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100 Years Ago: October 1923


This is the one hundred and fifth entry in my series of writings taken from 100-year-old National Geographic Magazines.



The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Automobile Industry: Methods That Have Revolutionized Manufacturing and Transformed Transportation.”  It was written by William Joseph Showalter, author of such article as “The Panama Canal,” “How the World Is Fed,” “Industry’s Greatest Asset – Steel,” “Coal – Ally of American Industry,” “America’s Amazing Railway Traffic,” etc. in the National Geographic Magazine.  The article contains seventy-six black-and-white photographs, of which forty are full-page in size.  Before the article starts there is a paragraph by the editor which states that the article presents a survey of the economic consequences of the development of the motor vehicle and impressions of the automobile industry.  The latter were gained during inspection in the largest automobile factories in America. 

With thirteen million motor cars and trucks now running on the roads of the U. S. [in 1923], and with the annual demand for new ones in excess of three million, America was literally and figuratively “stepping on the gas” in the making of transportation history.  A quarter of a century had brought a development in the automobile industry that had outran the dreamers, confounded the prophets, and amazed the world.  In 1898 there was one car in operation for every eighteen thousand people, each of them a hybrid creation.  In 1923 there was one motor vehicle to every eight people.  There were five autos for every freight and passenger cars on all the railroads of the U.S.; enough to carry half the people of America in a single caravan.  The Lincoln Highway, from the Hudson to the Golden Gate, was 3,305 miles long.  To put all on that highway, bumper to bumper, would require it to be widened to fifteen lanes.  Assuming the average car operated ten months a year and ran twenty miles a day, their aggregated travel amounted to seventy-eight billion miles annually.  Both gas and tire data tended to justify an even greater milage.  It was estimated that the gas consumption by the motor cars of the county would exceed six billion gallons in 1923.  At thirteen miles per gallon, the math gave the enormous total above, but drivers get 15 mpg or better.  The average tire delivered more than 8,000 miles.  Based on the number of tires changed per year, the milage calculated would be eighty billion.  Three times as many motor-miles on the highways as car-miles on the railways was a marvelous record for so youthful a competitor of rail transportation.  Counts at the New York City ferries and elsewhere indicated that the average car carried 2½ passengers.  That meant that more than thirty million people drove or rode in autos each day, or more than nine billion annually.  The transformation in the lives of the people which those figures indicated stood almost unparalleled in any quarter century of human existence.

Starting out as a plaything, transformed into a luxury, and then becoming, in turn, a definite element of our standard of living, the motor vehicle had assumed the role of a highly efficient factor in our transportation system, touching the lives and promoting the welfare of America as few developments in the history of any nation had done.  Transportation had been the ladder upon which humanity climbed from a condition of primitive life to that of a finely wrought and complex civilization.  As the number of autos had grown, the wealth of the country had increased.  In 1909 we had less than three hundred thousand motor vehicles in commission and the national income amounted to less than twenty-nine billion dollars.  In 1923, with our thirteen million registered vehicles, the national income was around sixty billion dollars.  Although we were spending more for our automobile service than was being spent for railroad transportation, shelter, heat, and light – more indeed than for any other item to our national budget except clothing and meats – our savings-bank deposits and every other index of economic well-being told the same story of growth of our national wealth.  Economic readjustments were taking place on a major scale, and with increased momentum, under the irresistible impact of automotive milage.  Cities were spreading out.  Long Island was built up for half its length; so was northern New Jersey.  Even Connecticut as far as Stamford, was peopled by those who worked in Gotham by day and slept in the country by night.  Chicago had the same story to tell.  Philadelphia and San Francisco were but other examples of how men were coming to work in town and living in the country.  Not only in a residential way were cities changing, but also in a business way.  The trek of branch banks far beyond the business district was but one straw showing the direction of the transportation wind.  The lack of parking space downtown was making an ever-widening business district and new centers of commerce in every major urban community.

A similar transition was occurring on the farm.  No longer were the farmer’s children isolated.  They could find their diversions in the city after a day of rural tasks.  High schools were spreading out through the rural district and replacing the little red schoolhouse for secondary education.  Rural horizons were being pushed back.  The twenty miles that once represented a day’s journey in the farmer’s little world were now [in 1923] less than an hour’s spin.  The broadening experience that travel brought; the development of judgement and decision that driving required; the spread of mechanical knowledge that car maintenance entailed; and the demand for initiative and enterprise to car owners, were giving Americans a training the value of which could not be estimated.  Many employers were encouraging their employees to own a car.  Americans’ wealth was more widely distributed than anywhere else in the world, and they had an unexcelled genius for quantity production.  It was those facts that were responsible for eleven out of every thirteen motor vehicles in the world being operated on American roads, and twelve out of thirteen were produced in the U. S.  South Carolina had more cars than Australia or Argentina; Kansas had more than France or Germany; and Michigan had more than Great Britain and Ireland.  Indeed, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, with a combined population less than that of Poland, and an area less than New Mexico, had more autos in service than the whole world outside of the U. S.  Even the District of Columbia had more motor vehicles than Austria, Belgium, Brazil, South Africa, China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, India, Japan, Yugoslavia, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, or Switzerland.  In a group of twenty-eight major U. S. cities, there were more cars stolen annually than in used in Austria, Belgium, Japan, or Mexico.

Economist had long anticipated a “point of saturation” for the demand for cars, where the demand for cars would be limited to replacements.  In 1908 they predicted the country would never support more than 200,000 new cars a year.  A little later, when production passed five million, they said it would slow down to a slight annual increase due to population growth.  The next mark that could not be exceeded was ten million, but in 1923 that limit had been passed with many still believed that the “point of saturation” was near at hand.  Car registration was up to the point where it was only a million behind the telephone listings of the country, only seven million behind the total number of families, and even closer than that to the number of dwellings.  Financiers warned that many people who could not afford cars were buying them anyway.  Additionally, 70% of the cars being sold were bought on the deferred-payment plan.  That debt of seven billion dollars was being paid back several times over through additional national income.  The author compared owning a car to a marriage.  There were many things postponing the arrival at the “point of saturation,” – price reduction had always served to widen the demand, deferred-payment plans also widened the market tremendously, and the fact that owning a car produced a 56.7% increase in working capacity.  The auto production gave direct employment to more than a million men, and indirectly to two or three times as many.  It used a major portion of the country’s plate glass, a vast share of its iron and steel, most of its aluminum, and much of its leather.  It gave the railroads more freight to haul than it took from them.  It had sent hundreds of thousands of people into the suburbs, where the rent was cheaper and living conditions better.  Indirect contributions by the industry included – the expanding city and the narrowing countryside.  The farmer and his wife had been liberated.  In Pennsylvania, 65% of the farmers own cars, and others States showed similar totals.

