Friday 20 February 2015

Men of Yore: Nicephore Niepce

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Nicephore Niepce

Nicéphore Niépce (born Joseph Niépce 7 March 1765 – 5 July 1833)[1] was a French inventor, now usually credited as the inventor of photography and a pioneer in that field.[2] Niépce developed heliography, a technique he used to create the world's oldest surviving product of a photographic process: a print made from a photoengraved printing plate in 1825.[3] In 1826 or 1827, he used a primitive camera to produce the oldest surviving photograph of a real-world scene. Among Niépce's other inventions was the Pyréolophore, the world's first internal combustion engine, which he conceived, created, and developed with his older brother Claude.[4]

Early Life

Niépce was born in Chalon-sur-Saône, Saône-et-Loire, where his father was a wealthy lawyer; this caused the whole family to flee the French Revolution. His older brother Claude (1763–1828) was also his collaborator in research and invention, but died half-mad and broke in England, having squandered the family wealth in pursuit of non-opportunities for the Pyréolophore. Niepce also had a sister and a younger brother called Bernard.[5][6][7][8][9]

Nicéphore was baptized Joseph but adopted the name Nicéphore, in honour of Saint Nicephorus the ninth-century Patriarch of Constantinople, while studying at the Oratorian college in Angers.[citation needed] At the college he learned science and the experimental method, rapidly achieving success and graduating to work as a professor of the college.[5][6][7][8]

Military career

Niépce served as a staff officer in the French army under Napoleon, spending a number of years in Italy and on the island of Sardinia, but ill health forced him to resign, whereupon he married Agnes Romero and became the Administrator of the district of Nice in post-revolutionary France. In 1795, Niepce resigned as administrator of Nice to pursue scientific research with his brother Claude. One source reports his resignation to have been forced due to his unpopularity.[5][6][7][8][9]

Scientific Research

In 1801 the brothers returned to the family's estates in Chalon to continue their scientific research, and where they were united with their mother, their sister and their younger brother Bernard. Here they managed the family estate as independently wealthy gentlemen-farmers, raising beets and producing sugar.[5][6][7][8][9][9]

Claude Niépce
In 1827 Niépce journeyed to England to visit his seriously ill elder brother Claude, who was now living in Kew, near London. Claude had descended into delirium and squandered much of the family fortune chasing inappropriate business opportunities for the Pyréolophore.[5][6]


The date of Niépce's first photographic experiments is uncertain. He was led to them by his interest in the new art of lithography,[13] for which he realized he lacked the necessary skill and artistic ability, and by his acquaintance with the camera obscura, a drawing aid which was popular among affluent dilettantes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The camera obscura's beautiful but fleeting little "light paintings" inspired a number of people, including Thomas Wedgwood and Henry Fox Talbot, to seek some way of capturing them more easily and effectively than could be done by tracing over them with a pencil.
Niépce called his process heliography, which literally means "sun drawing".[16] In 1822, he used it to create what is believed to have been the world’s first permanent photographic image,[17] a contact-exposed copy of an engraving of Pope Pius VII, but it was later destroyed when Niépce attempted to make prints from it.[17] The earliest surviving photographic artifacts by Niépce, made in 1825,[3] are copies of a 17th-century engraving of a man with a horse and of what may be an etching or engraving of a woman with a spinning wheel. They are simply sheets of plain paper printed with ink in a printing press, like ordinary etchings, engravings, or lithographs, but the plates used to print them were created photographically by Niépce's process rather than by laborious and inexact hand-engraving or drawing on lithographic stones. They are, in essence, the oldest photocopies. One example of the print of the man with a horse and two examples of the print of the woman with the spinning wheel are known to have survived. The former is in the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris and the latter two are in a private collection in the United States.

