Scientific American features stories from past issues 50, 100, and 150 years ago in each publication. In this month’s issue the 100-year story was a snippet from a feature regarding a proposed zeppelin-railway system.
FLYING RAILWAY—“A German engineer has conceived a novel and marvelously impracticable mode of transit, a sort of cross between the airship and the electric railway, in which a balloon supports the weight of passenger cars, which run on aerial cables and are propelled by electricity. The balloon is of the rigid Zeppelin type of construction, and is propelled by electric motors capable of developing an airspeed of about 125 miles per hour. There are engineering as well as financial objections to this scheme.”
In 1909 the New Jersey Zeppelin disaster was still 28 years away, so I do not blame this transit dreamer for scheming. However, given that railway electrification was emerging at the end of the nineteenth century and railroads could not yet achieve 125 miles per hour, nor could cars and the Wright brothers had made their first successful flight just 6 years prior, this idea does not seem as stupid as it appears to the 21st century eye.
I hope that we live in an age where people continue to dream boldly and ambitiously such that future generations can selectively pick out ideas to poke fun at. Right now Americans struggle with the idea of high speed rail let alone anything more innovative or revolutionary in the transportation sphere. May America once again invest and dream grandly regarding its transportation future.