When would the point of saturation be reached?  Measured by California’s ratio of car-owners to population, it would not be reached until the current [in 1923] registrations was doubled.  Yet even California had not settled down to replacements.  Experts had begun predicting that the point of saturation would not be economical, but rather physical.  The congestion in the big cities was fast growing.  With all the traffic officers and signal system, the task of handling the ever-flowing stream of cars and trucks grew apace.  Some 42,000 motor vehicles crossed Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street in New York every day; 4,500 in a single busy hour was not unusual.  There were proposals for express streets, where cars would move at forty or fifty miles per hour.  Chicago was installing a synchronized traffic-control system like the one in operation in New York.  Soon, horse-drawn vehicles will be legislated off the crowded city thoroughfares.  Likewise, off the busier highways in the countryside.  Whenever the saturation point would be reached, automakers would be kept busy.  The average life of a motor car was six years.  If 18,000,000 proved the limit, that required a replacement rate of three million a year, which was the current [in 1923] annual production.  The automobile was a marvel of engineering.  Yet, far as our engineers had gone in making a dependable, fool-proof, vibration-defying, long-lasting motor car, they realized that much had to be done before their goal of excellence could be reached.  Engines of 1923 delivered only ten cents’ worth of power for every dollar of gas.  Cars moved from 400 to 5,000 pounds of dead weight per person carried, depending on size and occupancy.  One of the new departures in engine design that served to reduce weight was the substitution of copper-cooling for water-cooling.  One of the primary causes of short life in motor cars was neglect in the matter of lubrication.  General Motors was working on a non-friction bearing.

Engineers predicted that automobile bodies of the future will be made of steel.  It was easier for construction, and welds and rivets made for more permanence than the glue and screws used on wooden bodies.  The motorist of the future would demand accessibility of parts.  Bolts and nuts must be so located as to ensure ease in removal and installation, and parts must be quickly exchangeable.  The introduction of the flat rate in service charges was destined to hasten the simplification of car design.  It had been found that vibration was the worst enemy of the automobile.  Reducing tire pressure was shown to help.  One taxicab company was having tires made with wider treads.  The reduction of vibration due to their softness had shown amazing results in cost of upkeep and even in car life.  Skidding was reduced to a minimum with those super-sized tires, brake control was made more complete, and muddy roads made more passable.  At normal speeds, steering was no problem for the wider tires, but at low speed, it was somewhat harder.  With more cars in use, increased control of the car was demanded.  To stop quicker, four-wheel brakes were beginning to make their appearance.  Many manufacturers believed, however, that the super-sized tires gave the requisite braking efficiency.  Engineers were giving more and more attention to passenger accommodations – everything above the chassis.  While they had little to do with the mechanical merit of the car, they had a vast deal to do with the sale demand.  Statistics had been gathered which showed that the ladies had an unsuspected voice in the selection of the family car.  Manufacturers included features to catch their eyes.  To capitalize on America’s love of camping, one car maker announced a model in which the Pullman berth idea was copied.  The front seats folded back to make a bed.  No more tent needed.

In no other field did one find such close cooperation as in the motor-car industry.  In the early days they banded together to fight hostile legislation.  They found they could make a better market for their individual cars by teamwork with their competitors in selling the car idea.  They learned that their success was linked with their competitors’ success.  So “cooperative cooperation” became their watchword.  They agreed among themselves to form a pool of ideas, around 500 patents.  Every member of the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce agreed to let every other member use of any feature or equipment without payment of royalties.  The Society of Automotive Engineers promoted standardization among manufacturers.  Standardization had been a big task.  The fixing of metal standards had assured a consistent and dependable product.  Sizes of wheels, threading of spark plugs, details of tire fastening, angles of valve-seating, and scores of other items had been standardized.  That standardization lied at the base of quantity production, which, in turn, played a fundamental part in American supremacy in the automotive field.  Automakers were using 800 different washers for bolts, and 1,600 different sizes of steel tubing.  Standardization had reduced those numbers to a minimum, saving costs, and reducing inventory.  In the early days auto racing was indulged in for the purpose of showing that cars could go over the road at all.  Later, people began thinking of speed.  They wanted cars that could make thirty miles an hour, and the fastest car found the readiest sales.  Some years later road racing came into vogue.  After the road races came the reliability runs.  Still later came the speedway races.  Cars were put to the grueling tests that only a speedway race could set up.  Under lessons learned there, cylinder displacement had been reduced, fuel economy had been improved, and safety had been forged into every element of the motor car.

Quantity production was the foundation stone upon which rested the success of the auto industry.  Without it, motor cars would certainly be beyond the means of millions of people who now [in 1923] owned them.  In the early days they were largely made by hand.  In 1923, handiwork was very limited.  Precision tools were superior to human senses in automaking.  In the early days the material for the car was dumped together in a space on floor.  Then the Ford Motor Company tried the overhead trolley system, used by the Chicago packers, and a division of labor.  By using those methods, and placing the workspace waist-high, a flywheel magneto’s time of assembly was reduced from twenty minutes to five.  In 1913, it took almost ten hours to assemble a motor in the Ford plant.  Six months later, it was reduced to just under six hours.  By early methods it took twelve and a half hours to assemble a chassis.  By pulling the chassis down a 250-foot line, six assemblers walked alone picking up parts in various piles.  This method reduced assembly time to less than six hours.  By moving the line up to waist high the elimination of bending reduced it to one and a half hours.  The optimum speed of the assembly lines was determined by trial and error.  In a leading plant, the chassis assembly line moved a six feet per minute and had forty-five operations.  A line was adapted to the making od a single type of casting.  In the casting of the engine block there were three lines with the capacity of 5,000 blocks every eight hours, or 15,000 when working three shifts a day.  The piston and connecting-rod assembly was another example of elimination of lost motion.  Under the old way, a worker could assemble twenty pistons and rods an hour.  In 1923, there were 46 pistons assembled per man-hour.  Suggestions came from everywhere in a quantity production automobile factory, and especially from the ranks.  A proposal that castings be taken from the foundry to the machine shop by overhead conveyor saved seventy men in the transport division.