Niépce's correspondence with his brother Claude has preserved the fact that his first real success in using bitumen to create a permanent photograph of the image in a camera obscura came in 1824. That photograph, made on the surface of a lithographic stone, was later effaced. In 1826 or 1827 he again photographed the same scene, the view from a window in his house, on a sheet of bitumen-coated pewter. The result has survived and is now the oldest known camera photograph still in existence. The historic image had seemingly been lost early in the 20th century, but photographic historian Helmut Gernsheim succeeded in tracking it down in 1952.
In 1829,[18] Niépce entered into a partnership with Louis Daguerre, who was also seeking a means of creating permanent photographic images with a camera. Together, they developed the physautotype, an improved process that used lavender oil distillate as the photosensitive substance. The partnership lasted until Niépce’s death in 1833, after which Daguerre continued to experiment, eventually working out a process that little resembled Niépce's.[19] He named it the "daguerréotype", after himself. In 1839 he managed to get the government of France to purchase his invention on behalf of the people of France. The French government agreed to award Daguerre a yearly stipend of 6,000 Francs for the rest of his life, and to give the estate of Niépce 4,000 Francs yearly. This arrangement rankled Niépce's son, who claimed Daguerre was reaping all the benefits of his father's work. In some ways, he was right—for many years, Niépce received little credit for his contribution. Later historians have reclaimed Niépce from relative obscurity, and it is now generally recognized that his "heliography" was the first successful example of what we now call "photography":[15] the creation of a reasonably light-fast and permanent image by the action of light on a light-sensitive surface and subsequent processing.

Although initially ignored amid the excitement caused by the introduction of the daguerreotype and far too insensitive to be practical for making photographs with a camera, the utility of Niépce's original process for its primary purpose was eventually realized. From the 1850s until well into the 20th century, a thin coating of bitumen was widely used as a slow but very effective and economical photoresist for making printing plates.

The Pyréolophore, probably the world's first internal combustion engine that was actually built, was invented and patented by the Niépce brothers in 1807. This engine ran on controlled dust explosions of Lycopodium powder and was installed on a boat that ran on the river Saône. Ten years later, the brothers were the first in the world to make an engine work with a fuel injection system.[20]

Marly machine:
In 1807 the imperial government opened a competition for a hydraulic machine to replace the original Marly machine (located in Marly-le-Roi) that delivered water to the Palace of Versailles from the Seine river. The machine was built in Bougival in 1684, from where it pumped water a distance of one kilometer and raised it 150 meters. The Niépce brothers conceived a new hydrostatic principle for the machine and improved it once more in 1809. The machine had undergone changes in many of its parts, including more precise pistons, creating far less resistance. They tested it many times, and the result was that with a stream drop of 4 feet 4 inches, it lifted water 11 feet. But in December 1809 they got a message that they had waited too long and the Emperor had taken on himself the decision to ask the engineer Perier (1742–1818) to build a steam engine to operate the pumps at Marly.[21]

In 1818 Niépce became interested in the ancestor of the bicycle, a Laufmaschine invented by Karl von Drais in 1817. He built himself a model and called it the vélocipède (fast foot) and caused quite a sensation on the local country roads. Niépce improved his machine with an adjustable saddle and it is now exhibited at the Niépce Museum. In a letter to his brother Nicéphore contemplated motorizing his machine.[22]


Nicéphore Niépce died of a stroke on 5 July 1833, financially ruined by the semi-delirious spending of Claude such that his grave in the cemetery of Saint-Loup de Varennes was financed by the municipality. The cemetery is near the family house where he had experimented and had made the world's first photographic image.[7]


While the President of the USA and many others in the USA make use of Nicephores famous invention (more accurately the descedants of it) in and point it at themselves - the narcissistic 'selfie' - other people are using the invention and pointing it at the universe.  These people, the ones pointing it at other things, are the ones who are furnishing us with wonderful images of quite literally the universe and it's contents.  Take this photo for instance, captured using nothing more than a camera and a telescope:

Horsehead Nebula - Through My Telescope

This is the way that we should be using our eyes and cameras: to look out into the world rather than into the mirror.  After all, we all know what happened to Narcissus who got captivated by his own reflection in the water.  That could happen to those who obsess over the 'selfie' once too often.


