patterned after Edison and his

associates, have come all of the great industrial laboratories, the

development of which has made the United States preeminent in

the industrial world of the twentieth century.

One of the great chapters of the history of Ohio comes from

the technology of metals. Of course iron and steel have been most

significant, but we must share that story with many other states.

Ohio can, however, claim as a native son Charles M. Hall, who

perfected the process for the extraction of aluminum upon which

is based the whole technology of that important metal. Charles

Hall was born December 6, 1863, at Thompson in Geauga County.

I doubt if history records any major inventive contribution so

early in a man's life. Young Hall was interested in chemistry while

in his early teens, and the story is told that he wanted to find a way

to extract aluminum from bauxite while in his first year of chemistry

at Oberlin College. At any rate he did develop the electrolytic

process and won a patent on it in 1886, before he was 23 years old.

The story of aluminum is not as familiar as is that of iron, but

it has become so important in transportation, construction, and the

electrical industry, that it certainly is one of the great factors in

shaping our technology and therefore our history.

Ohio can claim only one of the Wright brothers by birth, for

Wilbur was born in Indiana in 1867, while Orville was born

August 19, 1871, at Dayton. However, both Wrights spent virtually

their entire lives at Dayton, and Ohio very properly claims both

of them.

The story of the Wrights and the airplane is familiar to all.

Starting as manufacturers of bicycles, they soon became much

more interested in flight. They built their first airplane kite in 1899,

their first glider in 1900. In 1901 they designed and constructed

the first wind tunnel, which they used to obtain data on wing design,

fuselage, and stability. Their second glider was built in 1902.

In 1903 came the great accomplishment of powered flight at Kitty

Hawk. In 1906 the first patents were issued to the Wrights, and

they were recognized as the real fathers of the airplane. The air-

The Impact of Science Upon the History of Ohio 231

The Impact of Science Upon the History of Ohio  231


plane has perhaps had the greatest impact on the history of Ohio,

of the United States, and of the world, of any single device or

invention. Not only has it made the world a very small place in

terms of transportation, but as an instrument of war it has made

it a very different place indeed from that which our fathers knew.

The fourth Ohioan I would mention is Charles Kettering, born

August 29, 1876, at Loudonville. Kettering was trained as an

engineer on this very campus, and entered into his career as an

inventor and organizer immediately upon graduation. We think

of him first as an inventor in the field of the automobile, crediting

him with the self-starter, ethyl gas, and the high compression

engine. Secondly, we think of his work in refrigeration, lacquers,

and the diesel engine as applied to the railroad locomotive. How-

ever, in my judgment, his greatest contribution was his genius for

organization of inventive genius and technical skill. General Motors

is not the world's largest corporation by any accident. It is that by

reason largely of its devotion to research and development. What

Edison began in a research laboratory organization, Kettering im-

proved and brought to a high degree of perfection.

I could go on and list many more individuals who have shaped

our history by the use and application of science. However, I believe

that I have made my point-that the impact of science upon history

through the hand of the inventor is great indeed. In just about a

century Ohio has gone from an agricultural frontier area to one

of the most highly industrialized areas on the face of the earth. This

was not accomplished because there were rich deposits of natural

resources within the boundaries of the state. Ohio has essentially

no metal ores, its coal is by no means the best, and its petroleum

resources are negligible indeed. Ohio did have and still has some

natural advantages in transportation with its lake, its rivers, and

its early canals. Being athwart the main rail route, it early held

a transportation advantage. The real resource, however, that Ohio

has had, the real key to the revolution of the century, the real

thread to our history, has been technology. Ohio has had an unusual

amount of inventive genius and its corollary of managerial skill.

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232     Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly


Those two abilities have taken the discoveries of basic science

from every age and every country of the earth and applied them to

bring about as dramatic a revolution as history has ever recorded.

So far I have been talking about the men who used science to

build a new technology as making in large degree the history of the

past century in Ohio. Now I want to talk about the impact of

science upon our history because of the wisdom and vision of a

statesman. That statesman is little known in Ohio, but nevertheless

his mark is here. I am thinking of Justin Morrill, who was born in

Norwich, Vermont, in 1807. He was not a scientist, and he was

not an inventor, but rather he saw more clearly, and at an earlier

time, what the true impact of the industrial revolution was to be.

Morrill spent most of his life as a legislator, first being a member

of the house of representatives, then senator. I believe his total

service in congress spanned more than a half century.

Justin Morrill, in the 1840's, saw clearly that the application

of science to commerce and to life would place untold power in

the hands of those who could control it. He believed devoutly that

democracy could not survive in a society where power was con-

centrated in the hands of a few. This applied to political power,

to financial power, to the ownership of natural resources, and

most importantly, to knowledge. Morrill argued forcefully that if

science and technology should become the sole property of a

privileged few, or of an elite, that democracy could not survive

any more than it would where the land was owned by an aristocracy

or where only a few citizens were allowed to vote. Acting upon

this conviction, he began his campaign to provide education in

science and technology, agriculture, and the mechanic arts (he

called it), for all classes and without regard to economic or social

status. It took him over fifteen years to get congress to pass the

land grant act, but finally, in 1862, the law was passed and technical

education at public expense was provided in all of the states.

Science and technology have made terrific impact upon our way of

life and upon our history. However, the possession of scientific

knowledge and technological skill by many of our citizens and its

democratic offering through the land grant colleges has had an even

The Impact of Science Upon the History of Ohio 233

The Impact of Science Upon the History of Ohio  233

more important impact. Had it not been for Morrill, we might

not have had all our inventors and technologists, but their work

would have been done eventually by someone else. But, without

Morrill and his vision, we would have had a totally different

society and very likely that society would not have been a democracy.

Such is the picture of science and its impact upon history through

technology. The important point that I have tried to make is a

particular relationship in time between science as such, and

technology based thereon. This is a clear pattern of the past, but

there is no certainty that it is the pattern which will persist into

the indefinite future. In fact, we are at a time when the relationship

between science and technology is undergoing rapid change. Two

generations ago, a period of forty, fifty, or even a hundred years

elapsed between the discovery of scientific fact and its application

through technology. One generation ago, a period of twenty or

thirty years elapsed between scientific discovery and its technical

application. Engineers, inventors, technologists, had at their com-

mand a substantial reservoir of unexploited scientific knowledge

which, through their art, could be made useful and productive.

The problem was only to find uses and economic means of those

uses. Now that relationship has been upset by World War II.

In that desperate effort we nearly exhausted the reservoir of science

in developing the weapons of that conflict. Now instead of being

twenty to fifty years behind science, technology is right on the

heels of scientific discovery. Now instead of having a comfortable

accumulated capital to draw upon at need, technology must live

almost from hand to mouth. In fact, there are now frequent oc-

currences when technological development must stop and wait for

further scientific progress. Thus the needs and urgencies of tech-

nology stimulate, direct, and limit science itself.

These facts cannot help but have an effect upon science, upon

technology, and therefore upon history. I do not know that this

means that we will become better masters of our fate and that we

will be able to direct the course of history without leaving so much

to chance. At least there is an interesting avenue of speculation,

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234    Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly


and an idea worth attention. Certainly we can predict that the future

relationship between science and history will be substantially altered.

I do not know that I have added a great deal to your knowledge

of the history of Ohio. I do not know that I have made any new

points for you in relating science and technology to history. But

I do hope that in reminding you very briefly of the contribution of

five men, I have given you some insight into one of the means by

which history is made. History is made, not by scientific fact, nor

by technical skill. History is made by men in whose minds knowl-

edge becomes useful, and by whose skill the face of the earth is

made to change.