Did the reduction of the intricacy of the work a man performed deaden his initiative or reduce the value of his work to the industry?  Many people had asked that question.  In one factory the author visited, the most monotonous task was that of a man who picked up a gear with a steel hook, shook it in a vat of oil, and then placed it in a basket.  He did the job for eight years, refusing promotions.  But he had saved $40,000, owned his own home, and drove his own car.  That type of work made the unskilled laborer partner of the skilled engineer, enabling him, with a mechanism designed by the engineer, to do a job commanding twice the pay he could have gotten without the machine.  Even the “flivver” type of car had about 5,000 parts, counting screws, nuts, and all, and assembled on a quantity production basis had to be worked out in every plant.  A shortage of a single type lock washer, or bolt would tie up the whole line.  Saving a single cent on each car’s production cost meant nearly $20,000 a year in the case of Ford, and $5,000 in the case of Chevrolet.  It showed what large prizes small economies won in big factories.  In one plant, the sweepings alone save more the half a million dollars annually, and the elimination of a single style bolt meant another half million.  Making transmissions in the factory, instead of buying them, saved nearly $20,000,000 a year.  The author saw a big blast furnace and watched its white-hot stream of molten iron flow off into giant 75-ton ladles, from which it was then emptied into cupolas, to be, in turn, drawn off in small quantities and poured into waiting molds.  He felt that he beheld an epic of industry – molten iron from the blast furnace poured into the mold itself, without the intervening pig-iron stage.  The main process in car manufacture passed from the foundry, where the parts ere molded, into the forge building, where they were heat-treated and shaped.  Passing on to the machine shop, he encountered a thousand mechanical marvels.  A whole battery of machines was milling crankshafts, each manned by an operator.  Another battery of machines was cutting teeth on gear-wheel blanks.

Elsewhere, an endless procession of engine blocks was coming down the line, each block being cut and trimmed into shape by powerful cutters.  From the machine shop, he passed to the stamp-press shop, where other wonders awaited him – machines cutting blanks out of sheet steel as easily as a housewife cut cookies out of dough.  Others transformed steel disks into brake drums in one operation; and others that stamped fenders out of sheet steel in a single movement.  He watched the car being assembled – spot-welding, cylinder grinding, engines and transmissions being built up while coming down the line to meet the chassis, and the final assembly.  The paint shop was where the enamel was sprayed on before the steel body was sent on moving platforms through the drying kilns.  The upholstery and trimming department was where the interior was fashioned.  The employment of machinery in the making of automobiles, and the quantity produced, were among the marvels of the mechanical age.  The reduction of manpower and the lowering of prices were phenomenal.  The auto industry was the third largest industry in the U. S., and it had pushed petroleum into second place.  The auto manufacturer had become the largest producer of finished goods in the world.  Looking down the line of motor cars put out, from the Packards, Pierce Arrows, Lafayettes, Locomobiles, Lincolns, Cadillacs, Marmons; to the Fords, Stars, Grays, and Chevrolets, one found that everywhere there was an amazing amount of milage in them per dollar invested, when given proper care.  H. C. S.’s, Stutzes, Wintons, Hudsons, Studebakers, Chandlers, Nashes, Franklins, Buicks, Reos, Hupmobiles, Maxwells, Chalmers, Dodges, Durants, Overlands, and many others, offered a range of choices in price and type to meet every taste and every requirement.  Manufacturers made big total profits, but those grew small when brought down to a per-car basis.

The high cost of distribution was one of the striking factors of the auto industry.  The margin between wholesale and retail prices was vastly larger than that between cost of production and the wholesale price.  Economist agreed that more than half the price the consumer paid for the commodities he used represented the costs and profits of handling them between the producer and the consumer.  The motor truck was asked to help solve that problem, and seemed to be helping.  A big New York firm found the ton-mile delivery cost fell from 48 cents with horses to 20 cents with motor trucks.  In Milwaukee, a milk company motorized their delivery, and the result was a savings of 2 cent a quart of their product.  A Detroit department store instituted a motorized delivery service within a radius of 75 miles, giving a vast rural population a service never thought possible.  Eighty-three trucks out of every hundred built in 1922 were of one-ton or less capacity.  A quarter of a million trucks were built that year, and in 1923 there were a million in commission in the U. S.  Trucks handled short-haul freight better than rail.  Any rail shipment less than forty miles was apt to be carried at a loss.  Also, railways wanted to move freight depots from cities, having their freight stations outside congested districts, and let the motor trucks take care of city deliveries.  In Cincinnati, motorized freight terminals had been established.  In a single year they released 66,000 cars for mainline movement on the railroads, eliminated 300,000 switching cuts, advanced freight movement over 52 hours, and cut labor costs in half through the elimination of rehandling.  Motor trucks could not compete with rail on long hauls paralleling the railroad.  The truck was fast eliminating the horse from cities.  Between 1910 and 1920 the number of horses in New York decreased from 128,000 to 56,000; in Chicago, from 68,000 to 30,000; in Philadelphia, from 50,000 to 19,000; in Baltimore, from 15,000 to 7,000; and in Cleveland, from 16,000 to 7,000.