Friday 13 February 2015

Men of Yore: Howard Hughes

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Howard Hughes (Source)

Hughes, Howard (24 Dec. 1905-5 Apr. 1976), aviator, manufacturer, and film producer, was born Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., in Houston, Texas, the son of Howard Robard Hughes, Sr., a mining engineer, and Allene Gano. Hughes was three years old when his father devised a drilling bit that revolutionized oil drilling, resulting in a great profit for his tool company. While his parents were gregarious socialites, Hughes as a boy was quiet and introspective, showing little interest in school other than a leaning toward mathematics and an ability to build things with wires and scraps of metal. Greatly attached to his devoted mother, he stood in awe of his personable father. Those who came to know him years later claim that Hughes never considered himself his equal. At the age of fourteen, Hughes was enrolled in the Fessenden School in West Newton, Massachusetts. During a vacation at home his mother denied him a motorcycle, believing it to be unsafe. He then turned his bicycle into a motorized vehicle by using parts from a car starter and batteries. On another occasion, when his father promised him he could have his choice of present, Hughes chose a ride in a flying boat. With that he discovered the joy of aviation, a joy that soon became obsessive.

The Hughes drilling bit had a profound effect on the American oil industry. Spending more and more of their time in California, Hughes's parents sent him to the Thacher School in Ojai, some seventy miles northwest of Los Angeles, in September 1921. Hughes's uncle Rupert Hughes was a leading scenarist in Hollywood, and through him the family became acquainted with the upper strata of Hollywood society. Tragedy struck in the spring of 1922 when his mother died after surgery. Father and son returned to Houston, where Hughes, Sr., was stricken with a fatal heart attack while conducting a sales meeting in 1924. The loss of his parents in the prime of their lives had a profound effect on the lonely, withdrawn Hughes. At the age of eighteen Hughes began to be a hypochondriac, fearful of death and panicky about germs. A student at the Rice Institute in Houston at the time, he decided to end his education and enter the world of business. Not content with inheriting 75 percent of his father's business assets, he bought out the other 25 percent dispersed among relatives. The agreements with his relatives were bitterly arrived at and caused a permanent rift, one that seemed to bother Hughes very little. He declared that in order to take command it was necessary to be tough with people, and it was an attitude from which he never wavered.

With no liking for the administrative side of business, Hughes hired men who knew how to operate with little direction from him. His judgment was sound and the company prospered, leaving him to indulge his fascination with a Houston socialite, Ella Rice, whom he married in 1925. They settled in Los Angeles, where Hughes set about becoming a film producer.

Hughes was a man impossible to advise. He did whatever he wanted. His first film, Swell Hogan, was so bad that it was never released, but he did better with his next, Everybody's Acting (1926), and with Two Arabian Knights (1927), directed by Lewis Milestone and starring William Boyd. It brought Milestone an Academy Award for best comedy director. Hughes's next films, The Mating Call and The Racket (both 1928), did well enough to inspire him to undertake an epic about aviation in World War I--Hell's Angels, which was two and a half years in production. Hughes spent lavishly buying airplanes and hiring pilots, virtually operating his own little air force in the San Fernando Valley. The cost ran to $4 million, an astonishing sum for its time, and Hughes ended up with 300 times as much footage as the film needed. Released in the summer of 1930, during a time of national depression, the film was well received but took a long time to recover its costs.

Among the costs was Hughes's marriage. Ella Rice Hughes returned to Houston, claiming it was impossible to be married to a man who was obsessed with his work and seldom home. Hughes then fell in love with actress Billie Dove and starred her in his next two films, The Age for Love and Cock of the Air, both made in 1931. Neither was successful, nor was the romance with Dove, which proved to be the first in a long line of affairs with actresses. Hughes returned to World War I aviation with Sky Devils (1931), starring Spencer Tracy, but it failed to come close to the merits of Hell's Angels. He did far better with The Front Page (1931) and Scarface (1932), both considered minor classics.

Hughes announced that his next film would be about zeppelins, but those who ran the Hughes Tool Company bore down on him to avoid sinking money in another film epic. He took their advice even more than they expected and turned his back on the picture business. In 1933 he founded the Hughes Aircraft Company in Glendale, California. Nine years later he relocated it to Culver City, where it grew into one of the most profitable aircraft production companies in the world.

