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Frederick Lewis Allen On Global Trends In Technology: 1952


Frederick Lewis Allen, The Big Change (New York: Harper & Bros.; 1952), p. 196. [American spelling retained.]


‘Like scouts moving before an advancing column of troops, the investigators and engineers of pure and applied science have meanwhile been moving ahead. For well over a generation, now, the chemists and chemical engineers have been ringing the changes on . . . the idea that “synthetic” materials can do better than merely imitate nature: they can actually improve on nature. It was before World War II – on October 25, 1939, to be exact – that they produced the climactic demonstration of this idea; that was when nylon stockings first went on sale. During the nineteen-thirties and the war years, other pioneers of technology succeeded in adapting the Diesel engine – that long-neglected source of power – to widespread use on the railroads and in industry. They developed high-octane gasoline into a plentiful source of power for airplanes. They brought the production of synthetic rubber to a point where it served, not merely as a war substitute, but as a product of continuing value for a nation on wheels. They found out how to use tungsten-carbide cutting tools for immensely rapid machine-tool operations. And they made medical history by discovering the merciful possibilities of antibiotics.


‘As for atomic power – their most imposing achievement – we already have been shown its deadly possibilities; what its beneficent ones may be is still uncertain, in view of the fabulous cost of producing it, but they might well, in time, make man – in [Henry] Adam’s words – “the child of incalculable power.”’