The Quartermaster’s Department of the Army, at Camp Holabird, was developing two types of truck that promised to revolutionize truck construction for heavy duty.  One of those types had four-wheel drive, with oversized tires.  That truck could go anywhere that a caterpillar tractor could go, and, also, use good roads like a regular truck.  The other was a six-wheel truck capable of handling a 7½-ton load, with less pressure per square inch of contact than the ordinary 3-ton solid-tire truck.  Both of those trucks were built out of standard parts.  They should develop new fields for automotive transportation in time of peace; and serve as the heavy-duty vehicles the Army wanted if America needed to go to war.  The farm naturally was the last stronghold of the horse.  The tractor would serve the farmer as well in the field as the motor car on the road, but, in 1923, it showed little sign of appearing.  First, the farmer needed a tractor that could utilize existing farm implements.  An investment of $3,500,000,000 in horse-drawn equipment was too great to send to the scrap heap.  It must be capable of operation by reins; be used in cultivating row crops like corn; and be able to straddle one or two rows and turn in a small radius at the end.  It also needed to provide belt-power to drive wood saws, threshing machines, and whatnot.  Lastly, the tractor had to replace the horse on the road as well as in the field.  Those specification had been, or were being filled, except the last.  To make a wheel to handle both was proving difficult.  With farming in Canada, Siberia, Argentina, and Australia developing rapidly, the America farmer had to become a more efficient producer to meet his competition.  In those countries cheap land produced large holdings and vast fields, where production costs could be driven down by highly organized power farming.

Experience throughout the tractor farming belt showed that it costed less to sow and reap an acre of wheat with tractor-drawn equipment than with horse-drawn.  The reduction in labor costs went down much faster than equipment and maintenance costs went up.  Power farming and horse cultivation of identical tracts in Kansas resulted in eleven years in the production eight bushels of wheat on the power-farming tract for every five on the horse-tilled land.  The secret of that success was that with the tractor the land could be plowed seven inches deep in July, while the horse, due to the summer heat, could plow the land only five inches deep in September.  Those examples of lowered per-acre costs through the elimination of high-priced labor, and increased per-acre yield through better methods, could be multiplied indefinitely.  This was the threshold of another transformation in farm life, as significant and as far-reaching as that which took place when the farmer laid away his scythe, grain cradle, and flail for the mower, the binder, and the threshing machine.  By substituting machines for hired hands, the farmer lightened his heaviest load – high labor costs.  When the versatile utility tractors come on the market, the farmer would settle the labor question as before.  He would decease his labor cost and increase his acreage yield.  The substitution of power for horses will mean millions of people released from agriculture for industry, as was the case when the farmer substituted horses for men.  With more urban mouths to feed, and fewer rural ones to care for, a new day would dawn when the efficiency of the factory would come to the farm.  When that day would be reached, the great triumvirate – the passenger car, the freight truck, and the farm tractor – were destined to write a record of service to America that would stamp the automobile engineer as one of the foremost contributors to human welfare in all the history of mankind.



The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Empire of the Risen Sun” and was written by William Elliot Griffis.  It contains twenty-one black-and-white photographs, of which twelve are full-page in size.  Eight of the twelve full-page photos are duotones, which will be discussed later.  Before the article begins, there is an italicized editorial, written after the article was submitted, mentioning the destruction in Japan caused by earthquake, fire, tidal wave, and typhoon on September 1.  The editor expressed confidence that the Japanese people would not be daunted.  They would rebuild and endure.

Japan’s sun had risen and her “century aloe flowers today.”  While Japan’s current rise to world power was almost dazzling, there were men of centuries past who deserves equal honor with those of the present [1923].  The author had two documents which told the story of Japan’s earlier development.  The official Resume Statistique de l’Empire du Japon, in two hundred pages of close print, showed Dai Nippon an empire of sixty-five million souls alert and advancing in every line of human endeavor.  The story of prosperity and national expansion read like a fairytale.  The other document was the report of the Fukui Silk Textile Association.  In place of castle moats and samurai, Fukui was now a typical industrial city and center of the habotai silk production.  It had electric lights, steam power, and modern appliances in the factory and the home.  Osaka, once chimneyless and a wilderness of one-story houses, was a forest of smokestacks, with mills, steel-jointed business structures, shipyards, foundries, and factories.  With population more than doubling, with wealth increasing twenty-fold, and transformation from an almost forgotten hermit nation into a world power, a leader in industry and commerce, with an ambition second to none in capturing the markets of the world, it was worth a look into the causes of Japan’s evolution and triumph.  As dramatic as Japan’s rise was, many were not surprised by it.  For Japan’s development, there were reasons both internal and external.  First and greatest of all was the new mind created long ago by the pragmatic Oyomei philosophy, which threw the reactionary Confucian cult into comparative shadow.  Without it, the Japan we knew would not, could not, have been.  Introduced from China, in the seventeenth century, the philosophy was developed and taught by book and expounders in fifty different centers.  Two hundred and fifty years of peace sufficed for the accumulation of the nation’s potencies in preparation for outburst, when the opportunity should come.

During all that period there was unbroken contact with Europe through the Dutch at Nagasaki.  Even the Portuguese and Spanish contacts of seventy years, with merchants, military men, and engineers, had left their mark on the Japanese language, architecture, music, military science, and dietetics.  Then, from the Dutch, with their mechanics, physicians, language, books, apparatus, and hospitals, such wonderful results were wrought in art, science, invention, and trade in ideas and commodities.  Swift, through his knowledge of Holland, was able to write “Gulliver’s Travels,” starting in January, 1871, in the Imperial University.  Students from every province and feudal faction were there, and he was able to collect scores of autobiographies.  From them, and from further travel and research, he found that Dutch culture had been like seed sown everywhere.  Hundreds of native physicians read the Dutch language and practiced European medicine.  At Nagasaki, a Dutch hospital was established, and Dutch engineers, with the help of local labor, had built a steam-powered yacht.  On streets and in drug shops, the author noted (printed in Dutch) nostrums and patent medicines from Rotterdam, and in cemeteries he found epitaphs in Dutch.  In a word, Japan was as a rich clover field already pollinized from the Occident.  Like a steady line of bees, the Dutch ships had been bringing the vitalizing influences for more than two centuries.  Yet to the Japanese, the modern revelations, on a large scale, were the “black ships” of the American whalers that gathered in their waters.  What they learned from them quickened the national temperament.  Ranald MacDonald, from Sag Harbor, New York, in 1848, had himself cast ashore.  He was honored as a teacher at Nagasaki.  He trained dozens of interpreters, and had them well prepared in good time for Perry’s advent.  He was aided by Nakahama Manjiro, a Japanese educated at New Bedford, Massachusetts, who had been picked up at sea as a waif by an American captain.

