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The Flight of the Eagle and the Lost Expedition

(This is a repeat of Journey to the Center of the Earth...in a Balloon that began in 1896.)

The plan is simple. Fill a balloon with hydrogen and climb into the gondola. Drag weighted ropes along the ice to steer the balloon. Within 48 hours they should reach the North Pole and a few days later they should be in China... or maybe Alaska. Simple. But in exploration, all simple things are difficult. Minutes after launch of The Eagle, the Swedish scientist, S. A. Andrée, and two colleagues are lost from sight. Ten hours after that, a storm kicks up and they lose all but one of their "navigation ropes." The Eagle is hundreds of miles off course and it is dragging along the ice. Sixty-five hours into the flight, the balloon is done, but the men are not. For the next 2 months, they make their way across the shifting pack ice while dragging sleds filled with supplies. Then they reach White Island... and die. The supplies remain: tents and stoves and fuel. They know they will never be rescued, but if their goal was to lay down and die, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble much earlier. Why did they give up the ghost on White Island? The clues are: a dead bear, a diary, and photos. [1] [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Over the years, reports of Andrée and his party popping up in remote villages proliferated like Elvis sightings. A message buoy from his expedition was found with no message. It was the one designated to be dropped at the North Pole. People held out hope, but in 1930, an expedition discovered two bodies in a tent, frozen solid. A name was on the jacket. It was Andrée. Putting the clues together: they reached White Island and killed a polar bear for food. Unfortunately, they were in the habit of eating raw bear meat. They developed the runs and in their weakened state, they finally succumbed. They had made mistakes all along the way, such as never having flown a such a large balloon before and never under rainy, freezing conditions. Their bodies were returned to Sweden and honored as great explorers. In the modern day, they are seen as foolish risk-takers, but in those days, foolish risk-taking was the rule. It is better to draw our lessons based on principle. The lesson is... know your equipment and test it before you need it to save your life... and don't eat raw bear.

Tesla and the Westinghouse Compromise

Tesla once worked for Edison, but after Edison broke his promises, Tesla quit. He dug ditches for a while, but eventually found his way to more lucrative employment. He negotiated to sell his patents to George Westinghouse for his AC motor and other alternating current applications, but it hasn't worked out. Westinghouse is on the brink of bankruptcy, so this year he tells Tesla that he can't pay what he promised. Tesla sells the patents to Westinghouse for a song. This song is still fairly expensive... $216,000 which is about 5.4 million in 2015 dollars, but if you held lightening in your hands, how much would you charge? (In case you are humor impaired, that was a pun.) Westinghouse surges forward. Edison's direct current (DC) generators require booster stations every few miles, but the oscillating nature of AC current allows longer transmission distances without a booster station. DC is more useful and safer, but the infrastructure required would be very expensive for cities to build out. AC current is cheaper to build out, but it has its problems (serious problems initially). The first is to settle on the AC frequency or cycles. Currently they are stringing separate lines for each frequency needed. They settle on 60 hertz as the standard. Europe uses 50 hertz which is why one needs a converter to use electric devices when traveling from the USA to Europe. [3] [4]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Tesla's alternate current (AC) generators are on display at the Smithsonian, yet Tesla is not credited with inventing them. It is part of the Edison exhibit. Many, if not most, motor vehicles have an alternator to generate electricity in their cars and Tesla’s induction motor runs most washing machines (or an ancestor of his induction motor). Like gasoline, AC current is inherently dangerous, but if we use care, it is also a lot more economical and efficient. Every new technology is a balance in several directions. Usually engineers summarize the balance as: fast, cheap or good. Choose any two. You can't have it all. I was watching a commercial for a new luxury car. They expressed their "absolute commitment" to several ideals in engineering and the environment. It sounded fabulous, but I quickly realized that if they had the "absolute commitment" they professed, they couldn't have made the automobile in the first place. At some point we must make a compromise or we could never build anything at all.

In Other News

  • The Invisible Man is published by H. G. Wells. A scientist changes the refractive nature of matter to make himself invisible, but cannot reverse the process. [5]
  • Proof is found that Alfred Dreyfus is not guilty of treason. Someone needed a scapegoat. Captain Dreyfus was Jewish and easy to defame. [5]
  • The Zionist Congress meets in Switzerland. This secular movement to find a homeland for the Jews is fueled by "The Dreyfus Affair" which has become a world-wide controversy. [5] [5] [6]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1897, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Wilkinson, Alec. Ice Balloon: S. A. Andree and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration, The. Alfred A. Knopf. “He and the others carefully opened the jacket the corpse was wearing, and when they saw a large monogram A they knew whom they were looking at--S. A. Andrée, the Swede who, thirty-three years earlier, on July 11, 1897, had ascended with two companions in a hydrogen balloon to discover the North Pole.” 
  2. Salomon August Andrée - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 12 May 2016. “When Andrée next tried, on 11 July 1897, together with his companions engineer Knut Frænkel and photographer Nils Strindberg (a second cousin of playwright August Strindberg), the balloon did set off and sailed for 65 hours. This was not directed flight, however; already at the lift-off the gondola had lost two of the three sliding ropes that were supposed to drag on the ice and thus function as a kind of rudder (this was observed by the ground crew). And within ten hours of lift-off, they were caught by powerful winds from a storm raging in the area. The heavy winds continued and, together with the rain creating ice on the balloon, impeded the flight. It is likely that Andrée realized before the flight ended that they would never come near the pole.”
  3. Alex Shrugged notes: This segment comes from comments I made on the TSP blog... http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/feedback-9-22-14/comment-page-1#comment-820273 on September 28, 2014.
  4. Nikola Tesla - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 12 May 2016. “In the mid-1890s, the conglomerate General Electric, backed by financier J. P. Morgan, was involved in takeover attempts and patent battles with Westinghouse Electric. A patent-sharing agreement was signed between the two companies in 1896, but Westinghouse was still cash-strapped from the financial warfare. To secure further loans, Westinghouse was forced to revisit Tesla's AC patent, which bankers considered a financial strain on the company. (At that point, Westinghouse had paid out an estimated $200,000 in licenses and royalties to Tesla, Brown, and Peck.) In 1897, Westinghouse explained his financial difficulties to Tesla in stark terms, saying that, if things continued the way they were, he would no longer be in control of Westinghouse Electric and Tesla would have to 'deal with the bankers' to try to collect future royalties. Westinghouse convinced Tesla to release his company from the licensing agreement over Tesla's AC patents, in exchange for Westinghouse Electric purchasing the patents for a lump sum payment of $216,000. This provided Westinghouse a break from what had turned out to be an overly generous $2.50 per AC horsepower royalty, due to alternating current's rapid gain in popularity.”
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 450-451. 
  6. The Invisible Man. Retrieved on November 14, 2016. “The Invisible Man of the title is Griffin, a scientist who has devoted himself to research into optics and invents a way to change a body's refractive index to that of air so that it neither absorbs nor reflects light and thus becomes invisible. He successfully carries out this procedure on himself, but fails in his attempt to reverse it.”

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