Hughes's personal triumph as an aviator began early in 1934 when he received a trophy at the All-American Air Meet in Miami, flying a Boeing pursuit plane he had bought from the U.S. Army and turned into a racer. In September 1935 he set a new land speed record in a car he had designed, and the following January he set a new transcontinental speed record, flying from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, in nine hours and twenty-seven minutes. His aerial adventures made him a popular figure in the press and on the airways, especially in 1938 when, with a remodeled twin-engine Lockheed 14 and a crew of four he flew around the world in three days, nineteen hours, and twenty-eight minutes. In May 1939 Hughes acquired stock in what later became Trans World Airlines, placing him in commercial aviation, and in the fall of that year his company began designs for new kinds of military aircraft in the event of America's possible involvement in war.

In the 1940s Hughes set up another film production company. He announced he would make a film about Billy the Kid, using unknown actors for the parts of Billy and his girlfriend. For the latter he chose nineteen-year-old Jane Russell, clearly because of her well-developed bust, a factor that caused the picture, The Outlaw (1943), to become a cause célèbre in film censorship. Hughes himself directed the film. After first being banned by the censors, Hughes finally received approval to show it, but he shrewdly allowed two years to go by, allowing public curiosity to build. Rightly condemned as a ludicrously bad film, The Outlaw nevertheless made millions for Hughes.

Much else happened during the years The Outlaw was in production. In 1943 he joined forces with shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser and won a government contract to build three huge flying boats. Only one was completed, the famous Spruce Goose. The government contract for the flying boats was canceled when it became obvious they could not be completed in time for use in the war. Other contracts for planes were also canceled.

Always unusual in his habits and behavior, Hughes became ever more eccentric. He nonetheless possessed amazing luck in surviving accidents. On 7 July 1946, while on a test flight of his XF-11, the engines malfunctioned. He crashed in Beverly Hills, and the plane exploded and burned. Hughes was dragged from the wreckage with a crushed chest, collapsed lung, and broken ribs. It was doubted he would live. However, he recovered in a month and was soon flying again. Few knew that in order to tolerate his pain he had become addicted to codeine.

Despite his pain and the problems in running an aircraft corporation, Hughes again turned to the movie business, possibly because of the profits and the publicity stirred up by The Outlaw. He signed contracts with two famous Hollywood figures, Harold Lloyd and Preston Sturges, to produce the comedy Mad Wednesday (1947), but it was a flop. Then, being in love with 22-year-old Faith Domergue, he starred her in the costumed drama Vendetta (1948). Even Hughes realized it was bad and shelved it for two years.

Concurrent with these films Hughes had other problems, one being his compulsion to rebuild the XF-11 and prove it airworthy, which he did on a flight on 5 April 1947. Four months later he testified before the Senate War Investigating Committee, which had probed into his work as a defense contractor. Hughes had made enemies in the fiercely competitive war years, and he had not been as successful as he had hoped. Hughes Aircraft had not become the giant he had planned--that would come later, in the Space Age. Building the massive Spruce Goose brought charges it was not airworthy, which he then disproved by flying it for a few minutes above the waters of Long Beach Harbor on 2 November 1947.

Obsessive-compulsive by nature, Hughes was not a man who could accept defeat. In 1948 he bought the RKO Studios in Hollywood. He owned and managed it for five years, while maintaining his office at the Goldwyn Studios and only once setting foot on RKO property. Few of the films made during these years were financial winners, and every producer, director, and writer for RKO complained about never getting to see Hughes to discuss their problems. Eventually he said, "I need RKO like I need the plague," and he sold the studio for $25 million, $6 million of which were his after the stockholders and lawyers had been paid off.

Hughes's interests in other enterprises, especially aviation, grew during the RKO years, and his wealth amassed by the millions. It was at this time that he founded the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Florida, stating his concern about germs and disease. He said he wanted the institute to inherit most of his wealth and accomplish something good in his name. Always a loner, he became ever more reclusive, eventually seeing almost no one other than his closest business executives. In 1957 he married actress Jean Peters, but the marriage was unconventional, with its partners seldom living together. They divorced in 1971.