President Fillmore’s fleet, which was ordered to sail for the East in 1852, on the same day that Japan’s greatest emperor, Mutsuhito, was born, consisted largely of store ships, which were loaded with American inventions and products.  After Commodore Perry had completed his treaty-making, there was held, in 1854, on the strand at Yokohama, Japan’s first industrial exposition.  By 1872, as witnessed by the author, the things of use, in agriculture and the arts, had already been widely distributed and copied, especially in the new part of the empire called the Hokkaido, which throughout bore a very American aspect.  A commission of scientific and practical men, sent from Washington, D. C., was active in the island during the decade between 1870 and 1880.  Even more impressive to the student of Japan’s evolution were the personnel and equipment of the three of the early American missionaries – Dr. J. C. Hepburn opened a hospital and dispensary; S. R. Brown taught with grammars and dictionaries; and G. F. Verbeck, who was a marine engineer and master of seven languages.  From 1860 to 1875, scores of American schoolbooks had been translated into Japanese.  From 1859 to 1868 many foreign helpers gave their time and talents to aid Japan; but after 1870 and until 1900, Argonauts came in fleets to cover Japan with a golden fleece.  No fewer than five thousand salaried foreigners were employed.  Paid from $1,000 to $28,000, they were teachers, advisers, and technicians.  Those men started the first railways, telegraphs, lighthouses, navy yards, foundries, mercantile projects, mechanical inventions, appliances, and agencies.  The author started the first school for manual training and technical art and science. Yet the Japanese already had the capacity and ambition.  The author and the other aliens were only the guides, helpers, and servants.  An American missionary, Jonathan Goble invented the jinrikisha.  They taught the rudiments and pointed the way.  It was the Japanese who made the New Japan.

When feudalism had been abolished, in 1871, the once-despised merchant was given opportunity, and he looked abroad to capture the markets of Asia.  It was like “giving wings to a tiger.”  At a secret conclave in Tokyo, in 1870, of the leaders of the Revolution of 1868, the problem of which Japan they wanted – a Japan of samurai and soldiers, or a Japan of merchants and industrialists, men of the modern world.  Many had died to help raise the once-submerged class, now on the crest of the wave – the merchants and manufacturers.  Yet national defense was not forgotten.  As early as 1860, young men had been sent to Holland for naval education; but it was under British officers that the imperial navy was reconstructed, while French first, and then Germans, recreated the military system.  To the Americans was given the task of national education, methods of finance being borrowed from Belgium.  Of the four greatest men of 1868 and the reconstruction era from 1868 to 1900, Okubo was the master spirit.  It was he who had the capital changed from Kyoto to Tokyo and the Mikado brought down from pseudo-deity to a human ruler.  Okubo infused into the Japanese the spirit of conquest of the world’s respect by means of peace rather than war.  Kido was the constructive statesman, with original ideas of which Ito was the executive.  Iwakura, of immemorial noble lineage, was the link between the emperor and the parvenus, who, in time, changed theocratic despotism into constitutional monarchy.  When the embassy returned from its world tour in 1874, there was a struggle in the cabinet.  It was decided that Japan’s path of progress was to be in industrial enterprise rather than through war or territorial conquest.  Okubo and the men of peace and development through industry won.

Hardly less of a revolution was that in finance and in education.  Shibusawa was assassinated after he pronounced in favor of modern bookkeeping and dedicated his life to elevating the once social outcast, the merchant.  He cleared the way for Matsukata, who secured the adoption of the gold standard, even when Great China issued no coin valuable enough to be worth counterfeiting.  This enabled Japan to gain and hold credit in the world’s finance.  Tanaka, backed by Kuroda, fought to a finish the fight for equality of female education in the scheme for national elementary instruction, when, in 1872, he called Miss Margaret Clark Griffis to begin the first school for girls.  Only the learned, in 1870, could read anything higher than shop accounts or tawdry fiction.  All erudition was in the hieroglyphics of China.  It was said that the Japanese script and style of speech that there were seven distinct languages in one.  At time the gentlemen talked with their hands to emphasize the meaning.  A reform in written Japanese meant an uplifting of humanity and a manifold increase in the nation’s resources through productivity.  The new education uplifted a whole nation.  Almost every village and hamlet pulsed with new life.  The victories over China and Russia, and the world’s markets, were won first in Japan’s public schools.  In 1920, they numbered 25,644, with 178,450 teachers and 8,362,992 pupils – an almost unparalleled record, even in the West.  Japan had suffered from too much hand labor.  They needed more animals to till the land and haul freight.  The common term in the old language for the laborer was the same as for beast of burden.  Buddhism taught kindness to animals, but hardly, in proportion at least, to man.  No such thing as a public hospital, in the modern sense, existed in Old Japan.  Buddhism knew no such thing as an individual human soul, or a self-conscious human spirit, but only each person as the end of a long line of change through cause and effect, with no God at either end of the line, except as an abstraction of force.

Buddhism covered Japan with images, but Christianity built the first hospital.  The Great Buddha at Kamakura, excelling all other bronze work on earth, was a noble memorial to the man who had conquered his passions and lived in the calm of absorption in the soul of the universe.  Yet in that embodiment of passivity, who could look for a true symbol of the New Japan, which was born after quickening from the West?  Christianity came with its democracy (opposed by lingering feudalism and hated by the aristocracy and the general staff), its schools, colleges, hospitals, and its command, “Do.”  It waged eternal war against that Invisible Government, which was very strong.  Christianity rebuked that excess of reserve and that love of secrecy which had made Japan the object of suspicion everywhere.  In literature and in government, the lack of individuality and the chronic difference between appearance and reality everywhere confronted the student.  What had really made the New Japan was the emergence in social life of the new spirit of personality and of individuality.  The old civilization was communal.  The new national life was based on the assertion of the inherent powers of the individual, yet in unity of purpose with the commonwealth.  The Japanese of old were mostly agricultural, piscicultural [sic], and marine; but in 1923, instead of cottage industries, we had big business concerns and a vast population of mills.  The people of Japan were not, mainly, the businessmen and travelers abroad.  The real Japan was made up of more than fifty million of men and women in the countryside, in the mud of the rice fields, or along the seashore, as fishers, or of those who within a decade or two had crowded into the towns; for the industrial revolution had taken hold in Japan.  Yet all that was out of proportion to the numbers of habitations amid fertile fields which were not, but could have been, improved in the matter of soil production.

