strange that almost every boy thinks of the hardest thing in the world
when he wants to become an inventor? Frank Hornby's first attempt at invention
was a machine that would give perpetual motion. For a hundred years in
every land and among every people, boys and men have been thinking about
perpetual motion and what a marvelous thing it would be if they could
create something that would give perpetual motion.
What makes it go forward? What makes it whirl on its own axis? We think of the world as a great place, a wonderful place. We talk about traveling around the world as if that were the most marvelous thing that could ever happen to anybody. Yet scientists tell us that this world, the earth, is only one of hundreds and thousands, yes, millions of other planets, or "earths," which keep revolving around the sun, just as our earth does. We do not know whether there are boys on the other planets. We do not know whether they have inventors there, but we do know that they all move in their own circles around the sun and that the whole universe is governed by some divine force or natural law which seems to us mortals to be perpetual motion. Every boy, every man, every human being has a spark of the Divine in him.
God is in
each one of us; that is, each one has a soul, which is capable of desiring
to be like God. Possibly, that is why so many boys think of perpetual
motion. They see the water running down the brook into the river and then
into the ocean, drawn up out of the ocean by the sun's rays, blown back
over the land in clouds driven by the wind, and rained down again upon
the land to make the crops grow, and coming out of the land into the brook
and down the brook into the river, down the river into the ocean again,
continually from year to year, from age to age, running down, being drawn
up and carried back, and running down again, forever and ever-a perpetual
going and coming.
we grow, the faster the seasons seem to go by, but they always come back.
Here also there seems to be a perpetual motion in the coming and going
of the seasons.
If you work
on a farm, haven't you often wished that somebody would invent something
that would milk the cows, so that you would not have to get up at four
o'clock in the morning and have the old cow hit you in the head with her
stub tail and kick you over and spill the milk on you and make you get
whipped for spilling the milk, when she was trying to kick the flies?
Now, lo and behold! Some inventor has made a milking machine, so that
the machine does the milking while you can do something else, or go and
Somebody has invented a cultivator, a mowing machine, a plow, a harvester, a driller, and a tractor to pull farm machinery and do many of the things that boys in olden days had to do. Frank Hornby worked for a meat importer. England is a damp, foggy country. When bacon was piled up in the warehouses in great piles waiting to be distributed throughout the country to the small stores, the brine would drip from the bacon and run down leads or troughs to a pit or well in the center. This well would fill with brine. One day Frank was told what a siphon was. So he immediately got a little tube, put one end in a glass of water, sucked on the other end and then quickly put the end that was in his mouth down below the top of the water outside of the glass.
Of course, the water all ran out of the glass. Wasn't that a strange thing to a boy who had never seen such a thing happen before? How he must have wondered what made that water run up hill over the top of the glass and down the outside! Do you know what makes it do that? It is because there is a little more water in the tube outside of the glass than there is inside. As the water that is outside of the glass begins to fall, it forms a vacuum in the tube. Now a vacuum is a space where there is no air and as there are fifteen pounds of air pressure on each square inch of space all around us, that fifteen pounds pressing on the water in the glass forces it up into the tube and makes it run right up and does not let that vacuum exist. Now, since the water on the out- side is continually falling, the vacuum continues to exist, and the water continues to run into the tube and up over the top and down, being forced by the fifteen pounds of atmospheric pressure after you have started the water running.
could have siphoned the brine out of the pit in Liverpool, he would have
had to get machinery for taking the air out of the tube that ran from
the brine pit, and he would have had to dig a space outside of the brine
pit and below the brine in the pit, so that it could fall and in that
way suck up more brine over the top of the pit and out into a space lower
on the outside. Something like that is what the engineers did with the
water for New York City. The great tube under the Hudson, just above West
On the Catskill side of the river the Olive bridge dam was built. It is nearly a mile long; 220 feet high and 190 feet thick at the base. Behind this enormous dam is a lake, known as the Ashokan reservoir. This reservoir holds one hundred and thirty-two billion gallons of water (132,000,000,000). This great lake of pure water forms behind the enormous dam high up in the mountains. When it reaches the top, it falls by gravity out of this man-made lake into this great siphon under the river. It goes down to the bottom, across through the solid rocks and up the other side. But since the Catskill side is higher than the other side, the water is forced ever on and on until it reaches New York City. It is distributed through New York City in tubes which are 600 to 800 feet under the ground. It goes under the East River into Brooklyn and furnishes these great cities with an inexhaustible supply of pure water; a supply big enough for a city as big, or twice as big, as London.
Frank failed in his attempt to build an automatic siphon-pumping device to empty the brine pit, but Samuel Smiles' books had taught him that failure was the most valuable thing in the world to teach a boy success. Next, Frank got a workshop with the money that he had saved.
One of the first things for any boy to do who wants to succeed is to save some money so that he will have capital to work with. How marvelously has Samuel Smiles in his book "Thrift" described how the great successes in the world of business have come from thrift, from saving so that you will have capital to work with when you want to do your great work.
Frank Hornby bought tools for working with brass and other metals. He had to save a long time and he had to buy tools one at a time. All in all he spent a great deal of money in order to work with these tools. It took him years and years to save money enough to buy the tools to make the parts that have since become the Meccano System, which any boy can buy for a very small price. Every inventor is interested in making something, which will be useful to the people among whom he lives. Eli Whitney made a cotton gin because he had traveled down South and knew that they needed a machine for taking the seeds out of cotton. In England the people ride to and fro in busses, just as in this country we do in streetcars. So Frank spent weary weeks and months trying to invent a ticket box, which would take the various shapes of metal checks, which were required to record the various distances which passengers traveled.
Such a box would save confusion and the extra labor of the conductor and be a convenience to the public. But he was again doomed to disappointment. As he failed, he went over his favorite book and read again of the great hero, the inventor of the process of glazing china, who, after almost everything else in the house had been broken up and used to build a fire to run the kiln, at last smashed his own bed-stead and afterwards slept on the floor. His determination to succeed was so strong that he used his bedstead to increase the heat of his fire so he could melt the materials for glazing the chinaware. Think of the hardship, boys, of that man, Bernard Palissy, who suffered hunger and hardship and ridicule in order that we might enjoy the beautiful china of today.
Hornby knew that although he had failed two, or three, or four, or five
times, yet there were the histories, the biographies of so many great
men who had failed, and failed, and failed many more times than he had
and yet who were the world's heroes today because they had kept on and
on, until at last they achieved success. How beautiful is that poem representing
Columbus, telling his sailors day after day to "Sail on and on and
on." When they muttered and objected, his command was to "Sail
on and on and on."
that when he came to the land, which he thought, was the wealthy