Whatever his failures in marriage or in making films, Hughes's success in building jetliners and military aircraft burgeoned. However, the strain of all these endeavors caught up with him in 1958, and he suffered a nervous breakdown. He was constantly at odds with the government over his taxes, eventually leaving California and settling in Nevada. In 1967 he bought the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, to make it his home and the headquarters of his Nevada enterprises. He sold TWA in 1966 for $566 million. Four years later he bought Air West.

In November 1970 Hughes moved to the Britannia Beach Hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, again to avoid taxes. He never returned to the United States; the last six years of his life were those of an itinerant exile, moving from one luxurious hotel to another. He became a total recluse, living behind closed curtains. He moved to Managua, Nicaragua; from there on to Vancouver; London; Freeport in the Bahamas; and finally Acapulco, Mexico. In 1972 he sold Hughes Tool Company for $150 million. The assets of his Summa Corporation, under which all of his businesses were governed, were valued at $2 billion. Despite his wealth, Hughes gave the appearance of a man living in abject poverty. In his last years he refused medical treatment and did not eat properly. He became an emaciated wreck, weighing only ninety-four pounds at the time of his death. He denied his aides the right to tend him, until he finally lapsed into unconsciousness. They then flew him to Houston, but he was dead by the time the plane landed. Howard Hughes had died in an airplane in flight, and it was in the air, and only in the air, that he felt at home. Childless, Hughes left to the world his properties and a name that has become ever more of a legend.


While European history may have it's fair share of eccentric aristocrats, the USA is not short of them either as is shown by the ingenuity and eccentricity of Howard Hughes.  Born into wealthy family Howard Hughes didn't sit back and merely live the life of a rich socialite - drinking socialising and going to soirees - instead he made us of the resources he had available to do whatever he wanted; whatever his Will was he did.  And we can all see that Will in the various enterprises he engaged in over his life time.  He worked in fields ranging from cinematography to aviation to medical science to gambling institutions.  While he can certainly be accused of being eccentric (his personal habits seem to indicate OCD) he certainly can't be accused of being timid.  Indeed he was a forthright character who took risks and butted heads with those who got in his way.  And those are traits that we can and should seek to emulate, as another biography wrote:
Hughes became a popular public figure because his image represented the traditional American qualities of individuality, daring, and imagination. 


Friday 6 February 2015

Men of Yore: Centenary Special

The Men of Yore series has been running for around 100 posts (two years!) so in honour of it's centenary we have a collection of motion pictures from the late 1800s and early 1900s, the time when motion picture technology was in it's infancy.

These videos allow us to see life as it was a mere five generations ago, and to see the industrial age in real life (as best as we can) instead of reading it from text or still photos. Which allows for a more personal experience: feeling in the midst of it rather than analysing it from afar like a cold historian might do.  This is a privilege that not only allows us to see life 'back then' (the past is really no different from the present, it just happened a while ago).  It also allows us to see the people who inhabited and constructed the modern world that we have inherited and benefit from.  Many of those people are average John Doe's like thee and me, it's interesting to observe their body language and mannerisms, much of which appears to be confident, masculine and yet also relaxed.

And remember that this is just a small collection of the many videos that are out there. To find more simply go to youtube and enter 'victorian era' in the search box and you'll be presented with many more films of various lengths.  The videos below are all very short, around five minutes or less, it means that you're not going to waste your time watching hour long documentaries.

1896-1900: Victorian era footage from around the world.  (~6 minutes long)

Lost film footage of 1904 London.  (~1 minute long)

Berlin in 1900 in colour. (~5 minutes long)

Earliest surviving film and sound recording 1888.  (~3 minutes long).

Clips of films taken in New York City dating from 1898 to 1906.  (~2 minutes long).

And there we have it, the world as it stood four or so generations ago.  Who know where we'll be in five generations time, or what the world will look like.  It really depends on what the men who live in now it decide to do, what their Will is, what brings them Joy.  That's what makes the future possible, and indeed makes the future: Willful Joy.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Not politicians, not generals, not economists, but Willful Joy.  The Joy that men get by expressing their Will, in whatever way they wish to.