In Japan, how scanty was the livestock, how few, except as pack animals, were the horses!  The milk cow was a rarity and the traction horse the exception.  Where China suffered from too many farmers, Japan had relatively too few of the right sort.  With more than double the population of 1870, all checks having been removed, New Japan was too much an affair of cities and towns, with not enough soil improvement.  In Japan proper there were less than 1,500,000 head of cattle; there were somewhat more horses; lees than 5,000 sheep; and less than 400,000 hogs – that is, there were but 24 cattle and 27 horses to every 1,000 people.  All that revealed a situation which required hand labor in a disproportionate degree.  Japan needed a few million more cows, and horses that were able to pull anything.  For sheep to be able to thrive, the bamboo scrub needed to be pulled up and replaced by grass rich in food mineral.  Those changes, with artificial fertilizer, could recreate Japan’s soil, uplift labor, and improve the countryside and homestead.  Such an animal as the milk cow was unknown to the Japan of 1870.  Sadly, missing from Japan’s literature were the rich imagery and appeals to the imagination of the shepherd and shepherdess and from her dietary the realities of “lamb, ram, sheep, and mutton.”  In 1870, also, no native horse was in use, except for pack or saddle work.  Men went barefoot, and pulled or pushed the cart.  Despite the fact that the Japanese had been “farmers for fifteen centuries” and the Chinese for forty there were some elements of success in agriculture, such as the selection of seed and stock, which as principles were virtually unknown among the Japanese in the old days.  By 1923, scientific men in Japan had not yet greatly altered the situation.  It was the author’s conviction that, for ultimate benefit and solid prosperity, Japan should strengthen the foundation by further uplifting her people, improving her soil, and developing her innate resources.

Both the age-period and the manner of the double summons to Japan to awaken to new life seemed unique in human history.  From within, through long mental preparation, and from without by direct American impact, Dai Nippon received her mandate.  That came at a time when the forces of nature and the appliances of civilization were at their highest.  With the momentum gathered during more than two centuries of peace, the Japanese utilized and applied those new forces at once.  They met the clash of industrial revolution, and even dared to face competition with the older manufacturing nations.  Until about 1750, man had invented nothing greater than himself.  Thenceforth he began to harness the potencies of Nature and to make the mysteries of electricity and what he called steam serve him.  Hence Japan, doubly alert and equipped by long inward intellectual discipline and through the prolonged stimulus given by the Dutch, by Perry and Harris, and by the 5,000 foreign teachers, grappled at once, as competitor, with even the greatest nations.  Japan was saved the long apprenticeship of European nations, because she soon found out that she was “the heir of all the ages, in the foremost files of time,” and was able at once to utilize in fullest efficiency the grains of the centuries and the resources of Western civilization.  Hence, within a single lifespan and in some instances within decades, the adoption of new political and social systems, post routes, telegraphs, telephones, steamship lines, and modern costume!  For cooking, lighting, heating, and motor power of all sorts, there were in 1920, 1,333,243 kilowatts harnessed to human service – a figure vastly increased by 1923.  The use of gas in mills, factories, shops, kitchens, and for various appliances had developed in a like manner.  The number of cubic meters of gas generated for service in 1919-20 amounted to 275,210,682.  In large cities more than 70 companies operated electric trolly cars, which in 1919-20 carried 1,211,147,504 passengers.

The secret of Japan’s rapid development and world-encompassing ambitions, especially compared to U. S. development was the fact that there were few technical schools here in 1871.  In 1871, after a study of Japan’s nascent plans for a national system of education, even before there was a department of education, the author wrote and suggested that a school of technology be established in the capital.  The letter reached Tokyo the same day of the decision by the Supreme Government Council to create the Department of Education, and he was summoned to Tokyo to establish such a school.  The scheme at first comprised only four professorships – chemistry, physics, engineering, and law – the last of which the author had nothing to do with.  Later, that attempt was absorbed in a larger foundation, with a dozen professors.  In the twenty or more years of the existence of that institution, there were educated the engineers, architects, chemists, and others who built Japan’s steamships, railroads, lighthouses, and laboratories, which helped modernize the face of the country.  With a total of more than 7,000 mile of railway in operation, her resources were still being developed.  Six thousand steamships and nearly 50,000 sailing ships, with a tonnage of 4,180,305, told the story.  In 1871, the author’s mail came to him far inland by runner.  In 1923, Japan had nearly 9,000 post offices, with 65,000 post boxes.  Telegraphs, telephones, and radio stations were commonplace.  There were special schools of medicine, jurisprudence, commerce, pedagogy in five national universities, with nearly 500 professors, and 10,000 students.  In addition, there were as many nongovernment universities, which had as many students.  Of the technical schools – arts and crafts, agriculture, marine industries, etc. – there were more than 250, with more than 80,000 pupils.

The acorn of 1870 had become the oak of 1923; but it was planted in a soil made of the enriched mold of a thousand years of culture.  The alien of that year, on landing, saw no chimneys, milk wagons, water-works, newspapers – few indeed of the externals of what he was wont to consider modern civilization; but culture, fine manners, literature, alert minds, and lovers of good and the beautiful he found everywhere.  Whatever Japan gained, may she not lose the best of her ancient beauties and inheritances.  In summing up the results of impressions, studies, and experiences of more than two-thirds of a fairly long lifetime, the author uttered his faith in the Japanese.  He had witnessed feudalism, centralization, imperialism, constitutional and party government, with progress in every line of human achievement.  He also had made himself acquainted, to some extent, with the invisible forces and inherited ideals of the Japanese, as revealed in their history, literature, and art.  He could not but feel that with them rested in great measure the hopes of Asia, and that, next to the U. S., Japan can be the chief medium in the union and reconciliation of the Orient and the Occident for the making of a new world.



