Power, Speed, and Form is the first accessible account of the engineering behind eight breakthrough innovations that transformed American life from 1876 to 1939--the telephone, electric power, oil refining, the automobile, the airplane, radio, the long-span steel bridge, and building with reinforced concrete. Beginning with Thomas Edison's system to generate and distribute electric power, the authors explain the Bell telephone, the oil refining processes of William Burton and Eugene Houdry, Henry Ford's Model T car and the response by General Motors, the Wright brothers' airplane, radio innovations from Marconi to Armstrong, Othmar Ammann's George Washington Bridge, the reinforced concrete structures of John Eastwood and Anton Tedesko, and in the 1930s, the Chrysler Airflow car and the Douglas DC-3 airplane.
These innovations used simple numerical ideas, which the Billingtons integrate with short narrative accounts of each breakthrough--a unique and effective way to introduce engineering and how engineers think. The book shows how the best engineering exemplifies efficiency, economy and, where possible, elegance. With Power, Speed, and Form, educators, first-year engineering students, liberal arts students, and general readers now have, for the first time in one volume, an accessible and readable history of engineering achievements that were vital to America's development and that are still the foundations of modern life.
The lofty wingspan of its title might suggest a lavishly-illustrated, 10,000-page exposition on planes, trains, automobiles and skyscrapers; it's to this book's credit that it isn't. Written by an engineering professor and his son, a history Ph.D., this book is tightly focused on eight groundbreaking engineering innovations that took place between 1876 and 1939 (picking up where Billington's The Innovators left off), considering the function and legacy of "the electric light and power network, the telephone, oil refining, the automobile, the airplane, large steel bridges, and reinforced concrete." The methodical prose betrays an engineer's touch, and the focus is squarely on the technical, including careful illustrations and sidebars studded with charts and mathematical formulas. The Billingtons use painstaking detail in discussion of the each 20th-century invention; it seems mundane (and for engineers or technical whizzes, completely redundant), but for the lay-person seeking a basic handle on the major inventions of the time, there's a lot to like here, especially in the unadorned, refreshingly simple presentation of technical information. It's that basic solidity-substance rather than style--that makes this book a fine reference. 77 halftones, 75 line illus.