As mentioned above, the third article contains a set of eight full-page duotones.  Duotones, formerly known as photogravures, are transfers using acid etched metal plates.  A special ink is transferred to the paper, and, in this case, the ink has a definite brownish hue.

And here is a list of the caption titles for these duotones:

  • “Sakurajima Volcano in Eruption, with the City of Kagoshima in the Foreground”
  • “Lake Yamanaka from the Summit of Fujiyama”
  • “Picking Tea on the Hills and Growing Rice on the Plains: Japan”
  • “Entrance to the Temple in Asakusa Park, Tokyo”
  • “A Shrine on the Seashore”
  • “Fuji Through the Pines”
  • “Summer Afternoon in a Lotus Garden”
  • “Kegon Falls at Chuzenji”




The third article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Cause of Earthquakes” and was written by Robert F. Griggs, Leader of the National Geographic Society’s Mt. Katmai Expeditions.  The article contains four black-and-white photographs, all of which are full-page in size.  One of those photos also serves as the frontispiece for the article.  The article also contains a full-page sketch map of the earthquake zone from Japan to Alaska on page 446.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

The disaster that had so suddenly overtaken the capital of Nippon inevitably raised the question, Why such calamities?  What was the cause of earthquakes?  What were some regions especially subject to them?  Could anything be done to predict or alleviate those calamities?  An earthquake was one of the few things in the world whose name accurately and adequately described it.  The earth was highly elastic.  The fracture which set the earth to vibrate might result in a large displacement of rocks, and the break might be traceable for many miles.  The fracture, or fault, of Mino and Owari earthquake of October 28, 1891, extended for 70 miles and cut across the main island of Japan.  In several places the vertical break amounted to 20 feet, and half as much displacement was common.  The horizontal movement averaged about six feet.  The damage from an earthquake came, however, from the vibrations rather than the actual shift of the ground.  Most of the vibrations were only a fraction of an inch in length.  It was the suddenness, rather than the amount of motion, that did the damage.  People who had experienced an earthquake, or had seen pictures of earthquake damage, could not believe the tremors were of such small dimensions as the recording instruments proved.  A quick earth tremor of very small dimensions might heave loose rocks many feet from their original positions.  The same circumstance explained the very much greater destructiveness of earthquakes on alluvial soil.  The disruption of the earth’s surface by the Kansu quake of 1920, which occurred in the loess district of China, was, perhaps, greater than any other known earthquake.  [See: “Where the Mountains Walked,” May 1922, National Geographic Magazine.]  The fact that Tokyo and Yokohama were built on loose alluvium undoubtedly greatly increased the destructiveness of the recent terrible cataclysm.

In many earthquakes the greatest destructiveness was wrought by tremendous inundations, which swept over land like an abnormally high tide, rising 10, 20, even 50 feet above any previous tide mark.  The terror occasioned by those terrible floods was so overwhelming and they left so few survivors to tell the tale that accurate accounts of events were seldom to be had.  [See: “Some Personal Experiences with Earthquakes,” January 1915, National Geographic Magazine.]  One of the most lucid descriptions of such a wave was given by Darwin in the “Voyage of the Beagle,” chapter 14.  Yet by no means all earthquakes along the sea involve tidal waves.  In Kingston, Jamaca, the earthquake of January 14, 1907 resulted in the settling of the harbor bottom, but there were no tidal waves.  The reports of the present [in 1923] Japanese disasters had repeatedly spoke of damage by tidal wave, but at this writing it was not clear how great a share they might have had in the destruction.  It was often supposed that earthquakes were closely related to volcanic eruptions, and in the present disaster there had been not a few rumors of the explosion of an unnamed volcano somewhere “in the vicinity.”  That supposition was natural enough, in view of the fact that many earthquake belts were situated near active volcanoes.  [ See: “The World’s Most Cruel Earthquake,” April 1909; “Costa Rica – Vulcan’s Smithy,” June 1910; “The Shattered Capitals of Central America,” September 1919, National Geographic Magazine.]  But a study of the great earthquakes of history refuted that idea.  The idea of the interdependence of volcanoes and earthquakes was disproven in Japan itself by the work of Milne, the great pioneer student of earthquakes.  He concluded that the central portions of Japan, where there were numerous volcanoes, was singularly free of earthquakes.  The greater number of disturbances occurred along the easter coast of the empire, and many of those were of submerged origin.

Nevertheless, it was recognized that both volcanic chains and earthquake belts occurred in regions where the earth’s crust was unstable.  They were to be looked on in part as independent manifestations of the same underlying conditions.  [plate tectonics.]  Volcanic disturbances indeed often produced earthquakes, though their effects were seldom widespread.  Such a series of earthquakes culminated on Mauna Loa, in Hawaii, on April 2, 1868.  The final shock was so violent that neither man nor animal could stand against it.  But the area affected was astonishingly small – 75 miles away no damage was done.  Compare thar quake to the recent disaster in Japan, which spread 140 miles up and down the coast and 100 miles inland, though the center of the disturbance was said to have been far off shore.  The restricted effect of volcanic quakes was due to their centers being singular point and were shallow, while the fault-line quakes extended hundreds of miles and were very deep.  Another difference between volcanic quakes and those due to a great slip in the rocks was that volcanic quakes started with small quivers which, over a few weeks, built to a violent shaking.  By contrast, with the fault-line quakes, the great destructive shake occurred without warning, the subsequent shocks were lesser, and tapered off over time.  In the Assam earthquake of 1897, everything was destroyed in the first 15 seconds, and the heavy shocks all occurred within two and a half minutes.  The Tokyo quake behaved similarly.  The aftershocks numbered 356 on the first and second days, 289 on the third, 173 on the fourth, 148 on the fifth, and 63 on the sixth day.  The crust of the earth was adjusting itself to a shrinking interior.  That folding and faulting occurred mainly along the boundary lines between elevated and depressed segments.  And that was precisely the position of Japan.  The depression of any segment of the crust developed surface cracks of two sorts – circular around the center, and radial cracks stretching away.

Complicated by side pressure toward the depression, the circular cracks were bent inward, becoming convex instead of concave.  A glance at the map on page 446 showed exactly such a series of scallops along the eastern coast of Asia.  Beginning at the north, there were: the Aleutians, Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin and Japan, Chosen and the Lu-Chu Islands, and Taiwan.  Each of those axes was convex seaward, and there was evidence, in the trend of volcanic chains and in the course of fault lines, of double systems of tangential and radial fissures.  Inward pressure on the edge of the sinking area would tend to close up the circular cracks and change them into folds if the crust were flexible enough; or to break them apart and shove the outer over the edges of the inner, either process shortened crust and compensated for the lateral pressure.  That was what had happened in eastern Asia.  The folding was seen in the curving mountain ranges of Japan, while offshore was one of the deepest “deeps” in the whole ocean, suggesting that one block of the crust – that which carried Japan – had slipped over the next, and by its weight pushed it down.  More than half of all the earthquakes in Japan had originated in that deep to the east of the island.  It was though the two overlapping segments of the crust were sliding on each other under the seaward thrust of the continent.  Just as breaking ice showed a number of circular cracks, eastern Asia showed several rows of scallops.  In addition to those major fracture lines, there were many lesser ones, all falling into line with the greater ones.  All of those lines were similar in structure and indicated that they were produced by the crowding of the continent of Asia toward the Pacific.  So extended a discussion of the structure of eastern Asia seemed far afield from the single earthquake which had visited Tokyo, but that disaster could in no way be considered an isolated event.  It was merely one shock of unusual violence in a region where the ground was never still for long.

On the average, nearly 1,500 earthquakes every year occurred in Japan.  Recognizing the inevitable earthquake danger, the Japanese Government early saw the importance of the study of earthquakes, and had long led the world in that branch of science.  They excelled in the exactness and length of its records of past earthquakes; in the application of the latest discoveries of science to earthquake investigation; and in practical measures to minimize earthquake damage.  The Imperial Earthquake Investigation Committee (IEIC) had devised building designed to withstand earthquakes.  It was recommended that frame buildings have many diagonal timbers, which tied the whole structure together into a single unit.  An earthquake-proof brick building was more difficult.  In a quake, columns always broke at the base.  By building the walls thick at the base and tapering toward the top, it gave equal strength throughout its height.  The IEIC built such a building in Tokyo to prove its idea.  It would be interesting to see, as reports come in, whether their recommendations helped during the disaster.  Given the frequent reports from that observatory, it was inferred that it withstood the quake.  The author was sure that the IEIC’s recommendations would be incorporated into the building code for the reconstruction.



The fourth and final article in this month’s issue is entitled “How the Earth Telegraphed Its Tokyo Quake to Washington” and was written by the Rev. Francis A. Tondorf, S. J., Director Seismology Laboratory, Georgetown University.  The article has two black-and-white photographs associated with it.  One is full-page in size and serves as the article’s frontispiece.  The other photo is embedded within the last pages of the previous article, to which this article is related.

Aeschylus, Greek poet, had sung some two thousand years ago that “it is never too late for an old man to learn his lesson.”  On visiting the cave housing the seismographs of the Georgetown University Seismological Station, on the morning of the first of September, the author became the first person to be made aware of the Japanese earthquake.  On removing the sheets from the sensitive detectors and suitably mounting them, they were ready for closer inspection.  The ground-scripts of Mother Earth bespoke one long, weird message of possible destruction far off.  The author was certain that the quake was not of volcanic origin, for they were rarely severe, never wide-felt, and always beyond the reach of distant telltale.  He knew that this was a large displacement.  To calculate the distance to the quake, the seismometer read two elastic waves, one that traveled 497 miles per hour and the other 279½ mph.  By comparing the different arrival times, the distance to the quake was calculated.  The first alarm was sounded In Washington at twelve minutes after 10 o’clock p. m. eastern standard time, and the second approximately eleven minutes later, the distance accordingly totaled to 6,300 miles.  Such was the estimate furnished to the Associated Press and sent out over its wires three hours before word of the disaster had reached Washington.  By using a process of elimination, the quake’s location was narrowed quickly.  With the seismometer at the center, a ring with the proper diameter was drawn on a globe.  Places not along the ring were eliminated.  Next, places on the ring, but not geologically active were eliminated, leaving a much shorter list.  The author found only one seismic zone along the ring, and so he learned of the quake in Japan.

Dr. F. Omori, member of the Imperial Earthquake Investigation Committee and director of the Tokyo Seismic Observatory, the foremost authority in earthquake research, predicted in 1921 that within six years there would occur a cataclysm.  Omori noted that for an earthquake district like Tokyo, the frequent occurrence of small quakes was regarded as maintain the portion of the crust concerned in a state of normalcy, removing the underground weak points, thereby preventing a strong quake.  On the other hand, a low seismic frequency caused an accumulation of telluric stress, and consequently, was likely to be followed by a disturbance of a large magnitude. The catastrophes of October 15, 1884, June 20, 1895, and March 1909, had closely followed in the wake of such minima.  Omori had warned that during the last nineteen years the frequency variation indicated a quake within six years (1927) was likely with one to follow six years later (1933).  The Japanese had had no monopoly on such forecasts.  Californians had them from resident geologists some days preceding the San Francisco quake.  Both communities seemed to have failed to profit by them.  The Japanese quake was due to a slippage in the earth’s crust following an abnormal underground stress accumulation.  The origin was some distance from Tokyo. That a great break in the ocean’s bottom was the cause of the quake was questionable, for since 1854, the ocean’s bed had been remarkable quiet. Omori was of mind that Tokyo would not suffer, but the disturbance would be farther westward.  The geophysical conditions on which Omori predicted severe quakes in 1927 and 1933 had been so altered by the recent disaster that those prophecies no longer applied.  For consolation of the people of Tokyo, it may be recalled that, in the history of earthquakes, had any one locality suffered a second overwhelming catastrophe within a generation, and the Japanese capital was not likely to be visited by another cataclysm within any survivor’s lifetime.  Time would tell the true story.



Tom Wilson

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